We have seen that Jesus is superior to the angels. Now we begin to see that Jesus is superior to the old covenant. The reading starts with Moses’ faithfulness, but then moves on to two dark periods in Israel’s history where they were not faithful and didn’t trust God. Don’t forget the letter is written to Jewish background Christians who, in the face of difficulties, are being tempted to give up on trusting Christ and go back to the law.
There are two Old Testament quotes in this passage and tomorrow’s, taken from Psalm 95, which speak of an incident in Meribah and then Kadesh-barnea.
Meribah was where the Israelites grumbled because they were thirsty – wishing they could go back to the old ways in Egypt – to slavery. They were testing God, hardening their hearts as they did so.
Kadesh-barnea was where the 12 spies sent to reconnoitre Canaan came back with their report of what the promised land was like, in Numbers 13. They described it as a land flowing with milk and honey – ‘but there are giants, so we can’t go’.
The Israelites fell into unbelief to the point that God swore an oath that they couldn’t enter the ‘rest’ of the promised land. They were hardened by sin.
Unbelief is hard to recognise in yourself, seems rational, seems reasonable, but is progressively corrosive to our walk with God. Saying no to God is very dangerous, self-reinforcing, habit forming and confirming, but thankfully not irreversible. “Today, if you hear his voice” – the Israelites, and we, can hear the voice of the Lord, even if the whisper is getting quieter. We can respond, we can turn from unbelief.
So, in v.12, the author calls upon the people to exhort one another to trust God, to believe Him for more and more, and to resist the hardening of the deceitfulness of sin.
We have the ‘rest’ of salvation – rest from striving to earn God’s favour by religion and works. We have entered the ‘rest’ of grace. Don’t be hardened by unbelief and sin!