Tuesday, 6 November 2018
Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, Hebrews 6:17
The author has just spoken of the fact that, in making an oath, all dispute over a matter is ended. Nothing more can be added to that oath which would make any substantial change in the minds of the one hearing the oath. They simply need to accept what is said and go on from there. And that is an oath among mere men. Now the author applies this indisputable truth to God – “Thus God.” In other words, “If this is surely the case among men, how much more sure is it with God.” From there, he says, “determining to show more abundantly.”
What God does should be sufficient, in and of itself, to confirm that it is the work or word of God. However, there may be a reason why God acts in a manner beyond his initial word or work. In such a case, He will take further action in order to show – even more abundantly – that what He communicates is certain. In this case, it is “to the heirs of promise.” Actually, the Greek places an article before “promise.” It says, “to the heirs of the promise.”
The promise of Messiah was made in Genesis 3:15. There are to be heirs of this promise, or there would be no need for a promise. As Abraham already had Ishmael before Isaac, and because Isaac was to be the son of the promise (of the intended messianic blessings), God had chosen at a certain time to “show more abundantly” to these heirs “the immutability of His counsel.”
God speaks and He is to be taken at His word. However, just as men may doubt the oath made by another man (even though they have accepted that man’s word as settled because it came from him through an oath), man may also doubt God when He speaks. (Hold on – before you deny this, remember that this is a constant and chronic failing of people in the church today. We incessantly doubt the surety of God’s word. We doubt if we are really saved; we doubt if there will really be a rapture; we doubt that God hears our prayers; etc.) And so, in order to not only speak out a word and expect it to be believed, God adds to His initial promise (of Genesis 3:15) in order to show even more abundantly that His counsel is immutable.
Immutable means “unable to change.” In the case of God, He simply is. There is no learning in God, there is no development of any kind, and in fact, there is not even any potential for it. For example, our prayers don’t change God’s mind. Rather, He knew our prayers before we prayed them. Does this mean we don’t need to pray? On the contrary, if we withhold our prayers, God knew beforehand that no prayer would be offered and thus no response will be forthcoming. From our perspective then, prayers have an effect.
Likewise, the plans and purposes for the redemption of man were known, in their fullness, to God before the creation of the world. Abraham was selected before he ever existed for the covenant particular to him. Nothing could change that. However, from Abraham’s perspective, God’s oath confirmed His words to him. This oath then showed Abraham (and those who follow him who are of the promise) “more abundantly” the immutability of His word. And how did God do this? He “confirmed it by an oath.” That is what the author referred to in verses 6:13, 14 where he said –
“He swore by Himself, saying, ‘Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you.’”
When man makes an oath, regardless if it is true or not, all dispute is ended. When God, who cannot lie, makes an oath, the surety of its accomplishment is fully grounded in who He is. The oath merely confirms His word more abundantly. This is not for His benefit, but for the benefit of His doubting creatures.
As a point of theology, the word “confirmed” here is found only this one time in the Bible. It signifies “to mediate.” As Charles Ellicott explains, “thus confirms His word, at once the Promiser and the Mediator: God the Promiser (if we may so speak) makes appeal to God the Hearer and Witness of the oath.”
The author of Hebrews is introducing this fact now in order to look forward to another promise that God will make, and which will be explained in Chapter 7. What we have in this promise to Abraham from Genesis is the first example of such a sworn oath by God in the Bible. But another will be discussed (Hebrews 7:14) which points directly to the work of Messiah, who is God. Though this passage seems to be a diversion from the thought about Melchizedek in relation to the High Priesthood of Jesus, it is an integral part of that thought. The author is using the promise to Abraham now in order to show the immutability of His word concerning Christ’s priesthood.
Life application: The oath to Abraham was an added bonus to what was already decided by God in Genesis 3:15. Take all of this in the context of your own personal situation now. God has spoken. His word is recorded for us in the pages of the Bible and what He has said simply is. There is every assurance that the Bible is the word of God and, therefore, we can completely rest in its promises for us. And so, just as God credited righteousness to Abraham for simply hearing and believing, we can have the exact same blessing from God by simply hearing His word and trusting it.
Yes, Lord God! Thank you for the simplicity of the gospel. Thank You that we don’t need to rely on some dubious and unknowable amount of good deeds in order to be saved, but that we are simply pleasing to You by accepting what You have already done in and through Jesus. What an immense and awesome bargain! Amen.