So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me and for forty years saw what I did …”
See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. (verses 7-9, 12-14)
Think of a time your throat was completely parched. What did you want more than anything else in that moment? Water, right? What if water was nowhere to be seen, with no prospective source anywhere, and no imaginable hope that any would emerge?
This was the circumstance of the people of Israel, freshly escaped from slavery in Egypt, but now wandering in the wilderness without water, stumbling forward toward the land which the Lord God had promised.
That last word is crucial – “promised.” The people were on a journey initiated by the Lord God Almighty himself. The pledge he had made to them through Moses was this: “I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites – a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:17). They had God’s word on it. He had given his guarantee. He would deliver them safely into the Promised Land.
If they truly believed that promise – if they stood on its sure foundation – then there would be no question that a momentary lack of water could possibly get in the way.
But they let the oppressiveness of thirst overwhelm the certainty of belief. They had heard God’s word, but they hardened their hearts. They were tested and failed, rebelling against the Lord by losing their grip on his promise.
Don’t do it, brothers and sisters, the writer says. Don’t let an unbelieving heart rule your perspective. Don’t become hardened in unbelief and sin’s deceitfulness. Don’t lose hold of the confidence you were first given in Christ.
It’s a cautionary appeal. How easy it was for the Israelites to fall prey to the immediacy of their crisis. Even though they had seen the mighty hand of God working deliverance for them, as plague after plague hit Egypt. Even after seeing the impassable waters of the Red Sea part before them, the dry ground offering up safe passage, and the pillar of cloud behind shielding them from Pharaoh’s legions. Even after those same waters – parted and piled high – came crashing down on the advancing hordes, eliminating their seemingly unstoppable threat.
Yet the Israelites fell prey to the crisis of the moment – no water. That parched reality withered all faith.
How easy it is for us, too, to get sidelined by trial and testing.How easy for a prolonged delay in prayers’ answers to cause faith to be winded. When we don’t experience all the blessing we’d expected, does discouragement settle in? When the Lord’s presence seems so distant, do we allow unbelief to take root instead?
The thirsty Israelites hardened their hearts. May we, instead, “hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.” In other words, hang tightly to Jesus himself.
O Lord Jesus, when trials come, when discouragements rise, when faith is threatened, strengthen me afresh in my inner being by your Spirit, that you yourself may dwell in my heart through faith. To your glory.
Examine your heart: Has any unbelief taken root (through disappointment, discouragement, trial)? Ask the Father (the One who tends the branches of the vine) to root it out.