“Therefore I was angry with that generation, And said, ‘They always go astray in their heart, And they have not known My ways.’ So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest'” (Hebrews 3:10-11).
While some may view God as a dispassionate or impersonal Being, this portion of Hebrews chapter three reveals that He is emotionally invested in the lives of His people. That investment led to the response we see in the verses quoted above. This emotional component is one key that can help us unlock a proper understanding of this passage.
For example, a Biblical critic might find fault with the statement, “They always go astray in their heart…” Since we know there were two people from that generation (Joshua and Caleb) who did not go astray, a critic might contend that this statement is factually incorrect. However, that objection fails to acknowledge the emotional context of this passage.
When taken in context, these verses do not mean that every single person strayed from God during this period. Instead, this phrase is used in much the same way we might use it today whenever we emotionally engage with someone who consistently engages in certain behaviors.
For instance, let’s take the example of two people who are discussing one another’s strengths or weaknesses. If one says to the other, “You always do such-and-such,” he or she does not mean to imply that the other person is an automaton. Rather, it means that the person in question exhibits a predictable or consistent pattern of behavior in certain areas.
In a similar manner, “They always go astray in their heart” conveys an important truth: it means that the people of that era did not make an isolated mistake or suffer a momentary lapse in judgment. Instead, the Israelites of the Exodus period consistently neglected their relationship with God and thus failed to grow in the kind of God-honoring character that would have helped them avoid going astray.
This led to serious repercussions, for the original language behind this passage indicates more than just an attitude of discontent on God’s part. You see, God’s response to this situation can be translated to include the following definitions: to loathe, to spew out, and to be disgusted with. (1) Therefore, Israel’s historical example presents us with a valuable lesson and a precedent to avoid.
This is an admonition that we would do well to observe for, “The grand and terrible lesson of Israel’s history is that it is possible to begin well and end poorly. In fact, this tragic human tendency dominates much human spiritual experience.” (2)
(1) G4360 prosochthizo https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g4360/kjv/tr/0-1/
(2) Hughes, R. Kent. Hebrews: An Anchor for the Soul. 2 vols. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1993. [1:98] quoted in Constable, Thomas. DD., Notes on Hebrews 2021 Edition, [3:7-11] https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/hebrews/hebrews.htm