Not What You Think


$20 to the person that can tell me the shared context of these two verses:

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful. He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear, but when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. I Cor. 10:13

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Hebrews 4:12

Anyone? Anyone?

Okay, fine. The $20 stays in my wallet.

These two verses seem to be covering very different topics. The first seems to assure believers that God will never allow them to be put in a situation that is too hard to handle. If the situation gets too dicey, he’ll find a way to get us out of it. Unless, of course, he doesn’t, and we all die. Which can happen, I guess.

The second seems to be telling us that the Bible is not some dead piece of literature. It is alive and active. It can expose our hearts, shining a holy flashlight on our thoughts and motives, urging us to take a hard look at ourselves and make better choices.

What if I told you that neither of those verses is saying either one of those things?  

Let’s start with the “no temptation” verse:

Paul starts this chapter by drawing a connection between the people that followed Moses out of Egypt and the people that followed Jesus out of sin and death. He uses some confusing phrases to bind the familiar stories of ancient Israel with the spiritual realities that new believers were just beginning to understand.

First, he claims that Israel was baptized into Moses when they passed through the Red Sea into freedom, echoing his description of believers being baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection by the Spirit (Rom. 6). Then he says that they all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink, which is an obvious reference to the manna that God provided for them in the wilderness, and the water that came from the rock that Moses struck.

Jesus makes the same connection in John 6 when he fed the 5,000, claiming to be the true manna from heaven. In John 4 he claimed that he would bring living water, the Holy Spirit, which came after he was struck and broken by the Roman soldiers.

After establishing that connection, Paul reminds his readers about the mistakes of the wilderness generation. He tells them how the constant complaining, idolatry and immorality of those people led to thousands of deaths, whether by natural or supernatural means.

It is at this point that he writes, “no temptation has overtaken you . . .”  

If we move logically with Paul’s argument, we have to recognize that Paul is giving the believers a warning, not an encouragement. He is not talking about enduring persecution or trials. He is talking about being tested.

Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Deut. 8:2 – 3

Paul is urging his readers to act like Jesus when he was in the wilderness. He encourages them to resist temptation, reminding them that there is nothing that can tempt them that has not been experienced and overcome by others, assuring them that God is alongside them, able to help them stay on their feet.

What about Hebrews 4:12?

This verse is also about the wilderness generation. Like Paul, the author of Hebrews (who might actually be Paul) draws a connection between the wilderness generation and the first century believers. In this case, the warning is not about temptation in general, but about one specific test—the taking of the land.

As you probably know, after getting out of Egypt and receiving the Law, the Israelites went up to Canaan and spied out the land. After sending twelve men to check things out, ten of them came back with their knees shaking and their thumbs down. Sure, they had seen God overcome the Egyptians with miraculous plagues, seen him split the Red Sea, seen him provide food and water in the desert, but . . . sorry, the Canaanites were just too scary.

God looked at their downturned thumbs, raised a divine eyebrow, and said to Moses:

“How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them?  I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they.” Numbers 14:11 – 12

If you think God is kidding, you don’t know the whole story. For a second time, Moses convinces God to hold back, reminding him that a post-Exodus genocide would send the wrong message to the other nations. It seems as if God was willing to wait for Moses to become like a new Adam, a new Noah, or a new Abraham, but instead, he decides to wait forty years until the stubborn, older generation passed away.

Sure, the younger generation was still raised by the previous generation, but maybe they would be a little more open to faith, having lived most of their lives with the knowledge of Yahweh, and having strong childhood impressions of their deliverance from Egypt.

The author of Hebrews looks at the failure of that first generation of Israelites, then looks at the first generation of Christians, and basically says, “Don’t make the same mistake.”

For we also have had good news proclaimed to us, just as they did, but the word they heard was of no value to them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard. Heb. 4:2

If you pay attention to Christian culture or listen to the old hymns, you’ll probably hear comparisons between the wilderness and this earthly existence, or between the Promise Land and heaven. I’m sure you’ve heard phrases like, “we’re just passing through,” or “we’re headed to Glory Land” or “when we all cross that Jordan.”

But the author of Hebrews does not allow that kind of comparison. He starts with the verse where God tells Moses, “They will not enter my rest,” and draws a connection between the hope of settling into the Promise Land and the hope of God’s people settling into a spiritual life that is shared with the finished work of Christ.

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.

The very next verse is about the living and active word of God.

As you can see, this all-penetrating “word” cannot be in reference to the Bible. It’s not even about Jesus. It’s about the “word” of God mentioned in verse 2, the command to enter the Promise Land by faith, not being stubborn or afraid, being careful not to fall into temptation.

Do you see how Deuteronomy 8:2 connects our two familiar verses?

Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you (I Cor. 10:13) in order to know what was in your heart (Heb. 4:12), whether or not you would keep his commands. 

God’s command for his saved people to enter into his rest exposes our willingness or unwillingness to actually rest from our “labors,” which basically means releasing our own lives and taking hold of his.

It reminds me of what Paul wrote in Philippians 3:23:

Not that I have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  

What is to be gained between our “crossing of the Red Sea” and the afterlife? Verses like I Corinthians 10:13 and Hebrews 4:12 should pique our interest, opening our minds to a wider concept of salvation, making us wonder what we might be missing in this life.

What do you think it means to enter God’s place of rest? What do you think Paul was pressing toward on this side of heaven?

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