Believe Jesus: The Deadly Danger of Unbelief
Throughout this epistle, the people of Israel during their wanderings in the wilderness serve as an illustration of how the people of God are not to behave. In this passage the illustration draws from Psalm 95 – a psalm that spells out God’s response to Israel’s failings in stark detail.
An interesting thing to note is that the first half of Psalm 95 (the part that is not quoted in Hebrews) is worship. The second half (which is quoted) is warning. What this illustrates for us is that there is no true worship without obedience. “Worship” is not just “singing” – we are not saved by our singing! It is what we are doing “Today” that counts. Which means we need to demonstrate obedience to the now word of God. There is a sense in which our past obedience is not relevant. If one of my kids were to say, “Oh, I did what you said last week so I don’t think I’ll bother today,” I wouldn’t be too impressed. It is how they respond now that matters.
Worship and obedience are intimately connected because the extent of our obedience reveals the attitude of our hearts. God is after our hearts and we are not to harden them. To harden the heart means being deliberately resistant to God’s will. This is what Pharaoh did; it is what the Pharisees did. Shockingly, it is also what the people of Israel did when at Meribah and Massah they rebelled against God and tested him. Israel had come out of Egypt, seen the miracles, but persistently refused God. This hardening of heart was highlighted by the refusal of the people to enter the Promised Land, and their attempts to stone Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb for wanting to enter the land. (See Numbers 14:10) In the end, God gave them what they asked for and declared, “You will not enter the land.”
The point of Psalm 95 and Hebrews 3 is the Holy Spirit’s urging of us, “Don’t be like them! Don’t let your heart harden, don’t give it over to evil, don’t be unbelieving.” The wilderness community actively encouraged one another in disobedience. We have a responsibility towards one another to help one another stay soft-hearted towards God.
In the end the Israelites got what they asked for – dying in the wilderness rather than entering the promised land. They were unable to enter the land because their rebellion sealed their fate. The exodus began so well but ended so badly. Hundreds of thousands left Egypt but only two of them entered Canaan. Let’s not repeat this!
The failure of the wilderness generation to believe God and remain obedient to him raises a question – Why did they end up this way? Reading the background to the story in Numbers 14 shows us that it was because of fear that the people rebelled. Fear kept them from belief. Fear kept them from the promised land. The thing is, their fear was understandable! In fact, their fear could be described as rational caution. The land they were meant to be conquering was well defended by scary looking and experienced soldiers. Rational caution said that this was no easy task. But rational caution fed a lack of faith, and a lack of faith caused fear to grow, and fear led to a hardening of heart, and hardening of heart meant outright rebellion against God. Of course, what Joshua and Caleb saw was that the practical obstacles were not the obstacle. God was able to remove the obstacles, if only the people believed.
It is easy for us to say that we would not make the mistakes of the Israelites, but what they experienced can so easily happen to churches. In our churches there can be an appearance of worship and of righteousness, but no real obedience – no action. We are called to reach the world, but so often end up merely holding worship services.
We need to take some risks. We need to try some stuff. We need to ensure that we do not allow the practical obstacles to become the obstacle. It is easy to say, “We haven’t got enough leaders and we don’t have enough money,” when we should be saying, “Believe Jesus!”
In the final analysis, it is better to die trying than to die in the wilderness! Let’s be true worshippers. Let’s be obedient.