Lecture 13: Hebrews 6:13-20
Lecture: Hebrews 6:13-20
This great center section of Hebrews starts in 4:14-16 and opens the door to the Christology where we have the appointment of the Son as high priest. In 8:3-10:18, we are going to deal with the superior offering of the high priest. The author introduces that first movement on the appointment of Jesus as high priest in chapter 5:1-10. He introduces the topic by giving an overview on the requirements for high priesthood in the Old Testament scripture. He says that this is what it took to be a high priest: you have to be appointed by God; the person is taken among human beings and that person offers sacrifices, etc. Then in 5:1-10, the author transitions to introducing Psalm 110:4 where it says that you are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. He talks about the suffering of Jesus in the garden, saying that through suffering God perfected the Son so that he could be the high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. Then it shifts to talking about them for a few minutes. In 5:11-6:3, he turns to talk about the problem of their immaturity. In 6:4-8, he gives a strong warning to the community saying not to be like those people who have abandoned the faith. He uses the language of wilderness wandering describing people who have turned their back on the faith, not standing with the church anymore. In effect, they have joined those who were against the cross who are crucifying Jesus and putting him to open same. This was very harsh language. Then in 6:7-8, he uses the agricultural imagery to describe those who are like a field that constantly had rain falling on it but it had not born fruit. Those who have abandoned the faith are described like those people who have had lots of opportunities to understand God’s word, yet they have manifested that they don’t really know God because there is not the fruit. In 6:9-12, we saw the author offering real encouragement, saying that better things are going on with them. I really think that what is happening with you is related to salvation. I look at the works in your life and your love for Christ and your life in the community of faith; I believe that God recognizes that there are substances to spiritual things going on in your life. In spite of this encouragement, I want to encourage you to persevere in the faith and continue to be an imitator of those people who through faith have gone on to inherit the promises.
II. Hebrews 6:13-20
When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised. People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie. We who
have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of
A. Illustration of Abraham:
This passage, again, is transitional. The purpose of this unit includes exhortation for them to persevere in the faith using Abraham as an example. It is also a transition back to the discussion about Melchizedek. The nature of this transition, it is like an on-ramp back to the discussion of Christology. He has been talking about the need for them to think about where they are spiritually to think seriously about warnings and to be encouraged about their own manifestation of spiritual reality. But, he is going to use this transitional unit in 6:13-20 to make a transition back to the main discussion about Melchizedek. So, this is the purpose of this unit. There is a kind of three-step process: the first step provides us with an illustration of Abraham receiving the promises of God, but he had to persevere in waiting for God to fulfill those promises. So, he illustrates the main point by saying here was Abraham who received the oath from God, but he had to wait for the fulfillment.
The second step is a truism, even in a human court of law, people swear to something and that gives confidence or assurance as to what they are saying is true. He is now looking for more of a broad human experience of swearing an oath that they witnessed something. The third step is the main point that he wants to make. In relation to the promises of God and in relation to spiritual realities that relate to our perseverance and also our inheritance, God has guaranteed them with an oath.
C. God Has Guaranteed his Promises to Us with an Oath:
The fact that God has sworn something that should give us a lot of encouragement. I think what he is talking about here is Psalm 110:4. He has already introduced this back in chapter 5:1-10. We will see that this is now the main passage that he is going to play off of in 7:1-28. So, in getting back to that, he alludes to Psalm 110:4 where it says that the Lord has sworn and will not change his mind. You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. This embodies an oath and so the author says that God’s oath is a foundation for us having great encouragement about the nature of our faith. When God made his promise to Abraham, he swore by himself saying surly I will bless you greatly and multiply your descendants abundantly. The author quotes this passage from the Old Testament, Genesis 22:17: I will surly bless you and give you many descendants. This is a key point in the history of Israel. This is the founding of the people of Israel. God gave Abraham, their father, the promise that established them as a people. So, God says to Abraham at these key points as you see in Genesis 12 and then Genesis 15 and following, giving foundational promises to Abraham of blessings and doing great things in his life. But there is a problem in this; he doesn’t initially have any children and then Abraham comes up with another plan that doesn’t work out too well and then the son of the promise comes along. So eventually Sarah has Isaac and you have the delay between the promise and the fulfillment of the promise. This is going to be very important as Hebrews goes on. There is tension during the time in between of this happening. There is the promise of God that is given and the fulfillment of that promise. Later in chapter 11, we have faith that is preserving in that in-between time where God has revealed what is true even though they hadn’t seen a fulfillment of the promise.
There is a real sense that we live in tension between the now and the not yet; between those things that God has revealed to be true about himself and his word and seeing a fulfillment of those promises. One of main points in chapter 11, these great heroes of the faith never saw the ultimately fulfillment of what God was doing. They persevered because they were seeking a city whose builder and make was God. They were looking with eyes of faith and seeing spiritual realities based on what God revealed as true about himself. Now, the modern western concept of faith as a leap into the dark is not a biblical concept of faith. The whole idea of faith being an existential leap comes out of the last 250 years of biblical studies of western thought from people like Rudolf Bokemon and others. That kind of understanding of faith says that the evidence contradicts what we see in the Bible. So, what we have to do is to turn our backs and take a leap of faith against all the evidence. The third movie of Indiana Jones in regards to seeking the Holy Grail gives us a good illustration of him taking a leap of faith out into nothing. This is an image of existentialism, but this is not biblical faith. Biblical faith is not a leap into nothing or dark but instead it is a leap into reality, a step into the light and things that God has revealed to be true about himself. So, it isn’t a leap into the dark. We are dealing with the unseen God and with the faith that we have promises that isn’t seen as having been fulfilled. We step out on the things that God has revealed as true in this world. God has spoken into this world and has revealed truth that we can stand on. God has revealed very solid things about himself.
15 και (And) ούτω (thus,) μακροθυμήσας (having been long-suffering,) επέτυχε (he succeeded in) της (the) επαγγελίας (promise.)
16 άνθρωποι (2 men) μεν (3 indeed) γαρ (1 For) κατά (5 by) του (6 the) μείζονος (7 greater) ομνύουσι (4 swear an oath,) και (and) πάσης (6 in all) αυτοίς αντιλογίας (7 disputes to them) πέρας (3 is an end) εις (4 for) βεβαίωσιν (5 security) ο (1 the) όρκος (2 oath.)
Even in human relationships in talking about trusting someone based on what has been revealed; this is what he has in mind here. So, what he is saying, Abraham is an example of someone who acted on the promises that he had received from God. In verse 15, so by persevering, Abraham inherited the promise. He wants the hearers to continue in their faith on the basis of God’s oath. We have the truism in verse16 where people swear by something greater than themselves where the oath serves as conformation to end any disputes. The language that he is using here is the language of a courtroom. It is taken out of legal context of the day. The author points out that an oath taken in a court of law or a legal situation has two characteristics: first, they require that the oath giver appeals to a superior in some ways. The superior lends the oath giver credibility founded in the character of the oath builder. For example, in the Greco-Roman world, if you were appealing to something greater than yourself, the person might be appealing in a Greco-Roman context to someone who validates you as a person who could bear witness to your character as a witness. The concept of honor and shame was important during this time. Part of the way you built up honor was by your associations with honorable people who were higher than you. If you were going to be a ‘patron’, you would be the person who supported a person, perhaps giving that person a letter of commendation that said that this person was a reliable person. Then I might appeal to that in my giving of an oath. So this oath serves as a confirmation to end the dispute. In other words, you have a situation where a credible witness gives an oath swearing and thus makes a statement in your defense. This is a truism; the author isn’t saying that this isn’t always the case but instead in a normal pattern an oath is important. So, we have the illustration and then the truism and then he comes to the main point in verse 17.
17 εν (In) ω (which) περισσότερον (2 more extra) βουλόμενος (3 wanting) ο θεός (1 God) επιδείξαι (to display) τοις (to the) κληρονόμοις (heirs) της (of the) επαγγελίας (promise) το (the) αμετάθετον (immutability) της βουλής αυτού (of his counsel,) εμεσίτευσεν (mediated) όρκω (by an oath;)
18 ίνα (that) διά (through) δύο (two) πραγμάτων (2 things) αμεταθέτων (1 immutable,) εν (in) οις (which) αδύνατον (it was impossible) ψεύσασθαι θεόν (for God to lie,) ισχυράν (2 strong) παράκλησιν (3 consolation) έχωμεν (1 we should have,) οι (we the ones) καταφυγόντες (taking refuge) κρατήσαι (to hold to) της (the) προκειμένης (2 situated before us) ελπίδος (1 hope,)
This is where God says that his purpose was unchangeable and so he intervened with an oath finding refuge in him can have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope through two unchangeable things since it is impossible for God to lie. So, for example, we are struggling along in the Christian faith; one of things that God has done to facilitate our perseverance in the faith is to give us the strong encouragement of oath. This is to swear certain things to us because God doesn’t lie. The big question with verses 17 and 18 is what are those two unchangeable things? In the history of research on Hebrews, normally the answer has been something like God’s promise and God’s oath. These two things are the two parts of Psalm 110:4 where the Lord had sworn and will not change his mind; you are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. So, the two parts, the two unchangeable things: it is impossible for God to tell a lie, and that he is a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. When you get to chapter 7, he is going to give an introduction on Melchizedek in verses 1-10. But in verses 11-14, the main point is that Jesus is the priest according to the order of Melchizedek not according to the order of Levy. In 7:15-28, the main point is that you are a priest forever. So, the focus here is the eternality of Jesus’ priesthood. Why is he a superior priest? It is because he will not die like the Levitical priests. He is always alive to make intercession for us. So, in 6:17-18, he is alluding to Psalm 110:4 and in doing so, he is referring to those two things that are involved in that oath, that Christ is going to be priest like Melchizedek.
In verse 18, he says that we have refuge and strong encouragement as we hold on to the hope. Remember the passages in chapter 3 where it says you are his house if you hold on. In 4:14-16 where he says that since we have a great high priest, let us hold fast and draw near. The encouragement that he is giving here through God’s oath gives us something to trust in and live by. There is a concept of fleeing to a refuge which has a lot of parallels in the Old Testament in ancient Greco-Roman literature. Think about the cities of refuge in the Old Testament in Number 35:9 and Deuteronomy 4:41-43 and Joshua 20:1-9. The author combines this idea of refuge with the idea of the horns of the altar. In the Pentateuch, at the end of God’s instruction concerning the altar of incense, the horns of the altar is said to have a special role on the Day of Atonement. So, I think he is starting to move toward language concerning the Day of Atonement. The writer says that once a year, Aaron will make Atonement on its horns which must be made with blood of the atoning sin offering for the generations to come. This is most holy to the Lord. So, you have the horns of the altar being associated with the atonement given on the Day of Atonement. In 1st Kings 1:50-53, you have Adonijah who fled to take hold of the horns of the altar as a place of safety from Solomon’s wrath and was spared but later Joab who Solomon saw as guilty got killed. This is another image of someone fleeing to take a hold of those horns. The author says that in the sacrifice of Christ and priesthood of Christ, what you and I have done, we have fled to take hold of the refuge that is there in the Day of Atonement new covenant offering.
Look at the language in verses 19 and 20; the hope that we have in the oath of God proclaiming Jesus as a different kind of priest is an anchor of the soul. It is firm and secure. Plato said that the cities of Greece were clustered on the shores of the Mediterranean like frogs on a pond. The Romans referred to the Mediterranean Sea as their sea. So, when you think about the nautical imagery you have in Hebrews with this idea of an anchor being something that is giving stability. In the broader Greco-Roman world, the anchor was an image of stability in the midst of difficulty. So, for instance Plutarch who lived in the 1st century criticized those who couldn’t control their desires saying that the spirit yields and cannot resist anymore. It is like an anchor hook in the sand amidst the surge. He is using it as an image that you stand firm and resist in terms of your character. It is like an anchor digging into solid ground rather than sand. Philo also uses the image of the anchor as a reference to virtue that gives stability to life. It is the Gospel that serves as an anchor to give us stability in life.
A point that I made earlier, your perseverance in the faith will be in direct proportion to the clarity which you see Jesus and as to what he has accomplished on our behalf. This is not just intellectual understanding of the Gospel, but is the reality of the Gospel that is wrapped up in relationship with Christ based on who he is and what he has done. So, he is saying that the hope that God has given us in the Gospel is like an anchor for the soul. He goes on to say that it reaches inside behind the curtains using Tabernacle language where Jesus has entered as our forerunner since he has been made a priest according to the order to Melchizedek. This hope that we have being an anchor of the soul, the Gospel is something that reaches into the very Holy of Hollies of God. It gives us stability of life because it is right there in presence of God. Christ has become a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
D. Practical Application:
In terms of practical application of this, people are going to live out what they really believe. If people have a fuzzy view of the Gospel, they will not understand who Jesus is; they are not going to have a solid foundation of persevering in the faith. You have seen this happen in ministry when people come to a place, being professing Christians, having a veneer of belonging to the community of faith that comes somewhat regularly, but then a unique crises comes. For some, this drives them closer to God but for others their faith collapses. The same thing with pleasures; what happens when people get tempted to an affair and they are drawn away from their family and away from God. The pleasures they are finding in that illicit relationship; all of a sudden their Christian world view seems to collapse. It just dissolves in the face of what they are doing. It is as if the reality of God wasn’t even there. So people must have that underlining solid understanding of light in the Gospel in order to persevere in the faith. Embracing the oath of God is something that can give us real stability in relationship with God and our perseverance in the faith.