Summary: Shall we go forward, following Jesus Christ, trusting Him for salvation or shall we turn back to our old way of life?
Working at resting!
The Jewish believers to whom Hebrews was written were facing important decisions. Did they go forward, following Jesus Christ; trusting Him for their salvation? Or did they go back to their old way of life with its thousands of years of history and traditions? Hebrews has already given them clear, positive reasons for following Jesus.
They have been graphically reminded that Jesus is God’s beloved Son and heir, the creator and sustainer of the whole universe, the pinnacle of God’s revelation to us – showing what God is like and what He expects from us. These early chapters have also demonstrated that Jesus was and is greater than the angels, the OT prophets and even Moses.
We have also been warned of the danger of neglecting or disobeying God’s beloved Son. In chapter 3 the writer was probably thinking generally of the time that Israel wasted in the wilderness, while in chapter 4 he seems to have focussed on the sad instance when they turned back at Kadesh-Barnea instead of going forward to take possession of the Promised Land. Let’s look at that story and see what light it sheds on the passage that we read together.
It is quite a long story which you can read in Numbers 13 and 14. Let me summarise what happened:
• About two years after they left Egypt Moses sent spies into the land of Canaan 1-3. (Don’t confuse this with the spies that Joshua sent in to spy out Jericho. That took place about 38 years later.)
• They spent 40 days spying out the land and reported back 21-25.
• They found that the land was rich and fertile – returning with one cluster of grapes; they carried it between two of them on a pole V23. Imagine a bunch of grapes so big that you need two men to carry it! They said “We went to the land where you sent us. It truly flows with milk and honey. 27
• On the other hand the Canaanites were very powerful, militarily. They were strong; the cities are fortified and very large – v28. They saw giants (the descendants of Anak); and they felt like grasshoppers – v33 in comparison. 10 of the 12 spies concluded:“We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we.” v31
• Caleb, another spy, disagreed – Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it. v30
• The people lost hope when they heard about the military power of the Canaanites. They wept and moaned. Nu 14:2“If only we had died in the land of Egypt! Or if only we had died in this wilderness! 3 “Why has the LORD brought us to this land to fall by the sword, that our wives and children should become victims? Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?” 4 So they said to one another, “Let us select a leader and return to Egypt.” Moaning was their specialist subject; they practiced it so often! Are we any better, any more thankful today?
• Joshua and Caleb (the other two spies) made one last attempt to persuade the people to trust God. 7“The land we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. 8 “If the LORD delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us…’ 9 “Only do not rebel against the LORD, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the LORD is with us. Do not fear them.”
• But instead of trusting God the people tried to stone them. 10
• God was angry with them: 11 the LORD said to Moses: “How long will these people reject Me? And how long will they not believe Me, with all the signs which I have performed among them?
• God declared that none of these people, who had seen His glory and the signs which He did in Egypt and in the wilderness v22, would enter the Promised Land. 30 ‘Except for Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun, you shall by no means enter the land which I swore I would make you dwell in. 31 ‘But your little ones, whom you said would be victims, I will bring in, and they shall know the land which you have despised. 32 ‘But as for you, your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness. 33 ‘And your sons shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years, … for each day you shall bear your guilt one year, namely forty years, and you shall know My rejection.
• The spies who had discouraged the people were judged immediately and died by the plague before the LORD v37. Finally the people understood their folly and they mourned greatly v37. They announced that, after all they would go up to the place which the LORD has promised, for we have sinned! v40. Moses warned them that it was too late to change their minds – the LORD is not among you. 43 “For the Amalekites and the Canaanites are there before you, and you shall fall by the sword; because you have turned away from the LORD, the LORD will not be with you.” 44 But they presumed to go up to the mountaintop; nevertheless, neither the ark of the covenant of the LORD nor Moses departed from the camp. 45 Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who dwelt in that mountain came down and attacked them, and drove them back as far as Hormah.