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with Shelby Hazzard
The German Philosopher, G.W.F. Hegel said, “The only thing we learn from history, is that we don’t learn from history.” Obviously Hegel was not speaking from a Christian worldview, but we can most likely agree with him on that statement. What is it about humanity that we can’t seem to learn from the mistakes of previous generations? In this passage the author of Hebrews reminds his current audience about their forefathers’ failure during the days of the wilderness wanderings of Israel and how to hopefully avoid the same mistake again with much worse consequences.
Know Your History (7-11) Verse 7 begins the second of several warnings in Hebrews, and in this passage, it is the warning of unbelief. “The writer next reminded his readers of the fate of the Israelites when they failed to continue believing God at Kadesh Barnea. His purpose was to help them realize the serious consequences of that behavior and to motivate them to persevere faithfully in the apostles’ teaching. This exhortation is really a commentary on Psalm 95:7b-11 in which the writer assumed a correspondence between the successive generations of God’s people and consistency in God’s character. In verse 6 the writer warned of losing our privilege of serving as priests in the present. Now he warned of losing some of our privileges as heirs in the future.” (Hebrews, Constable, 36-37).
“He finds particular significance in the word rest, which in the Psalm described the forfeited entry into the Promised Land, but which for our author is a model for the more ultimate heavenly rest promised to the people of God. If Israel’s rebellion cost them the temporal rest of Canaan, how much more should his readers now take care that they do not lose their heavenly rest.” (Hebrews, Expositor’s, 61). The author is calling for an immediate change in direction of the people back toward God through faith in Christ alone. He is beseeching them to not be like their ancestors that rebelled against them in the wilderness. “The perverseness of ingratitude and faithlessness is nowhere more strikingly illustrated than in the history of the Israelites in the wilderness.” (Hebrews, Hughes, 142).
Heed the Warning (12) Now he summarizes his admonishment into a single command to not fall away from the living God. “To forsake the living God is always to fall into idolatry. Not that the recipients of this letter were in danger of transferring their worship to images of wood and stone: the constructions of human philosophy and speculation are no less idols, man-made and powerless to save. The essence of all idolatry, whether primitive or sophisticated, is the abandonment of the truth about God for a lie and the worship and service, of the creature rather than the creator (Rom 1:25). These Hebrews were being tempted to relinquish the light of the gospel for the darkness of religious speculation, to trust in the appearance of human and angelic figures rather than in the appearance of Jesus Christ, and to submit to earthly structures and earthly authorities - in short, to turn their back on him who alone is the living God.” (Hebrews, Hughes, 146)
Encourage Each Other (13-15) The solution to this problem of an insidious seduction into apathy and unbelief is consistent mutual exhortation in the church between all believers. The writer is saying that as long as this window of grace is open in Christ Jesus before the second coming that none of us may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. In other words, every day of our lives we are to watch one another closely and apply gentle admonishment when we see one another drifting away from the truth, 1 Timothy 4:16, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” As believers, rarely should we say, “it’s none of your business what I do or what I believe,” because the spiritual health of each other is very much our business. Isolation and absence from the assembly is a great way for the deceitfulness of sin to creep in and consume us.
We must remember our history, learn from the failures of those that came before us and use what we have learned to walk with one another in accountability.
Hazzard is pastor of Woodland Church, Columbus.