“We have heard the message, just as they did. But they failed to believe what they heard, and the message did not do them any good” (Hebrews 4:2 CEV).
It is possible to hear a message but fail to listen or act upon it. Hebrews 4:2 tells us that this was the experience of the ancient Israelites. However, this should not be true of our engagement with God’s Word. You see, we have an obligation to listen attentively to the Biblical Scriptures and act upon what we read or hear. This cautionary message is repeated several times within the New Testament…
“While [Jesus] was saying these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that carried you, and the breasts that nursed you!’ But he said ‘On the contrary, blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!'” (Luke 11:27-28 Mounce).
“…just because a person hears the law read or recited does not mean he is right before the one True God; it is following the law that makes one right, not just hearing it” (Romans 2:13 Voice).
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).
Unfortunately, most of the Israelites who departed from ancient Egypt heard God’s message but failed to act upon it. While the people of Old Testament Israel seemed to be on a journey toward the Promised Land, the Biblical prophet Amos tells us they were actually traveling in an idolatrous direction…
“Was it to me you were bringing sacrifices and offerings during the forty years in the wilderness, Israel? No, you served your pagan gods—Sakkuth your king god and Kaiwan your star god—the images you made for yourselves” (Amos 5:25-26 NLT).
This recalls a similar lament from the pen of another Old Testament prophet: “‘…These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me…'” (Isaiah 29:13 NIV). Thus, Hebrews 4:2 reminds us of the importance of hearing and acting upon God’s Word…
“A word, however great, is of no avail unless it becomes integrated into the person who hears it. There are many different kinds of hearing in this world. There is indifferent hearing, disinterested hearing, critical hearing, sceptical hearing, cynical hearing. The hearing that matters is the hearing that listens eagerly, believes and acts. The promises of God are not merely beautiful pieces of literature; they are promises on which a man is meant to stake his life and dominate his action.” (1)
(1) Barclay, William, William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible [Hebrews 4]