…the same potential for disaster that faced the Israelites in the wilderness also faces us today.
Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, In the day of trial in the wilderness, Where your fathers tested Me, tried Me, And saw My works forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation, And said, ‘They always go astray in their heart, And they have not known My ways.’ So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.’” Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, while it is said: “Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion” (Hebrews 3:7-15).
The title of this series, “Studies in the New Testament,” implies that our goal is to carefully consider the New Testament Scripture, seeking to learn from it. This should always be our conscientious goal when reading any part of the Bible, especially those portions that are very familiar to us. The more familiar the Scripture, the more we are tempted to simply read or gloss over the words without carefully considering them.
In every case, whether the Scripture is familiar or new, it’s important that we keep in mind that we have an inborn learning impediment: a corrupt sinful nature.
If we follow the lead of our corrupt hearts, we may be tempted to hold the Scripture “at arm’s length” and look at it merely as historical information. This happens when we consider the events related in Scripture without really asking, “What am I to learn from this?” We are to remember that these things have been written for our learning (cf. Romans 15:4, 1 Corinthians 10:1-11).
It is for this very reason that we begin with prayer and ask that the Holy Spirit overcome our learning problem and guide us that we may learn and grow in faith.
In the book of Exodus, we read of the wanderings of the people of Israel. The Spirit of God, through His divinely-inspired record, allows us to look in on the mistakes of the descendants of Jacob/Israel. There are times when we may be tempted to look down on them (rather hypocritically), imagining that had we been trudging through the sand alongside them, we would not have made the same mistakes. We may go so far as to snicker at the mistakes and sins of the Israelites.
Well, that’s where these words from the Letter to the Hebrews issue us a warning.
In the wilderness, the lives of the Israelites were a roller coaster of sin and grace. In our own lives we find the same.
The Spirit of God speaks to us here not just to provide us with historical information, but more importantly because the same potential for disaster that faced the Israelites in the wilderness also faces us today. We, like the Israelites, may be caught in sin. We, like the Israelites, may be tempted to dabble, to continue in sin. We, like some of the Israelites, could be led to turn away from our gracious God. In order that we may not think ourselves immune, our gracious God warns each of us.
Therefore, let us be warned about trifling with the grace of God and trying God’s patience. We do so when we adopt this kind of thinking (prevalent in our world today): “I can sin today and get forgiveness tomorrow.” This is most certainly a trap of Satan.
We are sinners, but should we therefore spend each day trembling in fear that God will come? Certainly not, for we, though corrupt sinners, have been reconciled to God through the death of His Son. We have a merciful God Who sent His Son to die for us and who earnestly desires that every human being be saved by grace through faith in Christ.
We should be warned about trifling with the grace of God. Yet, when we tremble on our way, let us return again to the Gospel of Christ. It is there that we are reminded of the height and depth of God’s love. It’s there that the Spirit strengthens faith in what Christ has done, and lifts our hearts to hope and joy.
Andrew Schaller is pastor of Trinity Ev. Lutheran Church in Watertown, South Dakota and Zion Ev. Lutheran Church in Hidewood Township, South Dakota.