HEBREWS, Part 10

Holding On to God’s Promise!

Hebrews 6:13—20

It’s so easy to lose hope in God that we don’t notice it’s happening until it’s either pointed out to us by a brother or sister, or when it’s almost too late for us to do anything about it. The writer to the Hebrews had just finished telling his readers:

We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. (6:12)

Remaining faithful to God and always trusting in Him are things that require extreme diligence. It’s not up to God to keep you faithful. It’s up to you. Your salvation is your business; between you and God. It does not depend on you parents, your grandparents, your spouse, or your pastor. God has done His part and you must do yours. But how do Christians remain faithful to God? How do Christians keep their hope in God and not in other things? If there was ever anybody in the Old Testament who could be described as the picture of hope, it is Abraham. Paul saw this:

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (Romans 4:18)

Yes, Abraham, the man his Hebrew readers admired so much, was the perfect example of what the writer had mind. God had given Abraham some specific, amazing promises, but the patriarch had to patiently live for many years in faith and expectation with nothing to encourage him except what God had said. But for Abraham, that was enough. As far as Abraham was concerned, despite his weaknesses and deviations from God’s plan, he knew God was completely reliable; what He promised to do He would eventually do.

What a hard lesson for the modern Christian to learn. We live in an instant age. We don’t like to wait for anything, let alone God. But we, like Abraham and the Hebrews to whom this letter was written, must learn to wait patiently for the Lord. He does everything in His own, good time, not ours.

1. The illustration of Abraham, 6:13—15

When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.

The person who wrote this letter thought a lot of Abraham. The patriarch is mentioned ten times in Hebrews. Abraham is the classic example of one who continued to trust God and obey Him in spite of time and circumstances.

Abraham was 75 years old when God made him a promise: God would make Abraham into a great nation in an unknown land that He would show Abraham later (Genesis 12:1—9). Over the years, in good times, times of temptation, times of testing, and in difficult times, God would appear to encourage him by re-stating the promise, as if to let Abraham know he was not forgotten. Abraham put his hope in God, His Word, and believed that God would keep His promise: he—Abraham— would found a great nation.

Over the 25 years it took for God to begin fulfilling His promise to Abraham, God spoke to him in human terms when He swore an oath:

I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies…” (Genesis 22:16, 17)

God, being Who He is, did not need to swear an oath to Abraham. God’s Word is trustworthy and true, it is forever settled in heaven, and God always keeps His promises. So why did God swear an oath? Here is an example of God’s condescension to man. God adapted Himself to the ways of weak man and swore by Himself. We’ll discuss this in depth when the author himself gets into it further in verses 16 and 17. But for now, why did God “swear by Himself?” Simply put, God has no one greater than Himself to swear by!

This really is a remarkable interchange between Abraham and God. God gave His Word to Abraham in response to Abraham’s faith, and yet it would take literally centuries for the promise to come to fruition. No wonder God appeared numerous times to encourage Abraham to remain faithful!

Abraham, as imperfect as he was, and as impatient as he was from time to time, really did hope and trust in God; the totality of his life shows this to be true. Yet Abraham only lived to see a tiny part of the promise come to pass: Isaac, his son. This was just the barest beginning of God keeping His Word.

What a magnificent picture of a faithful person. Abraham’s faith was not in the promise, but in the One who made the promise. This also teaches us something of the nature of God’s blessings. He may bless the individual, but the blessing is not just for the individual, it’s meant to overflow the individual so as to touch others. Special note should be made of Hebrews 11:39—

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.

Strictly speaking this is true. Abraham never saw the nation he founded. But he did see Isaac, the partial fulfillment of the promise. And he was commended for never losing his faith. Abraham, a man of faith and a man of hope. Hope is something more than faith. Faith accepts the promise; hope anticipates. Faith says the fruit is good; hope picks and eats. Faith is the bud; hope is the blossom. Faith gives the check; hope lays out the amount received.

2. The immutability of the promises, 6:16—18

To Christians, the stress on “oath swearing” may seem a bit over the top, but to the Hebrews reading this letter, it was of primary importance. The Jewish people resorted quickly to swearing oaths for every occasion. While by Jesus’ time, this practice had little or no significance in the real world, in the court of law, things were different. A judge would administer an oath in order to uphold the truth. An individual would “swear by God” because God was seen as the source of ultimate truth and if the plaintiff or defendant broke the oath, they would risk divine revenge. That oath, then, settled the truth in any dispute.

This is why verses 17 and 18 are so important:

Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged.

Even though God had no need to swear an oath, He accommodated Himself to Abraham to make it absolutely clear that the promise would come to pass. The Greek word translated “confirmed” in verse 17 is important to note. The word is sometimes translated “interposed” or “mediate” or “stand between.” In this verse, though, it carries with it the idea of “standing as a guarantor.” So here we see God assuming two roles: the One who gave the promise and the One who guaranteed the promise.

In a sense, God “went the second mile” with Abraham to show how sincere He was. The Bible is full of such demonstrations of God’s humility. Such is the beautiful character of our God.

In verse 18, the phrase “so that” introduces the purpose God had in swearing the oath. It gave Abraham “two unchangeable things,” the promise and the oath. God promised Abram descendants as innumerable as the stars in the night sky (Genesis 15), then He later confirmed that promise with an oath (Genesis 22). God confirmed His unchangeable Word of promise by a second unchangeable thing, His oath. These two immutable things gave Abraham and his descendants encouragement and assurance.

What did the writer have in mind when he wrote the phrase, “we who have fled?” The context suggests the “we” are the Hebrews, his readers, who have found Christ as Savior and, as a consequence of the new life, have left behind the old life of sin. Instead of clinging to the old life and old beliefs, he and his readers were reaching ahead to “take hold of the hope.” Again we see the importance of “hope.” The importance of hope can never be overstated for it is the exact opposite of despair—the despair so common in a sinful world. Christians, though, don’t live in a world full of despair! Christians live in a world of hope!

3. The anchor of the soul, 6:19, 20

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.

In the ancient world, as large sea-going ships were entering a harbor, some of the sailors got into smaller boats and went on ahead of the larger vessel. Their job was to carry the anchor into the harbor and find a place where it could be securely fastened. In the same way, our Lord went on ahead of us into the “inner sanctuary,” the Holy of Holies, taking with Him the anchor of the soul.

The imagery of this metaphor is vivid and striking. Man’s soul, not quite in the peaceful harbor, but still on the stormy seas, buffeted by winds and waves of doubt, has a secure anchor of hope; carried into the peaceful harbor by Jesus Christ. This anchor gives us hope and stability in tumultuous world. How true are the words penned by Priscilla J. Owens—

We have an anchor that keeps the soul
Steadfast and sure while the billows roll;
Fastened to the Rock which cannot move,
Grounded firm and deep in the Savior’s love.

This “hope” is what keeps us calm and stable in a topsy turvy world. This “hope” helps us to overcome the dangers that threaten our souls as rocks and waves threaten to sink ships at sea. The “hope” of every Christian is our spiritual anchor that enables us to ride out any and every story that hits us. Every Christian should be able to sing the words of that classic hymn:

Though Satan should buffet, tho’ trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate.
and shed His own blood for my soul.
It is well with my soul,
It is well with my soul,
It is well with my soul.

Thank God we have an anchor for our soul!

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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