As has just been said:
"Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion."
|Moses Drawing Water by Gioacchino Assereto|
This brief passage was written by the author of Hebrews, who is not definitively identified. What is known is that he must have had authority in the apostolic church and was an intellectual Hebrew Christian, who knew the Old Testament well. This is confirmed by his reference to "the rebellion" in this verse of Scripture. For the curious, it has been suggested that the writer was either Barnabas, a friend and fellow evangelist of the Apostle Paul; or Apollos, who Luke described as "a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures." In either case, the writer knows the consequences of turning from God.
This Scripture in the New Testament actually refers back to Old Testament Scripture, namely Psalm 95:8-11, which reads:
“Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah,
as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness,
where your ancestors tested me;
they tried me, though they had seen what I did.
For forty years I was angry with that generation;
I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray,
and they have not known my ways.’
So I declared on oath in my anger,
‘They shall never enter my rest."
What the writer is referring to is the story that many of us know well. And you have to go back to Exodus and Numbers to unravel the mystery. And this is what I love about the Bible. This is a story that weaves throughout the entire Good Book. It has relevance to those who experienced it long ago in ancient times, as well as to those of us who still serve the God that Moses revealed. The verses in Psalms, referring to Meribah and Massah, are detailed in Exodus 17:1-7 and Numbers 20:1-13. The story begins with the entire Israelite community, which has just escaped from bondage in Egypt. The powerful Egyptian Army has been decimated at the Red Sea and Moses is leading the people in the desert.
You'd think they would be grateful to the God who led them out of slavery. But how soon they (like us) forget the blessings and take their eyes off the One who delivered them, and turn to their own discomforts and selfish interests. At this time in the Israelite's history, they are thirsty in the desert, and grumbling mightily against Moses and God. The Lord instructs Moses to go ahead of the people to the rock at Horeb. He is to take his staff, strike the rock, and water would come out of it for the people to drink. Moses is obedient and does as he is told, naming the place Massah and Meribah "because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord, saying, Is He among us or not?"
Flash forward 40 years; a time of much testing and disobedience and rejection of God. Once again, the community finds themselves thirsty in the desert. They have come full circle in their desert wanderings, and the land of promise lies before them again. Once again they question God and demand that Moses seek His help in provision. Moses and his brother Aaron, the priest, go before the glory of the Lord at the Tent of Meeting and ask God's advice. However, this time, Moses doesn't exactly follow God's instructions. I don't know whether he thought he was beyond needing God's help; in other words, he thought, "I know how this works, and I can go this alone" ... I'm not sure what he was thinking, and the Bible doesn't reveal his motives.
But instead of following God's directives to take the staff from God's own presence and speak to the rock, Moses takes the staff, raises his arm and strikes the rock twice. Indeed, water did gush out, and the community and their livestock drank to their hearts' content.
But God was not happy. He viewed Moses' independent actions as rebellious. Because Moses did not trust in the Lord enough to honor Him as holy in the sight of the community, Moses did not receive the blessing of entering into the Promised Land. He ignored the direction God gave him, and followed his own plan. And so it is with us.
We, in America, started out recognizing, valuing, and cherishing the Lord's hand in the heart and soul of our "Promised Land". But as the years passed, we started thinking on our own, without seeking His guidance or acknowledging His authority or guardianship of the land He established. And look what happened when we rebelled! Just like the Israelites, we have fallen out of favor. And because God is never-changing, He will react to us just as He did to those in the past.
As the Psalmist records, God is angry. He recognizes us as a people whose hearts have strayed from Him. He sees that we no longer know His ways. And the last words of verse 11 in Psalms 95 says it all ..... "They shall never enter My Rest."
We are as lost as those Israelites in the desert; doomed to wander a path of own making and far away from God's rest and care. But it's not too late! He doesn't desire to turn away from us! If we will repent and turn back towards Him, we can once again become the country He planned for us to be. So, I ask you .... Do you hear His voice today? Do not ignore Him! Answer His call, and let Him reinvigorate your life and the life of this nation.