Lesson 15: "Lay Hold Upon the Hope Set Before Us. . .An Anchor of the Soul" (Hebrews 6:9)
Hebrews 6: 13-20
The Book of Hebrews. Welcome to lesson #15. This lesson begins in 6:13. It begins with the word "for," F-O-R i.e. that which follows is a. reason for, or an explanation of, the foregoing theme or topic. Now, what did the foregoing topic cover? What was the theme? It was encouragement to greater zeal. After the writer had sharply criticized the brethren in and around Jerusalem for being babies, i.e. for a lack of Christian maturity (end of ch. 5 and beginning of ch. 6); the writer then began to encourage them on to greater zeal. For example, the writer said: "Beloved we are persuaded better things of you...," i.e. you can do better and we believe that even yet you will do it. In other words the writer is saying, you started well, you WERE doing the things that accompany salvation (6:9); but, you have laxed off, you have succumbed to slothfulness (do you see that word in v.12). He reminded them of their good "work and labor of love" (in v.10) and that God will not forget this. It was not their past that was found in error and found lacking, it was their present condition. Then the writer said: "we desire that every one of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end..." (v.11). In other words, Christianity cannot be a fast start and then a flunk-out. And I say to you, my brother, there is great wisdom in this point and the message to us carries great prudence. We cannot rest on our past laurels. What I did yester-year will not save me today. Because, "now is the day of salvation." (II-Cor. 6:2). So often, we miss this point. Oh! I'm O.K. because I was baptized years ago. I've paid my bills and you know that list of past laurels we like to recite. Do you remember Jesus' conversation with the rich, young ruler? He told Jesus, Oh! "All of these have I observed from my youth." (Mark 10:20). You see, he was falling back upon PAST accomplishments. Jesus put the emphasis upon right now...do this! "Go do this...come to me...and follow me!" Then, it says this young man went away sorrowful. Christianity is a RIGHT-NOW religion. Jesus put much emphasis upon right now... i.e. doing it now. Jesus' conclusion in Matthew ch. 24 was "Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come." (Matt. 24:42). The N.T. ends with this thought. The apostle John, the Revelation writer, quoted Jesus as saying "Surely I come quickly" (Rev. 22:20). The idea there is not that Jesus will come soon (necessarily); but, that Jesus will come suddenly, or unexpectedly. That's the reason we should watch and be prepared every hour. This is the concern of the Hebrews writer and this needs to be our concern also.
Now, after the criticism (ch.5) and after encouragement to greater zeal (ch. 6); the writer says FOR, this is the way Abraham did it (v.13). "God made promise to Abraham..." v.13 and then it was, "AFTER [v.15] he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise." What's the message to us? We must follow Abraham's example. We must patiently endure "unto the end." Have you got it? In other words, this section is simply further encouragement to endurance and move on with greater zeal which is drawn from the example of Abraham. Let's read it, beginning in v.13. We'll read down through the end of the 6th chapter. Please indulge! Read with me! Here we go. Put your eyes on v.13...it says: "FOR when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself, saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee. And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. Wherein God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us; which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek."
O.K. go back to v.13 and let's dig into that encouragement that came by Abraham, the father of the faithful. Notice, first off, the word "promise" is singular. The quote (v.14) is a quote from God, the promise to Abraham. This quote is taken from Gen. 22:16-17-18. This was the occasion when Abraham's faith was tested. If you are not familiar with this. you should go back to Gen. ch. 22 and re-read this occasion. Isaac was the son of Abraham by promise, if you recall. Abraham in his old age still had no child, yet God promised that he would bless Abraham through Abraham's seed, i.e. through his progeny, although, Abraham was childless (Gen. 15:2). When Abraham was 99 years old, God told Abraham he would have a son the next year (that's Gen. 17:17). Isaac was born according to that promise. About 20 or 25 years later, Abraham's faith was tested, i.e. God instructed Abraham (this old man over 120 years old) to offer Isaac as a sacrifice on Mt. Moriah (that's Gen. 22:2). Even though this would have destroyed (it would seem) any possibility of the future promise to Abraham and his seed, Abraham recognized this was what God instructed and although he did not understand why, Abraham made preparation to carry through with God's instruction. God stayed Abraham's hand and Isaac was not killed. As I said, this was a test of Abraham's faith. Beginning in Gen. 22:16 and for two or three verses following that is the promise quoted (here in Heb. 6:14). The point is that Abraham acted strictly on faith in God and later in this book, the Hebrews writer does a dissertation on the importance of faith and what a great ingredient faith really is in things spiritual. That's ch. 11, and we will eventually get to that. But, for the moment, the writer uses the faith of Abraham as an encouragement to his Jerusalem brethren, i.e. encouraging them on to greater heights, challenging them to endure and to continue on in the Christian faith recognizing they too had (as we have) a promise from God. That promise that Jesus will return and that promise of rest called heaven. You see, this goes back to 4:1, "Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it."
The writer called two interesting and outstanding things to our attention with respect to the prophecy that God gave to Abraham (in Gen. ch. 22). "Two immutable things," the writer called it (v.18), i.e. two unalterable facts. (#1) God gave this promise to Abraham by oath (or "confirmed it by an oath", end v.17), and (#2) "it was impossible for God to lie" (v.18). In other words, this promise could not be made more sure. Now, what's the significance of this? That, "we might have a strong consolation" (middle v.18). What is that consolation? (Look at the end v.18.) That we may "lay hold upon the hope set before us." Do you see that? Then in v.19 the author illustrates by referring to this HOPE as an anchor of the soul. Obviously, the writer was familiar with marine life, i.e. ships and shipping. In a gale or in the storm, a ship can only be as sure as it's mooring, that anchor to which the ship is tethered. Likewise, our hope (according to this illustration) can only be as sure as these two immutable things to which our hope is anchored. Thus, hope is "an anchor of the soul," our writer concludes. When you think about it, this is obviously a very logical conclusion. Your actions, your conduct, what you are going to do or what you will NOT do depends upon the hope you have. If Jesus and heaven means more to your than life itself, then you would give even your life for that cause. It's just that simple. Our hope(s) control our actions. A farmer does not plant, if there is no hope of a harvest. A general does not go to battle, if there Is no hope of victory. Christians do not conduct themselves as servants of our Lord Jesus Christ, if their hope of heaven is vague, hazy or blurred. The writer was simply trying to help those Christians in and around Jerusalem get that hope in focus, anchored or moored to heaven itself. If the writer could get that to happen, then he knew they would stop being babies and starting eating meat (5:14), that "belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil." Have you got it? That principle applies to us just as much as it applied to Christians then (in the AD 60's).
Now, I hope to get back to v.20 in just a moment; but, let's take a moment to consider a sidelight or two. First, the writer said: "it is impossible for God to lie," i.e. consistent with the nature of God, then God is truth or to say it another way, God's reality itself. Then, in second place, the writer emphasized the idea of an oath. God "confirmed it [i.e. the promise to Abraham] by an oath." Which the writer discusses for us briefly. He said, "men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife." Actually, this phenomenon of oaths is rather interesting if you'll take a moment to reflect upon it. Our court system today employs this phenomenon and our military inducts men by what they call "swearing-in." An oath tends to give us more confidence for some reason or another. This seems to be built into the nature of a man. Milligan says with reference to this point, (quote) "it is a remarkable fact that in all ages and in all nations, men have commonly reposed great confidence in a declaration made under the solemnities of an oath..." (unquote). And some, I trust you are aware of what we might call conscientious objectors to the use of an oath. For example, some refuse to say in a court room, "I solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." Is it right for a Christian to say that or is it wrong? What about swearing-in as used for induction into civil offices? i.e. lay a hand on the bible and quote after me. If you refuse to use the words "I solemnly swear" in a courtroom, the judge will accept the words "I will affirm the truth" just as readily. The word is "confirm..." or "confirmation" (here in v.16). Now, if you'll talk to your neighbors, you'll probably sense a little frustration (here) and some even think it's sinful to say "I solemnly swear" in the courtroom. So, let's take the time to ask ourselves: is it right? Back at the time of Jesus, people were swearing by everything... the temple, the gold of the temple, their head, Jerusalem, etc. And there were undoubtedly as many frustrations about it back then as there are now. Jesus said (beginning in Matt. 5:33, part of the sermon on the mount), "it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shall perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne: nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than this cometh of evil." What's that yea, yea — nay, nay business? Jesus simply meant: say yes or say no; don't try to hedge. Or I think we could simply say it like this: be totally honest. James, the half-brother of our Lord, said in his writing: "my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath; but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation." (James 5:12). If the answer is YES, then say yes and mean it. If the answer is NO, then say no and mean it. That's really all they are trying to do in the courtroom, isn't it? Now, I heard the story once about a lawyer who asked a man on the witness stand: are you going to beat your wife any more? And the lawyer then said: answer yes or no. If the man said "no" that implied he had beat his wife before. If he answered "yes" of course that incriminated the man. So, the point is: there are questions that cannot properly be answered: yes or no. However, in that case, I believe any fair judge would allow you to ask the lawyer to rephrase the question such that it could be answered: yes or no (without carrying any other implication). Jesus' point and James' point is simply be accurate, be honest, don't hedge. If a person is honest and you can believe what they say; it's not necessary to ask them to swear by anything, is it? If people are not honest, then an oath doesn't mean anything anyhow, does it? They'll perjurer themselves in a minute. However, in this case (I'm talking about Heb. 6:17), God was willing to give strong confirmation. Knowing the nature of men, God wanted to emphasize this point unto men, "that we might have strong consolation" (v.18). If God cannot lie in the first place and God "confirmed it by an oath" in the second place (end v.17), then what stronger consolation could one get? What stronger "confirmation" could God give? It's that way. It has been that way and it's going to be that way, period, exclamation mark, and unquote. Thus, surely, following God's example, there is nothing wrong with using a oath to establish a point to our society when it would seem to remove all doubt by giving confidence or "strong consolation" (as v.18 says). But, stop and think! It's a little foolish (and redundant) to establish every miniscule point by an oath. That's like saying, you can't really believe me unless I'm under oath. Wouldn't that be a little extreme?...really? So, that old two-edged sword slices right down here to the way it should be.
Now, let's get back to v.19-20. We have a promise of heaven, confirmed unto us by two immutable things. That gives us hope! This hope of heaven gives us stability. It's like an anchor. It is "both sure and steadfast" (v.19). In the tabernacle, that tent-like structure, built per God's instruction in the book of Exodus at the time of Moses had two rooms. The priests went into the first room each day to perform their duty of keeping the incense and the candles burning, etc. Between that room and the room where God dwelt, i.e. the room where the ark of the covenant was kept and where the priests could NOT go (except only the high priest WENT once in a year). A heavy curtain that separated those two rooms was called "the veil." That's the figure or a shadow used here (end of v.19). Figuratively, that means to us, Jesus is now in heaven, i.e. on the other side of the veil (so-to-speak). We as Christians are priests (figuratively speaking). As priests, our duty is performed in this first room, or the holy place, which now corresponds to the church. However, Jesus has now gone on into the second chamber, i.e. the holiest of all (or heaven), where we as priests are not yet permitted. But, if our soul is anchored properly then our hope of heaven will eventually be realized and we too will be ushered through the veil "whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made a high priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek." Figuratively here, Jesus is our High Priest and our High Priest has thus gone on unto the next chamber, i.e. heaven. Our writer in future chapters makes an even stronger play upon this figure. He's just getting the seed planted (here). Until our next lesson, have a good day.