24/07/16 Hebrews 3:12-19 “Beware of an evil heart of unbelief against God

We continue today with that rest which God had withheld from a generation of Hebrews in the wilderness because they rebelliously tested and tried God even after all His works for them. And the Hebrews who read this epistle were likewise walking through a wilderness, where the need to trust God’s faithful provision was not any less than it was back in the days of Moses. If Christians, then they were still strangers and pilgrims in the alien territory of the world.

1 Chronicles 29:15For we [are] strangers before thee, and sojourners, as [were] all our fathers: our days on the earth [are] as a shadow, and [there is] none abiding.

Hebrews 11:13These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of {them}, and embraced {them}, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.


Hebrews 3:12 Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.


Remember that the writer is mainly talking to the Christians (believers) among the Hebrews (who were the Jews who lived in and around the Palestine area).


Take heed – can mean physically “to see; discern; of the bodily eye” but can also mean metaphorically “to discern mentally; observe; perceive; discover; understand”, that is, “to see mentally”. Here it is mental discernment that is required.

As the saying goes, we learn one thing from history which is that we do not learn from history. The writer is warning the readers to take note mentally of, that is, understand, what happened to the Hebrews in the wilderness, that they should not fall into the same “evil heart of unbelief” today (see Vs 13). We also see that departing from the living God is closely connected to having an evil heart of unbelief.


departingaphistemi (to depart from someone; fall away; become faithless; shun; flee from; to withdraw one’s self from). Here it probably relates to a “falling away”.

Cambridge Bible“in departing” Lit., “in the apostatising from”. In that one word—Apostasy—the moral peril of his Hebrew readers was evidently summed up. To apostatise after believing is more dangerous than not to have believed at all.

Note that “fall away” in the following, while a different Greek word, has similar meaning (in that they fall away after having known some of the truth and life to start with):

Hebrews 6:6If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put {him} to an open shame.


And again Peter warns of the danger of turning away from righteousness once they have known about it.

2 Peter 2:21For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known {it}, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.

Note similar teachings such as “let {them} slip” in the following:

Hebrews 2:1Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let {them} slip.


unbeliefapistia (unbelief; unfaithfulness; faithless; weakness or want of faith) apistia is derived from “apistos” denoting the opposite of pistos = faith.

Hebrews 3:2 declares Jesus Christ faithful; here the opposite is declared of those who fall away from the living God.

Ellicott’s CommentaryThe Greek word apistia stands in direct contrast to “faithful” (pistos), Hebrews 3:2, and combines the ideas of “unbelief” and “faithlessness.”

More and more, as we study Hebrews, we’re seeing a consistent message to avoid “falling away”. Rather we’re to hold fast to such things as our confidence, hope and belief/faith in Christ, with some passages noting that this should be steadfast, to the end.

And this verse overall is clearly saying “Take heed!” “Be on your guard!” “Beware!” Watch out that you do not depart from the living God because of an evil heart of unbelief (lack of faith). Note Hebrews 11:6But without faith {it is} impossible to please {him}: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and {that} he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.


Hebrews 3:13But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.


exhort – admonish, exhort, encourage.

dailykata hekastos hemera (in/during each/every day) That is, the idea of exhorting (or admonishing) each other constantly, especially while we still have the time to do so. As the saying goes, we don’t know what we have until it’s gone! Don’t wait until the day or time for exhorting is over, but do it now while you can. Sin has a habit of creeping up on us, catching us unawares, and before we know it, we’ve been somewhat ensnared by that sin which could have been avoided if only we’d spent time exhorting one another against such sin, and being exhorted in return.


In the next verse, and further on in Hebrews, we are again exhorted to hold fast to the beginning of our confidence and the confession of our hope, along with exhorting one another to stir up love and good works, those things which stand opposed to the deceitfulness of sin. Note the following from Ch.10.

Hebrews 10:23-2523 Let us hold fast the profession of {our} faith without wavering; (for he {is} faithful that promised;) 24 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: 25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some {is}; but exhorting {one another}: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

That is, if we exhort one another constantly, we should also be able to demonstrate love and good works as evidence of such, and be able to hold fast to our confidence and hope until the end.


hardenedskleruno (to make hard; harden; to render or to become obstinate or stubborn) Where we get “sclerosis” from (= stiffening or hardening of body tissues). Thus hardening has the idea of taking away the flexibility of something, so the hardening of our hearts would mean the removal of our flexibility to change. As such, we would become set in our ways and possibly unable to change for the better again, all through the deceitfulness of sin. Note carefully that sin is always deceitful. It never delivers what it promises; instead of life and abundance, it delivers death and lack.


Hebrews 3:14For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end;


partakers of Christ – sharers in the work and life of Christ (including being joint-heirs with Him, if we indeed suffer with Him – Romans 8:17). Note the conditional “if” above. We may be partakers of Christ if we hold fast to the end, and in Hebrews 3:6 we may be Christ’s “house” if we hold fast to the end.

Note that here is that requirement again. In Hebrews 3:6 we are exhorted to hold fast “the confidence (assurance) and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end.” Here we are exhorted to “hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.” Clearly there are conditions to being a part of the house and inheritance of Christ, and those conditions just as clearly specify holding fast to the end. Note that “confidence” here has a different meaning to that used in Hebrews 3:6.


confidencehypostasis (foundation; firm; substance; real being; substantial nature of a person or thing; steadfastness; confidence; firm trust; assurance) This word is used in Hebrews 3 times: Hebrews 1:3 – “the express image of His person”; Hebrews 3:14 – “if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end”; Hebrews 11:1 – “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for”.

It has the idea of that upon which everything else rests or is dependent upon.


This is not works, yet it does involve a letting go of the world, that is, denying ourselves, taking up our crosses and following Jesus, in order to be His at the end.

This is not works-based salvation, yet we are told consistently to persevere to the end. Our works cannot save us – we are justified by faith, not by works ….

Galatians 2:16Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

…… but we must yet hold fast until the end.


So in order to be consistent with Scripture we must first assume as a doctrinal truth that we are not justified by works! Even when James 2:24 says that we are justified by works, the context clearly shows that it is not us that are justified here, but our faith. The works we do are our justification (that is, our demonstration) of our faith.


Jesus said that if we love Him, we would obey Him.

John 14:15If ye love Me, keep My commandments.


We are neither saved nor justified by works, yet we are to work out our salvation in trembling and fear.

Philippians 2:12-1312 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of [his] good pleasure.


Thus it is not works we do that save us, nor is it works that we do that keep us in God’s hand. Rather it appears to be a decision to deny ourselves and take up our crosses daily, without which we are not deemed worthy (Matthew 10:38), nor can we be Jesus’ disciples (Luke 14:27). And, just as the decision to be saved is not a work, our decision to deny ourselves (that is, the pleasures of the world), and take up our cross of suffering, is neither a work, but a decision of our free will which sets our direction. For after we have decided to deny ourselves and take up our crosses daily to follow Jesus, it is God who does the works in us according to His will and good pleasure. And unless we forsake all that we have, we cannot be His disciple! (Luke 14:33)


TozerThe new cross encourages a new and entirely different evangelistic approach. The evangelist does not demand abnegation of the old life before a new life can be received. He preaches not contrasts but similarities. He seeks to key into public interest by showing that Christianity makes no unpleasant demands; rather, it offers the same thing the world does, only on a higher level. Whatever the sin-mad world happens to be clamouring after at the moment is cleverly shown to be the very thing the gospel offers, only the religious product is better. (Page 23) ….

The old cross is a symbol of death. It stands for the abrupt, violent end of a human

being. The man in Roman times who took up his cross and started down the road had already said goodbye to his friends. He was not coming back. He was going out to have it ended. The cross made no compromise, modified nothing, spared nothing; it slew all of the man, completely and for good. It did not try to keep on good terms with its victim. It struck cruel and hard, and when it had finished its work, the man was no more. (Page 23) ……

Always remember: you can not carry a cross in company. Though a man were surrounded by a vast crowd, his cross is his alone and his carrying of it marks him as a man apart. Society has turned against him; otherwise he would have no cross. No one is a friend to the man with a cross. “They all forsook him, and fled.” (Page 95)

(Man – The Dwelling Place of God; Pages 23 & 95)


When we have fully surrendered to God’s supreme authority, we no longer have life of our own, but it is Christ’s life in us which sustains and keeps us, and also directs us. It is no longer we who are in control, but Christ who is God. To be crucified with Christ means to hand over an enduring power of attorney to Christ. It’s no longer our lives that we are living, but Christ living His life in us. We are now a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1), our all is on the altar; we have handed all authority over our lives to sovereign God.


Galatians 2:20I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

This is the real denying of ourselves, the surrender of our own lives and all our personal dreams of achievement, with the life in us now completely dependent upon the life of the Lord Jesus Christ, with whom we are hid in God (Colossians 3:3). This is when we cannot be lost, because we no longer live our lives but are forever hid in God with Christ. As a wise pastor said to me many years ago, “What we keep control of ourselves, we can lose, but what we hand over to God we cannot lose.” Unfortunately, the world can appear so attractive, so tempting, that many refuse to let go, fearing that a life with Christ will cause too much loss of the world in their lives. But, until they do let go of the world, there is always the risk of their desire for the world overruling their desire for Christ.


When we are saved, God desires a relationship with us for eternity. However, a relationship requires commitment from us as well. We call upon the name of the Lord, and God saves us as per His promise. All too often we want to be saved for the benefits it brings us. But how often do we emphasise the benefit to God when we are saved? Note briefly the experience of Isaiah in his vision of God on the throne (Isaiah 6). Note Isaiah’s concern for the effect his sin would have upon a holy God. And also note the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector (= publican, which actually means one who collects taxes). Observe the response of the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14): he was in anguish because of the effect his sin had upon a holy God such that he desired God to be merciful to (propitiate) him. God denied the life of His own Son Jesus to bring the gift of salvation to us. All God asks of us is that we deny ourselves in return and take on instead the risen life of His Son Jesus, for all eternity, to be crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20), and to rise again to newness of life in Christ (Romans 6:4-6).


Hebrews 3:15While it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.


We covered this reasonably thoroughly last message (Hebrews 3:8). However, the simple message is that it is always the right time (“today”) to hear God’s voice of instruction. It is the Holy Spirit who leads into all truth, who says that this message is for today, that is, now (Hebrews 3:7). So do not let your hearts become hardened (skleruno – stubborn; obstinate) as happened with the Hebrews in the wilderness.


hear – hear something; be able to hear; consider what has been said; understand what has been said; comprehend. Thus, while it can be a physical ability to hear, in this case it clearly includes an understanding or comprehension of what has been said. It’s not just hearing, but learning from it as well.

Psalm 25:5Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou [art] the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day.


Hebrews 3:16For some, when they had heard, did provoke: howbeit not all that came out of Egypt by Moses.


howbeit – 573 out of 637 occurrences in KJV are translated as “but”. However, “howbeit” would be correct.

some – 104 out of 448 occurrences in KJV are translated as “certain” and can mean “certain one/s”.

Thus: For certain ones when they heard (the word/voice of God) did provoke (God): howbeit (but) not all (of them) that came out of Egypt by (with) Moses (were rebellious).


Some commentaries suggest that it is in the form of a double question. Barnes writes – According to this, it would be a question, and would mean, "But who were they who when they had heard did provoke? Were they not all indeed who came out of Egypt under Moses? And with whom was He angry for 40 years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose carcasses fell in the wilderness?"

And Pulpit Commentary writes – For who, when they heard, provoked? Nay, did not all those who came out of Egypt by Moses.” That both these clauses are interrogative, and not as taken in the A.V., is now the prevalent view. The (reason) for thus understanding them (is) the analogy of the two following verses, both of which are interrogative, and in the first of which a question is similarly answered by putting another….


But these two explanations appear to be incorrect. It seems to me that the wording in the above verse appears to be correct, that while many people provoked God in the wilderness, not all did so. The word “some”, when read as “certain ones” can easily indicate that certain of the people, yet not all, were involved. It is also not necessarily a small number; in this case it would represent most of the people, yet not all of them.

For instance, those who fell were those who had been numbered among them for war, and didn’t include women and children, and it only included those who were male and over 20 years old. It also didn’t appear to have included any of the tribe of Levi, as these weren’t numbered among those who were able to go to war. And Joshua and Caleb were not included!


Numbers 14:29-3029 Your carcases shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward, which have murmured against me, 30 Doubtless ye shall not come into the land, [concerning] which I sware to make you dwell therein, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun.

Numbers 2:33But the Levites were not numbered among the children of Israel; as the Lord commanded Moses.

The tribe of Levi was numbered for the purpose of service for God, but not with the rest of Israel.

Numbers 3:15Number the children of Levi after the house of their fathers, by their families: every male from a month old and upward shalt thou number them.


The message is clear: those who heard and understood God’s voice to them in the wilderness, and then rebelled, provoking God to anger, might have been many but not every single one who came out of Egypt with Moses was guilty of this sin. This meaning then leads into the next verse.


Hebrews 3:17But with whom was he grieved forty years? [was it] not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness?


Wasn’t God’s anger (for forty years) against those who sinned, and consequently the corpses of those who sinned fell in the wilderness? Why would God be angry with those who did not harden their hearts? The answer to the Hebrews reading this epistle is that they were to “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.” (Vs 12)


The penalty fits the crime; the soul that sins shall die.

Ezekiel 18:20The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.


Hebrews 3:18And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not?


And wasn’t it to those disobedient ones that God swore would not enter His land of rest: Canaan? It wasn’t to the obedient ones that God swore not to give them His rest, but to the disobedient. Both Joshua and Caleb entered into the promised land of Canaan; both of these were obedient to God. The penalty is always for those who disobey, while blessing (in this case, God’s “rest”) is always promised for obedience. In other words, there were consequences for the sin of those rebellious ones who provoked God to anger in the wilderness. Thus this verse is stating an obvious conclusion: see next verse.


Hebrews 3:19So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.


So it was a natural consequence of their sin in provoking God to anger that they should suffer not being permitted to enter into their land of rest. And here it specifies their sin (rebellion) as unbelief (unfaithfulness; faithlessness). Sin always has consequences!

Thus the warning to the Hebrews reading this letter was to beware of what happened to the Hebrews in Moses’ day. That is, 12 Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. 13 But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.


Today far too many churches have already departed from the living God by not taking note of the seriousness of His word to us. Too many alleged “teachers of the Law”, like the pharisees they emulate, twist and alter the words and meanings of Scripture to fit in with whatever desires of the world they wish to justify as being acceptable to God. Every heresy can be traced back to a selfish desire to rewrite the Bible so that it supports their desired life-style, even those who might claim, in their arrogant pride, that they are the custodians of the purity of the Scripture (sola scriptura), with such heresy requiring that so many verses be altered, and/or taken out of context, with a consequent lacking of consistency with the rest of Scripture. For those who cry “sola scriptura”, let them indeed take the purity of the Scriptures alone as their standpoint. And if they are truly honest, they will admit that not one of us can claim to know all things this side of glory, and that their beliefs, as for ours, constantly require the testing of all things against the rock-solid truths of the Bible that cannot change, and will not change, no matter how much they, or we, argue to the contrary!

“Thy Word is truth!” (John 17:17)


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