Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
Exhort one another daily!
As the name suggests, the church to which this epistle was addressed was primarily Jewish in character. Sadly, some had already left the Christian faith to return to Judaism. Others were inclined to do so. They were disillusioned by the facts that Christ had not returned as yet and they were suffering persecution at the hand of the unbelieving Jewish community. To discourage more from leaving the church, the holy writer demonstrates in this epistle the superiority of the Christian faith over Judaism. The bottom line is that salvation is to be found in Jesus Christ, not in Judaism.
In this third chapter the holy writer draws attention to, in which the Lord reminded Israel in the days of David of his dealings with Israel in the wilderness. How Israel had provoked the Lord with their sinful rebellion. How the Lord had been grieved with them and had sworn in His wrath that they would not enter into the rest of the Promised Land.
And now the holy writer exhorts the church.
Exhort one another daily!
Lest any of you follow the sad example of Israel in the wilderness by departing from the living God with an evil heart of unbelief and be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin!
The Scriptures record the sins of Old Testament Israel and the Lord’s discipline of these sins for our instruction. This principle is set forth in. After reviewing some of the sins of Israel in the wilderness and the terrible judgments that came upon her for her sins, the apostle Paul writes, “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.”
We see the same principle in Psalm 95, which the writer quotes in this third chapter of the book of Hebrews. In this particular Psalm Israel was reminded of the Lord’s dealings with the nation’s unfaithfulness in her wilderness wanderings exactly to warn her not to repeat the same errors.
And now the writer of this epistle to the Hebrews cites this same Psalm as a warning to the early Christian church.
In the passage we consider for this meditation, the writer summarizes what Israel had done in the wilderness as related in Psalm 95.
With an evil heart of unbelief the majority in Israel had departed from the living God.
An evil heart of unbelief is an evil heart that is characterized by unbelief. When the heart is evil, the result is always unbelief. The majority of Israel had such an evil heart of unbelief during the wilderness wanderings. They did not believe in the Lord.
The Lord is called here the living God. That means that, in distinction from the dumb idols of paganism, the Lord is the only true God. As the one true God He also enjoys a covenant life with Himself as the triune God. Still more, for His own pleasure He lives a blessed covenant life of friendship with a people whom He has chosen and saved in Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament, God promised to realize this covenant with Israel in the land of Canaan.
But the majority of Israel did not believe. In spite of His mighty works to deliver them from Egypt, they did not believe that the Lord would see them safely through the wilderness and give them the land of Canaan. Nor did they believe the Lord’s promise that the joy of Canaan would make all the hardship in the wilderness worthwhile. In fact, the greatest joy of Canaan, which was the blessing of God’s fellowship, held no attraction to them at all.
And so they departed from the living God. They repudiated the covenant of God and the law that the Lord had given to govern their life in the covenant. And they turned to the idol gods of the heathen.
In this departure they were hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. The deceitfulness of sin must be understood in the sense that sin deceives. In the sin of idolatry Israel found not only much joy but also a sense of security. In their unbelief they were deceived into thinking that the joys and security promised by the idol gods of the heathen were genuine, lasting, and thus to be had at any cost. This deceitfulness of sin in turn hardened them. They became stubborn in sin so that they would not heed the warnings of God, whether spoken or in the form of harsh discipline in the wilderness.
What a sad chapter in the history of the church!
Turn your thoughts to what happened with Israel in the wilderness. Contemplate the evil heart of unbelief that characterized so many in Israel and that led them to turn from the living God. Take note of the hardness of their heart. Focus on the fact that they could not enter into the rest God had promised in Canaan. In your mind’s eye see the carcasses of Israel strewn across the desert floor.
Take heed lest there be in any of you such an evil heart of unbelief, in turning from the living God.
Some in the early church had, with an evil heart of unbelief, departed from the living God. They had forsaken the Christian faith to return to Judaism. There was also involved a hardening process. In hardness of heart they had refused to heed the warnings of the church. They had been hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. They were deceived by the sinful pride of works righteousness that characterized unbelieving Judaism. They were deceived by the sin of covetousness. Returning to Judaism they would be free of persecution and return to a life of earthly ease. These had been for the most part false brethren who never had known the Lord.
And there were others in the church who were inclined to leave. This also included true believers who were weak in faith. It is true that God preserves His people. Yet, in weakness of faith the true child of God can for a time manifest the same unbelief and hardness of heart as the unbeliever.
The same danger exists also today. Idolatry prevails in our country. Our society is given over to the gods of earthly wealth, pleasure, recreation, influence, recognition, and the like. Many in the church leave the living God for these idols. Often they leave the church. Just as often they remain in the church. In some cases this arises out of an evil heart of unbelief that is hardened by the Word of God. Then there are the true believers who in weakness of faith are deceived by the empty promise of sin and idolatry.
To prevent such from happening, the holy writer exhorts the members of the church to take heed. There is another principle we must remember here, and that is that the Lord uses the examples and warnings of His judgment to keep His people faithful. He even uses the examples of His judgments to bring the unbeliever to faith and repentance.
Take heed therefore.
And exhort one another daily.
The word translated “exhort” is a word that means to call another to your side to provide help and assistance. This may come in the form of comfort, instruction, rebuke, or exhortation. This is what we are to do to one another. We are to look out for each other’s welfare. So that none follow the way of Israel’s apostasy, we are to exhort one another. Sometimes this means that we instruct. Sometimes this means that we encourage or comfort. Sometimes this means that we rebuke and warn.
This admonition to exhort one another comes to all in the church, young and old alike.
This must not be just an occasional thing but a daily occurrence in the church.
This daily exhortation arises out of taking heed. When the members of the church take heed to the example of Israel, they will exhort one another daily, lest there be found any in the church that follow the example of unbelieving Israel.
And should any church fail in this, she will see many follow the sad way of Israel’s history.
There is a sense of urgency about all this.
The urgency is suggested in the fact that we are to exhort each other while it is called Today.
In Psalm 95, which the holy writer has just quoted, God called Israel to hear His voice Today. That means that they should hear His voice at that time. They must not wait or procrastinate, thinking that this is something they can well put off to the future. It was important that they hear His voice then.
The writer to the Hebrews picks up on this word “Today.” He indicates that it is called “Today.” And we are to exhort one another while it is called “Today.”
“Today” must not be understood as meaning just one day. It refers rather to a period of time. Today stands in contrast to tomorrow. Today is the time that the Lord has given you to live on this earth. Tomorrow is the time of judgment and eternal reward.
Today can end at any time for us. At any time, even our next breath, anyone can start the tomorrow of eternity.
Exhort one other daily, while it is called Today.
Lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.