Oh, that today you would hear his voice,
"Harden not your hearts as at the rebellion
in the day of testing in the desert,
where your ancestors tested and tried me
and saw my works for forty years.
Because of this I was provoked with that generation
and I said, 'They have always been of erring heart,
and they do not know my ways.'
As I swore in my wrath,
'They shall not enter into my rest.
The Letter to the Hebrews today gives us one of the longest direct quotes from the Old Testament; this is a section from Psalm 95. The Church from ancient times has used this passage, which both encourages and threatens, as the "Invitatory Psalm" of the day. There are alternative psalms if anyone so chooses, but this is the default.
I have read it each morning for many years.
In it we hear the voice of our God, loving, endearing, demanding, jealous, threatening, questioning, "Why do you turn away from me?"
It's a question we cannot answer with any kind of logic.
Coming to our senses periodically, we too wonder, "Why have I doubted God's love? What was I thinking?" or "What were we thinking?"
There's always the blame game, too: "I was right with God but they weren't!" or "...you weren't!" Which is another, most regrettable sin.
God promises protection and prosperity if we will only trust him. Sometimes we actually enjoy relative prosperity and a measure of protection and we think we must be okay with God, until we examine our lives and see all the contradictions.
Any Christian preacher today could name a host of endemic sins for which we suffer this time of punishment. I think of abortion as the cause of today's violence, drug abuse and the disappearance of the family. But perhaps abortion is the inevitable end of divorce. When a couple promise to love, honor and obey one another for the rest of their lives and then renounce those very words, what catastrophic consequences must follow. It is, as Brenda Lee once sang, "the end of the world."
Because of this I was provoked with that generation and I said, 'They have always been of erring heart, and they do not know my ways.' As I swore in my wrath, 'They shall not enter into my rest.The daily recitation of this psalm reminds me to daily examine my own willing obedience to God. Am I moved by the Spirit that drove Jesus into the desert or by some other, alien spirit? Do I want what God wants, or only my own selfish desires?
The setting for Psalm 95 is the Sinai Desert, where the Lord led his people day by day. Today's setting is not much different. We still have little idea of where we're going, and little love for the One who leads us.
Each day we must turn back to the Lord, rediscover the same reluctance and fearfulness in our hearts, receive reassurance of God's endless patience and ask the Lord to conform our desires and preferences to His.