We have been looking at the book of Hebrews and have spent the last couple of weeks looking at Hebrews 6. Last week Rick showed the contrast between those who are “spiritually dull and indifferent” with those who “follow the example of those who are going to inherit God’s promises.” In this last part of Hebrews 6 we look at the issue of God’s promises.
AW Tozer begins his message on this passage with these words,
Is there anyone among us, any human being, who has not experienced the sadness and disappointment of a promise not kept? More than a few times we have heard an apology, an excuse, perhaps a downright fabrication: “I’m sorry. I thought I could do what I promised you, but I find it is not humanly possible.”
That is the language and the experience of human beings. Quite the opposite is our experience when we relate with God. All of God’s promises are sure. They are as reliable as His character. (Jesus our Man in Glory p. 81-82)
This is why our author takes the time to write these words. He wants us to understand that God’s promises are something we can rely on. They are the “anchor for our soul”. Why? Because God’s promises are much different than our promises.
13 For example, there was God’s promise to Abraham. Since there was no one greater to swear by, God took an oath in his own name, saying:
14 “I will certainly bless you,
and I will multiply your descendants beyond number.”
15 Then Abraham waited patiently, and he received what God had promised.
16 Now when people take an oath, they call on someone greater than themselves to hold them to it. And without any question that oath is binding. 17 God also bound himself with an oath, so that those who received the promise could be perfectly sure that he would never change his mind. 18 So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us.
19 This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary. 20 Jesus has already gone in there for us. He has become our eternal High Priest in the order of Melchizedek.
The Example of Abraham
Anytime you want to know if God is good on His Word you can go and look at the story of Abraham. At 75 years of age God told Abraham that He wanted him to leave his hometown and travel to a place God would show him and then he would make him into a great nation.
We can only imagine the response of others. They were established in their home. They had responsibilities. They were too old to have children. There was no way God could make Him a “great nation”. But Abraham trusted God.
He followed the Lord to the land that would later be called Israel. He waited 25 years before he had a child (Abraham tried to help God midway through this time by getting his wife’s servant Hagar pregnant. God told Abraham this was not what He meant. He was going to give Abraham a child by Sarah.) And sure enough at 90 years old Sarah became pregnant and had a baby!
Several years later, God told Abraham to take this son and offer him as a sacrifice on Mt. Moriah. Don’t miss this: the son that Abraham was promised; the one that would bring him descendants that would eventually bless all the nations of the earth; was the very child he was to sacrifice.
We’ll read in Hebrews 11 that Abraham took his son and was prepared to sacrifice him thinking that God would surely bring him back from the dead (He was that sure of God’s promise keeping ability). If you remember the story, you know God stopped Abraham before he actually took the life of his son. Then we read these words,
16 “This is what the Lord says: Because you have obeyed me and have not withheld even your son, your only son, I swear by my own name that 17 I will certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies. 18 And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed—all because you have obeyed me.” (Genesis 22)
This is the Biblical account that Hebrews is most likely referring to. Notice that God swore by His own name.
Here’s the argument of our passage. The argument is built on a very human practice: the taking of oaths to strengthen the nature of our promise to another. In court we used to say, “I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.” In that case we were calling God to verify that we are telling the truth. (Which does make us wonder if that means we are not telling the truth the rest of the time).
We do this frequently. We make public vows (with witnesses) when we get married, we solemnly swear when we sign documents under the threat of perjury. As kids we sometimes said, “Cross my heart and hope to die” (which probably came from a religious oath), and morbidly we would add…”stick a needle in my eye”. (Which is horribly gruesome to be sure.) The point is that we call on some authority to verify our intention to keep the promise or verify the statement we are making.
Hebrews points out that God made a promise to Abraham (and has made promises to those (like us) who follow in the footsteps of Abraham). He cannot swear by any higher authority because He is the highest authority! So God swears by Himself (“So help me, Me”). He, in essence, puts His character on the line.
There is a wonderful, yet often misunderstood, picture of this in Genesis 15:9-18. Abraham sought assurance that God was going to fulfill His promise. So God went through a covenant making ceremony . . . but He did it alone (signifying that the promise was God’s to fulfill and was not contingent on Abraham doing something). He had a heifer, a goat, a ram, a turtledove and a young pigeon. He cut the heifer, goat and ram in half. We are told “a flaming torch passed between the halves of the carcasses. So the Lord made a covenant with Abram.” (Genesis 15:17).
The idea was that the parties making a covenant would walk between the animals and say, “May it be to me as has happened to these animals (may I be cut in two) if I do not fulfill the terms of our agreement. This covenant, as I said, was unique because God was the only One who bound Himself. An amazing act if you think about it.
Hebrews tells us,
God also bound himself with an oath, so that those who received the promise could be perfectly sure that he would never change his mind. 18 So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. (Hebrews 6:17-18)
Here is what we must realize: God did not need to bind Himself with an oath. He is the Lord, His character is enough to guarantee His promise. It is impossible for God to lie because He is truth. He is also unchangeable. God is consistent in His perfection. He does not mature, He is the definition of maturity. When God speaks, what He says comes to pass.
However, because God wanted us to be sure . . . because he condescended to our weakness; He declared an oath. He said He swore by His very nature that He would do what He had said.
So the two things were His promise and His oath. Perhaps it is easier to understand if we say the two reasons we are sure that God will do what He said is because of who He is and the oath which he took. These two things mean that when we read God’s promise we know we can depend on it.
So What Promises Is He Talking About?
It is important to ask the question: what promises can WE take with this kind of confidence? Can we run to the Bible and claim anything as a promise and hold God to that promise? For example, there are some who claim God has promised us wealth and that we would never be sick (if we have enough faith). But that is not a promise from God!
When claiming God’s promises we must
- Make sure it is a true promise, not our desires being read into Scripture (like promises that you won’t have trouble, or that God will always heal you, or that God will give you whatever you want as long as you get another person to agree with you).
- Discern whether it was a unique promise to Israel or some particular individual. For example, a childless couple should not take the promise of Abraham and say God must give them a child because of His promise to Abraham.
- Make sure you read the promise carefully to understand any conditions to the promise. For example in John 15 we are told “If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.” (John 15:7). The condition to a prayer that is sure to be answered is that we are abiding or remaining in Him (so we are asking for what He wants us to have).
What kinds of promises do we hold on to?
- John 11:25, 26 I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?”
- Philippians 4:19 And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.
- Matthew 11:28, 29 “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
- Isaiah 41:10 “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.
- 1 Corinthians 10:13 “God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.
- Matthew 6:33 “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”
- Romans 8:38-39 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
- John 3:16…”everyone who believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.”
This of course is just a sampling of the promises God has made to us. But I hope you get the idea. God’s promises are the “anchor for our soul”. These are the things that give us stability in the times of trial. These are the things that hold us up when can’t see where we are going. These are promises we can depend on.
What We Are to Do Now
We are given three actions to do in light of all of this. First, we are to wait patiently (15). God will fulfill all of His promises but His timing is not always the same as ours. Abraham waited twenty-five years before the promise was fulfilled. He did not see in his lifetime the descendants that came from Isaac.
God will ALWAYS fulfill His promises to us. If it appears He has not done so then we can conclude that His timing is different than ours or that we have misunderstood or misapplied the promise. We won’t see every promise fulfilled in our lifetime. For example, we will not know He has fulfilled His promise of eternal life until we actually stand before (or fall in worship before) the Lord in Heaven.
In the times of anxiety we are called to remind ourselves to trust in the Lord. Remember these great words from Isaiah,
But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31)
The second command is Flee to Him (18). In every situation we have a choice: we can turn TO the Lord or turn AWAY from the Lord. We can pout or we can trust. We can fret or we can rest. A.W. Tozer wrote,
Why do I insist that all Christians should search the Scriptures and learn as much as they can about this God who is dealing with them? It is because their faith will only spring up naturally and joyfully as they find that our God is trustworthy and fully able to perform every promise He has made.
The more we recognize and embrace God’s faithfulness the easier time we will have in running to Him in the course of our lives. We must ask ourselves a pointed question over and over: Do I Trust Him or Don’t I?
Finally, we are told to Hold onto the Hope with Confidence. The key word I think is “confidence”. Many of us are pretty tentative about our hope. The better we know the Lord, the more confident we will be. Daniel Towner wrote,
I can feel the anchor fast
As I meet each sudden blast,
And the cable, though unseen,
Bears the heavy strain between;
Through the storm I safely ride,
Till the turning of the tide.
And it holds,
My anchor holds;
Blow your wildest, then, O Gale,
On my bark so small and frail;
By his grace I shall not fail,
For my anchor holds,
My anchor holds
Daniel B Towner, 1902
Yes, if our anchor is the character and promise of God, that anchor will hold through even the fiercest of storms. And that fact gives us every reason in the world to be Thankful every day and every moment of our lives. Thanks be to God for His promises and His faithfulness to fulfill them.