Monday, December 16, 2013
Hebrews Chapter Three Part 5
3:15-19 While it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation. For some, when they had heard, did provoke: howbeit not all that came out of Egypt by Moses. But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness? And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.
This passage is prefaced in verses 13 and 14 by the reminder that we are to exhort one another daily so that none are hardened by sin’s deceit, and that we only become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast until the end. These verses, coupled with the passage we are now considering, is reminiscent of John chapter 15, verses 1-8.
Jesus begins by instructing us that He is the true vine, and that God the Father is the vine dresser. Those that fail to bear fruit the Father “takes away,” a Greek term that can also be translated “lifts up” and is frequently found in the footnotes of many Bibles as an alternate rendering. The idea is that of a gardener binding up sagging shoots to expose them better to the sunlight and stimulate growth and fruit bearing. For those already bearing fruit it is said that the Father prunes us, so that we may bear more fruit. That which is incongruent with God’s word and will, that which hinders fruitful service or distracts from faithful obedience God prunes and removes, the better to stimulate fruit bearing.
Jesus pauses in John 15:3 to remind His disciples (and us) that they are already clean due to the word spoken to them, see John 13:10. In other words, Jesus is plainly telling them that He is not referring to their salvation or justification. John chapter 15 is a trouble shooting guide to having fruitful fellowship with Christ and the Father; our justification isn’t here a present issue and Jesus reminds us of this.
Verses 4 and 5 tell us that being in Christ, abiding in Him and His word by internalizing and practicing what we have learned, brings the coveted fruit of the Spirit. Outside the vine we can produce nothing spiritually valuable. The fruit of the Spirit is succinctly listed in Galatians 5:22-23. Only by abiding can the spiritual life be lived; otherwise we are walking in the flesh and produce its works, Galatians 5:20-21.
Verse 6 speaks of the repercussions of failing to abide in Christ as a branch. Like 1st Corinthians 3:11-15 or Hebrews 6:4-8, the concept is one of the believer’s works being judged at the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ. Works done in Christ receive reward; works done in the flesh are burned, though the Christian in question is still saved.
Triumphant prayer is also touched upon in this passage in John. Jesus tells us that if we do abide in Him, and His words abide in us, we shall ask what we will and it will be done for us. The more we walk in God’s will, practice His will and understand His will, the more our prayers will begin to reflect our Lord’s will, and therefore God can more easily grant such prayers. By this, Jesus says, God is glorified; in that we as His children bear much fruit. Moreover, we are told that this is how we genuinely demonstrate our discipleship, John 15:7-8. The ultimate end of fruit bearing then, including effectual prayer, is that God is glorified in all that we do; and in this we see the mind of Christ at work, for while Jesus was on earth His very prayer was “not what I will, but what You will,” Mark 14:36.
I diverted for a spell simply to help give a demonstration of the concept presented here. I know there are many who read this passage in Hebrews and feel a foreboding as they believe that the writer is teaching that unbelief and disobedience on the part of genuinely saved Christians results in banishment from God’s presence and resultant damnation. But let us go over the verse one by one and see if this passage even suggests such a thing. I am confident that by comparing scripture to scripture we will have a much clearer view of the writer’s and the Holy Spirit’s intentions when this passage was first penned.
Verse 15 is a quote lifted straight from Psalm 95:7-8 and refers to the wilderness wanderings of Israel during the days of Moses. The nation had been led to Canaan’s borders and spies had been sent out to scout out the land. They saw that the land was good, but they were terrified by the citizens within, and they gave Israel a bad report, save for Caleb and Joshua. This evil report was stark unbelief, for God told the newborn nation that He (God Himself) was going to dispossess this land and Israel would claim it. He promised them the land and total victory. The problem was that the tribes chose to believe the ten unfaithful spies who walked by sight rather than faith. When we walk by faith we can expect God to walk with us for we walk in agreement, Amos 3:2-3; Leviticus 26:3-13. But if we disobey (which is simply a demonstration of unbelief) then God must walk contrary to us. Instead of blessing, He must discipline His wayward children, Leviticus 26:14-39; Hebrews 12:5-7.
We read on to find the writer going into a question and answer format. For who, having heard, rebelled? What did they hear, pray tell? Verse 15 tells us. They heard God: “Today, if you will hear His voice…” What did they hear? God’s promise to be with them and be their God, the giving of the commandments that uniquely demonstrated the fact that Israel was a peculiar nation who alone could claim the Lord Yahweh as their God. Only choice was left. It has been the same since the beginning. Adam and Eve were clearly told not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; yet they chose to obey Satan instead of the simple command God gave them. Unbelief was manifested in disobedience. Israel was warned of the stern and sudden consequences of turning from the covenant the Lord made with them at Sinai. He spoke from the fire atop the mountain. Though they could see no form they perceived that a being immense in power was speaking to them, and it terrified them. The question remained as to whether they would believe that God meant what He said, or if He was lying. Disobedience is rebellion; we are calling God a liar and telling Him that we know better how to govern our lives. We are, like Adam and Eve, trying to be our own gods.
It is plain that the writer is presently referring to Israel as a nation. They rebelled, under Moses. It was the rebels with whom God was angry; with those who sinned. They sinned twice over. First they chose to believe the spies over God. Then, when they heard that God was wroth with them and commanded them to wander away from Canaan, they tried to take the land themselves, without His blessing or presence, Numbers 14:41-42. Here we see John 15:5 elegantly demonstrated for us.
Verse 18 asks with whom did God swear that they would not enter His rest. The writer answers his own question and tells us: “those who did not obey.” Verse 19 shows us that disobedience and unbelief are interchangeable terms at this point. God swore that the disobedient would not enter His rest, and in verse 19 the writer concludes that they failed to enter that same rest through unbelief. The entrance into Canaan under Joshua was, in my own opinion, not symbolic of Heaven but a picture of a people finally submitting to God’s will and through faith triumphing. Or rather, God through the lives of His obedient children, furthering His plans for redemption. God was glorified when Israel finally obeyed forty years later, entered Canaan, and systematically dispossessed the Canaanites. Such triumphant Christian living or bearing spiritual fruit can only come through a yielded saint, willing to walk in the Spirit and permitting God the Father to prune them, as is His desire. In this instance we see discipline unto death, which God has done from time to time with children that are bound and determined by the hardness of sin’s deceit to resist God’s revealed will. Physical death is a severe discipline, but it also for the sake of fellow saints who will be less likely to follow the perverse example of erring Christians when they see the results of their sin, Galatians 6:7-8; Acts 5:5, 11; James 5:19-20; 1st John 5:16; Revelation 22:12.