Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
on the day of testing in the wilderness,
where your fathers put me to the test
and saw my works for forty years.
Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart;
they have not known my ways.’
As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest.’”
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.
The writer of Hebrews opens up his exhortation by quoting Psalm 95, verses 7-15. He prefaces his quote of this Psalm with the words, “Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says.” The author of Hebrews has the highest regard for the written Word of God; to read the text is akin to hearing God, the Spirit, speak. The Psalm he quotes was written by David centuries after Joshua led Israel into the Promised Land. It reminds Israel of her failure in the wilderness when an entire generation (except for two) died off without entering their inheritance. David starts the Psalm with a call to another day when God was again speaking to Israel. They should listen diligently and not harden their hearts as they did in the wilderness, which the author refers to as the “day of trial in the wilderness.”
Using these words regarding Israel’s failure to obey in the wilderness, the writer of the letter gives his strongest exhortation till now. They must be sure not to allow an “evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.” Since Israel failed to enter the land due to unbelief, they also must guard themselves from failing to enter for the same reason. Since the offer to enter is still available to us, the writer calls upon believers to encourage each other “day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today.” In this way, they can be sure not to be “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” This is a responsibility that each believer bears to encourage each other day after day.
This verse (Hebrews 3:13) is a vital verse when it comes to understanding church life. The writer speaks of being ‘hardened by the “deceitfulness of sin.” That is, sin is deceitful in that we are often unaware of its presence. Sometimes after eating, we need someone to lovingly inform us that a piece of our meal needs to be wiped away from our lip. We were unable to see it, but a brother or sister had our back and notified us of it. In the same way, the author reminds us that we should perform the same task for the brothers and sisters. We are often unaware of our sinfulness until a brother or sister points it out.
In the same way, Israel failed to enter the Promised Land due to unbelief, so can we if we are not careful. The author reminds the readers that the entire nation who left Egypt subsequently died in the wilderness. Incidentally, that generation had the greatest provision ever given; cloud by day, fire by night, manna every morning, and abundance of quail. Yet how does he summarize that generation? He tells them that they “always go astray in their heart, and they did not know my ways”? We should never take provision as evidence of approval. God may provide wonderfully for his children because He is a good Father, while totally disapproving of their ways.
The recipients of this letter were being warned by these words that they could fall into the same pattern of unbelief. God delivered a people out of Egypt and promised to bring them into the land. Then they entered that great and terrible wilderness where they were tested. They failed the test so the entire generation eventually died in the wilderness. The writer now likens these Hebrews to being in the same plight as their fathers in the wilderness. Like their fathers, they had been brought out of Egypt and were promised by God to be brought into the Promised Land, but they were now living in the wilderness. They were in danger of unbelief, the sin which caused God to judge that whole generation of Israelites who left Egypt.
The author is warning them against the particular sin of apostasy. If they stayed on their present course, they would find themselves in danger like the Israelites of old. Notice what the writer says: “For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end” (Heb 3:14).
This has been called by theologians the Doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints. If we are true believers, we will persevere in faith to the end. Note his specific words: “If we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end.” What was the ‘beginning of our assurance?’ It was the assurance of his grace. We first saw ourselves as sinners and readily admitted it and believed that He died for us so that we might receive his grace. The moment we did, we were immediately made partakers of Christ and brought into fellowship with Him. This is how we began and must now keep it to the end.