Hebrews 6: 13-20

Jimmy JoHebrews, SermonsLeave a Comment

13 When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” 15 And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.

16 People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. 17 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. 18 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 set before us may be greatly encouraged. 19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.

Hebrews 6: 13-20

Our passage today is a relatively short one, and as usual, we could probably have included it in either the passage before or following.  However, I think it’s worth considering on its own.  Having said that, the connection with the previous verses (at least) are pretty evident.  In last week’s passage, we contended that the author is once again (or still) exhorting his readers to faithfulness – to remain faithful, to not fall away.  The concluding verses of that passage read: 

11 We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. 12 We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

Hebrews 6: 11-12

And our passage today opens up with the verse: 

13 When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.”  15 And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.

Hebrews 6:13-15

The connection or transition between these verses should be obvious.  The author encourages his readers to remain faithful, to have patience, in order to inherit what has been promised.  And by way of example, connecting his readers to the story and history of Israel, he points them to Abraham who likewise had to be faithful and remain patient, trusting in the promise of God. 

The next paragraph, then, focuses on the nature of the promise in which Abraham put his faith – the promise on which Abraham hung his hope.  The author says:

16 People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. 17 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. 18 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 set before us may be greatly encouraged. 19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.

Hebrews 6: 16-20

The flow of the argument is fairly straightforward, but definitely still deserves some discussion.  When someone makes an oath, says the author, s/he swears by something greater than themselves.  As there is no one greater by which God could swear, His word (His oath) is sufficient in and of itself 

Now verse 18 is a little obscure to me – what are the two unchangeable things?  Commentators are largely agreed (as far as I have been able to tell) that the two things are God’s promise and God’s oath.  Taking that to be true, verse 18 reads something like, “we … may be greatly encouraged because of God’s promise, which is confirmed by God’s oath. 

A further question that arises out of verse 18 has to do with the phrase, “we who have fled to take hold of the hope…”  What does the author mean by “we who have fled”?  What exactly are they fleeing from?  And who is the “we”?  Is the author thinking of the immediate context of the letter (i.e. the author and [at least some of] the recipients?)?  Or is he thinking of the larger community of believers?  That is, is the fleeing a concrete situation?  Or is it perhaps a philosophical sort of fleeing (i.e. fleeing the darkness of the world by embracing Christ’s kingdom)? 

It is difficult to be certain of a specific reference because of the lack of clarity in the text.  However, we do see numerous places in the text of Hebrews (including the immediately preceding passage) where it seems like the author is encouraging his readers to remain faithful in the face of something.  It therefore seems likely (to me) that the author has this in the back of his mind, even if he’s not specifically referring to that concrete situation here.  In other words, it could be something like, “remember, or keep in mid, the principles alluded to in light of the current circumstance.” 

Regardless of how we are intended to understand this (and commentators are again divided on this), what seems evident is that we (they) are fleeing something for the promise of something better.  That is to say, this is not a fleeing from, it’s a fleeing to.  As the verse says, we have fled “…to take hold of the hope set before us…”

And as the next verse (v. 19) says, that hope is “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”  The hope is upon what we stand grounded – it is our foundation. 

Now the allusion to the tabernacle (again, the author of Hebrews has consistently spoken of the tabernacle as opposed to the temple) reminds us (or at least it reminds me) of precisely that which keeps the people from taking hold of, or experience the fullness of, God’s promise. 

Remember that, throughout the story of Israel, the people consistently lose the blessings of God because of their sinfulness, their rebelliousness, their willfulness.  The temple system (the tabernacle system) was instituted precisely to make a way to God in spite of that sin.  So that the people could take hold of God’s promise in spite of their shortcomings.  This work of reconciliation takes place primarily in the inner sanctuary – the innermost part of the temple, the holy of holies.  But the inner sanctuary behind the curtain is also a stark reminder of how much we cannot enter the presence of a holy God. 

But the hope that we have – because Christ is our high priest – is a hope that bypasses that barrier; overcomes that separation.  Therefore, the hope that we have enters beyond the curtain. 

All of this to say, remain faithful, remain patient because we have this hope.  And this hope is based on nothing more or less than the word of God, the promise and oath of God.  Our hope is based on nothing more or less than that God is faithful, that His word is true.  It is based solely on God’s character. 

In discussing last week’s passage, we talked about how the author is exhorting his readers to remain faithful – in that specific context, to not rest on their laurels, to not assume that they are “good enough,” but to continue to grow in Christ, to grow up in Christ.  Rather than falling away, dig deeper, we might say. 

And we alluded to today’s passage by saying that growing up in Christ means knowing and grasping more and more the faithfulness of God.  In other words, maybe growing up, maturing means (in no small part) knowing more and more the character of God. 

The specific characteristic that our passage today talks about is God’s faithfulness.  That God has made a promise, confirmed by an oath.  And we can trust in that promise precisely because God is trustworthy. 

This is easy to say, but I’m keenly aware that it can be exceedingly difficult to do.  I am aware that it can be really difficult to see and to believe in the faithfulness of God in the midst of the chaos, uncertainties, and disappointments of life.  For many people, it is far easier to recount the ways we have been let down.  And therefore, it feels like it’s impossible to look forward to the future promise. 

And I wish I had an easier solution for you.  But the truth is that (I think) it takes consistent, concerted effort.  Believing – having faith – often isn’t just a thing that happens to you.  It’s a thing we choose to do. 

Practically speaking, I hope it’s obvious that each of us needs to spend time in scripture.  Specifically, I would encourage us to spend time in the story – working it into our lives and consciousness.  Pay attention to how the faithfulness of God unfolds throughout the grand narrative of scripture.  As we have gone through the bible, we have seen how God chose to remain faithful to a fallen, rebellious people, who chose to “be like gods,” rather than trusting in and obeying the word of God.  We’ve seen how God saved a remnant even though every inclination of the hearts of mankind was evil all the time.  We observed God’s faithfulness to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, through Moses, and Joshua, in the life of David, even though none of these figures – all fathers in the faith – were good, admirable, or particularly successful.  The purpose of God was worked out in and through all of these, not because they were exceptional but because God was faithful. 

And we know that God refused to give up on rebellious Israel, even through the exile.  We’ve seen the fulfilment of His promise in His son Jesus Christ, that this purpose continued through the apostles, and lives in us.  And because of the faithfulness of God, we can have confidence that we will one day fully take hold of the promise. 

Pay attention to the story.  Pay attention to the goodness and faithfulness of God. 

And as we immerse ourselves in the story of scripture, so we also need to use it as our reference point so that we can make sense of our own stories.  Again, we can choose to make sense of our own stories, our own lives, in any variety of ways.  And we do so based on the lens that we choose.  What I’m encouraging us to do is to see our lives through the lens of scripture.  So that we can see how God has continued to be faithful, even through all of our struggling and stumbling.  So that we can see how God has saved us and is saving us because of His great love for us. 

And to know that God is faithful in each of our lives is not to claim that our lives have been easy, or fortunate, or even particularly “blessed” (at least by our ways of measuring).  Perhaps in our own lives, we see a lot more of the story of Job than we would like.  Or Joseph at the hands of his brothers.  Or Daniel in the lion’s den.  But to know that God is faithful is not to weigh our hardships against our comforts.  Rather, it is to know that He will never leave us nor forsake us; therefore, be strong and courageous.  It is to know that the story of our lives will not be determined by how much we have, or how often we have won.  But rather, the story of our lives is determined by the ultimate promise of our God who alone is faithful.  And the realisation of the promise, the reality of the coming eschaton, works backwards through time to give hope and fullness to our present. 

Therefore, we have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.  Be faithful because God is faithful.  Be faithful because God has already been faithful.  Because God cannot be other than faithful.  Don’t let go of the promise because He will never let go of us. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *