Summary: Hebrews 3


A man who dined regularly in his favorite restaurant complained about the bread. It wasn’t fair, he emphasized, that other restaurants served lots of bread. But here he gets only one piece. So the next time he came in, they served him four pieces. He still complained it wasn’t enough.

On his next visit his server brought him a dozen pieces of bread. The man still complained.

For his next visit they put a large basket of bread on the table. But still he complained. “The other restaurants give all the bread you can eat.”

They decided to be ready for him the next day. They had an enormous loaf of bread prepared. It was six feet long and two feet wide. Four people carried the loaf to his table. They plopped it down in front of him. It took up half the table and hung over both sides. The chef stood back, pleased with himself, to see how the customer would react.

He looked over the loaf and commented, “So, we’re back to one piece again, are we?”

The early church believers were rattled, worried, and unsettled by many things, none more threatening than execution for their faith and exclusion from the Jewish community. The book of Hebrews reveals that Timothy was just released from prison (13:23). The word “prison” or “bonds” occurs twice in the book (Heb 10:34, 13:3), rivaling Ephesians and Philemon for the most occurrences in the Bible. The purpose of the book was to cheer the believers who were constantly pressured, persecuted and punished.

What are believers to do in the face of death and destitution for their faith? How did the church survive the odds? Why did the church eventually triumph in history?

Examine Your Heart

7 So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, 8 do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, 9 where your fathers tested and tried me and for forty years saw what I did. 10 That is why I was angry with that generation, and I said, 'Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.' 11 So I declared on oath in my anger, 'They shall never enter my rest.'“ (Heb 3:7-11)

Two students of the Talmud came to their rabbi and wailed: “Rabbi, we’ve committed a sin!” “What have you done?” “We looked with lust upon a woman!” “God preserve you!” cried the rabbi. “You’ve committed a terrible sin!” “We wish to do penance, Rabbi!” “In that case, I order you to put peas into your shoes and walk about that way for a week. Then perhaps you’ll remember not to commit such a sin again.

The two penitents went away and did as the rabbi told them. Several days later they met on the street. One was hobbling painfully and looked haggard, but the other one was calm and smiling. So the hobbler said to his fried reproachfully, “Is this the way you do penance? I see you haven’t followed the rabbi’s orders. You didn’t put peas in your shoes!” “Of course I did!” insisted the other. “But I cooked them first!”

Today is repeated three times (vv 7, 13, 15) and a contrast with forty years (vv 9, 17). It is to stress that today’s behavior must be completely different and a total break from the past. What happened for forty years in the wilderness? The “not” or “never” (me) in verse 7 is most impressive, strategic and well- placed and best positioned because it does not occur in the book until now. The writer of Hebrews did not use it previously to maximize its impact currently. The book uses 62 times the normal “not” (ouk) but 25 times “never” (me). No New Testament book uses this “not” so late from chapter three on. Only five books uses this from chapter two on – Mark 2:4, John 2:16, 2 Cor. 2:1, Eph. 2:12 and 1 John 2:4.

“Harden” occurs six times only in the New Testament (Acts 19:9, Rom 9:18, Heb 3:8, 3:13, 3:15, 4:7), four of which are in Hebrews, three alone in this chapter (Heb 3:8, 3:13, 3:15), so the writer couldn’t push his point or press his position more pointedly and painfully. All three times the Greek “me” (never) admonition is placed first before “harden.”

The verb “harden” (skleruno) is derived from the word “skleros” and “skelos,” with the nearest English equivalent of “skeleton.” It’s been said, “Adult human bones are very strong. Their tensile strength is as strong as stainless steel. It is about 20 times more difficult to smash a human femur (upper leg) bone than it is to break a equal weight piece of concrete.

Verses 9-11 detail their conduct (v 9 “where your fathers tested and tried me and for forty years”), the charge (v 10 “their hearts are always going astray”), and its consequences (v 11 “they shall never enter my rest”).

Expel All Doubt

12 See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.

A new arrival in heaven was surprised to see a suggestion box along Main Street. The heavenly newbie turned to a more seasoned resident and asked, “If everything is perfect and everybody is happy in heaven, why is there a suggestion box?” “Because some people aren’t really happy unless they complain.”

The first imperative in this passage is in verse 12: “See to it” (blepo) or “take heed” (KJV). The imperative form of the same verb (“see to it”) occurs 27 times in the Bible. While the verb has its roots in the eye, it has more meaning than meet the eye. Other translations include “Watch out” (Matt 24:4, Mark 12:38, 13:5, Luke 21:8, Gal 5:15, Phil 3:2, 2 John 8), “See to it” (1 Cor 16:10, Col 2:8, 4:17, Heb 3:12, 12:25), “Consider/consider carefully” (Mark 4:24, Luke 8:18, 1 Cor 10:18), “Be careful” (1 Cor 3:10, 8:9, 10:12), “Be on your guard” (Mark 13:9, 23, 33), “Be careful” (Mark 8:15), “Look” (Acts 3:4), “Take care” (Acts 13:40), and “Be very careful” (Eph 5:15). So see includes the heart, mind, and spirit.

What the readers are to watch out for: unbelief (v 12), which is stated twice in the chapter as well as book (vv 12, 19), the same kind suffered and shown by the Jews in the gospels and Paul talked about (Matt 13:58, Mark 6:6, Rom 3:3, 4:20, 11:20, 11:23). Unbelief is a matter of the heart, which is stated four times in the chapter (Heb 3:8, 10, 12, 15). This Greek word (apaistia) can mean faithlessness in the negative sense and unfaithfulness in the positive sense. The first mean disbelief and the second is disobedience. KJV and ASV (American Standard Version) rightly translates “sinful, unbelieving heart” as “an evil heart of unbelief” (v 12).


“Turn away” (aphistemi) is departing. The mild translation for this is “leave” or “depart” Luke 2:37) but the sterner meaning is “fall away” (Luke 8:13 “Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.”), “desert” (Acts 15:38, as in Barnabas’ desertion), “abandon” (1 Tim 4:1), where it says “In later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.” Why do people leave? What are the major reasons?

Encourage One Another

13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.

Neal Krause, a sociologist and public-health expert at the University of Michigan, has tried to quantify some of those more amorphous variables in a longitudinal study of 1,500 people that he has been conducting since 1997. He has focused particularly on how regular churchgoers weather economic downturns as well as the stresses and health woes that go along with them. Not surprisingly, he has found that parishioners benefit when they receive social support from their church. But he has also found that those people who give help fare even better than those who receive it — a pillar of religious belief if ever there was one. He has also found that people who maintain a sense of gratitude for what’s going right in their lives have a reduced incidence of depression, which is itself a predictor of health. And in another study he conducted that was just accepted for publication, he found that people who believe their lives have meaning live longer than people who don’t. “That’s one of the purported reasons for religion,” Krause says. “The sign on the door says, ‘Come in here and you’ll find meaning.’” (“The Biology of Belief,” Time, Feb. 12, 2009),8599,1879016-1,00.html

Last year, researchers studied 34 students at the University of Virginia, taking them to the base of a steep hill and fitting them with a weighted backpack. They were then asked to estimate the steepness of the hill. Some participants stood next to friends during the exercise, while others were alone.

One of the strongest antidote against unbelief is not just to encourage one another but to encourage one another daily (v 13), which is the last imperative in the chapter. What is encouragement? George M. Adams says ““Encouragement is the oxygen of the soul.” Anatole France, French writer and winner of the Noble Prize in Literature observes that “nine tenths of education is encouragement.”

Nothing rouses and revives lonely, lost, and lukewarm and listless believers like encouragement. Encouragement is derived from the word “courage,” so encouragement is to impart courage or instill confidence in others, to bring out the best in others, to strengthen those who are defeated, down and defenseless. It is bound in the word of courage.

Encourage (para-kaleo) means to call alongside or “beside (para) call (kaleo).” The preposition “para-” (beside) is opposed to “above,” “against” and “apart.” The preposition "para" (beside), where English words parachurch or parallel share the same root, means to walk side by side, to walk in the shoes, to walk with the wounded, the weak and the weary. It is to be there for the person, to be by the person and with the person. Show you understand is better than say you understand. Encourage (para-kaleo) is opposed to superiority, antagonism or indifference. It is not to be condescending, condemning or criticizing, also not to provide answers and solve problems.

There are five things considered deceitful (v 13) in the Bible: the deceitfulness of riches (Matt 13:22, Mark 4:19), the deceitfulness of lusts (Eph 4:22), the deceivableness of unrighteousness (2 Thess 2:10), the deceitfulness of sin (v 13) and the deceitfulness of self (2 Peter 2:13).

Conclusion: It’s been said, “The devil’s greatest tool is discouragement.” Are you a companion or a critic? Do you know someone who needs encouragement today? Can you send the person a letter, an e-mail or a text? Have you prayed for a person who needs encouragement?