“So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest’” …
“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” (verses 3, 7)
Today’s verses follow an extended quotation from Psalm 95 recorded for us in the last chapter (Hebrews 3:7-11). Such quotations from the Old Testament don’t show up haphazardly – when included by the biblical writers they are deliberate and intentional. How much more so when snippets of that longer citation are actually repeated – clearly there is something the author doesn’t intend for us to miss.
That’s the case here. Both verses printed above had already appeared in the Psalm 95 quotation itself. Now they are repeated. Indeed, the reference beginning with the word “Today” appears in the text three times within twenty verses. That’s excessive. It verges on redundancy. We’re meant to sit up and take notice.
The first quotation potently expresses God’s wrath. “So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” Why? What makes the Lord so angry? If we’re interested in following him closely then it’s important to know.
Here’s what we find. God’s anger is provoked by “a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12). These people (following the example of the Israelites in the wilderness) have been given the opportunity to follow the Lord, but instead have followed their own path, have refused to trust the Lord, have snubbed his overtures, and have turned aside from his offers of life – from his offer of “rest.”
Put even more simply, although they heard the message – loud and clear – it did them no good because they “did not combine it with faith” (4:2). Here is the key issue. They didn’t believe. They didn’t entrust themselves into the hands and care of Almighty God. Instead, they allowed unbelief to take up residence in the very core of their lives. The Israelites didn’t trust the Lord for provision in the desert, even though he had miraculously delivered them from Egypt. Might we be in danger of doing the same?
Several times over the Lord calls this “disobedience” (3:18, 4:6, 4:11). Having heard the Lord’s voice, they were meant to respond with belief, to turn in the Lord’s direction, and to follow. But they didn’t. With hardened, unbelieving hearts, they turned away.
“So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” So painful.
The second quotation – repeated three times in these verses – is a direct summons to us. It’s a summons to simply believe. “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” In other words, don’t be like those who provoked God’s anger. Put aside a hardened heart. Put aside disobedience to his commands. And put aside unbelief.
Instead trust. Hear his voice and respond with heartfelt belief. Using “rest” as a metaphor of God’s salvation and blessing, the author says that “we who have believed enter that rest”(4:2). This is the simple key. Believe.
It is, of course, also the only entryway into salvation in Jesus in the first place. But similarly, it is the ongoing stance for following Jesus in discipleship. Listen. Hear his voice. Don’t harden your heart and turn away. Believe. Follow. Enter his rest.
Like sheep with a good shepherd. “He goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:4). Be like that.
Lord Jesus, I want to be shaped by your word. Keep me watchful in putting aside a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from you. Instead, tune my ear to listen closely, and strengthen my will to place full trust in you, each step of the journey. To your glory and for the pleasure of your heart.
Reflect: Where is the Lord calling you into deeper, stronger belief right now? Listen. Respond.