Pastor David B. Curtis


The Provocation

Hebrews 3:7-12

Delivered 10/22/2000

We are looking at the second warning passage in Hebrews. This is the longest of the five warning passages. It runs from 3:1-4:16. We looked at the first six verses last week, which were a call to faithfulness.

Last week we saw that Jesus Christ is greater than Moses in at least two ways.

First, Hebrews 3:3 says that he is greater than Moses the same way a builder of a house is greater than the house he built. In other words, Jesus is greater than Moses, because He made Moses. And verse 4 makes the implication explicit: God is the maker of all things. Therefore, Jesus Christ is God, which is what the writer had said in Hebrews 1:8, "But of the Son He says, "Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever."

Second, Hebrews 3:5-6 says that Jesus is greater than Moses the way a son over a house is greater than a servant in the house. The Son is heir of the house. He owns it, rules it, and provides for it. In other words, what we have in Hebrews 3:3-6 is a restatement of Hebrews 1:2, "In these last days God has spoken to us in His Son, (1) whom He appointed heir of all things, and (2) through whom also He made the world."The same two glories of Christ we saw in Hebrews 3. Christ is the Creator of all and the Heir of all. That is, he made all things, including the people of which Moses is a part, and he is the heir of all things, including the house in which Moses is a servant.

The individuals to whom this letter was written were being tempted to give up their Christian profession. In verse 6, the writer tells them that they are His house "if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end." It seems like the word "house" is used of: "a place of worship and communion, a place were God was manifest." The word "confidence" has the idea of boldness. This word is used throughout the book of Acts to refer to openness and frankness with which a disciple testified of his faith in Christ. Steven is an example of this boldness and so is Paul:

Acts 20:22-24 (NKJV) "And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, 23 "except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me. 24 "But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

There are great privileges in maintaining an association with the Son in His house. This "if" is so serious and so important that the rest of chapter three is a support and explanation of it. In fact, much of the rest of this book is meant to make this "if" plain. The writer warns extensively of the consequences of not maintaining that connection with the Son, and to do this he chose a passage from Psalm 95.

Hebrews 3:7 (NKJV) Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: "Today, if you will hear His voice,

The writer ties this section with his previous section by use of the word "therefore." In Hebrews 3:1-6, he exhorted his readers to strongly consider the faithfulness of Jesus. He expects the faithfulness of Jesus to inspire our faith. In other words, if Jesus is faithful to God and for us so that he endures the cross, shouldn't we follow him?

" the Holy Spirit says...." - the writer of Hebrews is saying that the Holy Spirit was the author of Psalm 95. As is usual in Hebrews, the human author is ignored, attention being directed to the divine author. The writer presses upon the readers the weightiness, the divine authority of the words he is about to quote. The tense of the verb "says" is present tense - the Spirit is still speaking through the Word.

Psalm 95 is a call to worship:

Psalms 95:1-7 (NKJV) Oh come, let us sing to the LORD! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. 2 Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. 3 For the LORD is the great God, And the great King above all gods. 4 In His hand are the deep places of the earth; The heights of the hills are His also. 5 The sea is His, for He made it; And His hands formed the dry land. 6 Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker. 7 For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture, And the sheep of His hand. Today, if you will hear His voice:

The warning that follows the call to worship is precisely the kind of warning the writer of Hebrews wishes to give. Those who reject the call to corporate worship, and harden their hearts, forfeit the rest of God.

The psalmist used this story to warn his people against disbelief. A thousand years later, the writer of Hebrews used it for the same purpose. And two thousand years later, the warning is still valid.

"...Today, if you will hear His voice...." - the word "today" means: "now," not necessarily a twenty four hour period. It refers to the present moment. The voice of God is sounding now. It must not be neglected.

Notice the context of the admonition, "If you will hear His voice" - who hears the voice of God except believers? He is speaking here to Christians! Paul reminded the Ephesians that the redeemed can hear Jesus, and be taught by Him:

Ephesians 4:21 (NKJV) if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus:

Jesus Himself said His sheep hear His voice and follow Him:

John 10:27 (NKJV) "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.

There is a natural hardness in men's hearts from which we must be delivered. This deliverance occurs when God removes our stony hearts and gives us a heart of flesh (Ezek 11:19; 36:26). So, the call to hear his voice is a call given to believers.

Hebrews 3:8 (NKJV) Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, In the day of trial in the wilderness,

Faithlessness is nowhere more strikingly illustrated than in the history of the Israelites in the wilderness. The goodness of God, who had raised up a great leader for them and had brought them safely out of the misery and bondage of Egypt, never failed them. Yet, over and over again they rebelled against him and behaved as though he were their enemy instead of their Deliverer.

The Spirit now refers to a specific incident in their history. It was remarkably tragic, and is filled with profitable things. This event is called "the provocation" (KJV), or "when they provoked Me" (NASB). The NKJV refers to it as "the rebellion." Since "the rebellion" is referring to an historical event in the life of Israel, we must understand "the rebellion" to understand this warning.

The original Hebrew text in Psalm 95 concerns the episode at Rephidim, where Israel grumbled because there was no water to drink. But the text also contains echoes from the episode at Kadesh, where the people rebelled against the Lord, did not listen to his voice, and were not able to enter the promised land.

Let's look at Exodus 17. Israel was in bondage to Egypt and by God's grace they were delivered from Egypt and are now in the desert. Their destination is the promise land. But before they can enter the promise land, they must go through the desert. The desert is a place of testing, and the promise land is the inheritance of those who pass the testing. Deliverance from Egypt is analogous to our redemption. God has delivered us out of the bondage of sin by the work of Christ. Once we are redeemed, we go through a testing situation. God matures his children through testings. All believers face trials.

Romans 8 gives us some vital information for helping us pass the tests:

Romans 8:31-32 (NKJV) What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?

Christ died for us when we were His enemies.

Romans 5:8-10 (NKJV) But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. 10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.

If Christ did the most for us when we were enemies, what will he now do for us who are his children? We must understand that God is on our side:

Romans 8:31 (NKJV) What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

And He can meet and solve every problem that we face.

Exodus 17:1 (NKJV) Then all the congregation of the children of Israel set out on their journey from the Wilderness of Sin, according to the commandment of the LORD, and camped in Rephidim; but there was no water for the people to drink.

God tests His children, all of them! "...the commandment of the Lord..." - God had led them to where they were by a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day. It should have been very clear to them that they were right where God wanted them.

"...there was no water for the people to drink." - No water is a test. Every problem you face is a test given by God to make you stronger, to strengthen your faith. No water is a serious problem when you are in the desert with two million people. God gave them this problem. Why? To help them bring into focus that he delivered them by His power and he could care for them. He wanted them to trust Him.

Two million people and livestock in the desert with no water - what should they have done? Trusted God. Did they have a promise? Yes!

Genesis 15:13-16 (NKJV) Then He said to Abram: "Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. 14 "And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 "Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. 16 "But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete."

Verses 13 & 14 were already fulfilled, surely God would fulfill verse 16. Was no water in the desert a problem for God? No, they had just seen miracle after miracle. Think about what these people had just witnessed; They saw the ten plagues come upon Egypt. They saw the Red Sea part, and they walked through it on dry land.

Exodus 15:22-25 (NKJV) So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea; then they went out into the Wilderness of Shur. And they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. 23 Now when they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter. Therefore the name of it was called Marah. 24 And the people complained against Moses, saying, "What shall we drink?" 25 So he cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a tree. When he cast it into the waters, the waters were made sweet. There He made a statute and an ordinance for them. And there He tested them,

They had been in a no water situation before, and they had seen God provide water. Imagine being there with Israel and seeing all they had seen, and now you are at Rephidim, and there's no water. What would you do? What you should do is thank the Lord for another opportunity to see His power displayed. Notice how they responded:

Exodus 17:2 (NKJV) Therefore the people contended with Moses, and said, "Give us water, that we may drink." And Moses said to them, "Why do you contend with me? Why do you tempt the LORD?"

The word "contended" is from the Hebrew word riyb, which means: "complain". The noun is marabah.

Exodus 17:3 (NKJV) And the people thirsted there for water, and the people complained against Moses, and said, "Why is it you have brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?"

Sure, Moses went through all that so he could kill them in the wilderness. They're forgetting the promise of God.

Exodus 17:4-6 (NKJV) So Moses cried out to the LORD, saying, "What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me!" 5 And the LORD said to Moses, "Go on before the people, and take with you some of the elders of Israel. Also take in your hand your rod with which you struck the river, and go. 6 "Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink." And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.

In Exodus 16 we see the mana, which is a picture of Christ's incarnation. Now in 17, we see the Rock smitten which is a picture of Christ's crucifixion:

Exodus 17:7 (NKJV) So he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the contention of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the LORD, saying, "Is the LORD among us or not?"

The word "Massah" means: "testing" and "Meribah means: "complaining." Meribah is the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek "rebellion." They tempted the Lord. Is God among us or not? This is an evil heart of unbelief.

Now we move form Rephidim to Kadesh. Rephidim was near Egypt, the place the Israelites came from. Kadesh was near Canaan, the place the Israelites were going to.

Numbers 13:31-33 (NKJV) But the men who had gone up with him said, "We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we." 32 And they gave the children of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, "The land through which we have gone as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature. 33 "There we saw the giants (the descendants of Anak came from the giants); and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight."

They had the grasshopper complex. They were walking by sight, which ends in defeat. Grasshopper is quite an exaggeration. What is the comparison? The average Israelite was about five feet tall, which would mean these people would have to be 300 feet tall to make them look like grasshoppers. Have you ever done this? Do you ever exaggerate your problems? "I'll never get through this."

Joshua and Caleb wanted them to trust God:

Numbers 14:7-9 (NKJV) and they spoke to all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying: "The land we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. 8 "If the LORD delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, 'a land which flows with milk and honey.' 9 "Only do not rebel against the LORD, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the LORD is with us. Do not fear them."

Look at their response in verses 10 and 11:

Numbers 14:10-11 (NKJV) And all the congregation said to stone them with stones. Now the glory of the LORD appeared in the tabernacle of meeting before all the children of Israel. 11 Then the LORD said to Moses: "How long will these people reject Me? And how long will they not believe Me, with all the signs which I have performed among them?

This is an evil heart of unbelief.

Numbers 14:22-23 (NKJV) "because all these men who have seen My glory and the signs which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have put Me to the test now these ten times, and have not heeded My voice, 23 "they certainly shall not see the land of which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those who rejected Me see it.
Numbers 14:27-29 (NKJV) "How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who complain against Me? I have heard the complaints which the children of Israel make against Me. 28 "Say to them, 'As I live,' says the LORD, 'just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will do to you: 29 'The carcasses of you who have complained against Me shall fall in this wilderness, all of you who were numbered, according to your entire number, from twenty years old and above.

Let's say there are 1,200,000 adults over the age of 20. Think about this! 1,200,000 people over 20, and there are approximately 14,500 days in the period of time which they were destined to wander in the wilderness. That means that on the average, 85 per day would die under the judgement of God.

Now if we allow 12 hours maximum in each day for funerals to be conducted, that means that there would have been an average of 7 funerals an hour for 39 years. Think about it! Seven funerals an hour, 7 days a week for 39 years. Now if that wasn't a constant testimony to those people of their sin, than nothing could be. They spent a lot of time burying their dead.

Numbers 20:1-2 (NKJV) Then the children of Israel, the whole congregation, came into the Wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh; and Miriam died there and was buried there. 2 Now there was no water for the congregation; so they gathered together against Moses and Aaron.

This is 39 years later and the next generation faces the same trial - no water. God's been caring for them for 40 years, their shoes didn't wear out, he was providing them food. Will they trust Him?

Numbers 20:3-5 (NKJV) And the people contended with Moses and spoke, saying: "If only we had died when our brethren died before the LORD! 4 "Why have you brought up the assembly of the LORD into this wilderness, that we and our animals should die here? 5 "And why have you made us come up out of Egypt, to bring us to this evil place? It is not a place of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates; nor is there any water to drink."
Numbers 20:13 (NKJV) This was the water of Meribah, because the children of Israel contended with the LORD, and He was hallowed among them.

What is the issue at Meribah? A test, a trial. Will you trust me? Will you believe my word?

God has given us so many promises. Our happiness, our peace, our joy, our growth and sanctification depend upon our trusting these promises. We need to know these promises so we can believe them, and we also need to be constantly reminded of them.

Romans 8:28 (NKJV) And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

All things aren't good, but they work together for good if we love God. God brings us into difficult circumstances so we will learn to trust Him.

1 Peter 5:7 (NKJV) casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.

Don't worry or complain - trust! God is in control and He can bring water out of a rock, or money out of a fish's mouth. God is glorified when we trust Him. Don't act as if He doesn't exist.

Hebrews 3:7 (NKJV) Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: "Today, if you will hear His voice,

Today, listen to His voice, which is heard in the Word of God.

Hebrews 3:8 (NKJV) Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, In the day of trial in the wilderness,

Stop hardening your hearts as in the rebellion. They refused to trust God, they hardened their hearts against Him. The word "trial"is the Greek word peirasmos, which means: "trial or testing."

Hebrews 3:9 (NKJV) Where your fathers tested Me, tried Me, And saw My works forty years.

For forty years, they saw the faithfulness of God and they wouldn't trust Him. You've seen His faithfulness also, do you trust Him in the trials of life?

Hebrews 3:10 (NKJV) Therefore I was angry with that generation, And said, 'They always go astray in their heart, And they have not known My ways.'

The word "angry" is from the Greek word prosochthizo, which means: "to loathe, to be disgusted, to spue out, abhor." This word is expressive of a strong displeasure.

Notice, God was angry with a "generation," a body of people during a specific period of time that were noted for unbelief and the rejection of God. Here was a generation that wearied God (Isa 43:24). He actually grew tired of them, and was distressed because of them! Scripture apprises us of the Lord's view of wayward Israel, and the words are most arresting:

Psalms 106:40-41 (NKJV) Therefore the wrath of the LORD was kindled against His people, So that He abhorred His own inheritance. 41 And He gave them into the hand of the Gentiles, And those who hated them ruled over them.

Here is a God that is not well known in our day! In the book of Hebrews, God is giving this warning to another "generation" in another forty year period.

The word "astray" is the Greek word planao. It means: "to be lead aside from the right way." The word "heart" is kardia, which means: "thinking." Then he says, "they have not known My ways." - Ignorance is often the heart of the matter. I think that it is safe to say that those who stumble and creep along in their perpetual infancy and underdevelopment do so from one primary cause - neglect of the Bible.

Hebrews 3:11 (NKJV) So I swore in My wrath, 'They shall not enter My rest.'"

"My rest" - from the context of Numbers 14, Israel's rest was Canaan. Giving instructions to Israel as they prepared to enter the promised land Moses said:

Deuteronomy 12:8-9 (NKJV) "You shall not at all do as we are doing here today; every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes; 9 "for as yet you have not come to the rest and the inheritance which the LORD your God is giving you.

Their rest was their inheritance. They lost their inheritance because of their disbelief, their failure to trust God in the difficult circumstances of life. Now the writer of Hebrews applies this to his generation:

Hebrews 3:12 (NKJV) Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God;

"Beware, brethren" - The writer applies the text directly to his readers and the Spirit applies it to us. "Beware" is blepo, which is a present imperative involving durative action. "Be seeing to it constantly, keep a watchful eye ever open" is the idea. "Taking heed" (KJV) means we are devoted to maintaining a walk in the Spirit. We will not allow ourselves to governed by seen things, but look beyond them to things that are not seen - eternal things (2 Cor 4:17-18). Those that are lax in their intake of and meditation upon the things of God are not "taking heed".

The word "brethren" is adelphos. Guess who he's talking to? Christians! One writer says, "This is not a reference to Christians, it refers to racial brothers, unbelieving Jews." Contextually, this is ridiculous, remember 3:1? "Holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling." The author is writing to believers telling them to constantly be watching out least there be found in them an evil heart of unbelief. The Greek word order is, "a heart evil with reference to unbelief as in rebellion."

Listen believers, we ALL have the potential to doubt God, the capacity to unbelief. Have you ever doubted God? Be honest. We are capable of doubting God and it is particularly under the pressures of stress and trouble that that latent capacity seems to rise to the surface and to seep into our hearts like a poisonous anesthetic robbing us or our spiritual sensitivity and hardening our hearts.

In 1956, C.S. Lewis, a confirmed bachelor, married Joy Davidman, but after four intensely happy years, Joy died, and Lewis was alone again. Inconsolable, he faced a crisis of faith. He wrote: "Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about him. The conclusion I dread is not, 'So there's no God after all,' but, 'So this is what God's really like. Deceive yourself no longer.'" Deceive yourself no longer! The circumstances at Rephidim and Kadesh make such a thought seem irresistible. Yet, the Lord still expects us to trust Him.

"... in departing from the living God" - The NASB speaks of "falling away from the living God." Could a believer depart from or fall away from God? Who else could? The word "depart" is the Greek word aphistemi, which means: "to remove, fall away."

One writer said this, "A believer can develop 'an evil heart of unbelief.' Remember that the recipients of this epistle were 'holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling' (Heb. 3:1) The warning against developing a heart of unbelief presumes a real possibility. Thus a 'believer' can become an 'unbeliever'"!

This is not talking about losing eternal life, you can't lose eternal life - it's eternal. It is talking about losing fellowship, discipleship, a close intimate relationship with God. This is where we get the word "apostasy." Apostasy is a believer turning away from the truth. What would cause a believer to fall away from God? Trials!

Luke 8:11-13 (NKJV) "Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 "Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. 13 "But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away.

The word "temptation" here is from the Greek word peirasmos. It is the same word found in Hebrews 3:8, translated "trial". The words "fall away" are from the Greek word aphistemi, which is the same word found in Hebrews 3:12, translated "departing".

The view that the faith of a genuine Christian cannot fail is theological and not exegetical. The "no root" of Luke 8:13 is a reference to no depth of knowledge in the Word of God.

Mark 4:17 (NKJV) "and they have no root in themselves, and so endure only for a time. Afterward, when tribulation or persecution arises for the word's sake, immediately they stumble.

The word "stumble" is the Greek word skandalizo. It means: "to cause to stumble or apostatize." If our hearts become hard rocky soil, we have no defense to temptations, and we can lose our faith.

Matthew 11:1-3 (NKJV) Now it came to pass, when Jesus finished commanding His twelve disciples, that He departed from there to teach and to preach in their cities. 2 And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples 3 and said to Him, "Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?"

This is John the Baptizer asking, "Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?" This is the same John who previously said:

John 1:29 (NKJV) The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
John 1:34 (NKJV) "And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God."

What happened to John's faith that caused him to question if Jesus was the Christ? As verse 2 tells us, he was in prison about to lose his life. This trial caused him to doubt.

Matthew 26:69-72 (NKJV) Now Peter sat outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came to him, saying, "You also were with Jesus of Galilee." 70 But he denied it before them all, saying, "I do not know what you are saying." 71 And when he had gone out to the gateway, another girl saw him and said to those who were there, "This fellow also was with Jesus of Nazareth." 72 But again he denied with an oath, "I do not know the Man!"

Would you say that Peter's faith had failed in the trial?

After Jesus had risen from the dead, He confronted His disciples. They had refused to believe the faithful women that testified to them of the risen Lord (Luke 24:10). When the risen Lord appeared to His disciples, "He reproached (upbraided, KJV; rebuked, NIV) them for their unbelief and hardness of heart"

Mark 16:14 (NKJV) Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.

Paul tells Timothy to continue in the Word in order to save himself from apostasy.

1 Timothy 4:16 (NKJV) Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.

We all need to "Beware" and stay in the Word that our faith may grow strong. Could we apostatize? It happened to Israel, it happened to many other believers. Don't let the trials and testing of life turn you away from God and cause you to lose the blessings of your inheritance. So how are we to "take care" to prevent people falling away from God in our community because of an evil heart of unbelief?

Hebrews 3:12-13 (NKJV) Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; 13 but exhort one another daily, while it is called "Today," lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.

The writer says to "encourage one another." This encouragement is to take place "daily" - in other words, all the time. We are to encourage each other daily to consider Jesus, consider his faithfulness and imitate Him as we fix our attention upon Him.

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