6b And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope. 7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, 8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, 9 where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. 10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ 11 As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’” 12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 15 As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” 16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. 1 Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. (ESV)
Why Fear an Unbelieving Heart? (Hebrews 3, Part 5)
The instruction “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has an evil unbelieving heart, that forsakes the living God.” (3:12, NET Bible) comes as an inference from the truth that God’s people hold fast their confidence in him (3:6).
What is an unbelieving heart, and why is it evil? (Isn’t ‘evil’ a bit harsh–even judgmental?)
What can we learn from the context? Firstly, the Israelites experience is held up as an example. Though they had seen God’s powerful saving works in the exodus, they did not thereby conclude that He was worthy of their love and trust (3:10); instead they rebelled (3:16). God’s power displayed for their redemption did not lead them to knowing him (3:10c; see also Matt 7:23, 1 Cor 8:3). An evil unbelieving heart is one that acknowledges God’s provision, but ultimately does not love and trust him.
Secondly, the instrution is given as a means of softening hearts that may be deceived by sin. God’s goodness has been an major theme in the letter so far. An unbelieving heart is one that prefers the deceit of sin, including the lie that God is not completely good.
Such a heart is evil because it spurns God’s sacrificial redeeming love displayed through Jesus. It wilfully says “I will not trust,” “I will not obey.” A heart that spurns the sacrificial death of the heir and creator (1:2) is evil. A heart that persists and hardens in this manner will not share in Christ. We are to fear such an outcome (4:1).
Though the author identifies an unbelieving heart as evil, he does not do so with accusation. He is not accusing anyone of having unbelieving hearts, he is not judging them. On the contrary, he calls them brothers and sisters. He is warning them, cautioning them, urging them to watch out for such a thing – it is evil. The stakes are high, he wants them to go on in trust to the end. So you too, heed the warning, and trust to the end.
(This was originally posted on the Biblearc blog by Robert Elphick on July 2, 2015.)