|Study of Hebrews|
By E.H. “Jack” Sequeira
Moses was faithful in delivering Israel out of Egypt, and out of the clutches of Pharaoh, and Christ was faithful in redeeming the human race. So they were both faithful. But now, what Paul does in verse 7 onwards, is he turns the card, and he deals with it from a different angle. “Was Israel faithful to Moses?” That’s the question. Yes, Moses was faithful to Israel, in spite of their murmuring and grumbling and all that. But was Israel faithful? And the answer is, “no.” And what Paul is doing is, he’s taking this experience of their unfaithfulness and he’s using it as a warning upon us Christians that we do not make the same mistake. And, therefore, this has a very important lesson for us because we are in danger of doing the same thing. Now, with this in mind, please look at verses 7-9 of Hebrews 3:
Wherefore as the Holy Ghost saith today, If you will hear His voice...[we must not do something....] harden not your hearts, as in the provocation [i.e., the exodus] in the day of temptation in the wilderness: when your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years.
They saw God’s works, they saw God’s hand, but they still had a hard heart. And he is saying, “We must not make the same mistake.” Verse 10:
Wherefore I [i.e., God] was grieved with that generation and said, “They do alway err in their heart and they have not known My ways.”
Now, please notice where the problem is: the problem is not just their behaviour. It is where? In the heart. And then in verse 11 he says:
So I swear in my wrath, “They shall not enter into My rest.”
Now this is extremely important, I am going to spend the next two studies on this one term, the word, “rest.” Because, you see, in chapter four, the word rest is linked with the Sabbath. And we need to understand God’s rest in terms of the Sabbath because we have a message that needs to be brought clearly to the world. But that is for our next two studies. Okay now, what I want to do is look at the Exodus, and to look at some of the statements in this passage. Look at verse 11:
So I swear in My wrath, “They shall not enter into My rest.”
Now if you take this statement at face value, it sounds like God is saying, “You rascals, I will not give you salvation!” That’s the way it sounds, doesn’t it? The problem is folks, we have a tendency of judging God by our standards. So when we look at the word, “wrath,” we human beings think of wrath as anger. And I want to be clear on this, that when the New Testament and the Bible use the words “God’s wrath,” it means something different. First of all, in James 1:20 we read:
The wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
In other words, man’s wrath is sinful. When man gets angry he does it in the context of sin. When God’s wrath comes, it is in the context of righteousness. So what James 1:20 is simply saying, “Man’s wrath and God’s wrath are not the same thing.” And I would like to remind you of Isaiah 55:8,9:
God’s ways are not like our ways, and His thoughts are not like our thoughts.... Just like the heavens are way up there and the earth is here, so are God’s ways and thoughts higher than ours.
In other words, between God and us there are millions of light years, folks. We can’t compare it. So never project human wrath unto God.
Okay, having said this, what is God’s wrath? We need to keep this clear. The best passage that explains the wrath of God is Romans 1. So keep your finger in Hebrews, and turn to Romans chapter 1:18. I’ll give you a little secret on how to read Paul. You see, Paul is the champion of the gospel, but you need to know how [he presents that gospel]. You see, Paul will normally make a statement, that’s the method that he uses, he makes a statement, then he either proves the statement, or he expounds on the statement, or he defends that statement. And what we need to do when we read Paul is look at the statements, and then the rest of it will make sense. Okay, the statement is found in Romans 1:18:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold the truth in unrighteousness.
So Paul is saying here that the wrath of God has been revealed from heaven against what? I heard the word “unrighteousness.” Please, that is not what God’s wrath is upon. His wrath is upon all ungodliness. Unrighteousness is the fruits of ungodliness.
Now, what does “ungodliness” mean? It means that you have turned your back to God. And that’s what the Jews did in Exodus, they turned their backs to God. And he explains this. He says, for example, in verse 19 onwards, that the Gentile world had a knowledge of God, not an explicit knowledge of God from the Bible, but they had a knowledge of God from nature. But did they retain that knowledge? No. They refused to retain the knowledge of God. They turned their backs on God. And, of course, in chapter two of Romans, Paul says that the Jews did the same thing, even though they had the facts of the Bible, the oracles of God.
But what I want you to notice is, what does God do when people turn their backs to Him? Does He push them in the fire? I’ll tell you what He does, because in this passage—he says in verses 24, 26, and in verse 28, three times—he tells us what God does when men turn their backs to Him. And you will notice he uses the same expression. Verse 24:
Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness.
Men turn their backs to God and want to enjoy sin. God says, “Okay, go ahead and see what happens.” He gives them up. Verse 26:
For this cause God gave them up unto vile affection.
And, if you look at the context of verse 26, it’s concerning homosexuality. He says, “You want to practise it, go ahead, I will not stop you. And see what happens.” And we know what happens, AIDS comes along. Verse 28:
And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge...
Please notice where the problem is, “They did not like to retain God in their knowledge”. What did God do to them?
He gave them up unto their reprobate minds.
In other words, God is love. He will never force salvation upon you. If you turn your backs to God, He’ll say, “Go ahead and see what happens.” And when man realizes that without God he can’t live, then something says to him, “I better turn to God.”
And this is how it was in the Roman world at the time of Paul. This is how it is today. As a country, we are turning our backs to God slowly. Do you know that? Secular humanism has come into this country. And that coin which says, “In God we trust,” is only a cliche now. And you will notice that the moment a country, a nation turns its back to God, things get worse.
And that is the wrath of God. You see, the wrath of God is negative. You must not confuse the wrath of God with His judgments, that’s a different thing. The wrath of God is simply God giving them up.
Okay, the Jews in the Exodus turned their backs to God in spite of the fact that God had given them tremendous evidence for forty years. Because they turned their backs to God, how many Jews that were over the age of 20 when they had left Egypt entered Canaan? How many? Two. What happened to the rest? Why? Unbelief! And unbelief is turning your back to God. That is the problem. And that’s why Paul says in Hebrews 3:12:
Take heed [be careful], brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief.
And folks, at the heart of every problem in God’s people is unbelief. And that is why we need to learn from the Exodus the lessons that are there for us.
Okay, now in verse 13, he’s giving us some counsel, and what is that counsel? The counsel is that when you see somebody in the church whose faith is weakening, what do you do?
But exhort one another daily [How often? Daily.] while it is called today.
In other words, when you accept Christ, there are two things that you must remember: righteousness is always by faith. Is that clear? Righteousness in the New Testament and in the Bible is always by faith. Those who try to get righteousness by works will fail. But those who try righteousness by faith will succeed. Now the righteousness which saves us is in Who? It is in Christ. Where is Christ? In heaven, where no thief can go. So the righteousness which saves you is guaranteed, nobody can destroy it. But the faith that makes that righteousness effective is in us. That [faith] Satan can touch. And the moment you accept Christ, Satan will do everything to destroy your faith. And you need to be on your guard.
Sometime later I’m going to give a whole study on this when we come to the word faith itself. Because faith, folks, is a fight, you have to hold on to it at all costs. And briefly, there are three things that Satan will use to destroy your faith. I’ll go into detail some other time, but I’ll just mention the three things:
Can you imagine what would happen if Jesus said, “These Jews whom I’ve come to save, this world which I’ve come to save, doesn’t appreciate Me, I’ll go back.” What would happen to us? But He was faithful, Christ was faithful.
Look at Moses. Did they make life pleasant for him, or was life miserable for Moses? Terrible! But he was faithful. The trouble is, are we faithful to Christ? That’s the problem. Do we hold on? And I want to remind you of verse 6, because verse 6 is the stepping stone of what we are covering. Look at that one word, “if.”
But Christ as a Son over His own house...[Christ as our High Priest, guaranteed He’ll save us]...whose house we are...[but there is an “if” there]...if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.
In other words, God will not save us, Christ cannot defend us, if we turn our backs to Him. He will defend us at all cost, as long as we accept Him as our Saviour. But if we turn our backs to Him, there is no hope. And folks, what this passage is telling us is that the unpardonable sin is unbelief. Every sin against the law can be forgiven, but unbelief cannot be forgiven. And I want to give you a statement from Jesus Christ. Turn to John 16, and I want you to notice how Jesus defines sin, the sin by which man is lost, and I can give you many texts, but I’ll give you just one from the words of Jesus Christ. The reason that I’m doing this is because both are in the context of the Holy Spirit. The passage in Hebrews 3:7 says:
Wherefore as the Holy Ghost saith today, if you will hear His voice harden not your heart.
Jesus is saying the same thing in John 16:8:
When the Holy Ghost comes He will reprove [the Greek word means “convince”] the world of [three things: number one...] sin.
The moment you look at that word you think, that is transgression of the law. Remember, I preached on this, so I don’t have to repeat it, but I simply remind you of verse 9:
Of sin, because they believe not on Me.
Unbelief is unforgivable. If God can forgive unbelief, do you know how many people will be in heaven? All, and that’s a heresy. Universalism, which teaches that all men will be saved, irrespective of believing or not believing, is a heresy. The Bible doesn’t teach that. The Bible says, as long as we have confidence in Christ, He will be faithful. Not that He doesn’t want to be faithful, His love cannot use compulsion. That’s the problem with God—God cannot use compulsion, Hitler could. The communists can.
You know, in Ethiopia, one Russian said to me, “When we say something, it happens.” And he gave me an example: “When we pass a law: ‘No Smoking,’ we don’t need five-day plans like you people.”
I said, “What will you do? How can you stop people from smoking if they don’t want to give it up?”
He said to me, “In communism, there is no such thing as ‘Don’t want to.’ When we say, ‘No smoking,’ it means no smoking. Otherwise, we put them six feet under the ground. One way or the other we stop them from smoking.”
God can’t do that. God is love. He saved us at infinite cost, but He cannot force that salvation upon you. But the Jews unfortunately refused to hold on to their God in spite of the evidence. And Paul is saying, “Take heed, don’t let this happen.” Look at Hebrews 3:14:
For we are made partakers of Christ...
That means we are made partakers of all the blessings of Christ—and there’s the word “if” again...
...if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end.
And these texts that you’re looking at, verse 6 and verse 14, are excellent texts for those who say, “Once saved always saved.” Because they believe in the doctrine of predestination, which says that if God decides you will be saved, you have no choice, you will be saved. And that’s communism, that’s not Christianity. God wants all men to be saved, but He will not force salvation. And the Jews who refused to hold the beginning of their confidence steadfast unto the end died in the wilderness. And may I make a statement here: in the judgment there will be three groups—those who rejected Christ completely, and those who were true believers, and those who were still members of the church but who really had no faith in Christ, they were just coming there as a form.
Of these three people, the people who are members of the church but have no faith are the worst. I’ll tell you why: because the people of the world at least enjoyed sin while they were alive. The true people of God who held on to Christ, they had a hard time in the world, but at least they’ll enjoy heaven, which is, of course, better than the sins of the world. But the people in the middle, they did not enjoy Egypt, neither did they enjoy Canaan; they died where? They’re the worst people. So folks, don’t treat your religion lightly, take it seriously. By the way, there are many other passages in which Paul repeats this concept, “Hold on.” Verse 15:
While it is said today, “If you will hear His voice, harden not your hearts as in the provocation.”
And then he goes from verse 16-19 giving counsel:
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 those who sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness?
Now the reason they did not go in is because they sinned, but please notice how that word sinned is defined in verse 18:
And to whom sweared He that they should not enter into His rest, but to them that believed not.
Please notice, the sin here is unbelief, ungodliness. So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.
And please, unbelief is the worst thing that can ever happen to anybody. Now what is unbelief? It is the opposite of what? Faith. Please remember that genuine unbelief is positive. In other words, the person who has never heard the gospel and therefore has never accepted Christ, is he committing the sin of unbelief? No.
What is the prerequisite to commit the sin of unbelief? It is the knowledge of the truth. Unbelief is deliberate folks, it is a deliberate, willful, persistent rejection of God’s salvation. Have you got it? It is deliberate, willful. It is persistent. When God comes to you with the truth the first time and you refuse, He doesn’t say, “Well, that’s the end of you.” He will come again and again and again because God is long-suffering. He will come to you a million times, “Please, accept My gift!” But after coming to you millions of times and you keep on refusing and hardening your heart there comes a point when you will tell God, “God, please, get off my back, I don’t want You.” You have reached now the point of no return.
And we have a history in our church, Canright did that. He came into this church and out of this church seven times. Member, successful preacher, and then he said, “Boy, this is a small denomination. If I leave this church, I’ll become a great man.” He left the church and he went down. He came back and he went down. I happened to speak to his secretary who, by the way, took the notes when she typed his book, The Truth about Adventists, which he wrote against us and Ellen G. White. She was at Andrews when I was studying there. She said that he would walk up and down in the office, and she would take it down as fast as she could in shorthand, and he would stop and put his head on the desk and he would say, “I’m a lost man.”
She said, “One day I felt burdened for him, and I took him to prayer meeting, and when the members knelt down to pray he became stiff, he could not kneel. And he rushed out crying, ‘I’m a lost man!’” She promised him that she would not tell anybody what he was writing, and she said at Andrews that she broke the promise because she was afraid of dying without confessing it. And she confessed and I think a book was produced afterwards, I Was Canright’s Secretary.
She said that he had said to her, “Don’t you do the same thing that I did.” But she said that he was so controlled by the devil that he could not stop dictating to her. And he would dictate two, three hours at a time, and then he would break up in a terrible sweat and cry in despair. And when, one day, the last attempt she made for him, he said, “Sister, I have reached the point of no return.”
Now he same thing happened to Judas. Remember what happened at the Lord’s supper? “The devil entered into him.” All the time Jesus was pleading with him, “Please, don’t turn your back to Me.” And when the devil entered into him, he had sold himself to the devil, he had reached the point of no return. And Paul is warning us that this can happen to us folks, it can happen to us. And the lesson of Israel in the Exodus, must be a lesson to us.
Now I want to give you two passages. I want you to read that passage because it is extremely important to us that we understand the Exodus, the greatest event in the Old Testament. Please turn your Bibles to 1 Corinthians 10 which deals with the same thing, with the same issue, it’s dealing with the Exodus, and it’s the same writer [as of the book of Hebrews] as far as I’m concerned, Paul. But what Paul is doing in 1 Corinthians 10 is, he’s using the Exodus as a type of salvation. For example, look at verse 1:
And please, the word, “brethren” is not referring to Jewish Christians but to Gentile Christians because Corinthians was primarily a Gentile church. There were Jews there but it was primarily a Gentile church.
Moreover, brethren, I would not that you should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea;...
In other words, Moses was a type of Christ, the crossing of the Red Sea was a type of Baptism, and the rest is obvious. Egypt was a type of the world, Satan was a type of Pharaoh. And, of course, Canaan was heaven. Now when the Jews crossed the Red Sea they were saying good-bye to Pharaoh, which is Satan, and they were saying good-bye to Egypt, which is the world. But they failed to say good-bye to one thing. They failed! And we need to know what they failed at. They said good-bye to Egypt, and to Pharaoh in a physical sense. Physically they were cut off now from Egypt and Pharaoh. But in the heart they were still in Egypt. And through all those years of wandering, their hearts were still there.
Therefore, they were not truly converted, their baptism was an act, that’s all it was. That’s why, by the way, God had to take them to Sinai, which is the wrong direction. If you have been in that area, you wonder why He went south because Israel or Canaan was north-east from Goshen. But He went south, taking them to this very mountainous area, and He gave them the law. Do you know what the law does? It kills. That’s the work of the law. Paul says in Romans 7:9:
I thought I was alive through the law once [because he had not understood the law] but when I understood the law, sin revived and [who died?] I died.
So the Jews,even though physically they had said good-bye to Egypt and to Pharaoh, the life of Egypt was still in their hearts. And so they always longed to go back to Egypt. “Oh, we miss the cucumbers and the leeks and the Kentucky fried chicken.” They missed that. Now folks, the problem was not that leeks and cucumbers were sin. The problem was: where was their heart? That is why God could not take these Jews into Canaan. Even the ones that did go in, He could not take them unless they were rebaptized in the Jordan.
And if you look at the way He went, He went through Petra, which is a terrible road. (My wife and I and our children travelled through it in 1975; it was terrible. In fact, she wouldn’t climb the mountains up there because it was tough.) God took them the hard way, and they had to be rebaptized, because their first baptism had one thing missing: the self life was still with them. Because the formula of the gospel is, “Not I, but Christ.” And I’ll tell you, the hardest part is “not I,” that’s the hardest part. Christ is no problem, but the hardest part is “not I.” I want you to look at verse 6 [and verse 11] of 1 Corinthians 10:
Now these things were our examples [in other words, what took place in Exodus is our example] to the intent we should not lust after [evil things].
In other words, we should not lust after worldly things. You see, there are some Christians who want one leg in the church, because they want to go to heaven, and they want one leg in the world because they want to enjoy Egypt. You can’t have both, folks. You have to choose one.
And what’s happening in these last days is that God is separating the church from the world. And when you have one leg in both of these, you’re going to have a split. You have to make a choice. And that is what’s happening. People are either jumping back to the world and saying, “Look man, this is what I want,” or you’ll have to jump into the church and become fully converted and give up the world. But you can’t be both. And Paul is saying, “We must learn from that example.” But I want to look at verse 11, because verse 11 has an added statement.
Now all these things happened unto them [i.e., the Jews of the Exodus] for examples, and they are written for... [whose admonition?] our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.
Folks, we need to pay attention to this. The Exodus has special lessons for the last generation of Christians. Because Canaan is very near, but the problem is that we can’t enter in as long as we are linked with unbelief.
Let me give you one example. There is a big issue in our church today. ”Is it possible for us to overcome all temptation? Is it possible for us to live Christ-like lives?” That’s the big argument today. The issue is not whether it’s possible or not. We know that by ourselves we can do nothing. The question is, “Do you believe that God can do the impossible?” That’s the question: do you believe? The issue is not whether it’s possible or not, the question is, “Do you believe God?”
God came to Abraham and gave him a promise when he was 75. There was no problem, Abraham believed. But God waited 25 years folks, He waited until medically, scientifically, it was impossible for Sarah to have a child. Then He said to Abraham, “Do you believe?” And I want you to read Romans 4:18:
Against hope he believed, and he became the father of the faithful.
Abraham is our father, folks; he’s our prototype. He believed not simply what God can do within the context of science, He believed that God can do something outside of nature, He can do that which is impossible. And the issue is not, “Who is right and who is wrong?” The issue is, ”Do you believe in God?” That’s the issue, folks. It’s the issue of faith. And I would like to say here that this is why we need to learn.
I want to turn now to Philippians because we are dealing now with a Pharisee. Paul was a Pharisee! Don’t forget that. A Pharisee is one who is very zealous in self-righteousness. And to listen to Paul here...oh, it gives me great hope. Because if this Pharisee, who was a member of the Sanhedrin, could be converted to the full gospel, “not I, but Christ,” then there is hope for us, folks, there is hope for us.
In Philippians 3:3, Paul gives the true meaning of circumcision, because, you see, God gave Abraham a circumcision because even though he believed at 75, eight years later he did something terrible, his faith dwindled, because he produced Ishmael. You see, Ishmael was the result of unbelief, and so God had to remove that unbelief. And so circumcision is simply an outward sign of an inward experience: the removal of unbelief. And here it is in verse 3:
For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit and rejoice in Christ Jesus [Who? That’s the positive side.] and have no confidence in the flesh.
You see that the “not I, but Christ” comes in different forms here. In order for us to rejoice in Christ, we must have no confidence in ourselves. And then he gives an example of himself. In verse 4-6, he talks about himself as a Pharisee. Boy, he had a wonderful genealogy, he had a wonderful record, he was zealous for God, he was sinless as far as the law of God was concerned. “But” he says in verse 7:
What things were gain to me I counted loss for [Whom?] not I but [Who?] Christ.
Now look at verse 9, you can read verse 8 later on:
And I want to be found in Him... [that’s the “in-Christ motif”] not having my own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.
Folks, the Jews did not enter in because of unbelief. We will not enter in because of unbelief. Okay I want to close now and I’ve got a quotation for you. It’s from [Ellen G. White’s] Selected Messages, page 69, I want you to listen very carefully:
For forty years did unbelief [have you got it?], murmuring, and rebellion shut out ancient Israel from the land of Canaan. The same sins have delayed the entrance of modern Israel into the heavenly Canaan. [We are repeating, folks, their history.] In neither case were the promises of God at fault. It is the unbelief, the worldliness, unconsecration and strife among God’s professed people... [who is she talking about?] ...that has kept us in the world of sin and sorrow so many years.
And I don’t know how many years are left. But folks, I’m tired of this world. How about you? And so folks, let us learn from the Exodus; let us not make their mistake. When God says He can do something, please don’t say to God, “Prove it to me.” He has already proved it in Jesus Christ. There is nothing that God cannot do that He promises.
And that’s the difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. The Old Covenant is based on man’s promise, and when man makes promises, he always breaks them or fails. But the New Covenant is based on God’s promise. God made a promise, and can He keep it? But He cannot keep it if we are full of unbelief. Because His hands are tied.
And He wants us to have confidence in Him no matter what our eyes tell us, and what circumstances tell us, He wants us to hold onto our confidence even though the world will fall around us. And my dear people, hold onto Christ! Don’t you give up your faith. It is the most valuable thing you have. Even though you see people around you falling, don’t you give it up, because one day you will enter the promised land. And you will say, “It was worth it.” But the worst thing that can happen to you is to die in the wilderness. And you will not enjoy heaven, you haven’t enjoyed earth, you’re just miserable, dying in the wilderness. So may God bless us.
I want you to read very carefully verses 1-13 for our next study. I am going to spend two studies, one is a study on the passage, and one is going to give you a study only on the Sabbath in the light of the gospel, because we need to present the Sabbath in the light of the gospel. We need to present the Sabbath in a way that will convince the world, the Christian world, that the Sabbath is vital, because it’s linked with belief. And in the last days, at the end of time, breaking the Sabbath is not simply breaking a commandment, it is the sin of unbelief. Because faith and the Sabbath are linked together.
He who believes has entered into God’s rest.
And we need to see that connection, and I am going to give you a whole study on it so that you will witness about the Sabbath in the right way. May God bless us that we will learn from the history of Israel. It was recorded for our benefit, let us not make the same mistake.