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Warning against Unbelief

7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,

“Today, if you hear his voice,

8

do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,

as on the day of testing in the wilderness,

9

where your ancestors put me to the test,

though they had seen my works 10for forty years.

Therefore I was angry with that generation,

and I said, ‘They always go astray in their hearts,

and they have not known my ways.’

11

As in my anger I swore,

‘They will not enter my rest.’ ”

12 Take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you may have an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14For we have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end. 15As it is said,

“Today, if you hear his voice,

do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

16 Now who were they who heard and yet were rebellious? Was it not all those who left Egypt under the leadership of Moses?


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He proceeds in his exhortation, that they were to obey Christ speaking to them; and that he might add more weight to it, he confirms it by the testimony of David; for since they were to be sharply goaded, it was better, for the sake of avoiding offense, to bring forward another person. Had he simply reproached them for the unbelief of the fathers, they would have less favorably attended to him; but when he brought forward David, it was less offensive. Now, the import of the whole is, — As God from the beginning would his voice obeyed, and could not endure perverseness without punishing it severely, so at this day he will not lightly punish our stubbornness, unless we become teachable. But the discourse is suspended until we come to the words, “Take heed, brethren, lest there be at any time in any of you,” etc. That the passage, then, may flow better, it would be proper to include the rest in a parenthesis. 6060     There is the same parenthesis in our version; but Beza, Doddridge, Macknight, and Stuart, do not use it, but connect “therefore” or wherefore with “harden not,” which seems more suitable. — Ed. Let us now consider the words in order.

7. As the Holy Ghost saith, etc. This availed much more to touch their hearts than if he had quoted David by name. And it is useful for us to familiarize ourselves with such expressions, so that we may remember that the words adduced from the books of the prophets are those of God and not of men.

But as this sentence, Today, if ye will hear his voice, is a part of a former verse, some have not unsuitably rendered it thus, “Would to God you would this day hear his voice.” It is indeed certain that when David called the Jews God’s people, he immediately drew this conclusion, that the voice of God ought to have been heard by them; for as to those whom he there invited to sing praises to God and to celebrate his goodness, he reminded them at the same time that obedience was the chief worship which he required, and that it was better than all sacrifices. The chief thing, then, was to obey the word of God.

8. Then follows, Harden not your hearts By which words is intimated that our rebellion against God flows from no other fountain than willful wickedness, by which we obstruct the entrance of his grace, We have indeed by nature a heart of stone, and there is in all an innate hardness from the womb, which God alone can mollify and amend. That we, however, reject the voice of God, it happens through a spontaneous obstinacy, not through an external impulse, a fact of which every one is a witness to himself. Rightly, then, does the Spirit accuse all the unbelieving that they resist God, and that they are the teachers and authors of their own perverseness, so that they can throw the blame on none else. It is hence, however, absurdly concluded that we have, on the other hand, a free power to form the heart for God’s service; nay rather, it must ever be the case with men, that they harden their heart until another be given them from heaven; for as we are bent towards wickedness, we shall never cease to resist God until we shall be tamed and subdued by his hand.

As in the provocation, etc. It was for two reasons necessary for them to be reminded of the disobedience of their fathers; for as they were foolishly inflated on account of the glory of their race, they often imitated the vices of their fathers as though they were virtues, and defended themselves by their examples; and further, when they heard that their fathers were so disobedient to God, they were thus more fully taught that this admonition was not superfluous. As both these reasons existed even in the Apostle’s time, he readily accommodated to his own purpose what had been formerly said by David, in order that those whom he addressed might not imitate their fathers too much.

And hence may be learnt a general truth, that we are not to defer too much to the authority of the fathers lest it should draw us away from God; for if any fathers have ever been worthy of honor, no doubt the Jews possessed that preeminence; and yet David distinctly commanded their children to beware of being like them.

And I have no doubt but that he referred to the history recorded in Exodus 17: for David uses here the two names which Moses relates were given to a certain place, מרבה Meribah, which means strife or provocation, and מסה Massah, which means temptation. They tempted God by denying that he was in the midst of them, because they were distressed for want of water; and they also provoked him by contending with Moses. Though indeed they gave many examples of unbelief, yet David selected this in an especial manner, because it was more memorable then any other, and also, because in order of time it followed for the most part the rest, as it evidently appears from the fourth book of Moses, where from chap. 10 to 20 a series of many temptations is described; but this narrative is given in the twentieth chapter. This circumstance increased not a little the atrocity of their wickedness; for they had often experienced the power of God, and yet they perversely contended with him, and renounced all confidence in him: how great was their ingratitude! He then mentioned one particular instance instead of many.

9. Tempted, etc. This word is to be taken in a bad sense; it means to provoke in a proud and insulting manner, which we express in French by saying, defier comme en depitant For though God had often brought them help, yet they forgot all, and scornfully asked, where was his power. Proved, etc. This clause is to be thus explained, “When yet they had proved me and seen my works”. For it enhanced the guilt of their impiety, that having been taught by so many evidences of divine power, they had made so bad a progress. For it was a marvelous supineness and stupidity to esteem God’s power as nothing, which had been so fully proved. 6161     See Appendix M.

Forty years. These are connected by David with what follows. But we know that the Apostles in quoting passages attend more to the general meaning than to the words. And no doubt God complained that the people had been vexatious to him for forty years, because so many benefits had availed nothing for the purpose of teaching them; for though God did good continually to them who were wholly unworthy, they yet never ceased to rise up against him. Hence arose his continual indignation, as though he had said “Not once or for a short time have they provoked me, but by their incessant wickedness for forty years.” Generation means race, or men of one age.

10. And I said, etc. This was God’s sentence, by which he declared that they were destitute of a sound mind, and he adds the reason, For they have not known my ways. In short, he regarded them as past hope, for they were without sense and reason. And here he assumed the character of man, who at length after long trials declares that he has discovered obstinate madness, for he says that they always went astray, and no hope of repentance appeared.

11. So I sware, etc. It was the punishment of their madness, that they were deprived of the rest promised them. Moreover, the Lord calls the land, where they might have had their dwelling, his rest. For they had been sojourners in Egypt and wanderers in the wilderness; but the land of Canaan was to be, according to the promise, their perpetual inheritance; and it was in reference to this promise that God called it his rest: for nowhere can we have a settled dwelling, except where we are fixed by his hand. But their right to a sure possession was founded on what God said to Abraham,

“To thy seed will I give this land.” (Genesis 12:7.)

By God swearing, If they shall enter, etc., the atrocity of their evil conduct is made more evident and is more forcibly set forth, for it is an evidence of wrath greatly inflamed. “If they shall enter,” is in the form of an oath, in which something is to be understood, as an imprecation, or some such thing, when men speak; but when God speaks, it is the same as though he said, “Let me not be deemed true,”, or, “Let me not be hereafter believed, if such a thing shall not be so.” However, this defective mode of speaking recommends fear and reverence to us, so that we may not rashly swear, as many do, who are often in the habit of pouring forth dreadful curses.

But as to the present passage, we ought not to think that they were then for the first time denied entrance into the land by God’s oath, when they tempted him in Rephidim; for they had long before been excluded, even from the time they had refused to march forward at the report of the spies. God then does not here ascribe their expulsion from the land to this instance of tempting him as to the first cause; but he intimates that by no chastisement could they have been restored to a sound mind, but that they continually added new offenses: and thus he shows that they fully deserved to be thus severely punished, for they never ceased to increase more and more his wrath by various sins, as though he had said, “This is the generation to which I denied the possession of the promised land, for during whole forty years afterwards it betrayed its obstinate madness by innumerable sins.”

12. Take heed, (or See,) brethren, lest there be at any time in any of you a wicked heart of unbelief, etc. I have preferred to retain literally what the Apostle states, rather than to give a paraphrase as to the wicked or depraved heart of unbelief, by which he intimates that unbelief would be connected with depravity or wickedness, if after having received the knowledge of Christ they departed from his faith. For he addressed them who had been imbued with the elements of Christianity; hence he immediately added, By departing; for the sin of defection is accompanied with perfidy. 6262     The word connected with “heart” is ἐν τῶ, which properly means diseased and hence corrupted, depraved, wicked. Depraved or wicked would perhaps be the best rendering of it here. “Unbelief” is a genitive used for an adjective or a participle, — “a wicked unbelieving heart.” It is unbelieving owing to its wickedness or depravity. Grotius says, that there are two kinds of unbelief, — The first the rejection of the truth when first offered, — and the second the renouncing of it after having once professed it. The latter is the more heinous sin.
   “The departing,” etc.; ἐν τῶ is rendered “by” by Macknight: it is considered by Grotius to be for εἰς τὸ, which word makes the meaning more evident, “so as to depart,” etc. — Ed.

13. He also pointed out the remedy, so that they might not fall into this wickedness, and that was, to exhort one another. For as by nature we are inclined to evil, we have need of various helps to retain us in the fear of God. Unless our faith be now and then raised up, it will lie prostrate; unless it be warmed, it will be frozen; unless it be roused, it will grow torpid. He would have us then to stimulate one another by mutual exhortations, so that Satan may not creep into our hearts, and by his fallacies draw us away from God. And this is a way of speaking that ought to be especially observed; for we fall not immediately by the first assault into this madness of striving against God; but Satan by degrees accosts us artfully by indirect means, until he holds us ensnared in his delusions. Then indeed being blinded, we break forth into open rebellion. 6363     “Deceitfulness of sin” is rendered by Stuart “sinful delusion.” It ought rather to be “deceitful (or seductive) sin” as “deceitfulness of riches” in Matthew 13:22, means “deceitful riches.” The “sin” was evidently that of apostasy: and it was deceitful, because there was a present prospect of relief from troubles and persecutions. The power of any sin to deceive and seduce, consists in some present gratification or interest. See note on verse 6. — Ed.

We must then meet this danger in due time, and it is one that is nigh us all, for nothing is more possible than to be deceived; and from this deception comes at length hardness of heart. We hence see how necessary it is for us to be roused by the incessant goads of exhortations. Nor does the Apostle give only a general precept, that all should take heed to themselves, but he should have them also to be solicitous for the salvation of every member, so that they should not suffer any of those who had been once called to perish through their neglect, and he who feels it his duty so to watch over the salvation of the whole flock as to neglect no one sheep, performs in this case the office of a good shepherd.

While it is called today. He now applies what David said more particularly to his own subjects; for he reminds us that the word today, mentioned in the Psalm, ought not to be confined to the age of David, but that it comprehends every time in which God may address us. As often, then, and as long as he opened his sacred mouth to teach us, let this sentence come to our minds, “Today, if ye will hear his voice”. In the same way Paul teaches us that when the Gospel is preached to us, it is the accepted time in which God hears us, and the Day of salvation in which he helps us. (2 Corinthians 6:2.)

Now, of this opportunity we ought to avail ourselves; for if through our sloth we suffer it to pass by, we shall hereafter in vain deplore its loss. So Christ says,

“Walk while ye have the light; come shortly shall the night.” (John 12:35.)

The particle while, then, or as long as, intimates that, The seasonable time will not continue always, if we be too slothful to follow when the Lord calls us. God knocks at our door; unless we open to him he will no doubt in his turn close against us the gate of his kingdom. In a word, too late will be their groans who despise the grace offered to them today. As, then, we know not whether God will extend his calling to tomorrow, let us not delay. Today he calls us; let us immediately respond to him, for there is no faith except where there is such a readiness to obey.

14. For we are made partakers, etc. He commends them for having begun well; but lest, under the pretext of the grace which they had obtained, they should indulge themselves in carnal security, he says that there was need of perseverance; for many having only tasted the Gospel, do not think of any progress as though they had reached the summit. Thus it is that they not only stop in the middle of their race, yea, nigh the starting­posts, but turn another way. Plausible indeed is this objection, “What can we wish more after having found Christ?” But if he is possessed by faith, we must persevere in it, so that he may be our perpetual possession. Christ then has given himself to be enjoyed by us on this condition, that by the same faith by which we have been admitted into a participation of him, we are to preserve so great a blessing even to death. 6464     What is implied here is that we may professedly be partakers of Christ: that is of his blessings as a Savior, and yet be not really so: the proof of the reality is perseverance. — Ed.

Hence he says beginning, intimating that their faith was only begun. As hypostasis sometimes means confidence, it may be so taken here; yet the term substance, as some have rendered it, I do not dislike, though I explain it in a way somewhat different. They think that faith is thus called, because the whole of what man may have without it is nothing but vanity; but I so regard it, because we recumb on it alone, as there is no other support on which we can rely. And suitable to this view is the word steadfast or firm; for we shall be firmly fixed and beyond the danger of vacillating, provided faith be our foundation. The sum of the whole then is, that faith whose beginnings only appear in us, is to make constant and steady progress to the end. 6565     Here is another instance of the genitive being the main subject, “the beginning of our confidence,” i.e., our first confidence, which the Apostle calls “first faith” in 1 Timothy 5:12. Macknight renders it “the begun confidence.” — Ed.

15. While it is said, etc. He intimates that the reason for making progress never ceases as long as we live, because God calls us daily. For since faith responds to the preaching of the Gospel, as preaching continues through the whole course of our life, so we ought to continue growing in faith. The phrase, then, while it is said, is the same as though he had said, “Since God never makes an end of speaking, it is not enough for us readily to receive his doctrine, except we exhibit the same teachableness and obedience tomorrow and every following day.” 6666     Most connect this verse with the preceding, as in our version, and as Doddridge thus “forasmuch as it is said;” and Macknight thus “as ye may know by the saying.” So does Beza; and Calvin seems to do the same; but some connect it with the 13th and others with the 14th verse. Modern authors, such as Stuart and Blooomfield, regard it as the commencement of a paragraph, and connect it with what follows. Stuart’s version is —
   15. With regard to the saying, “today while ye hear his voice, harden
16. Not your hearts as in the provocation;” who now were they that when they heard did provoke? Nay, did not all who came out of Egypt under Moses? Etc.

   Bloomfield approves of this version, only he considers the quotation is confined to the words, “Today, while ye hear his voice,” and regards what follows, “harden not,” etc., as said by the writer: See Appendix N. — Ed.

16 For some, when they had heard, etc. David spoke of the fathers as though that whole generation were unbelieving; but it appears that some who truly feared God mingled with the wicked. The apostle mentions this to modify what had been more severely said by David, in order that we may know that the word is preached to all for this end, that all may obey it with one consent, and that the whole people were justly condemned for unbelief, when the body was torn and mutilated by the defection of the greatest part.

But by saying that some provoked, while yet they were by far the greatest part, this object was not only to avoid giving offense, but also to encourage the Jews to imitate those who believed; as though he had said, “As God forbids you to follow the unbelief of the fathers, so he sets before you other fathers whose faith is to be your example”. Thus is mitigated what otherwise might have appeared too hard; that is, had they been commanded wholly to dissent from their fathers. To come out by Moses, means by the hand of Moses, for he was the minister of their deliverance. But there is an implied comparison between the benefit which God had bestowed on them by Moses, and the participation of Christ previously mentioned.




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