“For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses?” (Hebrews 3:16, ESV)
The author of Hebrews made a big point regarding the faithlessness of the readers’ Jewish ancestors, which kept them from entering the Promised Land. The author does not want them to make the same mistake as it pertains to salvation by faith in Jesus Christ alone.
They needed to fully understand the problem with that rebellious generation. The readers of Hebrews would have understood the history of Moses’ leading the nations to the edge of the Promised Land, the report of the 12 spies they sent in and their subsequent report. They would have known that except for Joshua and Caleb, the spies reported that it would be impossible to take the land. They also should have known that the people sided with the majority report and rebelled against Moses and Aaron, deciding to appoint another leader and return to Egypt. They also should have remembered that due to this rebellion, God condemned them to wander in the wilderness until they all died out. They would never enter the Promised Land.
From this illustration, the recipients of the letter were to understand the need for faith in entering the promise of God’s rest. Consider those who rebelled. They had the promise of God to give them the Land. They had seen God deliver them from Egypt, part the Red Sea, destroy Pharaoh’s army, and provide for them throughout their journey. Not only did they have the promise of God, they saw first hand the power of God to fulfill His promise.
Looking at those who rebelled, we see some principles regarding faith. First, if we trust Him, we will do what He says. Those who rebelled did not believe God. Because they did not believe, they would not cross over the Jordan to take possession of the land. If we believe God’s word, we will act upon it.
Secondly and closely tied to the first point, true faith is not mere intellectual assent. While true faith involves knowledge and the assent to the truth of that knowledge, it also must involve the will. It is that intellectual assent that changes the heart, the seat of a person’s will and desires. It prompts us to take the truth and act upon it.
Thirdly, true faith is not presumption. When God pronounced the judgment on the rebellious generation, they mourned and then decided that they would go into the land on their own. However, the judgment of God was already given. That generation would never take possession of the land. However, they presumed to go in anyway, convinced that if they went, God would bless them. So, they crossed the Jordan contrary to the decree of God and were defeated and chased back out of the land.
This is a problem of presumption. It goes like this. If I do this, God will bless me. By presumption, we make decisions and then ask God to bless us. It does not work this way. We are to seek His leading, which comes through His word and then we are to join Him. The readers of the letter to Hebrews needed to understand that God’s word, His promises were clearly brought forth throughout the Old Testament and fulfilled in Jesus. They needed to join in what God had provided for them and this would take faith. This means true saving faith. It is a knowledge of the truth of what God has said that registers in the heart of a person, which results in eternal life, joining one with Christ forever.