Before we dive into chapters 3 and 4 of Hebrews there are two verses and a few key points you must keep in mind as to dismiss any confusion about what is written within the next couple chapters. Here are the ESV and NKJV interpretations for Hebrews chapter 3 so you may follow along with this study.
The two verses to keep in mind are Colossians 2:16-17 “…Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ….” and also Hebrews 10:1 “…For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near…..”
Here are four points to consider when following along with this study; (1) All things in the ritual (old testament) law find their reality and fulfillment in the sacrifice made by Jesus Christ (said here). (2) Even in the Old Testament the Sabbath law had spiritual significance, it was not an erratic and meaningless ritual, or a law for the sake of law. It was given by God to the Israelites as a reminder of an extremely important truth (scripture reference). Teaching us that the Sabbath was presented to the Israelite’s to remind them that it was not in fact they themselves, but the Lord, who made them His people. Literally all day long as they sat and did absolutely nothing, they were forcibly reminded that the Holy God made them, the Isrealite’s, His holy and chosen people. (3) Long before Jesus lived on earth, Sabbath keeping had been turned into a laudable act, by which one searched to earn or gain God’s favor by doing something. Plainly stated; Sabbath keeping evolved to a notion of one having to do something in order to become one of God’s people. The symbolic nature of the Sabbath had been completely reversed. (4) In this study of Hebrews 3:7-4:16 we learn about the connection between believing and obeying the Gospel and having rest with confidence. We are not presented with something that will be ours only when we ‘get to heaven‘. Nor are we presented here with a concept of the Christian life in which there are two levels of Christians; one level is where we struggle and strive with sin and temptation and the second advanced level where there is rest from such struggles. Rather we are being taught of a rest which is the gift of God to all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
V.7-11 – In this passage the writer refers to the unbelief of the Israelite’s recorded in Numbers 13 and 14 and uses that unbelief and its consequences to stir his readers to genuine faith. The quote from Psalm 95:7-11 compares with these verses in Hebrews, and in these few verses we can identify the sin of the Israelite’s; (1) They had heard God’s voice v.7, (2) They hardened their hearts against God’s voice v.8, (3) They provoked God beyond the limit of his endurance v.9, (4) Their hearts were always going astray v.10, (5) They did not know God’s ways v.10, (6) God’s anger was against them v.11, and (7) They did not ever enter God’s rest v.11. Had these people ever believed? Probably not, for they had heard God’s message, but they had hardened their hearts against him.
V.12-19 – Further descriptions of their unbelief
It is clear from the Bible that sin, in its essence, is the rejection of God, of seeing God and turning away from him, of hearing his word and refusing to believe it. Here the unbelief of the Israelite’s, and the unbelief against which the writer is warning his readers, is described as; (1) A sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God v.12, (2) Being hardened by sin’s deceitfulness v.13, (3) Not holding firmly till the end the confidence we had at first v.14, (4) Hardening your hearts v.15, (5) Rebellion v.15, (6) Heard and rebelled v.16, (7) Sinned v.17, (8) Disobeyed v.18, and (9) overall Unbelief v.19.
The disobedience which caused the Israelite’s to incur the wrath of God, the sin which prevented their entry into the ‘rest’ – or the promised land – was the sin of their unbelief. It was not the disobedience of theft, adultery, or dishonesty, or any thing similar. It was overall disobedience of the one foundational command to believe in God. It is failure to believe God whcih produces all other sins.