A Rest for God's People
7 It is just as the Holy Spirit says,
“If you hear God's voice today,
8don't be stubborn!
Don't rebel like those people
who were tested
in the desert.
* 9 For forty years your ancestors
tested God and saw
the things he did.
10“Then God got tired of them
‘You people never
show good sense,
and you don't understand
what I want you to do.’
11God became angry
and told the people,
‘You will never enter
my place of rest!’ ”
12My friends, watch out! Don't let evil thoughts or doubts make any of you turn from the living God. 13You must encourage one another each day. And you must keep on while there is still a time that can be called “today.” If you don't, then sin may fool some of you and make you stubborn. 14We were sure about Christ when we first became his people. So let's hold tightly to our faith until the end. 15 The Scriptures say,
“If you hear his voice today,
don't be stubborn
like those who rebelled.”
16 Who were those people that heard God's voice and rebelled? Weren't they the same ones that came out of Egypt with Moses? 17Who were the people that made God angry for 40 years? Weren't they the ones that sinned and died in the desert? 18And who did God say would never enter his place of rest? Weren't they the ones that disobeyed him? 19We see that those people did not enter the place of rest because they did not have faith.
As the Spanish philosopher George Santayana so wisely said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Quoting from Psalm 95, the writer to the Hebrews here calls to mind a tragic episode in Israel’s past by way of encouraging steadfast faith and believing hearts.
After 400 years of slavery in Egypt and a rescue so unlikely and dramatic it had to be credited to God’s intervention, you might think the people of God would have no difficulty trusting God. But no sooner were they free, than they began doubting and testing and disobeying him. And as a result, an entire generation died in the desert, never experiencing life in the Canaan, their “place of rest’” (v 11).
We have been grafted on to the roots of Israel (Romans 11), and so this story is our story and we would do well to remember it. We are offered the gift of ultimate rest – salvation through Christ. As he said in Matthew 11:28-30, “If you are tired from carrying heavy burdens, come to me and I will give you rest. Take the yoke I give you. Put it on your shoulders and learn from me. I am gentle and humble, and you will find rest. This yoke is easy to bear, and this burden is light.” Yet the temptation to turn away from the living God to idols of self-reliance, money or work is strong.
And resisting takes effort. Look at the imperatives here: “Watch out!” “Keep on!” “Hold tightly!” Faith doesn’t thrive in a vacuum. Let’s commit to building each other up in faith, retelling the cautionary tales of our forebears, and staying alert to the voice of God through his Word.
Thank you, Father God, for the gift of rest you offer. Thank you that I can stop striving to please you in my own strength, that I don’t have to save myself. Keep my heart soft Lord, and my ears attentive to your Word. In Jesus’ name, Amen.