AND SO WE SEE THAT THEY WERE NOT
ENTER BECAUSE OF UNBELIEF:
(1PPAI) hoti ouk edunethesan (3PAPI)
eiselthein (AAN) di apistian:
(Mark 16:16; John 3:18,36; 2 Thessalonians 2:12; 1 John 5:10; Jude 1:5)
We see (blepo)
is in the present tense, indicating that this picture is continually
before the writer's (and our) eyes (as it rightly should be for it serves as
a powerful warning sign to those who would tip toe on the edges of the pure
waters of faith leading to eternal rest in Christ.)
- absolute negation! No faith, no entrance.
Hebrews 3:18 parallels unbelief in Hebrews 3:19. Instead of focusing
on Israel's repeated rebellion, backbiting, complaining, grumbling,
murmuring, and defiance which fill the Old Testament record of Israel's
wilderness experience, the writer hones down on the source of these sins -
the problem was deep down, for underneath all the rotten fruit, was the root
of refusal to believe God.
Simon J. Kistemaker
Unbelief is the root of the sin of
provoking God. Unbelief robs God of his glory and robs the unbeliever of the
privilege of God's blessings. Because of unbelief, rebellious man is denied
entrance into the rest that God provides for the members of his household. (Baker
New Testament Commentary - Exposition of Thessalonians, the Pastorals, and
from a = without + pistós = believing, faithful) (Click
word study on
apistia) means literally not believing =
faithlessness, distrust, lack of belief. It describes an unwillingness to
commit oneself to another or respond positively to the other’s words or
Apistia is found 11 times in
the NAS - Matt 13:58; Mark 6:6; 9:24; 16:14; Rom 3:3; 4:20; 11:20, 23; 1 Tim
1:13; Heb 3:12, 19 and is not found in the non-apocryphal
Here are some representative uses...
And He did not do many miracles there
(His hometown, Nazareth) because of their unbelief. (Mt 13:58)
Immediately the boy's father cried out
and began saying, "I do believe; help my unbelief." (Mark 9:24)
And afterward He appeared to the eleven
themselves as they were reclining at the table; and He reproached them for
their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed
those who had seen Him after He had risen. (Mark 16:14)
yet, with respect to the promise of God
(he would have a male heir), he (Abraham) did not waver in unbelief,
but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, (see note
Quite right, they (Jewish branches were
broken off, and the Gentiles were grafted in) were broken off for their
unbelief (Gentiles were grafted in because of the unbelief of Israel and
not because the Gentiles had any merit or claim on God), but you (Gentiles)
stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear (Standing before God is
based on faith, so feelings of superiority are out of place) (see note
they (Jews) also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be
grafted in; for God is able (key phrase = He is able = He has grafted wild
branches -- Gentiles -- into the cultivated olive, He is able to graft Jews
in) to graft them in again. (see note
Take care, brethren, lest there should be
in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from
the living God. (Hebrews 3:12)
And so we seen here in
Hebrews 3:19 that their disobedience was a consequence of their
unbelief or lack of faith. At the root of
all sin is unbelief. Lack of faith in God’s Word is never purely an
intellectual thing. At its most basic level it is the love of sin that comes
from all men being born in Adam and with his sin nature (Ro 5:12, Ps 51:5).
disobedience equates with unbelief and vice
The condition for partaking of Christ is
faith. The prohibiting of the unbelieving Israelites from the promised land
is a picture of the prohibiting of unbelievers from heaven. Faith is the key
to salvation (heaven). Unbelief keeps man from the greatest of blessings. (Analytical
Bible Expositor -Hebrews to Revelation)
Although some like Zane Hodges
J. F., Zuck, R. B., et al: The Bible Knowledge Commentary. 1985. Victor)
and Thomas Constable (Expository
Notes) contend these habitually sinning
Israelites were genuinely saved, I strongly disagree. As an aside one needs
to be very cautious when reading expositions by Zane Hodges who in my humble
opinion appears to portray a "type" of belief that makes me very
uncomfortable when I read passages like Mt 7:21, 22, 23. On the other hand,
I tend to agree with conservative
commentators such as Ray Stedman who writes...
The rhetorical questions of verses 16–18
show how an outward facade of belief can be maintained while the
heart is still unrepentant, and there fore unredeemed. It is possible to
participate in and benefit from the great miracles of God, as the Israelites
did who came out of Egypt with Moses (He 3:16). Yet, despite such evidence,
the heart can remain unchanged for a lifetime. God sees that inner
hardness and warns continually against it until he is forced to judge it (He
3:17). Note the growing stages of unbelief: general rebellion (He 3:16); sin,
punished by physical death (He 3:17); and disobedience (Gk “being
unpersuadable”—He 3:18). The cause of this recalcitrance lies deeper than a
wrong attitude or wrong behavior; it lies in a disobedient will.
Therefore, the loss of promised blessing is traceable only and solely to
long-continued unbelief (He 3:19). This word (apistian, “disbelief”) is the
platform upon which the writer’s more positive explanation of rest is
founded. He gives us the other side of disbelief in chapter 4. (Hebrews
3:12-19 Don't Miss Your Opportunity)
Leon Morris in the
Expositor's Bible Commentary agrees with Stedman noting that...
Sin is self-defeating and prevents people
from entering God's rest. This is not an arbitrary penalty imposed by a
despotic God. It is the inevitable outcome of "unbelief." The warning to the people of the
writer's day is clear. To slip back from their Christian profession
into unbelief would be fatal. (Gaebelein,
F, Editor: Expositor's Bible Commentary 6-Volume New Testament. Zondervan
Publishing) (Bolding added) (Ed:
In other words a profession of faith in Christ is not the same as a
possession of faith in Christ. The difference has eternal
The well known, highly respected
expositor John MacArthur also agrees with Stedman writing...
Many say, “I can’t believe. I have a
pragmatic, empirical mind that has to see the facts, weigh all the
evidence.” But everyone lives by faith. We live by faith when we go into a
restaurant and eat the food without questioning its safety. When driving
down the highway, we are not in constant fear that around the next bend the
road will lead us into a river where there is no bridge. We trust the people
who made the highways and the people who have traveled over them before us.
We live by faith almost constantly. If we can put our faith in the highway
department and the people who prepare our food, we surely can put our faith
in the God of the universe. Not to trust in Him is fatal." (MacArthur,
John: Hebrews. Moody Press
Matthew Henry offers a similar
conclusion on this section writing that...
"(1.) Though the majority of hearers
provoked God by unbelief, yet some there were who believed the report. (2.)
Though the hearing of the word be the ordinary means of salvation, yet, if
it be not hearkened to, it will expose men more to the anger of God. (3.)
God will have a remnant that shall be obedient to His voice, and he will
take care of such and make mention of them with honour. (4.) If these should
fall in a common calamity, yet they shall partake of eternal salvation,
while disobedient hearers perish for ever." (Bolding added)
Adam Clarke comments...
It was no decree of God that prevented
them, it was no want of necessary strength to enable them, it was through no
deficiency of Divine counsel to instruct them; all these they had in
abundance: but they chose to sin, and would not believe. Unbelief produced
disobedience, and disobedience produced hardness of heart and blindness of
mind; and all these drew down the judgments of God, and wrath came upon them
to the uttermost.
Phillip Hughes comments that...
The juxtaposition of unbelief and
disobedience indicates the close connection between the two. As
Westcott says, "unbelief passed into action." (Ed: I would
slightly alter that as "unbelief passed into inaction"!) And this is always
the case. It is what happened when man first fell from God; it was repeated
in the wilderness; and the same disastrous sequence was now threatening the
community to whom this letter was sent. The rest from which Adam and
Eve were excluded was that of fellowship with God in Eden; the rest
forfeited by the rebellious Israelites was that of the promised land; and
the rest denied to apostates from the Christian faith is that of the
eternal Sabbath of the new heaven and the new earth (Rev. 2:6; 22:1ff).
Furthermore, it was their own unbelief
which rendered the people unable to enjoy God's rest. They disqualified
themselves. Their incapacitation was self-induced. How could it be otherwise
when the whole basis of the promised rest is that of trust and security in
Unbelief engenders unrest.
The unbeliever excludes himself from
rest (cf. Rev. 22:15); and if this was true of the "rest" of
Canaan, how much more is it true of the "rest" of eternity! In the
moral structure of the renewed creation there cannot possibly be a place for
unbelief or for the unrest which flows from it. True rest is the
enjoyment by the creature of perfect harmony with his Creator, and it can
therefore only be rest in God. As such, it is totally incompatible
with unbelief and disobedience toward God. Hence the inability of the
rebellious Israelites to enter into God's rest. (A
Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews)
"The apostle does not single out the sin
of making and worshipping the golden calf; he does not bring before us the
flagrant transgressions into which they fell at Beth-peor. Many much more
striking and to our mind more fearful sins could have been pointed out, but
God thinks the one sin greater than all is unbelief. We are saved by faith;
we are lost through unbelief. The heart is purified by faith; the heart is
hardened by unbelief. Faith brings us nigh to God; unbelief is departure
from God" (Saphir). There is no sin so great but it may be pardoned, if the
sinner believe; but "he that believeth not shall be damned."
The application of the whole of this
passage to the case of the sorely-tried and wavering Hebrews was most
pertinent and solemn. Twice over the apostle reminded them (He 3:9, He 3:17)
that the unbelief of their fathers had been continued for "forty years."
Almost that very interval had now elapsed since the Son had died, risen
again, and ascended to heaven. In Scripture, forty is the number of
probation. The season of Israel’s testing was almost over; in A.D. 70 their
final dispersion would occur. And God changeth not. He who had been provoked
of old by Israel’s hardness of heart, would destroy again those who
persisted in their unbelief. Then let them beware, and heed the solemn
warning, "Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of
unbelief, in departing from the living God." May God grant us hearts to heed
the same admonitory warning.
So we see, etc. We see, from the
direct testimony of the Old Testament, that unbelief was the reason
why they were excluded from the promised land. Let us learn, in view of the
reasoning and exhortations here—
(1.) The evil of unbelief.
It excluded that whole generation,
consisting of many hundred thousand souls, from the land of promise-the land
to which they had looked with ardent hopes, and with warm desires. It will
exclude countless millions from heaven. A want of confidence in God is the
great source of evil in this world, and will be the cause of wretchedness to
all eternity of unnumbered hosts. But surely that was not a small or
unimportant thing which strewed the desert with the bones of that whole
generation whom God had, in so remarkable a manner, rescued from Egyptian
servitude. And that cannot be a small matter which wile cause multitudes to
sink down to infinite wretchedness and despair.
(2.) Let us, who are professed Christians, be cautious against indulging
unbelief in our hearts.
Our difficulties all begin there. We lose
confidence in God. We doubt his promises, his oaths, his threatenings. In
dark and trying times we begin to have doubts about the wisdom of his
dealings, and about his goodness. Unbelief once admitted into the heart is
the beginning of many woes. When a man loses confidence in God, he is on a
shoreless ocean that is full of whirlpools, and rocks, and quicksands, and
where it is impossible to find a secure anchorage. There is nothing to which
he may moor his driven bark; and he will never find safety or peace till he
comes back to God.
(3.) Let us live a life of faith.
Let us so live that we may say with Paul,
"The life that I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of
God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." So living, we shall have peace.
The mind will be at rest. Storms and tempests may blow, but we shall be
secure. Others may be troubled in the vicissitudes of life, but our minds
will be at peace.
(4.) Let us live expecting the future "rest" that remains for us.
Let us keep our eye fixed upon it. To us
there is a rest promised, as there was to the Hebrews whom God had delivered
from the land of oppression; and we may by faith attain to that, "rest," as
they might have reached the land of Canaan.
(5.) Let us persevere to the end.
He that draws back must be lost. He that
does not endure to the end of life, in the ways of religion, can never have
been a Christian. There is nothing which will furnish certain evidence of
religion, unless our piety is such as to lead us to persevere till death.
The man who enters on the professed Christian life expecting to fall away,
or who can look upon the possibility of falling away without concern, has
never known anything of the nature of true religion, he cannot be a
Christian. He may have had raptures and visions; he may be a loud professor,
and a noisy and zealous partisan, but he has no evidence that he has ever
known anything about religion. That religion which is not connected with a
firm and determined purpose, by the grace of God, to persevere to the end of
life, is no true religion; and a man who expects to fall away and go back
again to the world, or who can look at such an idea without alarm, should
regard it as a settled matter that he has no true knowledge of God.
(6.) No man should delay the work of salvation to a future time.
To-day is the accepted
time; to-day the only time of which we have any security. God speaks to-day,
and to-day his voice should be heard. No man on any subject should defer
till to-morrow what ought to be done to-clay. He who defers religion till a
future time neglects his own best interest; violates most solemn
obligations; and endangers his immortal soul. What security can any one have
that he will live to see another day? What evidence has he that he will be
any more disposed to attend to his salvation then than he is now? What
evidence can he have that he will not provoke God by this course, and bring
condemnation on his soul? Of all delusions, that is the most wonderful by
which dying men are led to defer attention to the concerns of the soul to a
future period of life. Nowhere has Satan such advantage as in keeping this
delusion before the mind; and if in respect to anything the voice of warning
and alarm should be lifted loud and long, it is in reference to this. Oh,
why will not men be wise to-day? Why will they not embrace the offer of
salvation now? Why will they not at once make sure of eternal happiness? And
why, amidst the changes and trials of this life, will they not so secure the
everlasting inheritance as to feel that that is safe-that there is one thing
at least that cannot be shaken and disturbed by commercial embarrassment and
distress; one thing secure, though friends and kindred are torn away from
them; one thing safe when their own health fads, and they lie down on the
bed where they will bid adieu to all earthly comforts, and from which they
will never rise.