The Holy Spirit Says…
In Hebrews 3:7, the writer introduces one of the many Old Testament citations found in this letter with the words, “As the Holy Spirit says…” In setting up Psalm 95:7-9 in the manner in which he did (with the Holy Spirit presently speaking in the OT text), the writer intended to draw attention to the fact that God is the living speaker in all of the Scriptures. Scripture is not something that loses relevance and applicability after the first readers and their historical context pass away–it is the living word of the living God. Instead of saying, “As David said,” or “As it is said in the book of the Psalms” (Which are some of the common ways that a portion of the Psalms is cited in the New Testament) the writer affirms that the Holy Spirit is the author of the Old Testament. He does so to reinforce what he had written in the opening words of the book—“God has spoken” (1:1). That is one of the primary points of this book. Everything about the supremacy of Christ; everything necessary for us to progress in the Christian life–and to keep us from apostasy–is built on the fact that God has spoken. Geerhardus Vos once astutely observed:
In the epistle to the Hebrews God is everywhere represented as the speaker in the Old Testament. Only one passage, Heb. 4:7, names the human instrument, and even that one says God saying in David. The author goes so far as to say that it matters little who the human author may have been; the main thing is that God said it. Elsewhere He says, Someone somewhere has testified [2:6]. Of course the author of Hebrews, thoroughly familiar with the Old Testament as he was, knew who that someone was [David in Psalm 8], but still he does not name him.1
The particular citation from Psalm 95 carries this idea further by highlighting the word ‘Today’ in Heb. 3:7, 13, 15; and 4:7. By lifting Ps. 95 out of it’s original context and embedding it into his argument in Hebrews 3-4 the writer would have us understand that the Spirit presently speaks in the OT text. The writer appeals to the warning of Psalm 95:7-9 by showing the applicability of the warning to the New Testament readers. The theological brilliance of this Psalm is that David sees the first generation of Israel coming out of Egypt as paradigmatic of every generation of the covenant community. Just as Israel rebelled against God’s word of promise when they hardened their hearts to Him, so every generation is susceptible to follow the same destructive pattern. They had the same Gospel as we do (Heb. 4:2)–though in typical form. The water from the rock was a picture of the saving benefits of Christ. The apostle Paul says as much when he writes, “That rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:1-4). The grumbling of the Israelites at Meribah and Massah was fueled by their unbelief in the saving provision of God.
In Psalm 95, David–under inspiration of the Holy Spirit–highlighted the incident at Meribah and Massah (Ex. 17:1-7) for the example of those in his day. But the ‘Today, if you will hear His voice’ of Ps. 95:7-8 has an ever present force behind it–precisely because it is the Holy Spirit speaking in the text. The use of the word ‘Today’ becomes the primary focal point in as much as it connects the word of warning to every subsequent day in which that wanring might be heard. Later in Hebrews, the writer unpacks this for us when–speaking of the eschatological day–writes, “He designates a certain day, saying in David, “Today,” after such a long time, as it has been said: “Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts.” The word of God is as living and active ‘Today’ for us as it was for Israel at the exodus and for Israel in the days of David because the same Spirit at work through His word in the church today inspired Psalm 95 then. While much more could be said about the authorship of Hebrews and the introduction to the OT citations in the letter, here are some further reflections on the subject.
1. Geerhardus Vos The Teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1956) p. 73
Thank you. Once again Vos is so helpful. Isn’t it a true measure of progress in faith when we switch from seeing the psalms as objective and separate from our own experience and describing David’s life events, or even some objective messianic symbolism – something historical, something apart from ourselves, towards a realisation of scripture as a personal expression of our own emotions. Was it Luther who said the Psalms speak for us…..? It is well worth reinforcing your argument to new believers as it has power to be a very present help in times of trouble; that the time-less-ness of the Spirit’s message to us as he speaks to all who are in union with Christ is our guarantee of Providence and a guard against that terrible lie that haunts us sometimes, that we are forgotten and sometimes cant feel God’s countenance shine upon us, just as in Meribah. This very same Spirit is our continuous unbroken living and active word who lovingly speaks to us and sustains us today as much as in every generation – just as our Lord prays in John 17. I love how the author stresses time and again the word “today”. Thanks again for your article.