The inspired writer of the Book of Hebrews, in addressing a particular group in his Jewish audience (that group of people who heard the message of the Gospel and are convinced about it but had not made any commitment on their part to respond positively) turned back to them because he felt they were hardening their hearts. He said to them earlier that they had to keep a firm grip and eagerly secure their lives to the things they had been taught or the ship of life might just drift past the harbor of redemption leaving them and be lost forever.
These set of people were likened to the children of Israel who knew and had a first hand experience of what it means to know the power. They were a witness to the Manna that dropped in the wilderness, they were convinced beyond every shadow of doubt that God was with them. They had experienced His rescue (which is supposed to be a sign pointing towards how we are going to be saved, repeatedly) and by all means the experience should have formed their attitude and response towards their God.
The process at which God got their attention then is the same process at which He is trying to get the attention of today’s generation. They heard the message then and today, we are hearing the message and the message of this great writer is that even though we hear and know the message of the Gospel, we still need that part of responding positively to the message heard. Apostle Paul puts this aptly when he said, “How can they hear if a preacher/teacher is not sent”. Today, the message of the Gospel is still being heard (although some have bastardized and changed it to another message) and we ought to give the proper response to the message heard.
This particular group of people in his audience was likened to the Israelites who were only concerned about themselves and never bothered or reasoned about why God took them out of the land of slavery. As long as things were going on well for them, they sang the praises of the almighty God. The times of temptation came, and guess what, selfishness and self-centeredness became the order of the day. Their issue was not that they didn’t believe in God but that He was God to them provided things were going fine in accordance with their desires and lusts.
Today, we are saddled with the same attitude in the Church; we have been sold a Gospel of “God will give you this and that”, and the minute we don’t get what we have desired, the feeling of guilt comes and we start to moan or think that God might not be God or that we have done something wrong as the reason why we never get the things we lust after. To the Philosopher, the question is “Does God exist”, to the Psychologist, there must be something wrong somewhere, and to the legalist, we must have broken one law or the other.
From the aforementioned, we make going to Church look like a place where we go and have our needs met instead of a place where we go to meet with our God in worship. The children of Israel wanted water and instead of trusting in the God that brought them out from Egypt to supply that want, they started to remember how they had garlic, onions and cucumber in Egypt. The last thing on their mind was the plan and purpose of God for their lives in the journey they had embarked upon. Many churchgoers do not think about the plan and purpose of God but what they want God to do for them even if what they are asking for is not part of the Will of God for their lives.
It was a day of temptation for the Israelites; a day described in today’s language as a day when they were faced with a challenge; they desperately wanted things their own way, they wanted things to happen the way they expect it to irrespective of what God’s plans are or not. They couldn’t wait another second, it just had to happen or rebellion will set in. In forty years, one would have thought they must have learned a whole lot from God but the reverse was the case. We are only as good until the next challenge comes. When the next challenge arrives, we tend to forget how God brought us or delivered us from previous challenges and then we throw in the towel and all hell breaks lose.
The idea they had was for God to prove Himself; to show Himself as God by yielding to their desires and needs even though it might not be part of His plans. It was their way of asking God to show that He is God. The many times we pray to God to prove Himself in our challenges today. The more we pray such, the more God remains God who eventually will wait for us to respond positively to what we have heard or have been taught.
The writer described the above process as a HARDENING of the heart. The word means to be stubborn: having or showing a dogged determination not to change ones attitude or position on something in spite of having a good reason to do so. It also means to disobey: fail to obey a command or pay no heed to what one hears. The process of hardening the heart is such that one must first hear and in the process of hearing, one refuses to respond to what was heard even though what we see around us is on the contrary.
So the writer of this great book advises that, we ought to be very careful because of the same thing that happened in the wilderness. You can know so much about God but it doesn’t stop there. When you come to know about God, you ought to do something about what you have discovered. This group of people who were convinced about the message of the Gospel they heard, had need to be reminded and warned not to harden their hearts but to respond the moment they hear the message of the Gospel. Paul stressed this when he told the Corinthian church that “NOW” is the day and time of salvation.
In a world where so many things are happening; we hear about the wars around us, rumors of war, the natural is taking the form of the unnatural, there is darkness over the land and the people have become gross darkness; it is very possible that we could, like the Israelites, forget about the plan of God and look for ways to be comfortable in this world, we could very easily forget about Him because we all of a sudden have become very self-aware, self-centered and selfish; we want a way out of our challenges forgetting that these challenges are God’s way of keeping us alive in Him.
We are not making light of the things people are going through today; it was a wilderness experience for the Israelites as well but one thing is certain, God surely had a reason for taking them through the wilderness. He has a reason for taking you through the various challenges you have been through. To the many who have heard the message of the Gospel and have not responded, the writer says that it is very possible to come short of the promise of entering His REST when we don’t respond immediately. We ought to remember that the life we are holding unto today can end this very moment and what happens when we don’t respond before the termination.
We ought to FEAR – reverential fear or to be in awe not with slavish terror.
“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in your heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” – The Great Apostle Paul.