THE OATH OF GOD
And the angel of the Lord called unto Abraham a second time out of heaven,16 and said, "ĎBy myself have I sworn,í saith the Lord, Ďbecause thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld your son, your only son, 17 that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens, and as the sand which is upon the seashore. And your seed shall possess the gate of his enemies. (Genesis 22:15-17).
Promises. It is a fascinating commentary on the human race that the idea of a promise has come into being, What is a promise? It is an assurance that you give to another that the thing which you say will be true. The reason that this is so interesting is that it implies that there might be other things which are said by you that do not have that same standard of truth.
In the secular world, we write contracts so that the promises which we make will be even more secure.
In the courtroom we swear an oath that what we say will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
The Bible teaches us that God has promised certain things to men. Godís words have always been true. He does not tell lies. One of His titles is "The Non-lying God" (Titus 1:2). One of the things that distinguishes Him from all of the false gods is that He is the God who cannot lie.
God does not lie. In spite of this fact, God has made promises to man. Possible the most vivid example of this is seen in the covenant that God established with Abraham.
And Abram said, "O Lord God, what wilt Thou give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?"
And Abram said, "Since Thou hast given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir."
Then behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, "This man shall not be your heir; but one who shall come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir." (Genesis 15:2-4).
Abram has a problem. God has told him that he would have a son, but as time passes and Abram grows older and older, he still does not have a son. Abram has already written a will and he has made his chief steward, Eliezer of Damascus, the heir to his fortune.
But now God speaks to Abram and promises that he will be given a son of his own. What is the reaction of Abram to this promise? It is a two-fold reaction:
1. Abraham Believes the Promises of God.
Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6).
Abram responded in faith. He believed that he would be given a son. He also believed that God would give him and his descendants the land as their possession. But that is not all. Abram also went on to ask the Lord for some sort of assurance that the promise would be fulfilled.
2. Abraham Asked for Assurance.
And he said, "O Lord God, how may I know that I shall possess it?" (Genesis 15:8).
Abram believed the promises of God, but he also asked the Lord to give him a source of assurance on which to base that belief. He said, "I believe, but help me to have an assurance in that belief." God answered that prayer by going through the legal formality of a covenant.
So He said to him, "Bring Me a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon."
Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, and laid each half opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds. (Genesis 15:9-10).
In the ancient world, when two kings wanted to enter into a legally binding contract, they went through the formal ceremony of a Suzerain treaty. They would take several animals and kill them and then cut the carcasses of the death animals into two parts. The parts would be separated so that they formed two rows of bodies.
Now the two kings who were binding themselves to the treaty would walk arm in arm down the row formed by the bodies of the animals. As they passed between the carcasses, they would recite the terms of the covenant.
The implication of this formality was that, if either party were to break the terms of the treaty, then might his own body be torn apart in the same way that these animals had been killed and torn apart.
Here is the point. God made a promise. And God doesnít break His promises. As we come to this section of the Epistle to the Hebrews, the writer directs our attention to the fact that God has not only made a promise, but has bound Himself to that promise with an oath.
THE EXAMPLE OF GODíS PROMISE TO ABRAHAM
For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself,14 saying, "I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply you."
And thus, having patiently waited, he obtained the promise. (Hebrews 6:13-15).
The writer to the Hebrews takes us back to the days of Abraham. He sets forth the instance when God entered into a covenant with Abraham.
It was a part of the ceremony of the oath to swear by something. The thing by which you would swear would be to most important thing in your life. If, for example, you swore on the life of your son, you were thereby indicating that your sonís life would be forfeit should you fail to keep your promises. But oaths often went deeper than that. Men would also swear by the greatest and most sacred and immoveable object they could imagine.
Jesus warned against the practice of swearing. He pointed out that it is silly to swear by the Temple when you have no control over the Temple. Indeed, even to swear by your own head it an exercise in furtility, since you cannot change your own head (Matthew 5:34-37). The best policy for us is not to swear at all, but to be such people of our word that we do not need to swear.
But the Lord DID enter into an oath. He swore. When He made His covenant with Abraham, He looked about for the very greatest thing by which He could swear. And the greatest and most immoveable thing was Himself. So that is what He did. He swore by Himself.
WHEN GOD SWORE
For men swear by one greater than themselves, and with them an oath given as confirmation is an end of every dispute.
In the same way God, desiring even more to show the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath,18 in order that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have strong encouragement, we who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us. (Hebrews 6:16-18).
When a witness gives his testimony in a court of law, he binds himself to an oath, swearing to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth "so help me God." That kind of testimony is used to determine innocence or guilt is legal matters.
Verse 18 says that God did two things to demonstrate that His promise to Abraham would not be broken.
(1) His non-lying character.
Of course, the problem is that a man is only as good as his word. If he is a liar, then all the promises in the world will not change him into an honest speaker. But when we see God making a promise, it is a promise made by the One who always speaks truth.
(2) His binding oath.
When God wanted to show Abraham the truthfulness of His promise, He went beyond the truthfulness of His character. He bound Himself with an oath. He said, "I swear to God." And in doing so, He was saying that if His word does not come to pass, then may He cease to exist.
There is a place of refuge here for those who are troubled by an uncertain world. This refuge is found inthe hope set before us.
Hope, by its very nature, is unseen. Our generation has a motto: "Seeing is believing." People often are willing to "give Christianity a try" in the same way they would test drive an automobile before buying it. But is Christianity, BELIEVING LEADS TO SEEING. As we shall see in chapter 11, without faith it is impossible to please God.
This is the lesson of Abraham. He believed God, but it was not until much later that he received the fulfillment of the promise of God. Faith comes first; fulfillment comes later. In the meantime, we are called to hold onto our hope.
AN ANCHOR FOR THE SOUL
This hope we have as an anchor of the soul. A hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil,20 where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6:19-20).
In Hebrews 2:1 we saw the danger of drifting. What causes a boat at sea to drift? It is the lack of an anchor. Water is a slippery substance and only when you latch onto something solid can you stop drifting.
Life is also slippery. You try to build a life and it can be like formless jello. My wife once tried to make a triple decker jello mold. She brought it out to our Bible study group and set it on the dining room table. But all of a sudden it began to drop and push out beyond the confines of the plate. She cried out for everyone to grab a spoon in a vain attempt to stop this tidal wave of jello.
We have something that stops the drifting of our soul. It is the hope that we have in Christ. It is the hope which is based in one who has served as our high priest, entering the presence of God.
Notice that Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us. We will all one day have to stand before the Lord to give an account of our lives. But the good news is that Jesus has already gone in our place as our forerunner. He said to His disciples, "I go to prepare a place for you" (John 14:3). He is our trailblazer. He has gone before us so that we can go, too.