Do Not Harden Your Heart. Hebrews 3:7-11
Is it a possibility that we, sincere believers in Christ, might harden our hearts? You remember when God poured out the plagues on Egypt? Each time Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not listen to God. The plagues were supposed to teach the Children of Israel who the LORD God was. Instead, the Israelites learned how to harden their hearts against God. This is the subject of the quote from Psalm 95 in our text. The writer of Hebrews warned his readers “Do not harden your hearts.”
The writer taught us there are three ways the Children of Israel hardened their hearts. The Children of Israel hardened their hearts first when they forgot what God had done. Second, they hardened their hearts when they put God on trial. Finally, they hardened their hearts when they refused to learn to know the LORD and to follow His ways.
Hebrews 3:7-8 reads, “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.” Immediately we ask the question, “What does it mean to harden our hearts?” In our text, we find at least a partial answer. First, the hardening of their hearts began when they forgot what God had already done for them.
They were delivered from Egypt through miraculous divine plagues. They ate manna in the desert every day, and had the Red Sea opened so they could cross on dry land. Truly, they saw God’s miracles. The Psalmist said in the second phrase of verse 9. “And saw My works forty years.” Every day even as the Children of Israel trudged around the desert under God’s righteous judgment, the LORD took care of them.
When the writer cited Psalm 95, what event or events in the wilderness wanderings did he have in mind? The text in Psalm 95 mentions the two names Moses gave to the place where he first struck the Rock to bring forth water for the people –Meribah and Massah — rebellion and quarrels. However, these both took place before the forty years of wandering mentioned later in the text. The point the Psalmist made is that this was the continuing activity of the Children of Israel in the desert.
The culmination of the rebellion of the people took place at Kadesh Barnea. For these Hebrew readers all the, sights, smells, and sounds of Numbers 13 and 14 came flooding into their minds. Many of us do not have this advantage, so we need to review what took place there so we can understand. The Children of Israel have arrived at Kadesh Barnea, they sent out twelve spies to explore the land in preparation for an imminent invasion. The spies came back with a two-part report. First, they reported the land was indeed all that God said it would be and more. Second, they saw the sons of Anak in the land. The Anakim were giants. Well-fortified walled cities dotted the landscape. In short, they faced an impossible task in light of their own resources. Then the spies changed their report and said the land was an evil land!
After hearing the report, the Children of Israel reacted in fear. Numbers 14:1-14 reads: “So all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night. And all the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, and the whole congregation said to them, ‘If only we had died in the land of Egypt! Or if only we had died in this wilderness. Why has the Lord brought us to this land to fall by the sword that our wives and children should become victims? Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?’ So they said to one another, ‘Let us select a leader and return to Egypt.’” They had a pity party to end all pity parties. Moses and Aaron but mostly God was to blame for lying to them and failing them like this. This was blasphemy.
What did God say to this? “Then the LORD said: ‘I have pardoned, according to your word; but truly, as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD—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, 23they certainly shall not see the land of which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those who rejected Me see it.’” God swore by Himself that one day all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD. It will happen. Israel’s rebellion will not thwart God’s plan.
Second, God will judge the rebellious Children of Israel. He will judge by giving them what they asked for earlier. Do you remember what they said in their temper tantrum? “If only we had died in this wilderness.” (Numbers 14:2). What did these folks do to incur God’s righteous wrath? They saw His glory and the miracles that He did and they failed to remember them. They failed to figure God into the task of taking the land as He commanded.
Let us not fall into this trap. We must not accuse God of being uncaring and unfaithful to us in our trials. We must not forget all that He has done for us already Thanksgiving is for what God has already done. Remembering what God had done was why God commanded Joshua to make the rock pile of boulders taken from the middle of the Jordan River in crossing into the Promised Land. We have must have our own rock piles of memories of what God has done for us. We need to visit our rock piles again – picking up each stone and reminding ourselves anew of God’s great faithfulness to us. Let us not sin against God and harden our hearts because we have forgotten what God has done.
We learn that one way we may harden our hearts is to forget what God has done. The Children of Israel hardened their hearts by putting God on trial. Back in Hebrews 3, we read about this in verses 8-9. “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.”
This was a great evil. The Children of Israel did not trust God. Instead, they put Him on trial. Things went along smoothly until the road got a little bumpy, then they accused God of terrible evil ascribing sinful motives in allowing them this discomfort. Rather than remembering the blessings God provided every day, they demanded that God produce a miracle to fix the problem. If no miracle was coming, they would accuse Him of being out to destroy them. The Children of Israel were the original, “what have you done for me lately” group.
Several years ago, C. S. Lewis wrote an essay originally entitled, “Difficulties in Presenting the Christian Faith to Modern Unbelievers.” An editor republished the essay under a new title, “God in the Dock.” Lewis observed in this essay, “The ancient man approached God (or even gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge and God is in the dock. [Modern man] is quite a kindly judge: if God should have a reasonable defense for being the God who permits war, poverty, and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that Man is on the bench and God is in the dock.”
The Jewish people in Kadesh Barnea were just like the people in Lewis’ essay. They put God on trial. They put Him in the dock and assumed He acted with evil motives and plans toward them. They demanded He prove that He was innocent of the charges. Psalm 78:17–20 is a divine commentary on these events. After describing the multitude of blessings God provided for Israel in the desert, the Psalmist wrote, “But [the Children of Israel] sinned even more against Him by rebelling against the Most High in the wilderness. And they tested God in their heart by asking for the food of their fancy. Yes, they spoke against God: They said, ‘Can God prepare a table in the wilderness? Behold, He struck the rock, so that the waters gushed out, And the streams overflowed. Can He give bread also? Can He provide meat for His people?’”
The Children of Israel hardened their hearts by forgetting continually what God had done for them. They also hardened their hearts by putting God to the test. Lastly, we learn that they hardened their hearts by refusing to learn God’s ways and to do His will. Hebrews 3:10-11 says, “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.’” This was the heart of God’s indictment against them. They did not want His ways. They only wanted their way.
We don’t do this, do we? Do we put our intelligence, our desires, above God’s will? I once knew a woman who told me she did not agree with God. I was flabbergasted. How can we mere people think that we are smarter or wiser than the One who designed and created this world and actively keeps it going?
We must ask God to help us believe Him. We must remember Who He is and what He does each moment of our lives. We are the ones who have failed Him. He has never failed us. Let us then be careful to heed His voice and not harden our hearts by forgetting what God has done for us, by putting God on trial, or by demanding our way over His will.