In Psalm 95:8 the psalmist exhorts the reader, “Today, if you will hear His voice: ‘Do not harden your hearts’” (NKJV). Here are two commands: first, recognize and respond to God’s voice, and, then, do not let your hearts harden.
Psalm 95 is a call to worship (verses 1–2, 6). In Psalm 95:7–9 we read, “Today, if only you would hear his voice, ‘Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested me.’” The psalmist continues to relate God’s punishment on the ancient Israelites: although they had seen God’s mighty works, they strayed in their hearts, and God, grieved for forty years, forbade them from entering the Promised Land (Psalm 95:9–11).
Meribah, mentioned in Psalm 95:8, also known as Massah, was a place where the Israelites, after their exodus from Egypt, rebelled against God (Exodus 17:2). Because of their extreme thirst, they grumbled and complained to Moses, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?” (Exodus 17:2–3). Moses turned to the Lord in prayer, and God responded by having Moses strike the rock so the Israelites would have water and know that the Lord was with them (Exodus 17:4–7). Even after they saw what God did at Meribah—even after God had freed them from bondage in Egypt—the Israelites still hardened their hearts, distrusted God, and grumbled about their temporary circumstances.
The author of Psalm 95 is saying, in essence, don’t be like that. Don’t harden your heart at the work of God on your behalf. He is speaking to you, if you would only listen. He has done great things for you, if you would only remember. Ascribe to God His due worship. “He is our God and we are the people of his pasture” (Psalm 95:7). Israel should follow their Shepherd.
The author of Hebrews quotes the words, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion,” three times, in Hebrews 3:7–8, 15, and 4:7. These quotations from Psalm 95 are meant to exhort people to receive Christ and not have “a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12). The Israelites rejected their “rest” in the Promised Land, but today Jesus is the “Sabbath-rest for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9). Do not harden your heart against Him.
God still speaks today, but we must follow Him to recognize His voice. There are so many voices vying for our attention, especially with the increased use of technology and social media. Yet God’s voice must be the voice we heed. Jesus is our Good Shepherd: the shepherd opens the gate for his sheep, “and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice” (John 10:3–5). Our Good Shepherd loves us and calls us today to follow Him alone: “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your heart.”
The psalmist warns, “If you will hear His voice, do not harden your heart,” and the author of Hebrews echoes the warning. God’s words demand a response, and, tragically, some respond by hardening their hearts. Some permanently harden their hearts, but even believers can harden their hearts for a period of time. When people ignore who God is and what He has done, like the Israelites did in the wilderness, their hearts harden. When people hold onto sin, their hearts harden. When people allow circumstances to cloud their thinking and let their feelings dictate their actions, their hearts harden. It is God’s Word that keeps our hearts soft and pure: “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). We must turn to hear and heed God’s voice.
“Today if you will hear His voice, do not harden your heart.” Sometimes, evangelists use these verses after presenting the gospel. Life is but a vapor (James 4:14), so if you hear the gospel message today, you need to accept Christ today. Do not harden your heart as in the rebellion. We are not guaranteed tomorrow. To permanently harden one’s heart against God and reject the gospel message of salvation is to suffer eternal consequences: “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). To heed God’s voice and place one’s trust in the finished work of Christ on the cross is to be saved and have eternal life (John 3:16).