by Matthew W. Bassford
In addition to the other things that make Hebrews challenging for us to follow, the writer assumes that his readership is familiar with the Old Testament. He jumps from allusion to allusion, rarely pausing to explain his references to the Law with more than a phrase or two. However, because our Old-Testament knowledge is rarely the equal of a first-century Jew’s, it’s often worthwhile for us to slow down, flip back to the front part of our Bibles, and figure out what in the world the writer is talking about!
This is certainly useful in Hebrews 6:13-18. The conclusion here is relevant to every Christian—that we should have strong encouragement to seize the hope that is before us. However, the discussion before the conclusion omits the information we need to reach that conclusion. In order to figure out what’s going on, we have to go back to the incident he is discussing, the conversation between God and Abraham in Genesis 22:15-18.
Contextually, Abraham has just won God’s favor by demonstrating his willingness even to sacrifice his own son if God commands him to do so. Now, He is about to explain what this means for Abraham. God begins by swearing an oath by Himself. This is not usual; in fact, there are only three places in the whole Bible where God swears an oath by Himself. Then, He tells Abraham, “I will indeed bless you.”
This is what the writer is talking about in Hebrews 6:17. “I will indeed bless you,” is God’s unchangeable purpose. “By Myself I have sworn,” is the oath He used to guarantee His promise. As the writer observes in Hebrews 6:18, it’s impossible for God to lie in either of these things, which is where the strong encouragement comes from.
However, the writer does not explain (because he expects his audience to know already) what an ironclad promise that God made to bless Abraham has to do with us. If we can’t fill in that blank on our own, we have to go back to Genesis 22:17-18. There, God specifies that His blessing will take two forms. First, Abraham’s offspring will be as numerous as the stars and the sand. Second, through his seed (singular, not plural, as Paul notes in Galatians 3:16), all the nations of the earth will be blessed.
Now we start seeing why this is relevant! According to Galatians 3:7-9, everyone who has faith is a descendant of Abraham, whether they are Jew or Gentile. Second, as per Galatians 3:16, the singular seed of blessing is Jesus.
Thus, God’s unchangeable purpose and oath have done two things. First, they have prepared a special people for Him, a people that comprises everyone who seeks Him in faith. Second, those two unchangeable things guarantee that those who seek will find blessing in Him through Christ.
Ever wonder if you really, really are going to inherit eternal life because you are faithful? You don’t have to wonder. God has both pledged and sworn it by Himself, and for us, that is strong encouragement indeed!