- Locate the Passage
Hebrews 3:7-19 constitutes the second warning passage in the letter.
What is the relationship of 3:7–19 to 3:1–6? The author introduced the quotation in v. 7 with dio (“so”), an emphatic marker of result. This connector probably plays more than one role in the immediate context. It carries forward the thought of v. 6b and relates it to the admonition in v. 8 “do not harden your hearts.” The dio clause indicates the consequence of the necessity of holding fast to be Christ’s household: we are Christ’s household if we hold fast. It also probably reaches to the “See to it, brothers” in v. 12, which is the beginning of the next semantic unit.
The semantic relationship would then be grounds—exhortation, with the grounds being the quotation of Ps 95:7b–11 in Heb 3:7–11 and the exhortation being the imperative of v. 12. As an inferential conjunction, dio often marks the gathering up of the previous line of thought and connecting it to a new line of thought: “since it is only by maintaining boldly our confidence, therefore, see to it that none of you has an evil, unbelieving heart.”
Hortatory. The quotation of Psalm 95 contains an imperative in v.7: “Do not harden your hearts.” Verse 12 contains an overt warning signaled by an imperative, and v. 19 contains a covert warning expressed semantically by the indicative mood that parallels the warning of v. 12.
- Determine the Structure of the passage
Hebrews 3:7–19 is a literary unit with two major sections. The first section (Heb 3:7–11) is a quotation of Ps 95:7b–11, and the second section (Heb 3:12–19) is a commentary on Ps 95:7b–11. The two units are tightly framed, the first being clearly demarcated as a quotation and the second using inclusio by the lexical repetition of blepō “see” and apistia “unbelief” in v. 12 and v. 19.
The quotation of Ps 95:8a with the overt imperative “do not harden your hearts” is positively answered in the second unit by v. 14: “We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.” The two warnings in 3:12 and 3:19 that bracket the unit serve as a linguistic and theological frame for the covert command to have faith, which is expressed semantically in a conditional clause in v. 14.
- Exegete the passage
The challenge is to determine how 3:7–19 is a result of 3:1–6. Some commentators see an implied contrast between the faithfulness of Jesus and the unfaithfulness of the wilderness generation. But since the comparison in 3:1–6 is between Moses and Jesus, it is unlikely that the original readers would have seen a contrast between Jesus and the wilderness generation. All the explicit contrasts in 3:7–4:11 are made between the exodus generation and the hearers, not the exodus generation and Jesus. The co-text in Hebrews 1–2 was primarily linked to the description of Jesus in 3:1, and the following co-text in 3:7–19 is explicitly linked to the readers’ identity as described in 3:1 and 3:6. There is no mention of Moses’ house in 3:6. The parallel is broken but picked up again in 3:7–15. It would seem, then, that the main point of connection is that of the wilderness generation who were unfaithful and the original readers who were being exhorted not to follow suit.
The final paragraph of this chapter (3:12–19) comprises the author’s application of the quotation to his readers. It is primarily hortatory in nature. The situation of the original readers (3:12–14) is compared to that of the wilderness generation (3:15–19). The question of how v. 12 is related to what precedes is not easy to answer. Some view it as connected with the dio of 3:7 and take the quotation as somewhat parenthetical. Better is to begin a new sentence with v. 12 and see it as an application of the preceding comments.
Verse 14 is introduced by the Greek conjunction gar. It introduces the grounds for the warning of 3:12. It may refer back to 3:6, repeating the warning found there, which is the subject of the command in 3:13.
The conjunction gar indicates the reason that the wilderness generation was excluded, a reason that is implicit in the implied answer to the rhetorical question: “Don’t harden your hearts because those who did were excluded from God’s Canaan rest.”
In v. 17 the focus shifts from the people who rebelled to God who was angry with them over their rebellion. The semantic function of this clause continues the reason for the exhortation in 3:15. The question of v. 17a is answered with another rhetorical question in v. 17b. God was angry with “those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert.”
Verse 18 begins with de, which is rightly translated “and.” It continues the grounds for the exhortation of 3:15.
Verse 19 is the conclusion of the preceding argument begun in v. 12 and is introduced by kai (“so”): “So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.”
See Neva Miller, The Epistle to the Hebrews: An Analytical and Exegetical Handbook, 74-98; J. Harold Greenlee, Hebrews: An Exegetical Summary, 98-121; and David L. Allen, Hebrews, 252-270, for more detailed exegetical and semantic analysis of the text.
- Let the structure of the text drive the structure of the sermon
A. 3:7-11 (OT quotation of Psalm 95 serving as the grounds for the exhortation of v. 12).
I. 3:12-19 (Application of the quotation via exhortation. Be watchful and encourage one another
to remain faithful to God by obedience to his word. Don’t be like the Exodus generation.)
Note that the main paragraph/point of the text, expressed by the Roman numeral “I” is placed at the far left margin to indicate it is the most important information semantically in the text. The indented “A” expresses the sub-point (less important material) which modifies the main point (vv. 12-19). It is placed before the main point because it occurs before the main point in the text.