A Study of Hebrews 8:16-19
“For some, when they had heard, did provoke: howbeit not all that came out of Egypt by Moses. But with whom was he grieved forty years? Was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcasses fell in the wilderness? And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them than believeth not? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.” (Hebrews 8:16-19)
Take heed, brethren!
While it is called “Today” and you are in the house of the Son of God, exhort one another daily!
Beware, all and each of you, that diligent heed is given to the voice that spoke yesterday, and that speaks today, the voice of the Son of God!
Watch over one another, and over yourselves, “lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God…lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin,” (Hebrews 3:12-13)
Extremely serious the matter is, a matter of life and death. For you are in the house of God, and in that house the Voice is heard, the voice of the Son of God, speaking of His eternal covenant, of all the goodness of His house, of forgiveness and mercy, of righteousness and life, of fellowship of friendship with the living God; speaking, too, of your “part” in that covenant of the Most High, of your calling in that house of God, to cleave to Him, trust in Him, love Him with all your heart, and with all your mind, and with all your strength, to forsake the world and its lust, crucify the flesh, and to walk in a new and holy life. That voice will be heard. It brooks no moment of inattention. It knows of no compromise. It must be obeyed.
Take heed, therefore, brethren!
And say not in your heart that you have no need of this exhortation, that you are the Church of God, gathered out of the world, sanctified and. cleansed, and that, therefore, all is well.
Attend, for your warning, to “yesterday’s” example of unbelief.
“Yesterday” the Church was in the wilderness: and there it perished!
It could not enter in, that Church, because of unbelief!
Dreadful history! More dreadful even than our translation of the text would suggest. For it might leave the impression, in the sixteenth verse, that only some of that generation perished in the wilderness, and failed to enter into the rest of God. But, according to the original, also that verse, like the two that follow, should be read in question form: “For who, when they had heard, did provoke? were they not all that came out of Egypt by Moses?” And this is corroborated by the statement in the tenth verse, that the LORD was grieved with “that generation”; as well as by the historical account of this dreadful business, according to which, of those that were twenty years and older, only Joshua and Caleb saw the promised rest!
The Church of “yesterday” failed to enter into rest of God!
Their carcasses fell in the wilderness!
Considering that horrible example of unbelief in the Church of “yesterday”, say not in your heart that the Church of “today” has no need of exhortation.
“Today” if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation!
Take heed, brethren!
That, in one word, characterizes the disposition and attitude of those that could not enter into the rest of God.
Unbelief, and that, too, manifested in all its corruption and wickedness, was the cause, on their part, of their failure to inherit the promise.
They were in the house of the Son of God. Indeed, it was another “day.” It was “yesterday.” It was the day of shadows, the day of the law. It was the day, when Moses appeared as the servant appointed over that particular dispensation and manifestation of the house of God. Through him the Son of God spoke at that time. Yet, it was the same house of God, essentially, as “today.” The whole section here presupposes that “Yesterday” the covenant of God was the same as “today,” and that then and now there was the same promise of rest.
Then, as now, all that were in the house heard the voice. O, it is true, they heard the voice of Moses, but in such manner that, through his voice, they clearly and distinctly heard the voice of the Son of God. By Moses they were led out of Egypt, yet by such mighty signs and wonders that there could be no doubt in the minds of that whole generation, whether those that were of Israel, or those of the “mixed multitude,” that it was the mighty hand of Jehovah that delivered them.
They heard the voice!
When, at the mount, they formally entered into the house of God as it was established there, the voice spoke to them, through Moses: “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation” (Exodus 19:4-6). They heard the voice through the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the ‘trumpet, and the smoking and trembling mountain. And all through the desert, they clearly heard the Voice and saw it, in the pillar of smoke and of fire, by day and by night, by signs and mighty wonders, in the manna that rained from heaven, and the water that gushed from the rocks.
O, it was the same voice we hear today in the house of the Son of God, speaking the same things, of the same deliverance, the same rest, the same calling to be a kingdom of priests before the LORD!
But they believed not!
That was the root of the matter. The text uses different words to describe the sins of that wicked generation: they sinned, they provoked the LORD, they obeyed not (vs. 18); but it may all be expressed in that one word: unbelief!
For what, pray, is unbelief? It surely is not a sort of natural doubt and uncertainty as to whether we really heard the Voice. On the contrary, it is a wicked rejection of, and rebellion against, the voice, against the Word of God that is heard, and that asserts itself more emphatically according as the Voice is more clearly heard, and more distinctly understood. Thus it was with the wicked generation in the wilderness. With their whole soul, they rejected the Word of God. For a moment, as they heard the Voice, they were afraid, they trembled; but they soon forgot their fears, denied that they heard, refused to heed. With their will they set themselves against that Word. They had no delight in it. O, a land flowing with milk and honey appealed to their carnal lusts, as long as they could conceive of it as another Egypt, only without its oppression. But the “rest”, conceived as the house and covenant of God, in which they would be a holy nation, a royal priesthood, a people peculiar unto God, they despised. With their heart they rejected the Word of God, for they did not love Him, neither put their confidence in Him. . . .
They could not enter because of unbelief.
And always unbelief is wicked rejection of, and rebellion against the Word of God, rooted in enmity against the Most High.
Yet, nowhere does unbelief become so clearly and emphatically manifest as in the house of the Son of God, where the voice is heard, clearly, constantly: “This is My house: walk before me, and be ye upright!”
Today if ye will hear (His voice. . . .
Harden not your hearts!
Take heed, brethren!
Their unbelief, itself a state of the heart, and of the mind and will, expressed itself.
It translated itself into deeds! This was, of course, inevitable. Just as faith has its works, so also unbelief is active, and reveals itself in deeds of rebellion.
The text describes these works of their unbelief in various ways. They provoked the LORD: “for who, when they had heard, did provoke? were they not all that came out of Egypt by Moses?” They sinned: “but with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned?” They obeyed not: “and to whom did he sware that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not?”
They sinned. They obeyed not. They provoked the LORD.
But do not all men sin? And is not all sin disobedience? And does not all sin and every form of disobedience provoke the LORD to wrath? To be sure. All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. The wrath of God Is revealed from heaven over all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. Yet, nowhere does sin become revealed as wanton rebellion and refusal to glorify God, as open and utter contempt of the holiness of God’s covenant, as in the house of God. Nowhere is disobedience manifest and willful departure from the way of God’s covenant and precepts, a deliberate trampling under foot of all that is holy, as in the Church. There, where the voice is heard, where the Word is preached, where the mighty arm of the God of our salvation is revealed, where the manna drops out of heaven, where the rocks split to gush forth rivers of water in the wilderness, where the signs of God’s covenant are visible, and the table of the LORD is prepared,—there the measure of iniquity is filled, there the way of disobedience is walked to the bitter end, there the hearts are fully hardened, there sinners stand at the very head of all the ungodly, there they become prepared for a central place in the eternal desolation of hell!
It will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah.
And for Tyre and Sidon!
For there, in the Church of “yesterday” and of “today” the anger of the LORD is provoked as nowhere else!
In a sense, a human form of speaking about God this: to provoke the Lord to anger. For God is unchangeable. He cannot be provoked. Wrath is not a passing passion with Him, that can be roused and appeased. It is eternal. In His counsel He always upholds these wicked violators of His holy covenant in His sovereign wrath. He is angry with the wicked every day. Yet, in time, these wicked reprobates, that dwell with the righteous elect in the house of God as it is revealed in this world, fill the measure of iniquity by deeds of wanton rebellion and contempt of the sanctuary of God; and thus they are said to provoke the Most High to anger. They provoked Him to His face, and invoked upon their heads the fiercest revelation of the burning wrath of the Holy One!
And, O, how they sinned, how they disobeyed, how they provoked the LORD to His face!
At the smoking and trembling mount, they made gods after the imagination of their own heart. They murmured against Moses, and, therefore, against the voice, that he had led them out of Egypt, in order that they might die in the wilderness. They despised the bread from heaven. They lusted after the fleshpots of Egypt, preferring the house of bondage to the rest of God. …
They refused to enter in, threatening to kill those that would lead them into the promised rest, and appointing themselves a captain to return to Egypt. . . .
They loved the world, the flesh, the bondage of sin, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life. . . .
And afterwards, during the dreadful forty years, they did not repent. On the contrary, they continued to provoke the Lord to anger, till all had perished. . . .
Take heed, therefore!
No, indeed, not as if it were possible that any of God’s saints should perish.
Even as we contemplate this dreadful example of “yesterday”, in which the beauty and glory and certainty of God’s purpose of election almost disappears from view, we will not be oblivious of the truth that these unbelievers were reprobates, vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction, and that they did not and could not make the Word of God of none effect.
There is no falling away of saints. The promise is sure to the heirs.
Yet, take heed! For the fact remains that there is always much chaff with the wheat, much flesh in the Church as she is gathered in this world. There are the children of the flesh, that are not Israel, though they be of Israel; and there is the old nature of sin in every believer, and the motions of sin are ever operative in their members, while they have but a small beginning of the new obedience. And because of the presence of the flesh in the house of God, “today” as well as “Yesterday” the Church must always take heed, “lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.”
The flesh is unbelieving.
And unbelief never enters into the rest of God.
They could not enter in. . . .
They perished! For, not only did they fail to enter into the earthly land of Canaan, the promise of “yesterday,” but neither did they enter into the eternal rest of God’s heavenly tabernacle. If their sin and disobedience, their rebellion and provocation of God were not sufficient to establish this fact, the words their “carcasses fell in the wilderness,” should leave no doubt. O, they did not simply die in the desert: the wrath of God struck them down, by plagues, by fire, by serpents, by the earth’s opening up to swallow them up alive, thousands upon thousands of them. . . .
They could not enter in because of unbelief!
O, they did not perish because of the terrible desert: God saved His people and provided for them, and bare them as on eagles’ wings. They did not fail to enter in because of the mighty nations that possessed the land: God overcame and destroyed them. They did not fail to inherit the promise, because they were few and weak: in faith, one of them could chase a thousand.
Unbelief made them incapable to enter!
We do not fail to enter into the rest of God, because the powers of sin and death, the forces of darkness and of the world are too mighty: God has overcome them all in Christ.
The victory is surely ours through faith. Fear not, little flock!
But unbelief lusts after Egypt: it never enters!
Watch ye, therefore!