Pastor David B. Curtis

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The Encouragement of God's Promise and Oath

Hebrews 6:13-20

Delivered 03/11/2001

This morning we conclude the third warning passage in the book of Hebrews. This warning passage started in 5:11. In 5:10, he had just mentioned that Jesus was a priest after the order of Melchisedek. After mentioning Melchisedek, he launches into this warning exhorting them not to be dull of hearing. The beginning of this section contained strong warnings about the dangers of apostasy. The readers have had it made clear to them that they must make progress along the Christian way or suffer disaster. There are no other possibilities. To remain a baby is very dangerous and could lead to apostasy and judgement.

Now the writer goes on to indicate that he has confidence in them. He has felt it necessary to warn them, but he doesn't really think they will fall away. So he speaks encouragingly and warmly, at the same time using the occasion to exhort them to go forward. In our last study we ended with verse 12, which says:

Hebrews 6:12 (NKJV) that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

"Who through faith and patience inherit the promises" - I think that the writer is saying to these first century saints, "Beloved, I'm convinced that you'll be like the land of verse 7 and will bring forth fruit. But you must keep your hope in view and don't become slothful, be diligent, keep pressing on to the end that you may inherit the promises." The promises that they were to inherit were those of the New Covenant. "Promise" is a key word in Hebrews and is inseparably related to the author's concept of inheritance. Hebrews constantly uses the idea of inheritance of something yet unrealized. The first century readers had not yet inherited the promises, but they were to be realized very soon.

Hebrews 10:36-37 (NKJV) For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: 37 "For yet a little while, And He who is coming will come and will not tarry.

Verses 13 -20 of chapter six set before the readers the infallible and immutable grounds on which their hope of inheritance rests. What are those grounds? God's word confirmed by His oath! God's purpose in this text is to press upon our minds and hearts his desire and purpose for us to have "strong encouragement" to hold on to our hope in him and not to drift away from Him.

Let's move on to:

Hebrews 6:13 (NKJV) For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself,

Notice that the paragraph begins with "for" or "because." The writer is giving support for what went just before, namely, verses 11-12. Verse 13 ties directly to what the writer has just said in verse 12. He begins "For when God made a promise...." They are inheriting the promise "through faith and patience" (verse 12).

Let's remind ourselves what he said there:

Hebrews 6:11-12 (NKJV) And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

So the aim of verses 11-12 was the same as it is here: God wants you to have the full assurance of hope - not a weak and flimsy hope, but a strong, full, confident hope - lest you become "sluggish" or "dull" and turn from the Christian walk. That's the danger this book warns against over and over. Don't be sluggish in the way you fight to keep your Christian walk strong. Drifting in the Christian life is deadly. Little by little the Christian hope of glory, the greatness of eternal life with God, the preciousness of rescue from hell, the forgiveness of sins, and the pleasures at God's right hand - little by little all this can begin to fade if we become sluggish.

God is working to keep that from happening for the heirs of the promise. That's what verses 13-20 talk about. It's all about the "strong encouragement" he wants us to have this morning to lay hold on hope and not grow sluggish.

So, let's look at what God has done to give you strong encouragement this morning.

Hebrews 6:13 (NKJV) For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself,

Of those whose lives are to be imitated (6:12), Abraham, in particular, is singled out here. God made a promise to Abraham. Remember "promise" in Hebrews is related to inheritance. God made a promise to Abraham, and he bound himself to it with an oath.

Hebrews 6:14 (NKJV) saying, "Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you."

This is a quotation from:

Genesis 22:16-17 (NKJV) and said: "By Myself I have sworn, says the LORD, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son; 17 "blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies.

This is the climax of the story of the offering of Isaac; Abraham's most famous test. Abraham was 75 years old when he first received the promise of the land, a great posterity, and that all the families of the earth would be blessed through him.

Let's review the history of Abraham:

Genesis 12:1-3 (NKJV) Now the LORD had said to Abram: "Get out of your country, From your family And from your father's house, To a land that I will show you. 2 I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."

Please note that it is through Abraham that all the families of the earth will be blessed.

Genesis 12:7 (NKJV) Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, "To your descendants I will give this land." And there he built an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him.

God repeated the promise after Abraham and Lot separated:

Genesis 13:14-16 (NKJV) And the LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him: "Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are; northward, southward, eastward, and westward; 15 "for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever. 16 "And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered.

Some years later, Abraham wanted to make Eliezer of Damascus his heir, because God still had not given Abraham a son. In Genesis 15, God told Abraham that the heir would come from his own bowels, and that his decedents would be as numerous as the stars in the sky:

Genesis 15:4-6 (NKJV) And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, "This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir." 5 Then He brought him outside and said, "Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them." And He said to him, "So shall your descendants be." 6 And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.

When Abraham was 86 Ishmael was born of Hagar, but God told him that Isaac, not Ishmael, was the fulfillment of the covenant promise:

Genesis 17:18-21 (NKJV) And Abraham said to God, "Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!" 19 Then God said: "No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him. 20 "And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. 21 "But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this set time next year."

Isaac was born when Abraham was 100 years old:

Genesis 21:1-5 (NKJV) And the LORD visited Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as He had spoken. 2 For Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. 3 And Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him; whom Sarah bore to him; Isaac. 4 Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. 5 Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.

Abraham put his hope in God and trusted that God would keep his promise to make Abraham into a great nation. He waited 25 years for God to fulfill that promise.

Romans 4:18-21 (NKJV) who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, "So shall your descendants be." 19 And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah's womb. 20 He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform.

This is probably the clearest definition of strong faith that we have in the Bible. Abraham was "fully assured" that God would do what He promised. Abraham, after considering his age, and the inability of Sarah to bear children, was still completely convinced that God would do what He promised.

Then God calls Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac:

Genesis 22:1-2 (NKJV) Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." 2 Then He said, "Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you."

The patriarch's trust in the integrity of God and his promise could not have been put to a more severe test. The fulfillment of the covenant which God had made with him depended on the life and the line of Isaac, and the instruction to slay his son had the appearance of the failure of the Divine word. Abraham obeyed God without question:

Genesis 22:3 (NKJV) So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.
Genesis 22:9-10 (NKJV) Then they came to the place of which God had told him. And Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. 10 And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.
Genesis 22:12 (NKJV) And He said, "Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me."
Genesis 22:16-18 (NKJV) and said: "By Myself I have sworn, says the LORD, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son; 17 "blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. 18 "In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice."

These are the verses quoted in Hebrews 6. Notice verse 16 - God swears with an oath and says, "Because you have done this thing" - because of Abraham's faith. The phrase found in verse 17, "blessing I will bless you" is a Hebrew mode of expression to denote emphasis or certainty - indicated by the repetition of a word. Then he says, "And" (to these promises now was added), "your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies." Since the gate was the key point in the question of control of a city, "to posses the gate" was the equivalent of ruling the city, having dominion. Thus the blessing that the promise envisaged was future dominion of Abraham's descendants. This was to be realized in the "age to come" - which is the New Covenant age that we now live in.

The writer of Hebrews saw two things in this Old Testament text: he saw a promise, and he saw an oath. The promise was that Abraham would be blessed and that his descendants would multiply, and that they would be triumphant over their enemies. And the oath was in the words, "By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord." So God promises, and he takes an oath. Now this sets the writer to thinking about all the encouragement for hope there is in this Old Testament text.

Let me ask you a question, "Should we, twenty first century Gentile believers, be encouraged by this promise and oath made to Abraham and his descendants? Yes, we should. Let me give you several reasons why:

1. Genesis teaches that Abraham is going to become the father of "many" nations:

Genesis 17:4 (NKJV) "As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations.

So, way back in Genesis there was the concept of descendants of Abraham that were not Jews.

2. Romans 2:28-29 teaches that in the New Covenant it is not physical descent that matters but spiritual descent by faith:

Romans 2:28-29 (NKJV) For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; 29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.
Galatians 3:6-7 (NKJV) just as Abraham "believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." 7 Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.

In other words, being a physical descendant does not guarantee anything if faith is missing. This suggests that what it takes to qualify as a descendant of Abraham and an heir of the promise is not the ethnicity of Abraham but the faith of Abraham.

3. The context of Genesis 22, where the promise and the oath were made, supports the fact that they were made in direct response to Abraham's obedience of faith in offering Isaac (Hebrews 11:17). "Because you have done this, I will bless you." In other words, the essence of the qualification for this promise and oath in Genesis 22:16-17 is not Abraham's Jewishness but Abraham's faith; which is exactly what the present context of Hebrews 6:12 implies. It is by "faith" that we inherit the promises, not ethnic Jewishness.

So, it doesn't matter this morning whether you are Jew or Gentile. It doesn't matter what ethnic background you have. What inherits the promise of Abraham is faith.

Hebrews 11:17 (NKJV) By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,

Continuing to speak of Abraham, the writer says:

Hebrews 6:15 (NKJV) And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.

The words "patiently endured" are from the Greek word makrothumeo, which is related to the noun makrothumia, in Hebrews 6:12. It refers to the ability to hold one's feelings in restraint without retaliation against others.

I believe the "patient endurance" refers to the whole course of Abraham's life and not just to his patience in the test of offering Isaac. Remember, Abraham waited 25 years before the promise of God was realized. Most of us become impatient when we do not see fulfillment of our prayers within a week. But Abraham did not waiver in his belief for a quarter of a century. We need to live like Abraham today as well. Often, when things do not go the way we want them to go, we say "I know God says this, BUT... ." We must remember that God's promises are sure, and He will fulfill them in His time, not in our time.

Some have said that 6:15 is a contradiction to Hebrews 11:13 which states:

Hebrews 11:13 (NKJV) These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

But as always, these "contradictions" are only misinterpretations. God is the author of the Bible, from beginning to end, and He does not contradict Himself. Hebrews 11:13 is referring to the fact that Abraham died before he saw the spiritual fulfillment of the promises. Abraham saw the physical fulfillment of the promises which were a type. A "type" in the Bible is a picture or a shadow of something that is to come. It is something physical in nature that is depicting something greater that is to come that may be spiritual.

Let me ask you a question. "Did God keep his promise to the physical seed of Abraham? Did they ever become as many as the sand on the seashore and the stars of heaven (Genesis 22:17); that is, so great as to be almost innumerable?" Yes! Notice what is said in 1 Kings, speaking of the golden age when Solomon was the king:

1 Kings 4:20 (NKJV) Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand by the sea in multitude, eating and drinking and rejoicing.

There was a literal promise given to Abraham and there was a literal fulfillment of this promise. Now, that literal promise of God is a type pointing to something that was yet to come. The physical seed in the Old Covenant became the spiritual seed in the New Covenant. The Hebrew believers were awaiting the fulfillment of the spiritual promises - the full blessing of the New Covenant.

Abraham is a man that they, and we, should imitate.

Hebrews 6:16 (NKJV) For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute.

The importance of the oath is now brought out. This verse affirms the value of an oath in human affairs. So great is the general unreliability of human utterance that the use of an oath has become common practice when a statement or promise is made which is intended to be absolutely firm and binding. When disputes arise, that is, when the reliability of one person's word is questioned by another, an oath is accepted as final for confirmation. Oaths were very common to the Jews.

Have you ever tried to make someone believe what you said by using an oath? We say things like; "I swear to God" or "I swear on a stack of Bibles" or, how about when you were a child you would say, "Cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye." Making promises and wanting people to believe that we were really telling the truth sometimes demands that we swear, because they were not used to us telling the truth.

All of this is because of our sinfulness, men shade the truth and falsify the facts. A person's word today can seldom be his bond. Lying has all but become the norm in much of society.

Our text says, "Men indeed swear by the greater" - we strengthen our word by swearing by some higher authority. There are three functions of an oath: 1. To attest to the truth. 2. To call God to witness. 3. To invoke God's punishment should you break it.

When someone says, "I swear to God", what they mean is, "I'm telling the truth, I'm calling on God as a witness, I'm invoking punishment should I break it." Oaths are very common among men, but look at verse 17. Here we move from human oaths to God taking an oath:

Hebrews 6:17 (NKJV) Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath,

This affirms that the oath is used by God to indicate His immutable counsel to the heir of this promise. In light of verse 12, this must be those who follow Abraham's example of faith. As Abraham trusted God, so must they that the promise may be theirs. If they imitate the example of Abraham, the promise is guaranteed by the oath of God. Their eschatological hope was sure, it was not to be doubted.

The text says, "...confirmed it by an oath". Since there is no higher authority, verse 13 says that he "He swore by Himself". Why did God make an oath? His word is truth. God was willing to make an oath, not because he needed to, but because he knew how men depended upon it. It is a display of condescending grace.

The word "confirmed" is the Greek word mesiteuo, which has the idea of: "mediate" which often means: "to interpose, stand between", but here the idea is rather that of "stand as guarantor". God says, "I promised it, and I stand behind my promise - you can count on it."

For whom does God do this? "...to show the heirs of the promise... ." The proof of God's fulfillment of His promises is given to believers. Why do we need it? Because sometimes we get shaken in our faith. We need to be reassured that God always does what He says He will do.

Why did he add an oath to a promise? He certainly did not have to in order to establish his word. Why, then? The answer is given in:

Hebrews 6:18 (NKJV) that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.

He did it to show how much encouragement of hope he wants us to have. God is passionate about our being people who have an unshakable hope. He insists that we be people of confident hope, not of worry and uncertainty. He wants us to think about the future, and to be totally confident and assured about how it will turn out. That's what this text is about.

God, then, guaranteed his trustworthiness through two immutable or unchangeable things: His word of promise and his oath in conformation of that word.

"It is impossible for God to lie" - God is a God of truth and His word is truth:

John 17:17 (NKJV) "Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.

Why does He want us to know that He cannot lie? "In order that...we may have strong encouragement." God wants us to be so sure about His promises that we will be encouraged - this is why He made both a promise and an oath. This assurance is a strong consolation to those who have fled to seize this hope set before them. The word "consolation" is from the Greek word paraklesis, which we looked at in our last study. It means: "comfort, encouragement, exhortation." God's promise and oath are a strong encouragement to those who have fled to seize this hope. This encouragement alludes to the trials which, like Abraham, the heirs of promise are called to endure:

Hebrews 10:32-36 (NKJV) But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings: 33 partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated; 34 for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven. 35 Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise:

The "hope" that our writer mentions in verse 18 is their eschatological hope of inheritance and dominion. To flee to seize this hope is to enter boldly into the Holy of Holies to get help through our High Priest:

Hebrews 4:16 (NKJV) Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

They were to seize this hope by enduring, and they were to do that by keeping their eyes on Jesus and trusting in His power:

Hebrews 12:1-2 (NKJV) Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Verse 18 goes on to say, "...who have fled for refuge...." - this is the Greek word katapheugo. It is used in the LXX of the slayer who unintentionally killed his neighbor, and who, to escape the avenger, flees for refuge to one of the cities of refuge. Three cities or refuge were appointed in Cannan on the west side of the Jordon and three on the East side.

Numbers 35:9-14 (NKJV) Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 10 "Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: 'When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, 11 'then you shall appoint cities to be cities of refuge for you, that the manslayer who kills any person accidentally may flee there. 12 'They shall be cities of refuge for you from the avenger, that the manslayer may not die until he stands before the congregation in judgment. 13 'And of the cities which you give, you shall have six cities of refuge. 14 'You shall appoint three cities on this side of the Jordan, and three cities you shall appoint in the land of Canaan, which will be cities of refuge.

God would see to it that the man who fled for refuge obtained that safe refuge.

The Lord Jesus Christ is our refuge, and we are to flee to Him, and as we do, He gives us grace to help in time of need. God's promise and oath of inheritance to those of faith gives us a strong encouragement.

I may be taking this too far, but the city of refuge was for those who killed someone unintentionally, and, according to Hebrews 5:2, our High Priest has compassion on those who sin unintentionally, not willfully sin. The provision of High Priest is not for those trying to get away with wilful sin, but for those who are week and need his strength.

Hebrews 6:19 (NKJV) This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil,

This hope of inheritance is an anchor for the life. The early church used the symbol of an anchor to refer to the Christian hope. It was just as common in the early church as was the sign of the fish. The sign of the anchor has been found carved into the walls of numerous caves in Jerusalem and that part of the world, it was designed to be an encouragement to the Christians who were suffering martyrdom, and who were being oppressed. They would see the anchor, and their thoughts would turn to this passage and the teaching that it contained. The hope of inheritance accomplishes for the soul the same thing which an anchor does for a ship. It holds it secure in the midst of storms. In the tempest and trials of life we are held secure by our hope.

In order to be "steadfast" and hold a vessel steady, an anchor must be tied to something immovable outside of the ship itself. A believer, like a sailing vessel, has an unbreakable, immovable anchor tied to his soul that gives him stability and security for his life - Jesus Christ. What an encouragement!

Where is this anchor secured? The writer says "...within the veil." Now, for the Jew, this phrase conjures up pictures of the Tabernacle, or temple, with the outer court, the Holy Place, and then there is the Holy of Holies within the veil, where the very presence of God was manifested. What the writer is telling us is that our hope, our anchor, is secured in the presence of God, because Jesus has already gone and sat down at the right hand of God. This is the same idea that is repeated time and again in Ephesians; we have been seated with Christ in the heavenlies.

Hebrews 6:20 (NKJV) where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.

This is where Jesus has gone as a forerunner for us (which means we will enter with him someday). And he has gone as a high priest. Not in the order of Aaron and Levi - who (1) had to offer sacrifices for themselves and for the people (5:3; 7:27), and (2) who died and had to be replaced year by year (7:23), and (3) who offered the blood of bulls and goats which could never take away sins (10:4). But Jesus entered into the holy of holies once for all with his own infinitely precious blood and his own indestructible life so that his atoning work for us is perfect and lasts for ever. This is what verse 20 means when it says that Jesus "has become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek."

To call Jesus our forerunner implies that we will follow. He has led the way to victory and dominion.

The promise of inheritance was a tremendous encouragement to the New Testament believers - it was their hope. Our hope is heaven and we have God's word on that also. Our hope of heaven is our anchor in the midst of every storm. In 1934, when twenty-eight-year-old John Stam, missionary to China, was being led away to execution by the communists with his wife Betty, someone on the road asked, "Where are you going?" John laid hold on the hope set before him and said, "We are going to heaven."

Chapter six closes with these words, "Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek." With these words the author comes back to the point from which he digressed in 5:11; now he will go on to say what he has to say about the Melchizedian priesthood of Jesus Christ - hard of interpretation though it may be, in order that his readers may be educated to the maturity of faith and life.

The theme of this third warning passage is: the danger of defection must be avoided by persevering progress toward spiritual maturity. To encourage them in this pursuit, he reminds them of God's promise and oath. Believers, we are secure, heaven is our hope. Let us ever keep that hope in mind and walk in faithfulness.

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