Hebrews 3:12 Take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you may have an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God…14 For we have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end. 15 As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” 16 Now who were they who heard and yet were rebellious? Was it not all those who left Egypt under the leadership of Moses? 17 But with whom was he angry forty years? Was it not those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, if not to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. 4 1 Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest is still open, let us take care that none of you should seem to have failed to reach it. 2 For indeed the good news came to us just as to them; but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.
If this passage seems confusing, I get it. It confuses me too, mostly because it jumps around in time without giving us many handles to keep up. Nevertheless, here’s what I get out of it:
The passage begins with concern for early Christians who were tempted to fall away from the faith because they were struggling – likely from persecution. Then v.16 jumps to the Exodus story in which the Hebrews were led out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land of Canaan. They were excited when leaving Egypt, but then tended to lose faith when things got hard in the wilderness (like when food and/or water was short). As a result, very few of the original adult population who fled Egypt entered the Promised Land 40 years later. God waited for them to die first, which is why the journey took so long. It was their children and grandchildren who finally occupied Canaan.
The writer of Hebrews doesn’t want his Christian readers to miss out on the blessing of the “good news” mentioned in Hebrews 4:2 above. It’s not the same good news as in the time of the Exodus (Promised Land vs. eternal life w/Christ) but it’s good news nonetheless. Then there’s Hebrews 4:2:
2 For indeed the good news came to us just as to them; but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.
In other words, the adults of the Exodus didn’t see the fulfillment of the promise of Canaan because so many lost faith instead of being united by faith. The writer to Hebrews warns the Christians not to do likewise.
I understand discouragement – when nothing seems to go right. When I don’t know if I’m up to the task at hand. When help from the Lord seems far away. It’s time like these when my brothers and sisters in Christ are such a gift. When I’m down they pick me up, and I do the same for them. We hold faith for one another until the storm blows over. Thanks be to God.