If you have been a believer for a while, I want to talk to your heart today. Today’s message is as much a message for you as it is for me. When we have experienced the goodness of God in our lives and have seen Him do great things in our own life and even in the lives of people around us, we have developed a measure of trust in the Lord. We have seen enough evidence of His power, mercy and goodness. We know that we are sheep under His care.
“…for he is our God
and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.
Today, if only you would hear his voice, ‘Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah,
as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested me;
they tried me, though they had seen what I did.
Yet this sheep under the Lord’s care is warned not to harden your heart!
Massah means bitter and describes the people’s hearts when they were tested in Exodus 15:22-27, where the Israelites had trusted God and seen Him part the Red Sea, have walked three days without water and believed that God could not be trusted for water. (Before you judge them, have you ever been without water for three days in a hot sun?) This test of the strength of their trust shows that their initial belief has long faded in light of their circumstances and left them with bitter hearts.
Meribah means quarrelling with God and refers to Exodus 17:1-7, where the Israelites have received God’s provision of that water at Massah, then receiving manna and quail, challenged God in an almost entitled way as to where His provision of water was. Like a toddler who walks into the kitchen in the morning and demands pancakes from a father who makes him pancakes every morning. It is an attitude that picks a quarrel and demands because they can in the relationship.
Both situations were moments where the Israelites had to decide if they would trust God OR NOT.
In these situations of doubt, we then turn back to our old ways and habits, relying on ourselves, our own efforts and other people because we doubt the promises of God and His care for us.
Like the Israelite, this lack of trust grows in our hearts, doubting that God can conquer the giants in our lives. We turn back from all that God has promised us because we have hardened our hearts. I think it was the same for the new Jewish believers in Hebrews 4, who were reminded of this Psalm because they too were on the verge of turning back to their old Jewish ways, not following Jesus. They doubted that Jesus would fulfil His promises or that He had the power to challenge the giants they were facing in their time and season.
A hardened heart is like hardened bread; it cannot be softened. Or, like hardened clay, it cannot be made malleable again. Therefore, both are equally useless, and a hardened heart is useless to God.
The Israelites hardened their hearts, continually asking: “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Exodus 17:7) They questioned if He was with them, despite all they had seen and experienced.
Now before you think you are not likely to land up in this situation where you question God in this way, notice that the environment for a hardened heart to grow is as follows:
- An ungrateful heart, or a heart that does not practice thanksgiving, will become hard. The spiritual discipline of remembering all we have to be thankful for is described earlier in Psalm 95:2: “Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.”
- A heart that fails to worship and submit to Him daily fails to recognise His sovereignty. This is also described earlier in Psalm 95:6 “Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the Lord our Maker…”
- A heart that allows the erosion of faith and hope in their lives, a heart that entertains unbelief will eventually disobey. (Heb 3:16-19)
“Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? And to whom did God swear they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they could not enter because of their unbelief.”
The result of their hardened hearts was that they spent forty years in a wilderness, not able to enter into the promised land, and a whole generation never experienced the rest of God. The rest was the following:
- Blessing due to them locked up in the promises of God, they did not believe.
“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these, he has given us his very great and precious promises so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” (2 Peter 1:3-4)
- The release from emotional and mental stress caused by the anxiety of their situation through access by prayer and supplication.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6-7)
Developing a hardened heart is not an overnight thing, but it develops as we walk through our own (3 days of…) wilderness or testing situation that God is leading us through right now. I would hate that I develop this hardened heart that the Lord warns about and land up walking around in my own wilderness because I don’t trust God and will not enter the Rest that God has made available to me.
Lord, help me not to have a hardened heart. Today I commit my life to you again and trust You to be the shepherd of my life and take good care of me. I remember today all that I have to be thankful for and declare anew that You are King of my life. As I spend time in Your Presence and share with You my broken heart, renew my hope Lord, refresh my faith and strengthen my heart. I trust You, Lord.