Today’s passages: Hosea, chapters 6-9; Hebrews, chapter 3
Scripture: Hebrews 3:7-19 (NRSV) – Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, as on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your ancestors put me to the test, though they had seen my works for 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.’ As in my anger I swore, ‘They will not enter my rest.’” Take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you have an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But 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. For we have become partners in Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end. As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” Now who were they who heard and yet were rebellious? Was it not all those who left Egypt under the leadership of Moses? But with whom was he angry forty years? Was it not those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, if not to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.
Observations: This passage seems to me to connect with a few verses from our Old Testament reading from today, Hosea 9:7-9: “The days of punishment have come, the days of recompense have come; Israel cries, ‘The prophet is a fool, the man of the spirit is mad!’ Because of your great iniquity, your hostility is great. The prophet is a sentinel for my God over Ephraim, yet a fowler’s snare is on all his ways, and hostility in the house of his God. They have deeply corrupted themselves as in the days of Gibeah; he will remember their iniquity, he will punish their sins.”
The people of Israel had seen God work in many, many ways throughout their history. The writer of Hebrews talks about the rebellion in the desert of the people whom Moses had led out of Egypt; Hosea talks about the current state of the nations of Israel and Judah during his time. The situations were similar: people who had known God, who had seen God work in mighty ways, rebelled against him and against those who proclaimed his truth. The situation is much the same today. The voice of “the prophet” – those who speak God’s message on his behalf – is largely ignored; as Hosea wrote, people think, “the prophet is a fool, the man of the spirit is mad!” Even within the Church, many people do not listen to God’s Word; those who are charged to proclaim it now ignore the Word and proclaim their own messages. As the apostle Paul said would happen, people refuse to listen to sound teaching and instead flock to teachers who tell them what “their itching ears” want to hear.
The Bible also warns us not to be deceived, because what we sow, we also reap. Churches and individuals who reject God’s Word and follow their own paths will ultimately face the consequences of their actions. That is why it is so important for each believer to read the Word, so they will know which voices are proclaiming God’s whole truth and which are proclaiming only part (or a different message entirely). In the days of the Exodus, God offered to come and meet with Israel, and to speak to them, but they told Moses, “You go and talk to God, and then come back and tell us what he says.” Whenever we rely totally on others to tell us what God says, we are prone to error – because we will always tend to listen to what we like, rather than the truth. We need to read the Word ourselves, but we also need the corrective effect of other voices which help us to recognize things we might miss on our own. This is yet another reason that God calls us into community – because we need the balance and insight of believers who see things from a different perspective.
Applications: There is no segment of the Church which is exempt from this danger. We are not called to argue with each other over which part of the truth is “most important”; we are called to proclaim the whole counsel of God. That includes, for instance, not only proclaiming the call to sexual purity as set forth in Scripture, but also proclaiming God’s command for us to care for the widows, orphans, and “aliens and strangers” among us. Our calls for obedience and faithfulness must also include reminders of God’s grace and mercy – and we must also remember Jesus’ call for us to be merciful and to love our enemies as well as our neighbors, family, and friends. We are the Body of Christ, and we are called to represent Christ and embody his presence to everyone.
Prayer: Father, thank you for reminding me of the danger that comes from focusing only on the parts of your Word that are comfortable to me. Thank you for reminding me, too, that I cannot listen only to the voices with whom I agree. Your Spirit helps me to recognize your truth, even when the truth points me to things that make me uncomfortable. Help me not to shy away from hearing your truth, and help me not to shy away from speaking your truth when you call me to do so. But most of all, help me to live in ways that bear witness to your truth, your mercy, and your grace. Amen.