Bible ancient-futurenetThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Hebrews 6:13-20

The Certainty of God’s Promise

13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” 15 And thus Abraham,[a] having patiently waited, obtained the promise. 16 For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. 17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

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Last week’s reading concluded the author’s warnings to the Hebrews about apostasy.

Now the author of Hebrews gets into the spiritual ‘meat’, rather than ‘milk’.

The author needs to examine the main personalities of the Bible important to the Jewish audience in order to persuade them that Jesus Christ is the fulfilment of God’s covenants with humanity.

The author begins by saying that God swore to Himself that he would bless and multiply Abraham and his descendants (verses 13, 14).

John MacArthur explains this divine oath, which was unconditional upon Abraham himself (emphases mine):

… the Abrahamic covenant wasn’t even made with Abraham; it was made between God and Himself. Therefore, it is an unconditional covenant. God is simply saying, “Abraham, go to sleep while I make a covenant with Myself.” God promised Himself, on the basis of His own purpose, that this is what He would do, and Abraham had nothing to do with it. He just happened to be the vehicle. You see? God sealed a covenant in a human way with Himself.

And so, we say, then, that the Abrahamic covenant wasn’t made between God and Abraham; it was made between God and God.

You say, “What are you driving at this for?”

Because I want you to see that the whole design of God, in calling Abraham, really had nothing to do with Abraham. God didn’t owe Abraham anything; God owed Himself the fulfillment of His own plan. Do you see? And so, He chose to cut the fresh channel, beginning with Abraham, and He made that vow with Himself.

The author explains that when we make an oath, it is always made on something greater than ourselves (verse 16). Logically, no being is greater than God, so God made that oath upon Himself.

Now, Abraham had a blind faith in the Lord. The Lord fulfilled his faith and patience by granting him those blessings (verse 15).

MacArthur summarises Abraham’s remarkable story in Genesis. Remember that he was a pagan, as was his family:

Abraham was a pagan. Abraham lived in a city known as Ur, with his father Terah. Terah was a descendant of Shem, one of the sons of Noah. And Abraham’s father was a pagan, worshipping false gods. He settled in a place called Ur, which is between the Tigris and the Euphrates in that area called Mesopotamia, one of the ancient cities of the Chaldeans.

And God all of a sudden came to him in Genesis chapter 12 and said, “All right, Abraham, pack up; you’re leaving. Get everything you’ve got and get out. I’m going to take you to a place where I want you to go.”

Now, that’s a fairly big issue. Packing up his whole tribe, of which he was chieftain, and moving them all out, all the way over to a place called Canaan. He finally did, and settled in a place called Haran. When he got to Haran, he received another promise. The reiteration of the promise that God would bless him and multiply his seed and give him a great nation and so forth and so on, that through his seed all of the families of the earth would be blessed. This is repeated to him in Genesis 12, Genesis 13, Genesis 15, Genesis 17, Genesis 18, Genesis 22. Over and over and over and over and over God says to him, “Here’s My promise; here’s My promise; here’s My promise,” and Abraham believed it. He really believed God.

Abraham and his descendants lived in tents for generations, but they had great faith in God:

… clear as far on down the line as Isaac and Jacob, they’re still dwelling in tents in a land that really wasn’t their own; just kind of temporary there.

Abraham was an elderly man when God chose him. His wife Sarah was beyond childbearing age. They had no heir, but God promised him that he would have generations of descendants, which continue to this day:

What did He say? He said this, “Surely” – Abraham – “blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying will multiply thee.” I’m going to bless you and multiply your seed. That was His promise to Abraham. Did He keep it? Do you want to know that there are right now in this world today, 1972, in June, at least 14 million of the seed of Abraham still roaming the world? You better believe He kept it.

Not only that, there are multiplied millions around the world who are Abraham’s seed by faith. God kept His promise to Abraham. It was tough for a while. It didn’t look too good. He said, “You’re going to have a whole great nation, as numbers the sand of the sea and the stars of the heaven.” And Abraham looked at Sarah and said, “Well, you got to start with one, and we don’t even have that.” And it didn’t look real good, but he believed God. He hung in there. And he tried to help God a little bit, and got over there with Hagar and produced Ishmael, but God just used that as a punishment. Ishmael fathered the Arabs, who have been nothing but trouble for the Jews ever since.

But he believed God, the Bible says, and he stayed with it. It wasn’t easy; look at verse 15, “And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained” – what? – “the promise.” He hung in there. He believed God. He threw his whole life on God. He said, “God, I’m just going to trust you. Here I go,” and he fell over, and God caught him and gave him the promise. And it looked like impossibility.

God told Abraham to sacrifice his only — and long-awaited — son Isaac, which he was prepared to do, because he had such faith in Him:

He took little Isaac, after he was born, and he got up on that mountain, and he had that knife lifted in the air, and it was all over. Isaac dies, that’s it. The promise is gone. And yet, he raised that arm to slay Isaac, and God stayed his hand. But he went that far because that’s how much he believed God. That’s faith.

And on the way up the mountain, he said to Isaac – they were going with a lot of sticks and no sacrifice. He said to Isaac, “God will provide a sacrifice.” I think deep down in his heart he believed that God would. And finally, when he was up there, he may have been going like this, and his eye landed on that ram in a thicket. God did provide. He believed God. You can trust God, friend. You may find yourself running all the way to the extremity, but you can believe God for even that. He has never failed, and He never will.

Consider the early chapters of Genesis documenting heinous sins of pride and depravity. Then, God chooses Abraham to be the progenitor of a people. Christians are also Abraham’s heirs, via faith in the one true God:

The horrible sinfulness of men was reached in a climax at Babel, when in idolatrous, devilish worship, they attempted to build a ziggurat, or an idol really what it was, to their own manufactured worship. And God scattered them all over the world. But it became imperative to God that He had to recover man, obviously. And as the plan unfolded, God knew that he had to take drastic steps to do it. It was as if there was a flowing river and a great landslide had blocked the river, and God had to cut a fresh channel.

Now, He designed to cut that fresh channel by picking out a certain nation or a certain people and using them as His channel around the landslide of sin that had inundated the world. Now, that fresh channel was cut first of all through Abraham. And from Abraham’s loins were to come the whole nation of Israel, which has always been God’s channel. Right? Jesus said in John chapter 4, “Salvation is of” – what? – “the Jews.” And what he meant is not that the Jews are the only ones that can be saved, but the channel is the Jews. Jesus came through the line of Judah through the Jews. And so, God began to cut the channel through Abraham. And Abraham really was only a spectator to the plan of God.

It really is amazing, especially when God told Abraham that he would have as many descendants as stars in the sky and what would happen to them. This was right in the beginning, with the first animal sacrifice of Abraham’s that symbolised the covenant between them (Genesis 15):

Verse 9, “And he said unto him, ‘Okay, take Me a heifer of three years old, a she goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.’” Now, He tells Abraham to go get a menagerie, gather all these animals. And he gets all these animals, and ropes them all up, and hauls them all over there to wherever God was.

And verse 10, “And he took unto Him all these, and divided them in the midst.” Now, that doesn’t mean that he said, “Okay, let’s see, she goat over here, ram over here.” That means that he whacked them down the middle with a sword. He cut them in half. And he laid one half over here and one half over there. It says, “and had one – each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not.” Obviously you divide a bird, and all you’ve got are a lot of feathers. So, put a dead turtle dove on one side, and a dead pigeon on the other side, and then halves of all these other three animals. You say, “What’s going on? This is kind of a messy thing.” Well, it is.

And then in verse 11, which is always interesting, it says, “And when the fowls came down upon the carcasses, Abram drove them away.” And I can imagine he’s getting impatient, as he’s standing there with his stick, beating off the birds, waiting for God to do whatever He’s going to do, see. And he’s got these bloody animals lying around on the ground.

You say, “Well, what happened then?”

Well, verse 12, “When the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram” – God gave him a little divine anesthetic and put him out – “and, lo, a horror of great darkness fell upon him.” He just blacked out, see?

“And He said unto Abram, ‘Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a sojourner in the land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years’” And here He prophesies the Egyptian captivity. But notice in verse 15 – verse 16, “‘But in the fourth generation they shall come here again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full. And it shall come to pass –’” and so forth and so on. Well, let’s read verse 17, “And it came to pass, that when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace and a burning lamp passed between those pieces. In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying” – verse 18 – “‘Unto thy seed have I given this land.’” Part of the Abrahamic covenant was the gift of the land.

This is how sacrifices worked in Abraham’s time. God signified the promise with him in a way he could understand, although, ultimately, by causing Abraham to pass out, He made the covenant with Himself:

There was a very, very interesting custom in Abraham’s day and continued some time after Abraham. Whenever two people made a covenant, they sealed it with blood. And the way they did it was they took an animal, and they cut the animal in half, laying a piece on each side, and together they walked between the blood pieces, simply passing between the two pieces. That signified that they had made a covenant in blood to keep their promise. It could be a deal for land; it could be some kind of a trade; it could be anything. But they cut an animal; put one piece here, one piece there. And the two who were covenanting would go between the pieces, sealing the covenant with each other. And there would be witnesses to see it.

You want to know something? If God and Abraham – and we believe that God is represented by the furnace and the lamp – if God and Abraham had gone through, that would have meant that God made a covenant with Abraham. You want to know something? God knocked Abraham out, and He went through by Himself.

You say, “What does that mean?”

That means the Abrahamic covenant wasn’t even made with Abraham; it was made between God and Himself.

God made an oath as a guarantee (verse 16) of His unchanging purpose (verse 17). Therefore, it is impossible for God to lie and, as such, we can have ultimate confidence in Him (verse 18):

So, Abraham was secure because of the person of God. He can’t lie. He can’t back out of His promises. You can trust God. And God will never fail because He has no capacity for failure in His nature.

The author of Hebrews chooses to discuss Abraham because he wants all of his audience to truly believe and affirm that Jesus Christ is the ultimate and sufficient fulfilment of God’s covenants:

If God says, “You’re safe with me,” then you better be safe with Him, or His word is worth nothing. If His word is worth nothing, then He’s worth nothing. So, the character of God is at stake in the question of security. Can you give your life to God? Take Him at His word? Can He keep you from falling? Can He finish the work He begins in your life? Will He lose you at some point along the line? Is there real security with God? Abraham believed there was. The Bible says there is

And to those Hebrew readers who were unsaved but who believed it and who had listened to it and heard the whole thing and seeing some of the miracles, and they were afraid to let go of Judaism; they were afraid to cast themselves on the Messiah for fear it might not work, to them the Holy Spirit says, “Come on, you can trust God. He says it’ll work.” God can’t lie.

God’s unchanging nature means that our hope in Him through a belief in Jesus Christ should be a ‘sure and steadfast anchor’ for our souls (verse 19). Jesus has entered the Holy of Holies — ‘the inner place behind the curtain’ — for us. He is a high priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek, the first high priest (verse 20).

MacArthur explains those verses:

You say, “What is that hope that is set before us?”

Well, listen to what I think it is just quickly. 1 Timothy 1:1 says this – I love it – “The Lord Jesus Christ, who is our” – what? – “hope.” What is that hope set before us? It’s none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. Then in Colossians chapter 1, it says that that hope is the Gospel and all that’s involved in salvation. That’s all He’s saying. He’s saying, “There’s salvation. If you’re ever going to know if God can be trusted, if you’re ever going to know whether He’s worth His word, you’re going to have to run to Jesus Christ, embrace the Gospel, and then God’ll give you that strong confidence to know He can hang on.” You can trust God. And the only way you’ll ever know it is if you flee to Him and embrace Jesus Christ.

God gave Abraham the security of His person and His purpose and His pledge. And He gives it to you. One other thing, and this is the glorious conclusion, His Priest. To the New Testament covenant, God added yet another pledge and another security, Jesus Christ. Look at verse 19, oh this is beautiful language. We could spend weeks just talking about this. “Which hope” – that is Christ and all the salvation that’s in Him – “we have as an anchor of the soul” – beautiful words – “both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; where the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus” – we’ll stop there.

You say, “That’s kind of tangled up; I’m not sure I get that.”

Well, let me tell you what it’s saying. He’s saying we have one other security, beloved, we’ve got an anchor. We’ve got an anchor for our soul. Your soul, when you come to God, isn’t drifting anymore; it’s anchored.

You say, “Well, where is my soul anchored?”

It says right there the anchor is sure and steadfast, and it’s inside the veil.

You say, “What veil? What does that mean?”

You remember, if you know anything about the Old Testament, what it means. In the temple, the most sacred place was called the Holy of Holies. Right? And in the Holy of Holies, the ark of the covenant, the glory of God. And only once a year, on the day of atonement, the high priest could go in there. Right? And he had to get in and get out fast. He couldn’t linger there. That was the place where God dwelt. And the high priest could go in there; no man could go in there. That was the stay-away thing. Nobody went near that.

But our Great High Priest Jesus Christ performed the perfect sacrifice, and He entered into the heavenly Holy of Holies. And when He went in there, He didn’t just stand around and leave, the Bible says He went in and – did what? – sat down. Jesus finished the job. The veil was ripped open, and He left, as the writer of Hebrews says, “A new and living way into the presence of God.” Oh, fantastic.

Jesus opened the way, and when I put my faith in Him, I throw my anchor, and it goes clear to heaven, and it anchors to Him within the veil of the Holy of Holies. That’s security, my friend. That’s security. I’m tied to Jesus within the veil. Nothing can ever violate that. Oh, what a security. You think anybody can go in there and cut that rope? I’m anchored to Jesus Christ inside the veil in God’s presence. That’s security.

Jesus Christ the forerunner went in, verse 20, and He was a new kind of High Priest like Melchizedek, and we’ll get into that next time. He went in there, and when I put my faith in Him, I threw my anchor; it went in the veil, and He holds it in His hand, and He’ll never let go. And I’m anchored to Jesus Christ. Oh, what a fantastic thought.

You say, “Well, how long are you anchored there?”

Catch it, oh, it’s good, verse 20, “Where the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made a High Priest” – for how long? – “forever.” Forever. There never was such a high priest like that. Forever. I’m anchored to God forever.

My dear friend, our security is in the person of God, the purpose of God, the pledge of God, and the Priest of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. He loses none of His own. Read it yourself in the Gospel of John chapter 6, “He loses none of His own.” Can you trust God?

I really believe that if more churches had a lecture series on the Book of Hebrews, Christians would get more deeply involved with their faith.

I have read this book four times, and now I am reading it again. Each time, I understand something new — and glorious. It makes me so happy and grateful for Jesus, our Great High Priest.

More on Melchizedek — and Abraham — will follow.

Next time — Hebrews 7:1-3