Since the new year began, I have been reading through the book of Hebrews. I thought to myself, “Since you are spending more money on your education than you’ve ever spent on anything your entire life, why not try and apply some things you’ve learned?” Thus began my (very new) endeavor at inductively studying the Bible with some lessons I learned this past semester.
We are now three weeks into January and I still haven’t even made it out of chapter 5. So I guess my investment is paying off! I’ve always found Hebrews to be difficult. It is a challenging book and seems to require a heavy dose of the Old Testament to come alive to its reader. This time around, it has been incredibly enriching. I’ll share what has been the most pressing lesson I have learned so far. It comes in chapter 4.
Hebrews begins with an eloquent argument from the author for the reign and rule of Christ over everything. He is greater than mankind, angels, and Creation itself (1:1-4). Christ is above all things, yet in His great love and mercy towards humanity He came to His rebellious people (as chapter 2 tells us) and instituted a salvation for the world by dying on the cross, an act that we learn was one meant to reflect God’s tremendous grace (2:9). The writer reminds his readers multiple times that it is a foolish errand to neglect this salvation given by Christ because apart from it we cannot be saved (2:2-3).
In the next two chapters, he brings forth what seem to be two comparisons we are meant to make. Chapter 3 is spent discussing the unbelief of the Israelites as a standard by which we should compare ourselves to see if we hold any unbelief. The question is not are we like the unbelieving Israelites? But how much like the unbelieving Israelites are we? Our answer to that question should drive us to repentance and community where we “exhort one another” away from the deceitfulness of sin (3:13). If you remember, the Israelites were ready to trade in their new-found freedom for the brutality of their former slavery in Egypt (Ex. 14:12). That is the deceitfulness of sin and we can only draw near to God through faith (3:19).
The most poignant words (so far) for me have come from chapter 4. We all know verse 12 which tells us that God’s Word is living and active, sharp, cutting, and convicting, but there is a lot said before you get to that verse. And it seems to me that once again the writer is setting us up for a test of comparison. This time it is between our passive and active attitudes towards the Lord. Three times, he has quoted Psalm 95 exhorting us against the hardening of our hearts when we hear the voice of God (3:7-8, 15; 4:7). This is what the Israelites did. They witnessed the voice of God through Moses; through the giving of the Law; through pillars of fire and cloud; through the parting of the Red Sea; through the ten plagues; through the Exodus from Egypt, yet they passively consumed the activity of God around them. This is clear as it is accounted that they ate His food and drank His water without actively glorifying Him for His provision. Rather, they began to groan and whine the instant their appetites stirred again (Ex. 15:24; 16:3; 17:3).
What are we to learn? That this is not an example to follow. It seems that the Israelites’ unbelief is linked to their passive consumption of God’s work among them. The writer of Hebrews says, “Do not harden your hearts in this way.” Instead, strive, with humility, to enter into the rest of God (4:1) by actively listening to and submitting to God’s Word, which He has graciously given to us in Scripture, and allowing it to both inform and transform your life.
Why? BECAUSE ” the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (4:12).
We have a choice here and it is between the passive consumption of God’s Word, a crime of which all mankind is guilty (Rom. 1:19-20), and the active submission to God’s Word. Though we cannot achieve our own salvation, it is a grave error to neglect that end (2:2-3). Our duty is approach the Word with eagerness as the Holy Spirit teaches us how to walk in God’s truth. There is a grand difference between passive consumption and active submission. This is evidenced by whether or not the life that proceeds outwardly glorifies the Lord in both word and deed (Rom. 12:1-2).
“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”