October 17, 1999

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Oaths & Promises

Hebrews 6:12-20

I mentioned last time that there was another good message yet in this chapter. I will go ahead and look at it today, or it will get pushed back, and I will not get back to it.

The message in Hebrews was for the new converts to turn their backs completely upon Judaism, and embrace Christianity with all their heart, soul and actions. The message in Hebrews for us today is to turn our backs upon the old ways that we followed before we were converted, and embrace Christianity with all of our heart, soul and action.

The peace, joy and satisfaction we are promised in Christ are found only as we determine to say no to all hope, wisdom and strength in ourselves and receive only comes by way of the Holy Spirit of God.

Hebrews warned the new converts not to go back to their old way of life. Let me say this about that. There are two sides to the eternal security agreement: one says that if we do not keep our good works, we lose our salvation. The other says that no matter what our works, we are secure. This simple passage answers the conflict:

John 10:27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: 28 And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.

The promise that they shall never perish is made to those who hear his voice and they follow him.

GOD PROMISES TO PRESERVE HIS PEOPLE IN THE WAY OF HOLINESS. No matter how many professions people make, those who walk in self-will and self-gratification do not have that promise that they willnever perish. In fact, their lives prove that they do not have the converting work of the Spirit in their hearts. We dealt with this fact in the first message from this chapter.

V. 13, God made promise to Abraham.

The genuine Christian faith looks to the One who makes the promise, and realizes that God cannot lie, v. 18. The author of Hebrews calls attention to the confidence of the saints of old, v. 12. These saints are listed in Hebrews 11. My favorite verse out of that section is v. 13:

13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. 14 For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. 15 And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. 16 But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.

Again, we see the message of Hebrews: Don't turn back. The basis for not turning back is the promises of God. And it was the faith of the saints of old that kept them from turning back to their old manner of life.

V. 16, men swear an oath. - An oath is made before God, and it says that God is the witness of the promise

Deuteronomy 6:13 Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name.

Notice that the trustworthiness of an individual who is giving his word is based upon his fear of the Lord. I have met unsaved people who show more fear of the Lord than do some Christians. Swearing by the Lord name, or taking an oath or making a promise, means that we believe the Lord will judge righteously, whether in judging ourselves or others:

Jeremiah 4:2 And thou shalt swear, The LORD liveth, in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness; and the nations shall bless themselves in him, and in him shall they glory.

The old oath taken as a witness, SO HELP ME GOD, is a good example of what an oath means. It means that God is the witness to what I say or promise to do, and he will judge me righteously in what I say or do.

An apparent conflict:

Matthew 5:34 But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne: 37 But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

However, the Lord Jesus took an oath before the high priest in Matthew 26:63, 64.
Paul swore by the God of Heaven to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 1:23.
Hebrews 6 speaks of swearing an oath to settle a controversy.

So Matthew 5:34 must be taken in a general sense - that is, as Christians our word should be good enough that we do not have to "swear by the Lord God" that we will do something or that we are telling the truth. That should be assumed of us at all times.

Let me give a quote from Robertson's New Testament Word Pictures here. It is in your bulletin:

{Swear not at all} (mh omosai holwv). More exactly "not to swear at all" (indirect command, and aorist infinitive). Certainly Jesus does not prohibit oaths in a court of justice for he himself answered Caiaphas on oath. Paul made solemn appeals to God #1Th 5:27; 1Co 15:31. Jesus prohibits all forms of profanity. The Jews were past-masters in the art of splitting hairs about allowable and forbidden oaths or forms of profanity just as modern Christians employ a great variety of vernacular "cuss-words" and excuse themselves because they do not use the more flagrant forms. (RWP. See end of this document for Adam Clarke's comment.)

Note: Christians today are experts in the art of splitting hairs. They use words that are considered "second-hand" cussing. These words are becoming very popular on prime time TV, and are becoming popular in the mouths of Christians. But by "splitting hairs," these words are not considered vulgar "cuss-words," unfit for Christian usage.

Back to Hebrews 6:16

Oaths, or promises, mean very little today. Men and women give and break their word without a second thought. (Many courts no longer require "SO HELP ME GOD." In other words, men now swear by their own selves, and not by God. No wonder an oath means very little today, for man is held to no higher authority than himself.)

One of the more important things we can do is teach our children the importance of keeping their word. More than once, I have given my word, and then had to do much more than what I bargained for.

Illustration: I told the man I would work for $10 an hour, passing up a $14 an hour job to do so. But the man promised he would work me all winter long for the $10. I kept my word though he did not.

But throughout most of history, an oath meant the end of all doubt and agreement because it invited the judgment of God if broken. It still does.

V. 13, Hebrews turns to God's promise or oath to Abraham.

Oaths are made before God. It is remarkable that the God who cannot lie made a promise to a fallen man, Abraham. God must swear by himself, or by his own name, for there is no other higher power to swear by. (Swearing an oath before God, "SO HELP ME GOD," means that we are willingly accountable to God's higher power for our truthfulness. But here is no higher power for God to be accountable to, so when he swears by himself, he is putting his entire being on the line, for he cannot lie. If he would fail to keep a promise, he would no longer be God, an impossible fact.

Hebrews 6:13-20 refers to Psalms 110:4 The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek. With this passage, the Lord prepares the way for what he is going to say in the next chapter about Melchizedek, particularly 7:21.

When God swore to Abraham, he placed everything he is on the line in support of his promise. God premised to bless Abraham. Abraham then lived in full confidence that God would keep his word. Abraham was so confident that he moved from his life of luxury to a life of wandering around with no home.

V. 15, tells us that Abraham received the promised blessing. But he only received the promise after patiently enduring many trials of his faith. Abraham accepted God's promise as though he had received the thing itself from God.

Man's promises only offer a hope that something will be done: James 4:15 For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. We can only carry out promises as the Lord permits. But God's promises come with the actual possession of the things promised, though there may be a lengthy time laps between the promise and the fulfillment. What God promises, he will surely deliver.

Vv. 16, 17, if an oath settles strife among men, then how much more should God's oath, or promise, totally settle any matter.

V. 18, immutable -- NOT SUBJECT TO CHANGE. God gives two immutable things; two things that are not subject to change. V. 17, the author of Hebrews identifies those two things as God's promise and God's oath.

Vv. 18, 19, God who cannot lie gives us strong encouragement --we have an alter and a refuge in Jesus Christ. Because of the altar and Christ, we have an eternal hope. Because of that hope, we are urged to hold fast - we are urged to NOT TURN BACK as the people were tempted to do in vv. 1-13.

In other words, life, particularly the Christian life, is made up of trials of every description, v. 12. But our eternal hope is an anchor for our soul - it keeps us anchored in the faith no matter what comes our way. This anchor is sure and stedfast.

The veil refers to the veil of the Temple that hung between the holy and the most holy places. By faith in Jesus Christ, we enter into the very inner shrine with free access to God the Father. By faith, we become part of the promise made to Abraham. By faith, men of old were made citizens of the city of God, and so are we.

V, 20, our forerunner, Jesus Christ, has already entered into the heavenly holy of holies, and there represents us. He is there as our great high priest forever after the order of Melchisedec. Hebrews tells the Hebrew Christians and the Christians of all time, that having Jesus Christ as our high priest and intercessor to God the Father, we have no need of an earthly priest. The reality, or the man Christ Jesus, replaced the type, the Old Testament high priest in the Temple.

V. 19, the anchor was not used in the Old Testament, so its use here is a new symbol for Christianity. It became a common Christian symbol, as did the fish.

Hope refers to an expectation. In the New Testament, it refers to something good, primarily of the Lord's return and of eternal life. We see in this text that hope refers to a legal fact. God's oath concerning our "throne rights" and eternal life is our legal grounds for our hope, or expectation, that he will fulfill what he has promised to do. We hope because of his promise, and because it is God's promise, it is a legally guaranteed fact.

Thus passages of HOPE are PROPHETIC passages - they assure us of things to come. The God of hope is the God of the future.

He alone ordains the future -- that is, God is the one who determines what the future holds.
He alone governs the future -- that is, he rules the future from the present.

God alone decides what the future holds, and he is the One who brings his plan for the future to pass. (There is no past, present and future in eternity where God dwells. (Isaiah 57:15 For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.)

GOD'S SOVEREIGNTY AND MAN'S FREE WILL was covered a few weeks ago, so I will not go into it today.
Our hope rests in Christ's kingship, and on the fact that Christ is now the one and only high priest. If we reduce faith to simply what I believe, then we must also reduce our hope in Christ to uncertain speculation.

1. Jesus Christ our last Adam cannot be our king if he is not our high priest who makes atonement for us. It is God's doing that a man is regenerated into God's new humanity - God's new human race. That is not our doing.

2. Because Christ is with the Father and the Spirit is with us, our future does not depend upon us, but upon him. We have the same God - WHO CANNOT LIE - who made the promise to Abraham. Our promise of eternal life is a certain and assured hope through our faith in Jesus Christ. That promise does not rely on our feelings about the matter, but upon God's sure promise.

3. Because our high priest, Jesus Christ the righteous, sits at the right hand of the power on high, Christ is even now working to bring his kingdom into total power around us:

Psalms 110:1 The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.

This promise is one of the most referred to in the New Testament. It is quoted at least twice in Hebrews alone, 1:13 and 10:13. (Mat. 22:44, Mark 12:36, Luke 20:43; though not the message today, the promise was quoted by Peter in Acts 2:35, and the Jews who heard it well understood its implications. When Peter quoted Ps. 110:1, they were convicted in their hearts, they repented of their sins, and 3000 were saved.)

4. Christ's kingdom requires a lot of work on our part, starting with the simple requirement of Christian charity, as we saw last week.

5. We are not here to get what we want, but to do what God requires of us. We must not be slothful but devoted to those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

Hebrews is the least known book in the NT. People avoid it because faith has been reduced to feelings, which is not correct. Hebrews corrects wrong thinking, telling us that the promises of God do not depend upon us but upon our High Priest. It is God's promise and he will never fail us. And the fulfillment of that promise is God's work, not ours.

Clarke on Matthew 5:

Verse 33. Thou shalt not forswear thyself -- They dishonor the great God, and break this commandment, who use frequent oaths and imprecations, even in reference to things that are true; and those who make vows and promises, which they either cannot perform, or do not design to fulfill, are not less criminal. Swearing in civil matters is become so frequent, that the dread and obligation of an oath are utterly lost in it. In certain places, where oaths are frequently administered, people have been known to kiss their thumb or pen, instead of the book, thinking thereby to avoid the sin of perjury; but this is a shocking imposition on their own souls. See the notes on Deuteronomy 4:26; 6:13.

Perform unto the Lord thine oaths -- The morality of the Jews on this point was truly execrable: they maintained, that a man might swear with his lips, and annul it in the same moment in his heart. Rab. Akiba is quoted as an example of this kind of swearing. See Schoettgen.

Verse 34. -- 35. Neither by heaven, etc. -- It was a custom among the Scythians, when they wished to bind themselves in the most solemn manner, to swear by the king's throne; and if the king was at any time sick, they believed it was occasioned by some one's having taken the oath falsely. Herod. l. iv. Who is there among the traders and people of this world who obey this law? A common swearer is constantly perjuring himself: such a person should never be trusted. When we make any promise contrary to the command of God, taking, as a pledge of our sincerity, either GOD, or something belonging to him, we engage that which is not ours, without the Master's consent. God manifests his glory in heaven, as upon his throne; he imprints the footsteps of his perfections upon the earth, his footstool; and shows that his holiness and his grace reign in his temple as the place of his residence. Let it be our constant care to seek and honor God in all his works.

Verse 36. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head -- For these plain reasons: 1st. God commands thee not to do it. 2dly. Thou hast nothing which is thy own, and thou shouldst not pledge another's property. 3dly. It never did, and never can, answer any good purpose. And 4thly. Being a breach of the law of God, it is the way to everlasting misery.


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