From: Hebrews 3:7-14
The Need for Faith; the Bad Example Given by the Chosen People
 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, when you hear his voice,  do
not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness,
 where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. 
Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray
in their hearts; they have not known my ways.’  As I swore in my wrath, ‘They
shall never enter my rest.”’  Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you
an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.  But
exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today”, that none of you
may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.  For we share in Christ, if only
we hold our first confidence firm to the end.
7-11. A long quotation from Psalm 95 introduces the theme of that “rest” which
the people of the promise will attain at the end of their wayfaring.
In the Book of Genesis we are told that when God finished his work of creation,
he “rested”. The “rest” prescribed in the Mosaic Law was a kind of imitation of
what God did, sharing God’s happiness, receiving the reward merited by a life
of fidelity and hard work. The Jews had gradually come to a more spiritual under-
standing of “rest” or, as they termed it, “the place of rest”. This idea reaches its
highest form of expression in the apocryphal book of Esdras (IV Esdras), where
the prayer is raised to God to grant the faithful departed “eternal rest”, “Requiem
aeternam dona eis, Domine”. The chosen people were helped to arrive at this
notion of rest by reflecting on the spiritual meaning of the Exodus and the pilgri-
mage to the promised land. The Exodus was also seen as a new creation, with
God “creating” his people. Like the first creation, this second creation would be
followed by “rest”—entry into the promised land. The Epistle to the Hebrews
shares this interpretation of the Exodus but it gives it a Christian perspective by
seeing the Exodus as the Redemption whereby Christ, a new Moses, leads us
to eternal rest.
7. The author of the letter reaffirms that Sacred Scripture—in this case Psalm
95 —is the work of the Holy Spirit. As such it always carries a contemporary
message; it is a form God uses to speak to all men in all periods of history.
Readiness to listen to God and do his will today and now is an important part
of Christian living (cf. 3:13). A Christian should be docile to God speaking in his
heart; he should be quick to respond to all the little invitations God gives him to
deny himself and advance in holiness. No excuse is ever valid for delaying to
give a positive response to grace. “Do your duty ‘now’, without looking back on
‘yesterday’, which has already passed, or worrying over ‘tomorrow’, which may
never come for you” (St. J. Escriva, “The Way”, 253). “Now! Return to your
noble life now. Don’t let yourself be fooled: ‘now’ is not too soon...nor too late”
8. Man is free; he can resist grace, and unfortunately often does. “It is not God’s
goodness that is to blame for faith not coming to birth in men, but the inadequate
dispositions of those who hear the preaching of the word” (St Gregory Nazianzen,
“Oratio Catechetica Magna”, 31). Scripture calls this resistance to grace “hard-
ness of heart” (cf., e.g., Ex 4:21; Rom 9:18; Deut 15:7; Jer 7:26; Acts 19:6).
When withholding belief or resisting conversion, people sometimes claim to have
intellectual difficulties, but, very often, the real problem has to do with their dispo-
sitions, with not “wanting” to respond to grace. The disobedience and “hardness
of heart” or stubbornness of the chosen people is a recurring subject in the Old
Testament (cf., e.g., Ex 32:9; Deut 9:13; 2 Kings 17:14; Is 46:12; Jer 5 :3; Ezek
2:4; etc.). Their rebellion against God’s commands was due to pride, which
turned them into a people whose forehead was as hard as brass, whose neck
was “an iron sinew” (Is 48:4; cf. Acts 7:51), a people uncircumcised in heart,
with uncircumcised ears (cf. Jer 9:26; 6: 10). Conversion cannot operate if some-
one has that attitude. For this reason our Lord, and later his Apostles, referred to
the Jews’ rejection of him, in order to make Christians steadfast in faith (cf. Is 6:9;
Mt 13:13; In 12:40; Acts 28:26).
9. Psalm 95 contains a reference to the Israelites’ rebellion when God put them
to the test in the wilderness. The episode took place in Rephidim, on the border
of the wilderness of Zin, in the south-east of the Sinai peninsula. Having made
their way out of Egypt, the people grew impatient; they complained about how
Yahweh was treating them, and put him to the test by asking him to work a mira-
cle (Ex 17:1-7). God did work a miracle: at Horeb he ordered Moses to strike the
rock with his rod, and out of it flowed water to relieve the people’s thirst. The
place was therefore given the name of Massah (meaning temptation) and Meri-
bah (meaning fault-finding or exasperation). This episode in Jewish history came
to symbolize the disgruntlement which typified the Jews in the desert, an attitude
which even affected Moses in Kadesh (cf. Num 20:1-13). The leader of the chosen
people, in circumstances similar to those of the earlier incident, struck the rock
twice, not expecting anything to happen. On account of this he did not merit to
enter the promised land: he was only allowed to see it from Mount Nebo, where
he died (Deut 34:1-8).0
“Putting God to the test”, “ tempting” him, is a sin of presumption. It involves ex-
posing oneself imprudently and needlessly to physical or spiritual risk from which
God’s ordinary providence does not provide protection (cf. Mt 4:5-7).
In this passage, “putting God to the test” means demanding more proof than
necessary that God is steadfast in his will and continues to protect his chosen
people. “God should not be asked to account for his activities”, St John Chry-
sostom comments; “if one asks him to prove his power, his providence, his soli-
citude, it is the same as not yet being fully convinced of his power and goodness
and mercy” (”Hom. on Heb.”, 6).
11. There are three kinds of rest. The first is the “sabbath”, when God rested
after creating the world; then there is the rest provided by the promised land of
Canaan after countless afflictions and difficulties; and “finally there is the true
rest which belongs to the Kingdom of heaven, where the elect rest from their la-
bors and afflictions: the sabbath is a reflection and symbol of that rest” (”Hom.
on Heb.”, 6).
St Thomas Aquinas applies the term “rest” to peace of body and soul and says
that there are different kinds of peace—physical ease (cf. Lk 12:19); the peace of
conscience a person has who does right in the sight of God; and the peace of
eternal happiness in heaven (cf. “Commentary on Heb, ad loc.”).
12. “Falling away from the living God” seems to be something more serious than
reverting to Judaism; it implies the sad possibility of total loss of belief in God.
Thus, in the case of those to whom the epistle was written, a reversion from the
Gospel to Judaism would not be simply a matter of returning to a previous reli-
gious position but rather a deliberate act involving voluntary resistance to grace
and a complete break with God. For people who had not received the Revelation
of Jesus Christ, the Jewish religion certainly did provide access to God; but for
those who by embracing Christianity had thereby received the fullness of Reve-
lation, renunciation of Christ would mean a virtually irreparable sin (cf. Heb 6:4-6).
There is never a valid excuse for giving up the faith.
The Church teaches and prescribes to its children the need to be true to the faith
even at the cost of life itself. From the very beginning this was the kind of fidelity
practised by the martyrs and confessors of the faith. “They cut our hands off,
they nail us to crosses, they throw us to wild beasts, imprison us and burn us,
and we submit to every kind of torture; yet everyone knows that we do not betray
our faith. Rather, the worse our sufferings, the more there are who embrace faith
and devotion in the name of Jesus (St Justin, “Dialogue with Trypho”, 110,4).
Some Christians today are called to stay true in the face of violent persecution;
they and others also have to overcome fear of ridicule, and the temptation to hide
their convictions from unbelievers. The words of the letter remind us that there is
a danger that whereas in earlier times force failed to achieve its objective, nowa-
days fear of ridicule could cause us to be ashamed of Christ or to deny him.
“’And in a paganized or pagan environment when my life clashes with its surroun-
dings, won’t my naturalness seem artificial?’ you ask me. And I reply: ‘Undoub-
tedly your life will clash with theirs; and that contrast—faith confirmed by works!—
is exactly the naturalness I ask of you” (St. J. Escriva, “The Way”, 380).
13. The more Christians practise charity, the easier it is for them to be steadfast
in the faith. Fraternity, mutual brotherly support, helps provide protection from the
devil’s efforts to make us sin: “’Frater qui adiuvatur a fratre quasi civitas firma”.
Brother helped by brother is a fortress.’ Think for a moment and make up your
mind to live the fraternal spirit that I have always asked of you” (St. J. Escriva,
“The Way”, 460).
Aware of his personal weakness and of the need to help others and to let him-
self be helped, the Christian keeps striving to practise this fraternity. He loves
the good he sees in others, and he tries to uproot in himself and others anything
that implies a defect. Fraternity, therefore, leads to “fraternal correction”, a word
of advice which is always full of understanding, being the outcome of a desire to
live in harmony with others and to remove divisions and barriers. Christian frater-
nity binds the Church together.
“Not in vain is there in the depths of man’s being a strong longing for peace, for
union with his fellow man, for mutual respect for personal rights, so strong that
it seeks to transform human relations into fraternity. This longing reflects some-
thing which is most deeply imprinted upon our human condition: since we are all
children of God, our fraternity is not a cliche or an empty dream; it beckons as a
goal which, though difficult, is really ours to achieve” (St. J. Escriva, “Friends of
14. This is a repetition of the exhortation in v. 6 to remain true to the end. “Firm
confidence’’ is the very opposite of the “falling away” mentioned in v. 12. From
the very beginning of his calling, a Christian is already sharing in Christ’s life and
in his glory, but he will not share in it fully until after death, when he will be able
actually to see the Lord.
This sharing in Christ’s grace is a treasure which we carry in “earthen vessels”
(2 Cor 4:7) and can lose at any time through sin. We need to nurture this grace
and protect our faith by being watchful and active right through our life: “We have
shared in Christ’s death through holy Baptism and we have been buried with him;
we have shared in his resurrection provided we keep our faith intact” (Theodoret
of Cyrus, “Interpretatio Ep. ad Haebreos”, III).
The Christian life is a matter of constantly returning to God, beginning anew, and
humbly and decisively correcting our course when we go astray through weak-
ness or indifference.
“What does it matter that we stumble on the way, if we find in the pain of our fall
the energy to pick ourselves up and go on with renewed vigor? Don’t forget that
the saint is not the person who never falls, but rather the one who never fails to
get up again, humbly and with a holy stubbornness. If the Book of Proverbs says
that the just man falls seven times a day (cf. Prov 24:16), who are we poor crea-
tures, you and I, to be surprised or discouraged by our own weaknesses and falls!
We will be able to keep going ahead, if only we seek our fortitude in him who says:
‘Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest’ (Mt
11:28). Thank you, Lord, “quia tu es, Deus, fortitudo mea” (Ps 42:2), because
you, and you alone, my God, have always been my strength, my refuge and my
support” (St. J. Escriva, “Friends of God”, 131).
Source: “The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries”. Biblical text from the
Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries by members of
the Faculty of Theology, University of Navarre, Spain.
Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland, and
by Scepter Publishers in the United States.