Hebrews 3:9

Monday, 10 September 2018

Where your fathers tested Me, tried Me,
And saw My works forty years. Hebrews 3:9

The words here correspond to Psalm 95:9, 10. As you will see, the “forty years” is connected to the following clause in the translation from the Hebrew –

“When your fathers tested Me;
They tried Me, though they saw My work.
10 For forty years I was grieved with that generation,”

It is a close citation of the Hebrew, but it much more closely matches the Greek translation of the Old Testament. The words, “Where your fathers tested me,” speak of “the wilderness” mentioned in verse 3:8. Mentioning the fathers is a way of tying the Jewish audience of Hebrews directly in with those who were disobedient. In essence, he is saying, “The very same people that you descended from are those who tested the Lord.” They were under the covenant that the Lord had made with them, and yet they pushed Him to the limits in regard to that same covenant. Going on, he then says, “tried me.”

The sense here is setting about to make an experiment of how much the Lord would endure. He set the parameters for faithful obedience, and they would step over those boundaries to see what they could get away with. The Sabbath law was given, and an example of Sabbath-breaking is recorded (Numbers 15). The regulations for the priesthood were given, and two of Aaron’s sons decided to go beyond those guidelines (Leviticus 10). The line of the priesthood was determined, and yet certain Levites challenged that decision (Numbers 16). On and on it went with Israel, both testing and trying the Lord. The idea is that Israel set about to push the Lord’s buttons, wondering what kind of a reaction they could get out of Him each time.

Tied into this, the verse next says, “And saw My works.” This is certainly speaking in a two-pronged way. First, they saw His works on behalf of the people. He brought the great plagues upon Egypt. He brought them out through the Red Sea. He guided them with a pillar of cloud and fire. Again and again, His works were on display so that nobody could deny that He had done those things. And yet, they rebelled against Him; and they moaned, complained, and rejected Him. When they did, He would show them His works in another way. He would bring judgment upon them for their disobedience. Time and again such works were recorded, demonstrating that He was displeased with their irreverent and unholy attitude. And this continued “forty years.”

This is the time recorded from the Exodus until their entrance into Canaan. The exact time-frame is recorded first in Numbers as a surety that it would come about, and then in Joshua showing that it had occurred –

“According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, for each day you shall bear your guilt one year, namely forty years, and you shall know My rejection. 35 I the Lord have spoken this. I will surely do so to all this evil congregation who are gathered together against Me. In this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die.” Numbers 14:34, 35

“For the children of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, till all the people who were men of war, who came out of Egypt, were consumed, because they did not obey the voice of the Lordto whom the Lord swore that He would not show them the land which the Lord had sworn to their fathers that He would give us, ‘a land flowing with milk and honey.’” Joshua 5:6

As a parallel to this, the Lord Jesus gave Israel another chance to turn from their ways and to come to Him. From the time that the gospel was preached, until the overthrow of Jerusalem, it was again a forty-year period. Jesus told them that this would be as the sign of Jonah to them. This is recorded in Luke –

“And while the crowds were thickly gathered together, He began to say, ‘This is an evil generation. It seeks a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah the prophet.’” Luke 11:29

The sign of Jonah was his preaching to the people at Nineveh (see Luke 11:32), which said that destruction would come in forty days. Like Israel in the wilderness, a day for a year was applied to Jesus’ words, and forty years later, the temple was destroyed. The people had again rejected the Lord, and they suffered for it.

The author of Hebrews is writing to them during this forty-year period. However, his words speak out to the Jewish audience of today, warning them of what will come upon them for continuing to reject the Lord and pursue their own perverse path.

Life application: The Bible says –

“That which has been is what will be,
That which is done is what will be done,
And there is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9

When will God’s people wake up and pay heed to the lessons of the past? God doesn’t change. By learning what pleases or displeases Him, from what is recorded, we can make right decisions about how to conduct our own lives. Let us study the word of God, and rightly apply it to our lives.

Heavenly Father, Your word is given to us to show us many things. One of those things is to know what is pleasing to You, and another is to know that which displeases You. By knowing how You have dealt with people in times past, we can know how You will deal with us now. Give us wisdom to not reject this, but to realize it as a certain truth. And then help us to live in accord with what You have revealed. May we be pleasing to You always through knowing and living out what You have revealed. Amen.

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