Much of Hebrews chapter 3 centers on a quote from Psalm 95, “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness….”
Psalm 95 is referring to an incident in Exodus 17. Israel’s wilderness journey brings them to Rephidim where there is no water. The people accuse God and Moses of bringing them out of Egypt to kill them, their children, and their livestock with thirst. Moses strikes the rock at Horeb, where the Lord causes water to stream to the people (Ex. 17:1-7).
Through the psalmist, the Lord warns readers not to harden their hearts as their fathers did “though they had seen what I did” (Ps. 95:9). The generation that was quick to accuse the Lord of neglect was the same that saw Him plague Egypt, part the Red Sea, lead them through dry land, and provide manna. Surely, these displays were enough to convince them of God’s power and trustworthiness. But the psalmist may have had a more fundamental question: after all God did for His people, how could they doubt His tender heart toward them? How could they doubt that He loved them and would certainly care for them?
The psalmist writes, “Come, let us worship and bow down…. For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, the sheep under His care” (Ps. 95:7). The writer simply and beautifully captures the affection God desires to share with His people. Then he writes, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts….” (Ps. 95:7-8). Do not harden your hearts against such a God, whose affections are so set on you that He does wonder after wonder not just to meet your needs but to show how wide and high and deep His love is.
The writer of Hebrews uses Psalm 95 to advance this same plea. In chapter one He explained how Jesus completed the purification for our sins. In chapter two, Jesus became lower than the angels to be made like us in every way. He suffered all that we do, including death, so He could have true empathy as our high priest. To be sure, the writer of Hebrews wants us to see how complete Christ’s sacrifice is and how fully our needs are met by it. But more than that, how can we doubt the tender affections of Jesus who gave up so much and suffered so much for us? How can we doubt the heart of our high priest?
Those who read this letter originally faced persecution. They might have lost family connections, inheritances, friendships. Some saw them as heretics, betrayers of God’s covenant. It would’ve been easy to respond as their ancestors did when there was no water at Rephidim—to accuse the Lord of failing them, to ask (as the Israelites did), “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Ex. 17:7).
When trying times and stressors come into our lives, it is just as easy for us to ask if the Lord is among us. It is then we must remember (by the Spirit) the stabbing, maiming, shaming, and suffocating Jesus endured *for us*. It isn’t enough to see this as a transactional act that pays our sin debt. We need the Spirit of God to affect our hearts with the overwhelming affection that moved Jesus to suffer so much. He is truly the lover of our souls. It is a hardened heart indeed that can look on the one who was pierced and not feel how tenderly He loves us.
Rest can only be found in Jesus’s love. Wherever we are unsure of His affections, there is anxiety and the feeling that it is our job to make God happy. God is happy. His Son is all He needs. God calls us to enter His rest—His pleasure in His Son.