Earlier this week I was reading in Hebrews and the following verse grabbed me, “They were not able to enter [God’s rest] because of their unbelief.” (Hebrews 3:19) But let me provide some background information to explain why that verse jarred me so.
In this extended passage, the writer of Hebrews warns us not to follow the example of the Children of Israel in the wilderness. The Lord had promised Abraham and his descendants the land of Canaan. The Lord repeated that promise to Moses and Israel when they arrived at the border of Canaan, “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders.’” (Numbers 13:1-2)
Those twelve leaders spent 40 days scouting the land then returned to Moses and the Israelite community.
They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.”
Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”
But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” (Numbers 13:27-33)
With that backdrop, the writer of Hebrews warns:
So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested and tried me, though for forty years they saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” (Psalm 95:7-8)
See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. (Hebrews 3:7-13)
Again, Hebrews 3:19 says, “They were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.” So, here’s what struck me about that verse and its context. First, the Israelites had a clear word from God. The Lord had promised their ancestors the land of Canaan and this was part of their story, their heritage (Numbers 14:23). Then, the Lord repeated that promise in Numbers 13:1 when He told Moses and the Israelites, “Explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites.” The writer of Hebrews tells us, “So, as the Holy Spirit says: ‘Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.’”
Second, the twelve men scouted the land and brought back a true and accurate picture of the land. Yes, it was a land flowing with milk and honey, but the inhabitants were large, there were fortified cities, and numerous strong armies. Those were the facts.
Based on those facts, instead of trusting God and His clear word that He was giving them the land, they chose to follow their own human reasoning. They declared, “We have the facts, and based on our assessment, we cannot take the land.” Hence, they chose to disbelieve God.
We often have the wrong idea about trusting God. We tend to view failure to believe as neutral. In other words, if we choose not to believe, we assume that is a neutral stance. But there is no neutral stance. We always make a choice—either to believe or to disbelieve. The first chapter of Romans backs this up.
Also, regarding facts, we are the information generation. Never has so much information been available to us and within milliseconds. And we’re constantly making decisions based on those facts using human reasoning. There’s nothing wrong with human reasoning—unless it leads to disbelief.
Third, their unbelief resulted in disobedience to God, and outright rebellion against Him. In Numbers 14:23 the Lord says that these people “treated Him with contempt.”
I know there have been times in my life when I have heard from the Lord but chose to follow my own human reasoning instead. And often my human reasoning wasn’t even based on facts but on fears and what-ifs. Fortunately, that has not always been the case. I remember one incident when we heard the Lord’s voice and obeyed, and the Lord showed Himself strong on our behalf.
Linda and I had just been appointed as missionaries with Greater Europe Mission to Austria. The Lord had confirmed His leading to us in many ways I won’t go into. But our mission leadership asked me to complete my bachelor’s degree before they would send us to Austria. I had graduated from a three-year Bible college whose credits were not readily transferable. The only accredited college we could find to accept my credits was the University of Northwestern, in Minnesota.
We were living in Spokane, WA at the time, so this necessitated a big move. We had prayed through all these decisions and were convinced that this was the Lord’s leading. However, there were a few major unsettled issues (facts): Where would we live and how would I earn a living while attending college? As a veteran, I had the G.I. Bill, so my tuition was covered.
We packed up our family of four and drove to Minnesota in a U-Haul and our sedan. We had arranged to stay with a couple, but their hospitality extended only three days. “What then, we wondered?”
When we arrived in Minnesota, our host family took an interest in us and commented that the church they used to attend was without a pastor, so perhaps they’d let us live in the church parsonage. They contacted the elders of that church and we met with them the following day. The elders agreed to let us stay in the parsonage because we were appointed missionaries but explained that we’d have to move out when they found a pastor. God provided a home for us! Now, for finding a job!
One of the elders graciously offered to help us unload our U-Haul into the parsonage. I had made much of our furniture and he asked about it. When he learned that I was handy with tools, he offered me a job on the spot!
Ironically, a month later, the elders asked me to serve as their pastor on a part-time basis. This gave me two part-time jobs and with the use of the parsonage, God had thoroughly met our needs within a very short time. Looking back on that situation, if I had merely considered the risks and assessed the situation based on my own human reasoning, we never would have made the move. But because we knew we had heard from God, we opted to trust Him to meet our needs and He did!
In that same chapter of Hebrews, the writer urges, “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (Hebrews 3:12-13)
I pray that you’ve been encouraged by reading this as much as I have been writing it!