“For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater to swear by, he swore by himself: I will indeed bless you, and I will greatly multiply you. And so, after waiting patiently, Abraham obtained the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves, and for them a confirming oath ends every dispute. Because God wanted to show his unchangeable purpose even more clearly to the heirs of the promise, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that through two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to seize the hope set before us.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Why do we trust in God? Have you ever really thought about that? Why would anyone place their trust in a God they cannot see? What motivates such a decision? At the end of the previous section of Hebrews, the author encouraged his readers to be counted among those who will inherit God’s promises with faith and perseverance. But why would we do such a thing? How can we trust these promises? That’s what the author endeavors to unpack in this next section. This is important stuff, but hang on tight because it gets thick as we go. Let’s talk about God’s promises and why we trust them.
In the last section of Hebrews (which feels like something we talked about ages ago), the author talked about our inheriting the promises of God in Christ with “faith and perseverance.” But just what are those promises? Having spent as much time as he has (and will yet spend) showing why Jesus is better than the Law, he’s not about to point to God’s promises in the Law as the answer to that question.
And indeed, he does not. Instead, following on a line of argument Paul used, he looks back even further than that to God’s promise to Abraham. Specifically, he looks back to God’s promise to bless Abraham and to make a great nation out of him. Because that promise was rooted in God’s grace and Abraham’s faith, both the author of Hebrews and Paul point back to that as the promise of which we are a part as followers of Jesus.
Yet when God originally made this promise to Abraham, what was it that led Abraham to trust Him? Have you ever thought about that one? I mean, given the amount of context we are given, it seems like God came to Abraham from out of nowhere, called him to this crazy adventure, and Abraham simply dropped everything and went. While I suspect Abraham had more of a context with God than the story suggests (for instance, the stories of the flood and the faithfulness to God that preserved his family line through it was probably a commonly told story around their campfires in the evenings), his faith and faithfulness were nonetheless exemplary. But still, what was it about God that made him trust and continue trusting over the long years he lived before seeing even a glimpse of its fulfillment?
The author of Hebrews here points to two things which he describes as changeable. A simple reading of the text, though, doesn’t exactly make clear what these are. You have to do a bit of reading between the lines for this.
Let’s start in v 16 to see this. The author says, “people swear by something greater than themselves, and for them a confirming oath ends every dispute.” He was pointing here to what was common practice in that culture and to what isn’t so uncommon for us. When we are afraid our words aren’t going to be trusted, what phrase do we add to the end of our statements to make them sound more believable? “I swear!” But that doesn’t carry but so much weight. If our word isn’t good, assuring it with an oath rooted in those untrustworthy words won’t do much. So, to add a little punch to the point, we’ll say, “I swear to God.” Now we have sworn by something greater than ourselves. We’re holding not our character as collateral for our words, but God’s.
We are in effect saying, “As long as God’s character can be trusted, so also can my words.” (Now, this ignores Jesus’ admonition that we should be so known for our honesty that our word alone is enough, but that’s another conversation for another time.) In the same sort of way, if we are in some kind of a dispute with another person, backing our point with an oath in God’s name is often what we will turn to in order to strengthen our case.
Now, as a matter of record, God doesn’t need to do anything like this when it comes to His words. He is the source of all truth and so His words are always true. That is simply the nature of His character. When it comes to communicating with us, though, God is incredibly humble. He regularly and willingly communicates with us not as would be His right as God, but on a level that we can more easily understand and comprehend. He by no means has to do something like that, but His love for us and desire to be understood by us is so great that He does it anyway.
In this case, when God was making, affirming, and reaffirming His promise to Abraham, He swore an oath to him. That’s one of the unchangeable things here—His word. The other is His character in which that word is rooted. God’s character does not change. Because of that, we can trust Him. So, the promise to Abraham in which we who follow Jesus now participate by faith, is rooted in two changeable things: God’s character and God’s word. There is nothing stronger than this meaning we can trust in it absolutely.
Because we can trust so explicitly in God’s promise, we can confidently seize the hope it offers. God in Christ offers us this incredible hope of a relationship with Him. He offers us the hope of blessing and life in abundance. He offers the hope of the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life. It is the hope that the current state of the world will not be its final form. This is a potent hope, and one we dare not trust in unless we are sure of its truthfulness because the potential for epic embarrassment should it prove false is beyond imagining. For us to give ourselves to this, strive with help to live up to its high demands, and then have it prove false would mean we have wasted our lives entirely. We have missed out on much we could have otherwise enjoyed for no reason. As the apostle Paul put it, we of all people would be deserving of the greatest pity—and ridicule.
But we have this promise, this rock solid promise, that we can trust in with absolute confidence that it will never prove false. Until and unless God’s own character fails, this promise will remain firm. We can seize this hope and let it shape our lives. We can reevaluate everything we do, think, and say through this new lens. We can give ourselves to it entirely and without fear. It will not bend. It will not break. It will not even buckle. When you flee from the world to Him in order to find refuge, you will not ever come to regret that decision. Your hope is secure. Hold it and don’t let go.