Morning Musing: Hebrews 10:35-39

“So don’t throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you need endurance, so that after you have done God’s will, you may receive what was promised. For yet in a ‘very little while, the Coming One will come and not delay.’ ‘But my righteous one will live by faith; and if he draws back, I have no pleasure in him.’ But we are not those who draw back and are destroyed, but those who have faith and are saved.” (CSB – Read the chapter)

Have you ever missed your chance? If you have, think about that moment for a bit. What was the opportunity, and why did you miss it? Were you late for it? Did someone else snatch it from you? Or was the loss a matter of patience? There are not a few opportunities lost to a lack of patience. We want things on our timetable, but that’s not always or even often the timetable on which they operate. If we demand ours anyway, we’re setting ourselves up to miss out on a lot. As chapter 10 comes to a close, the author calls us to stick with following Jesus, even when it gets long and hard, so we don’t miss out on the best part. Let’s talk about it.

In spite of the encouragement we talked through yesterday, the author of Hebrews wraps up his long argument about the superiority of the new covenant to the old with a pretty in-your-face challenge. He calls us to draw near to God in Christ and to stick together while we do it. He warns us of the danger of only flirting with the truth instead of fully embracing it. He exhorts us to remember the object of our aim, namely, the coming kingdom of God. This vision of the good ahead of us has the power to sustain us when the going gets particularly tough. And in light of the fact that the going does indeed get particularly tough from time to time, he closes the chapter here with a call to press on in spite of the challenges.

Yet this call is not the gentle encouragement we might expect at this point. These are the words of a football coach telling his players to get up, walk off the pain of a big hit, and to get back out there and win. To play a bit into stereotypes that exist for good reason, there are times when the Scriptures are very motherly in their approach to followers of Jesus struggling to live out their faith consistently and well. The words are tender and gentle and loving in tone. Then there are places like this where the tone becomes a bit more fatherly. These words don’t ring so much with “Oh, Honey, it’ll be okay. Try again if you can,” as they do with, “Suck it up, Buttercup. You knew this was going to be tough when you started, and now it is. Get up and let’s keep rolling.”

This is not, however, an unfounded challenge. All of this is rooted in the hope and help we have in Christ. Out of the gate here, the author is pointing us back to vv. 19-21. “Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus – he has inaugurated for us a new and living way through the curtain (that is, through his flesh) – and since we have a great high priest over the house of God…” He’s saying, “Don’t forget about the confidence you rightly have because of that.” Don’t throw it away. There is a great reward in this confidence. But you are going to need endurance in it because things are going to get hard. Yet when you endure, the reward God has promised in Christ will be yours.

The author then goes on to cite two different old covenant passages, one from Isaiah and one from Habakkuk. And, honestly, these two quotes have given me some trouble. The trouble has come in the fact that if you go in your Bible right now and look up the two references, you are not going to find these exact verses there. I had a suspicion of why this was the case, but it took reading through several different commentaries in my office before I found confirmation of what I thought. The author is quoting from the Septuagint, not the Masoretic text (or whatever other Hebrew version of the Old Testament was available at the time).

The Septuagint was the first major Greek translation of the original Hebrew Old Testament. And while it is overwhelmingly the same, there are a few places where the wording of a passage is a bit different from one to the other, or even where the Septuagint reading is longer than the original. Today, one of the guiding principles scholars use when examining various ancient copies we have of the New Testament is that when there is a discrepancy between two of them, the one that is older and shorter gets the nod in terms of accuracy to the original autographs which we no longer have. It would be an interesting question to study how the view of Scripture has developed over the centuries in the sense that something we would today not consider part of the inerrant body of writing we call the Scriptures was quoted in another part of the Scriptures and in this other location is considered inerrant. I do not for a second think this means we need to abandon the traditional doctrine of inerrancy. But I do think it means we need to approach it with perhaps a bit more humility than those who hold to it sometimes do.

In any event, once I settled that question, I could focus more freely on the words of the quotes from Isaiah and Habakkuk themselves. Both quotes are intended to support the author’s charge to persevere. We persevere because (from Isaiah) at some point Jesus is going to return. There will be an end to all of the hardship and heartache we experience as followers of Jesus. There’s a small bit of comfort there, yes, but with the passage from Habakkuk, the comfort quickly becomes another challenge. We need to persevere, but the person who is rightly related to God and people (that is, the “righteous one”) is going to live by faith. But if we abandon that faith and fail to persevere, “I have no pleasure in him.” That is, God’s not looking for folks who only make it halfway and then quit when things get hard. Those folks never really trusted Him in the first place. This lack of trust was simply finally revealed by their failing to persevere. Instead, God is looking for folks who are willing to trust Him and keep trusting Him (which is demonstrated by their obedience to His commands) no matter what challenges happen to crop up along the way.

To come back around to where we started a little while ago, then, we don’t want to miss our chance when it comes to the kingdom of God. We don’t want to miss it regardless of what the exact reason for our missing it may be. This is an opportunity that is simply too good to pass up. The chance we have before us is not merely about making our lives easier or living in greater harmony with the people around us. What we are talking about here is eternal life in the kingdom of God. Given that the alternative is eternal death in the agony and darkness of Hell, the choice seems pretty stark. We’re not doing any of this primarily because of what we get in this world (although the taste of the kingdom of God we do receive in this world is more than enough to make it worthwhile). We are doing it because of what we have coming in the next. This perseverance, this endurance, is the ultimate investment in our future.

The question, then, we must answer is put on display in the statement the author makes to close the chapter. Are you one who draws back and will be finally destroyed, or are you one who has faith and will be saved? Before you go thinking you’re the only one making that decision, or that your situation is uniquely challenging, though, hold that thought. As we get into chapter 11 next week, Lord willing, we are going to get treated to an incredible reminder that we are not alone. Those who choose the path of faith and faithfulness are part of a long line of people who have courageously paved it for us. You won’t want to miss the next part of our journey.

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