Reflection for Shelakh-Lekha

“No Rest for Hardened Hearts:
The Deceitfulness of Sin”

Hebrews 3:7-19


by Mark Huey

In this week’s Torah reading, Shelakh-Lekha (Numbers 13:1-15:41), we examine the infamous account of the twelve spies sent to survey the Promised Land, as the Israelites continue to complain about some of the challenges of life that require not only faithfulness on their part—but most especially perseverance.[1] It is easy to overlook how the idea to send spies into Canaan was a suggestion of the people themselves, and was not necessarily from the Lord. I would submit that looking back on this scene in Biblical history, it might have been possible for God not to have issued penalties upon Israel if they had not demanded that the Land be scouted out. Note how the request of the people to Moses found in the opening of Deuteronomy:

“‘See, the LORD your God has placed the land before you; go up, take possession, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has spoken to you. Do not fear or be dismayed.’ ‘Then all of you approached me and said, “Let us send men before us, that they may search out the land for us, and bring back to us word of the way by which we should go up and the cities which we shall enter”’” (Deuteronomy 1:21-22).

What is most remembered about our Torah selection is the fact that because of a bad report and the fear which ensued after the forty-day excursion, the Ancient Israelites eventually spend the next forty years wandering in the desert, as those over twenty years of age die because of a lack of faith (Numbers 14:28-35). There will be no rest and refreshment found for the vast majority of those who left Egypt in the Exodus, because they had failed to believe in the promises of their Creator and Deliverer.

What we read about in Shelakh-Lekha this week is actually that the congregation of Israel was preparing to stone Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb—the leaders of Israel, and the two spies who came back with a positive report. They are defended by the Holy One for their insistence that obeying Him is far more important than listening to bad reports and cowering away from the challenge to take the Promised Land. The declaration Moses makes about God’s mercy and compassion is similar to what happened after the golden calf incident (cf. Exodus 20:6; 34:6), because Moses is able to intercede and the Lord will not summarily wipe out all of His chosen people for being rebellious. Once again, to just eradicate Israel as a nation would demonstrate to the Egyptians and others that the God of Israel was no different than any other deity of the Ancient Near East (cf. Exodus 32:11-14):

“But all the congregation said to stone them with stones. Then the glory of the LORD appeared in the tent of meeting to all the sons of Israel. The LORD said to Moses, ‘How long will this people spurn Me? And how long will they not believe in Me, despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst? I will smite them with pestilence and dispossess them, and I will make you into a nation greater and mightier than they.’ But Moses said to the LORD, ‘Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for by Your strength You brought up this people from their midst, and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, O Lord, are in the midst of this people, for You, O LORD, are seen eye to eye, while Your cloud stands over them; and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. Now if You slay this people as one man, then the nations who have heard of Your fame will say, “Because the LORD could not bring this people into the land which He promised them by oath, therefore He slaughtered them in the wilderness.” But now, I pray, let the power of the Lord be great, just as You have declared, “The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations.” Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness, just as You also have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.’ So the LORD said, ‘I have pardoned them according to your word; but indeed, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the LORD. Surely all the men who have seen My glory and My signs which I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness, yet have put Me to the test these ten times and have not listened to My voice, shall by no means see the land which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those who spurned Me see it’” (Numbers 14:10-23).

Turning to the Apostolic Writings, the author of Hebrews makes light of the decree from the Lord that the Ancient Israelites would not enter into His rest awaiting them in the Promised Land (cf. Psalm 95:11). God’s judgment would come forth in the unfaithful people being prohibited from entering into their inheritance. The analogy is made to a First Century audience, perhaps teetering on denying the Messiah Yeshua, that if they give up on Him—a far worse fate than not being able to enter into the Promised Land awaits:

“Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, ‘TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME, AS IN THE DAY OF TRIAL IN THE WILDERNESS, WHERE YOUR FATHERS TRIED Me BY TESTING Me, AND SAW MY WORKS FOR FORTY YEARS. THEREFORE I WAS ANGRY WITH THIS GENERATION, AND SAID, “THEY ALWAYS GO ASTRAY IN THEIR HEART, AND THEY DID NOT KNOW MY WAYS”; AS I SWORE IN MY WRATH, “THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST”’ [Psalm 95:7-11; Exodus 17:7; Numbers 20:2-5]. Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Messiah, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end, while it is said, ‘TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS, AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME’ [Psalm 95:7-8]. For who provoked Him when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief” (Hebrews 3:7-19).

For those of us reflecting upon these passages of Scripture today, it is critical to note that the Holy One of Israel remains the same (Hebrews 13:5-8) and that He does not change (1 Samuel 15:29, Titus 1:2). It is incumbent upon Believers to take these words from Hebrews to serious heart, especially when we are told “Take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you may 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” (Hebrews 3:12-13, NRSV). We are to learn from the examples of those Ancient Israelites who fell in the wilderness, so that none of us might repeat their past and most severe mistakes.

No different than the generation of those who came out of Egypt, it is possible for those who claim faith in Yeshua the Messiah to allow their hearts to be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin—and for them to fall away in their trespasses. It is possible for some to apostatize from the faith and actually lose a position of salvation. God forbid that such a thing would ever happen to one who has experienced His goodness and grace, but an entire generation which was expecting to enter into the Land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob instead was not allowed to do so. We do not know the eternal condition of such people, but the lesson is for us to simply learn.

The Prophet Jeremiah understood the potential to fall away because of the deceitfulness of the human heart. Jeremiah warned an ancient audience that without persevering in the things of the Lord, it is possible for one to be utterly deceived:

“Thus says the LORD, ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the LORD. For he will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes, but will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitant. Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is the LORD. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit. The hear is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds’” (Jeremiah 17:5-10).

The Lord is the only One who is really able to evaluate the condition of an individual’s heart, and thus determine whether one is truly “saved” or not and can enter into His Kingdom. If this frightens you at all, because you think that you might have unresolved sins or issues that you need to take care of before Him—then the Apostle Paul’s prescription is to test yourself. Make sure that you have Yeshua the Messiah resident inside of you!

“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Yeshua the Messiah is in you—unless indeed you fail the test? But I trust that you will realize that we ourselves do not fail the test. Now we pray to God that you do no wrong; not that we ourselves may appear approved, but that you may do what is right, even though we may appear unapproved. For we can do nothing against the truth, but only for the truth” (2 Corinthians 13:5-8).

If you sense that your heart is hardening toward the things of the Messiah and what He has done for you—catch yourself, and confess and repent of the gradual slippage in your walk! Remember that the world, the flesh, and the Devil are worthy adversaries—not even to mention the subtle hardening of the heart which results from the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). With a resolve like Joshua and Caleb, make sure that you are on good standing with the King of Kings!

If you can do this, then the deceitfulness of sin will not catch you with your guard down. Gird up your loins and fight the good fight—keeping your eyes firmly fixed on Messiah Yeshua (Hebrews 12:2). Persevere until the end. Make every effort that you can to enter into the Lord’s eternal rest in His Kingdom to come!

NOTES

[1] Numbers 13:1-14:10.


This teaching has been excerpted from TorahScope Apostolic Scriptures Reflections by William Mark Huey