Complaining Like Americans

If you’re like me, as you’ve read the Old Testament, you’ve probably wondered why the Israelites blew it so often. How did they miss the point that obedience brought God’s gracious blessing and that disobedience brought God’s gracious, usually painful discipline? What kept them from trusting God? Take just one instance: their deliverance from Egypt by miraculous plagues and the Passover and crossing the Red Sea. Within months they were complaining like Americans. What was the problem?

It’s an easy answer. They didn’t have the Holy Spirit living in them like we do. Certainly, even in the wilderness, spiritual people wouldn’t have acted entitled to better provisions and conditions. We would never act like them, we would never harden our hearts like them.

Or we would.

The author of Hebrews states that we “who share in the heavenly calling” (Hebrews 3:1), we who have Jesus as our High Priest, should look to the Israelites as an object lesson. He argues that their problem may become our problem, not that we can’t have their problem. Hardheartedness is on the table.

So, “as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.'” (Hebrews 3:7, quoted again in 3:15 and 4:7) “Take care, brothers, lest their be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:12-13).

There are a number of issues at work in Hebrews three and four, but if the goal is the promised rest of God, the threat is unbelieving, hardness of heart among us. The threat is disobeying God and doing what we desire like Israel did. The blessing of God’s Word is that it confronts us, it cuts up our hearts and exposes them, and makes them tender (see Hebrews 4:12-13). We also have a sympathetic High Priest who was without sin and who invites us to draw near to the throne of grace for help in time of need (4:14-16), even against the threat of entitlement and hardheartedness.