For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise.
Sometimes when life is hard, we find it easier to focus on our own failures and insecurities and overlook the good found in ourselves and others. By focusing only on the perceived (and oftentimes imagined) negatives, we can much readily lose hope and give up. Thus, the author of Hebrews was inspired by God to remind his readers about the promises God had given to them. Under tremendous pressure from persecution to renounce Christianity and return to Judaism, they needed assurance that the hope of eternal life in Christ which motivated them to initially obey the gospel was sound and not a false dream.
So, God reminded them of his promise to Abraham and how Abraham obtained that promise after having patiently waited for it (vs. 13-15). After seeing Abraham’s faith proven by his willingness to obey God even if it meant giving up his son Isaac, God made this promise to him (Genesis 22:1-18). By “swearing by himself” since “he had no one greater by whom to swear,” the Lord bound himself to his word. This was not the first time God had made this promise to Abraham. As the years went by, Abraham saw on many occasions the providential workings of God in his life to keep his promise. This motivated Abraham’s faith in God to grow stronger. As Paul wrote, “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:20-21).
We too can trust God to keep his promises. As the Hebrew author elaborated, “For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us” (vs. 16-18). In legal disputes, an oath binds upon the one who gave it a legal guarantee so as to end the dispute based upon the truthfulness of the claim. To assure us of the validity and certainty of his promises, God also swore an oath. Having in a sense no need to do this since it is impossible for God to lie (cf. Titus 1:2), the Lord nonetheless gave us one more assurance by adapting our human custom of legally binding oaths and binding himself to one.
This would give those early Hebrew Christians who had “fled for refuge” from persecution the “strong encouragement” they needed to “hold fast to the hope” of eternal life in heaven with God as the reward for their perseverance. God elaborated on this blessing by having the Hebrew author write, “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (vs. 19-20). Under Old Testament law, the tabernacle and later the temple had an inner sanctum, the Most Holy Place, which was separated from the rest of the structure by a curtain. Once a year, the high priest would offer atonement for the sins of all Israel by entering the Most Holy Place behind the curtain and offering sacrifices. Under the New Testament, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross atones for our sins should we accept his gift by obeying the gospel through faith, repentance, and baptism. Having made it, he is now in the literal Most Holy Place in heaven, sitting at God’s right hand as our high priest to intercede on our behalf (cf. Hebrews 4:14-16; 2:17-18).
The knowledge that God is keeping his promise to us, that Christ is saving our souls, is indeed “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.” Have you accepted the gift he offers? Does his promise apply to you? Have you obeyed the gospel?