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Wednesday in the Word

Second Baptist Church

March 21, 2012

Hebrews 3:1-11

I.     The second major argument of the book of Hebrews is that Jesus is superior to Moses. The author stated that case in Hebrews 3:1-6, specifically in verse 3. Verses 5-6 made the case that since Moses was a servant in the house of God and Jesus was a son, Jesus was worthy of more honor. Moses was revered by the Israelites because God gave him the Law and he led the Israelites out of Egypt. But the writer in Hebrews argues that Moses was just a servant and a messenger. Moses was limited. Moses could get the people out, but Moses could not carry the people in. Moses could give the Law, but Moses was not the Law. Jesus on the other hand is better than Moses. Jesus can get you out and bring you in. Jesus was not given the law Jesus is the law of God walking in the flesh. Jesus is better than Moses. If the people listened to Moses they should listen to Jesus.

II.     In a similar fashion Hebrews 3:7-11 contains an extended quotation from the Old Testament to support the argument that Christ is better than Moses. Almost all of Hebrews 3:7-11 is a quotation from Psalm 95:7b-11.But the words of introduction in Hebrews 3:7a show how the author intended the Old Testament passage to function in his own message. The first word is "therefore." It is designed to connect the conditional statement in verse 6 with the command in verse 8. Verse 6 had proclaimed that we are the household of Christ if we hold fast to the confidence and pride of our hope. The word "if" raises the question of whether the readers of Hebrews (and we) will be faithful to Christ in the midst of pressure being faced. Because there is some question about that faithfulness - therefore - the scripture from Psalm 95 is quoted to warn and exhort the readers (and us) of the importance of trusting obedience of God. The quotation formula used by the author reflects his high view of Scripture. "Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says" Says is the present tense of the verb says. The Holy Spirit also speaks now and continues to speak through the Scripture, The author of Hebrews was convinced that what the psalmist sang about the Israelites in the wilderness (centuries earlier) had relevance and meaning for the community of faith in its time of pressure in the first century. One of the chief evidences of inspiration is the Holy Spirit's ability to take words written to and about people centuries ago and make those words speak with the power of God to a new generation.

a.       Psalm 95 has two major sections. Verses 1-7a, of the Psalm, were a call to worship God. Verses 7b-11, quoted by our author, were a warning against disobeying God by referring back to a painful time in Israel's history. Psalm 95 has been used in synagogue worship from ancient times to the present as a prelude to the Friday evening and Sabbath morning synagogue worship. No doubt the original readers of the book of Hebrews would have been familiar with the psalm from their own experiences of synagogue worship. There is evidence the psalm was sung as part of the temple service in Jerusalem on Sabbath mornings. It is important that the two parts of Psalm 95 be kept together. The worship of God called for in the first part of the psalm is important and necessary. But that worship must come from sincere and obedient hearts. We separate the psalm into two parts - the call to worship and the warning against hardness of heart. But in reality, the psalm was one call to worship. The second part demanded searching self-examination of one's heart as part of the process of coming into the presence of God.

b.      Verse 7. “Today, if you would hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” The call to hear his voice can be easily misunderstood by modern readers. We tend to think simply in terms of a sound being heard. The Hebrew word for hear and obey is the same word. Thus the psalmist was not just appealing for Israel to hear (listen to) the word of God, but also for them to obey that word. Hebrew poetry was written with what is called parallelism. In this case hear his voice is a parallel thought or antithetical or the opposite of not harden your hearts. That is, hearing the voice of God means having hearts that are open and responsive to him rather than hard and closed. The words of the psalm are directly applicable to the readers of the book of Hebrews. Those readers were under pressure for their faith in Christ; they were being tempted to give up their faith. But to give up the faith means turning their backs to and closing both their ears and hearts to the entreaties of God. The words of the psalm say exactly what the writer of Hebrews wanted to say, "don't harden your heart" against God's effort to strengthen and encourage you. Don't resist God's efforts to help you in the midst of your pressure and trouble. To give up the faith in the face of persecution was the moral equivalent of the rebellion against God that took place in Israel's history during the wilderness wanderings. The author of Hebrews continued to quote the Old Testament in verse 8. Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, as on the day of testing in the wilderness. The literal translations of the Hebrew text of Psalm 95:8 read, "Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day of Massah in the wilderness."

c.       The references to Meribah and Massah connect the psalm to Exodus 17:1-7 and several passages in Numbers (14:20-23, 28-35 and 20:1-13). At that time Israel had bitterly complained against God (and falsely accused him of bringing them out of Egypt to kill them) at a time when the people had run out of water. Exodus 17:7 states that Moses named the place Massah and Meribah - Hebrew words meaning "testing" and "quarreling." Massah and Meribah became code words for a testing, testy, cantankerous spirit that was never satisfied with what God provided. It was a quarreling, complaining, bitter attitude. That Israel could have fallen into such an attitude so soon after God had brought them out of Egypt should be a reason for humility rather than criticism.

d.      The spiritual issue at stake here is trusting God. Surely, after God had brought them out of Egypt and through the Red Sea, he could supply water for them in the desert. How could they fail to trust him? After God had sent Christ and revealed him to be the Messiah to the first readers of Hebrews, surely they could trust him to preserve them through persecution, couldn't they? After all that God has done for us, how could we not trust him in any and every circumstance of our lives? But we don't! Sometimes after God has performed the greatest miracle of helping us out, we stew and fret and worry that we just can survive the next problem coming down the line. The issue for Israel, for the first readers of Hebrews, and for us, is trust. Will we believe that He can and will safely carry us home? Or will we begin to scheme and connive to solve our problems and relieve the pressures upon us in our own strength with our own wisdom?

e.       Verse 9-11 describes Meribah and Massah as the place where the Israelite fathers tested God by trying to make him prove himself. The demand that God prove himself is the opposite of trust. It is the opposite of obedience. And the response of God according to verse 10 is anger. They always are deceived in their hearts and they did not know my ways. The idea of being deceived in their hearts is a powerful word image. The word deceived speaks of wandering off track so that person, animal, or thing is not where the observer expects it to be. Tempting God to prove himself is thus described as being off track and deceived. The Hebrew parallelism suggests that being off track also means not recognizing God's ways. God uses the difficult times of life - whether it be the desert, persecution, or the pressures we face in life - to test our trust and obedience. To try to turn the tables on God and test him in those times is to usurp the role and way of God. That is sin. As a result God swore that the Israelites would not enter my rest. In the context of the Exodus and wilderness wanderings not entering God's rest meant not entering the Promised Land. But the use of the word rest immediately draws Genesis 2:2-3 to mind where God rests at the end of the process of Creation. To refuse to trust God, to usurp God's own role in testing, and to harden one's heart is to get stuck in the creation process. It is to not reach the goal of God's work in one's life. It is to be incomplete, immature, and unfulfilled. It is to say, "Not only is God not finished with me yet, he's not going to finish with me."

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