God is speaking to us through His Son Jesus and hopefully we are all paying attention. Our next section of Hebrews is the second of five warnings found in the book (2:1-4; 3:7-4:13; 5:11-6:12; 10:19-39; 12:14-29). The first warning was to “pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away” (Heb 2:1). The second warning is to “not have an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God” (Heb 3:12). Let’s consider this closer:
A Warning Against Unbelief
The warning begins with a quotation from Psalm 95. This Psalm recounts a few incidents which happened after the Israelites were brought out of Egypt. The Lord was not pleased with the unfaithful Jews who provoked the Lord with their hardened hearts. The writer of Hebrews uses this to warn those who profess faith in Jesus not to repeat their folly.
The Reason for Unbelief
Psalm 95:7-11 contains God’s warning not to harden your heart when you hear His voice. The reason their heart is hard is because they have “an evil, unbelieving heart” (Heb 3:12). Going back to the Israelites in the wilderness, we see their hardened hearts on display in their grumbling and complaining against God. They grumbled and complained because their trials exposed their lack of faith. It is helpful to remember that God allows trials to come in order to test our faith (James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:7-9). We must guard our heart (Prov 4:23). Following your heart is not the solution, it is the problem. When we are inattentive to God’s voice, we become hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. We provoke the Lord with our unbelief.
The Result of Unbelief
The Israelites who tested the Lord in the rebellion (Ex 15:22-17:7) died because of their unbelief. They were not able to enter the Promised Land (God’s rest). The warning is clear that no unbelieving person–no matter what they profess, what they have or have not done–will enter into God’s rest. As we have said earlier, we provoke the Lord with our unbelief. We may attend worship services regularly, we may give consistently, we may be a member of a local church and attend Wednesday night prayer meetings, but if we are not truly born again and possess genuine faith we will be damned. Jesus makes this very clear in Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven will enter.”
An Exhortation of Hope
Our God is “a consuming fire” (Heb 12:29) and He is also “compassionate and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in faithfulness and truth” (Ex 34:6). Therefore, in this warning against unbelief we also have an exhortation of hope.
The Reason for our Hope
The reason for our hope is very simple. If you are not paying close attention you may miss it. It is found in verse 12 where God is described as “the living God.” The so-called gods of the pagans are deaf, dumb, and blind idols. In contrast, our God is alive. He speaks to us, hears us, and sees us. He is there, He is aware, and He cares. The living God also has a “living and active” word that is “able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12).
The Work of Hope
All throughout this section in Hebrews we get imperatives that call us to work; but, let us not mistake this call. It is not a call to work harder in order to find God’s rest. This is not a “do better…work harder” call but a call to have faith. In Hebrews 3:19, we are specifically told that the Hebrews who did not enter “were not able to enter because of unbelief.” We must not just hear the word. We must profit from God’s word as it is “united with faith” (Heb 4:2). We must be diligent to enter God’s rest–not by works–but by genuine faith that works itself out in love (Gal 5:6).
The work of hope is a call to worry less about ourselves and to help those around us. It’s not a call to be a busybody trying to get into everyone else’s business, but a call to not turn a blind eye to someone around you who is in need. We must exhort (Heb 3:12) one another. Exhortation means to ask, beg, plead. It means to comfort, encourage, urge. It also means to call, invite. We are to exhort one another to remain faithful to God. Our exhortation is to “not be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb 3:13). Sin is deceitful and will lead you astray. We all have blind spots in our life and we need one another to warn each other when we are walking in a way that is not pleasing to God. We exhort one another to cast off sin and cling to righteousness. We encourage one another to strive to enter God’s rest.
An Enduring Rest
Many times in this section we are told about God’s promised rest. What is meant by rest? In the Old Covenant, the Sabbath meant rest from your labors on the seventh day of the week. In the New Covenant, the Sabbath means eternal rest in Christ. In Hebrews 4, we are reminded of God’s rest on the seventh day (Heb 4:4 & Gen 2:2) and “the promise of entering that rest” (Heb 4:1 & Ps 95:11), and the encouragement for us to “strive to enter that rest” (Heb 4:11). This eternal rest with God can only be entered by faith in Christ (Heb 4:2) and it is available to you today (Heb 4:7). The promise is that you can cease your vain attempts to earn God’s favor and instead accept God’s gift of salvation and enjoy a personal relationship with Him. Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt 11:28-30).