Don’t go too far (Hebrews 3)

Don’t go too far (Hebrews 3)



There’s an annual study in England which measures what makes people angry. The TOP 50 list of causes contains things like traffic jams, gas price, paying taxes, neighbors drilling at 8 am on Saturday, queue skippers or elderly ladies starting their shopping circuit in the morning rush hour.

There’s an annual study in England which measures what makes people angry. The TOP 50 list of causes contains things like traffic jams, gas price, paying taxes, neighbors drilling at 8 am on Saturday, queue skippers or elderly ladies starting their shopping circuit in the morning rush hour.

Hebrews 3 tackles a similar topic: what is it that makes God angry.

The Bible portrays God being “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and rich in love”. This chapter however recalls an Old Testament episode about which God actually said this: “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.’”. (v10-11)

What is the very thing that arouses such anger from our patient, merciful and gracious God that he even makes such a declaration on oath? What happened there that drew such a hard response?

When God led the people out of the slavery in Egypt and they arrived at the brim of the land God promised them they decided to send fort some men to spy out the land. Upon returning the spies reported on the richness of the area, but also on the strength of the inhabitants. It was obvious for all that the peoples living in the land were much stronger than the Hebrews who’d been marching through the desert. So they had a decision to make: (1) either to believe in the promise of God to lead them into the land despite their weakness, or (2) to make an honest assessment of their lacking strength, humbly admit that they’re unable to invade the land and back down. They chose the second option. And because of this very decision God became so angry with them that he took an oath that they would never enter the Promised Land. They weren’t sent back into slavery but for four tough decades they wandered around in the desert without rest.

The thing that shocks me most about this story is that while I would think their self-criticism is to be respected, God doesn’t acknowledge them for it. On the contrary: he becomes angry. On the end of the day their decision expressed their lack of trust in God’s promise to take them to the land. This attitude is described in many ways in this chapter: hardness of heart, testing God, unbelieving and wicked heart, rebellion, sin, falling away, disobedience or unbelief. They also had a third option they didn’t even think about. They could have assessed their weakness and still get going saying that if God promised to take us to the land he will definitely do so. We don’t know how he’ll do it, it will definitely not be something we take credit for, but for sure we’ll succeed.

But how does this ancient episode relate to us? Just as the people back then God also gave us a promise. John puts it very simply: “And this is what he promised us—eternal life.” (1 John 2:25) If we honestly assess our merits, our chances, our goodness we, too come to the conclusion that we are unfit for that promise. So we also have a choice to make: are we going to believe that – despite our failures, mistakes, sin and weakness – God gives us eternal life, and we live with a profound rest? Or are we going to keep wandering around in the desert all our lives trying to become better, hoping for the day when we might become fit to enter the Promised Land?

This chapter makes it very clear that God doesn’t like when someone only gets to the point where he admits his inability, judging himself unfit for heaven. This type of humility won’t  blow God’s mind, it’ll only make him angry. I’m convinces that he wants us to also come to the assurance that because of our faith in Christ we will definitely have eternal life. This assurance reflects our trust in his promise. This is so important that Chapter 3 repeats it two times with different wording: “And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.” (v6) and “We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.” (v14) In Romans 5 Paul emphasizes the very same thing: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.”

Read Hebrews 3 and ponder these questions:

  • Is your relationship with God characterized by rest, peace and home?
  • What could help you trust in God’s promise and boast in the hope of the glory of God?
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