“Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12 KJV).
A brief look at Hebrews 3:12 should help dispel the objections of those who feel as if the Bible holds little or no relevance for modern-day audiences. Here in Hebrews 3:12 we learn that the experience of ancient Israel is applicable to anyone who reads this passage.
You see, no one is immune to the temptation to earn his or her way to heaven, compromise Biblical principles, or drift away with a world that is largely comprised of those who have little or no interest in the things of God. Much like the Israelites of the Exodus era, it is important to guard against the ever-present tendency to exchange genuine faith for an external religious duty or tradition.
The following Biblical scholar illustrates that danger in the following manner…
“The word ‘departing’ deserves special attention. It is aphistemi which is made up of apo ‘off,’ and histemi ‘to stand,’ the compound word meaning ‘to stand off from.’ This was exactly the position of these Hebrews. They were standing aloof from the living God.
The idea is not that of departing, but of standing off from. Our word ‘apostasy’ is derived from a form of this Greek word. Apostasy is defined as the act of someone who has previously subscribed to a certain belief, and who now renounces his former professed belief in favor of some other which is diametrically opposed to what he believed before. In other words, his new belief is not merely a new system of faith, but one which at every point negates his former belief.” (1)
Another writer adds, “A later generation of Israelites was warned by the psalmist not to follow the bad example of their ancestors’ refusal to listen to God, lest disaster should overtake them in turn; and now a still later generation has the same warning impressed upon it by the writer to the Hebrews.” (2) Modern-day readers of this passage are warned to avoid a similar fate as well.
The late philosopher George Santayana was famously quoted as saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (3) In light of this, Hebrews 3:12 encourages us to remember this past example for, “People do not set out to renounce the fundamentals of the faith. Rather, they compromise in small areas, and eventually drift into unbelief.” (4)
(1) Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament [Hebrews 3:12] Copyright © 1942-55 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
(2) The New International Commentary On The New Testament – The Epistle To The Hebrews, F. F. Bruce, General Editor © Copyright 1964, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Grand Rapids, Michigan [pg. 65]
(3) George Santayana, Reason in Common Sense: The Life of Reason. 1905 pg. 284
(4) Sproul, R. C. (1994). Before the face of God: Book 4: A daily guide for living from Ephesians, Hebrews, and James (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House; Ligonier Ministries. [Page 106]