“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts…”
The passage is an invitation to obedience. “Obedience” etymologically means a listening that is ready to response (Latin: ob+audire). It is an intent listening, like that of the servant who stands at the side of his/her lord. In the letter to the Hebrews which we read at Mass this evening, it becomes for the author, the motive for a three-point admonition:
- not to rebel against God (to turn one’s back to God);
- to continually encourage one another;
- to keep a grip on one’s “first confidence” (JB)
Not To Rebel Against God
Disobedience is rebellion against God. It is the refusal to listen and respond to God’s Word. Meribah and Massah were places along the wilderness itinerary of the Israelites where they refused God’s plan for them. As told in Exodus 17, the Israelites rebeled because of thirst. They began to think that their thirst was bigger than God Himself and can only be satisfied if they go back to Egypt, God’s rival for their heart. In Numbers 12-14, the Israelites once more refused to go on into the Promised Land because some of them dissuaded the people from doing so. The report was spread that the Canaanites were much bigger than Israel. Implicitly they were also saying that the Canaanites were bigger than Yahweh. Because of this lack of trust in God, Israel was condemned to roam the desert for forty more years until those who lacked faith died out. Yahweh is bigger than our need; Yahweh is bigger than the opposition. He has shown this time and time again from Egypt through the wilderness and into Canaan. What Yahweh has done and continues to do for His people is the evidence of His faithfulness.
To Encourage One Another
One element of the rebellion of Israel against Yahweh is their “murmuring.” In the Scriptures, there are two kinds of “murmuring.” One kind discourages and makes hearts faint. This was the kind of murmuring that tested Yahweh’s patience. It was the murmuring of the spies when they say: “The Canaanites are too big for us; they’d murder us!” It was the murmuring of those who said: “Did you bring us out into the desert to kill us? Look, there was a lot of food and water in Egypt! Oh that we were back in Egypt, then we wouldn’t be suffering from thirst and hunger.” This is the “murmuring” that expresses one’s lack of faith.
The second kind of “murmuring” is of the Hebrew “haggah,” to meditate, to recall the deeds of Yahweh in the history of Israel by recounting them. In Psalm I, these two kinds of “murmuring” are contrasted in just man’s continued meditation on the Torah on the one hand, and the work of the “scoffers.” When the author of the letter to the Hebrews tells his audience to encourage one another, he was actually telling them to recall and recount the deeds of the Lord in their midst. The “encouraging word” that is mentioned here is akin to the “saving word” that Catholics of the Eastern rite would ask from their spiritual fathers.
A Firm Grip on One’s First Confidence
This is from the JB translation of verse 14. “First confidence” refers to the fresh faith of the convert, a faith that can grow cold and dull because of temptation, worldly anxieties and the scandal of others. It is similar to what lovers feel for each other at the beginning of their relationship, when it is easy to love, to forgive and to accept one another. When not nourished, that love too can grow cold and stale. To keep a grip on one’s “first confidence” is to nourish it. It is nourished by the encouragement given by others, but above all, it is nourished by oneself in the constant hearing of God’s Word.
Originally posted 2005-01-13 05:17:11. Republished by Blog Post Promoter
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