13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” 15 And thus Abraham, having patiently endured, obtained the promise. 16 Men indeed swear by a greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. 17 So when God desired to show far more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he interposed with an oath, 18 so that through two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible that God should prove false, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to seize the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner shrine behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.
With this passage, we enter into a very long section of this letter (6:13 through chapter 10!), where the author proceeds to give a very detailed exposition of how, in Jesus our high priest, God has fulfilled His purposes for us to be His children, able fully to participate in His life, glory, and rest. As he unfolds his argument, the author wants his readers to comprehend that their salvation, their place in God’s heart and invitation to draw near to Him, is grounded solely in the complete and faithful work of the triune God. This is why there is no need to “add” to it in any way.
Notice that this section starts with the word “for.” We need to look back to see what the “for” refers to. In the warning section that precedes this one, the author finishes up with these words, “And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness in realizing the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” The author encourages his readers to realize, or prove the assurance of hope that is already theirs, to wait and trust that they will indeed come into their inheritance.
They are to live, deliberately, fully, and continually as if Jesus really is their faithful high priest, who has come and seized hold of them in their fallen, distorted condition, taken on their weaknesses to heal them from the inside out. They are not to add on trust in angels, going back to the sacrificial system or anything else with the effect of not relying solely and completely on God in Christ.
And in living out of an active trust in God, the author wants them to remember and imitate others who have counted on God’s faithfulness, not on the basis of their own doings, to receive His promises.
Now he turns his readers’ attention to Abraham. Here is one whom they can imitate. The author quotes from Genesis 22:16-18. After Abraham shows his trust in God by his willingness to sacrifice Isaac, God repeats the promise that He has made to Abraham for over 25 years, beginning when He first spoke to him in Haran, that He would bless Abraham with many descendants. But this time He begins His promise with the words, “I swear by myself…” This is the point the author wants to speak to here. God swears by Himself, the author reminds his readers, because “he had no one greater by whom to swear.” God can’t bring in any other force or person to swear by because He Himself is the greatest of all beings; there is no one greater than Himself. When He swears by Himself to Abraham, He is reminding him that there is no other to whom Abraham can turn to trust in for the realization of this promise. No one and nothing else can assure Abraham that God will be true to his Word. God indicates He will be true to Himself, true to His character and that nothing can prevent Him from being true to Himself.
So when the author says that Abraham, “having patiently endured, obtained the promise,” he wants his readers to see that the reason Abraham endured was because he trusted in the faithfulness of the one who made the promise. The character of God, as revealed in this story, is that He was committed to growing Abraham’s ability to come to the place of fully counting on Him—this is why He adds the oath.
And this is what the author of Hebrews wants to remind his readers. God works, not according to the strength of our trust in Him, or the strength of our persuading Him. He works according to His own perfectly good and faithful character. How do we help others to trust our characters? We appeal to something outside of ourselves, something higher that can confirm who we are and the integrity of our word. So when we dispute one another, as the author says, we include an oath, which is an appeal to something greater than ourselves. The oath, we hope, will assure the other of our sincerity so they can trust us.
Apparently God desires to reassure us and grow our trust in Him as well. God promised Abraham and backed it up with an oath to Himself. Now, our author says, when God wanted to show us, the heirs of the promise, “the unchangeable character of his purpose” He gives an oath again. What is the author referring to? Well, if we go back to the last verse before the warning section (5:10) and to the last verse of today’s section (6:20), we find a quote from Psalm 11:4b where God tells His messiah that he is a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. The first part of this verse is, “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind…”
In other words, God has given an oath to back up His promise that His messiah would be a high priest forever, never to be outmoded or superceded. He is going to explain in great detail over the next chapters all of what it means for Jesus to be a high priest after the order of Melchizedek and for His high priestly offer to be forever. The point he wants to make here is that the God who backed up His promise to Abraham with an oath is the same God who deals with us in and through Jesus, our high priest. This God is as good as his Word, to Abraham and to us.
God includes the oath by Himself, not for His sake, but for ours. He wants to “show far more convincingly … the unchangeable character of his purpose.” It is so we can have “strong encouragement to seize the hope set before us.” Isn’t this amazing? God desires that we be enabled to truly count on Him. He grows our fragile faith by assuring us that He swears He will be faithful to carrying out His wonderful purposes for us. He wants us to know that our fleeing to Him for refuge will never be in vain. His promise is as unchanging as He Himself is!
We can indeed seize the hope He sets before us in Jesus. It is not a hope that is a potential or wish dream. It is reality, created and upheld by God Himself. We can seize it, not because of who we are as the recipients, but because of the character of the Giver. The author wonderfully describes the hope God gives as “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.”
I love this image. God has provided us, really and truly, a life in Him that anchors our soul through all the ups and downs of our present life. Have you ever been in a boat that is anchored? In a storm, you hope that the anchor you are counting is both sure and steadfast. And we are attached to God as a boat to an anchor. We have no need to go elsewhere to look for what might help us be more in control of staying afloat.
This hope, the author goes on, “enters into the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf.” The hope that God promises through His messiah, that He upholds by His oath, is realized, actualized in Jesus. We are attached to Him, because He has attached Himself to us. And when He ascends behind the curtain, into the very presence of His Father, He brings us with Him, He doesn’t sever the attachment. And all of this is now reality in Christ. Now that he has spoken of the faithfulness of God, the author will describe in great detail the ministry of Jesus and the hope He gives us.