When I was growing up, I loved watching a show called Get Smart. A parody of the James Bond movies, this comedy told the story of Maxwell Smart, secret agent. He was pretty much a bumbling fool, but he had one catch-phrase that, for a short time, swept the nation in popularity. When he was trying to shoot at a villain or attempted some other super-cool feat but failed, he would hold his fingers about an inch apart and explain it with the line “Missed it by THAT MUCH.”
We can laugh at Agent Smart, but I can’t help thinking of that line every time I read passages like this one. The people of Israel were delivered by Almighty God by means of incredible miracles and plagues. They watched as Egypt crumbled beneath the Lord’s heavy hand, and they marched out with the riches of the greatest nation on earth in their pockets. They triumphed over the kingdoms of Sihon and Og, and it looked like nothing could stop them.
They were on the very border of the Promised Land, and they screwed up one last time. It turned out that this was one time too many. When the twelve spies came back, ten of them managed to convince the rest of the nation to turn back. They were convinced that God had led them out from Egypt in order to kill them in the desert. Once they rebelled against him this last time, he'd finally had enough. He told them to turn around and head back to the desert. The wilderness outside Palestine is one huge graveyard, holding the bodies of millions of Hebrews. This was God’s final verdict on that entire generation (with two exceptions): “So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’”
I think one of the scariest verses in all the Bible is found in this passage: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” Not tomorrow, today. There are a lot of glorious promises in God’s word, but living to see tomorrow is not one of them. The only day you can listen to God’s voice is TODAY.
And what’s he warning against? Hardening your heart. If you hear God calling out to you and ignore it, your heart can be hardened. Next time (if there is one), his voice will be that much more difficult to discern.
But we’re not the Hebrews of 3,000 years ago, right? We don’t have to worry about this, do we? Well, the author of Hebrew would disagree. He spent a chapter and a half expounding on this passage, pointing out that God’s warning is still in effect.
So what about you? If you haven’t placed your trust in Christ, then why not? Can’t you hear his voice calling for you to take that final step? God’s grace and mercy and unlimited, but his patience is not. As Matthew Henry put it, his reprieves are not pardons. Just like with that generation of Hebrews, there will be the last chance, and then that’s it. If that applies to you, then please read this.
Or perhaps you’re a believer in Christ. You’re saved, but there’s some area of disobedience. Yes, you know better. I believe that believers can harden their hearts as well; Paul warned against “[quenching] the Spirit,” right? The Spirit might even be speaking right now. Are you listening?
Father, please give me a soft heart and listening ears. When your Spirit speaks, I need to pay attention.
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