Men and women so often break their promises that suspicion, hurt feelings, and hatred are tearing us apart. Feeding distrust are the millions of children born into broken homes or have their lives imploded by parents who walk away from solemn vows. Public trust has been eroded by leaders in church and state who brazenly violate their oaths of office. We complain about fair weather friends, but then we remember times we fudged on our promises and found reasons to get around commitments. Perhaps we kept them, but we extracted payment from everyone around us by our bad attitude and complaining spirit. It should be different in the church, but often it is not. Christians can be the nicest and most reliable people you will ever meet; Christians can also be the most backbiting, unfaithful, and conniving. Sin has made life very difficult, but nowhere as difficult as in the area of fidelity, truth, and trustworthiness. Having broken faith with God, we cannot keep faith with one another. Guilty fear dominates man’s attitude toward God; suspicion consumes him about others.
God Gave His Promises and His Oath (vv. 13-15)
The Promise Enough, but the Oath Added for Confirmation
The only bright spot of faithfulness in the universe is the triune God who keeps covenant and mercy. When all around us break their word, we may trust God to keep his. Consider Abraham, whose faith and life run like a golden thread throughout this letter. God made promises to Abraham – those of Genesis 22:16-18 are in view. To give Abraham great certainty, he swore by himself: “By myself I have sworn.” Then the promise: “Blessing I will bless thee” – an emphatic Hebrew double verb – I will do this. God knows that we live in a covenant breaking world and that we are promise breakers. There is nothing more important for us than to be assured of the stability of God’s promises. Our faith is tested severely and our weakness is so great that we shall never give ourselves completely to him unless we are persuaded of his faithfulness. His promise is enough to guarantee his unswerving commitment to do us good. Unless he draws near to us in his word and makes promises with us, we could have absolutely no knowledge of him or certainty of his love for us or confidence of our interest in him. When to his promise he adds an oath in his own blessed name, he is telling us to trust him completely. He wants our souls to be settled so that we are not blown by every wind of trouble but build our lives upon the rock of his word.
The Food of Faith
And this is exactly the effect that God’s promise and oath had upon Abraham: “Who against hope, believed in hope” (Rom. 4:18-21). The remarkable thing is that God gave this promise and oath in the very worst trial of Abraham’s life – when the Lord called him to offer up Isaac, the child of promise. Abraham could never have obeyed God had he not been absolutely persuaded of God’s faithfulness. God thus renewed the promise and added an oath. Abraham believed God. He believed that God would raise Isaac from the dead, if necessary, in order to fulfill the promise (Heb. 11:19). Abraham believed in the God who raises the dead. This was the inescapable consequence of God’s promise and oath. Isaac will be the seed of promise. Offer him up to me. I will raise him from the dead. I have sworn by myself. Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness.
There is a deep and glorious parallel between Abraham’s offering up of Isaac and the trials of these Hebrew believers. The same parallel applies to us and the patient endurance of the trials God brings into our life. We have his promise and his oath. He cannot deny himself. If in his wise providence he calls us to seal his truth with our blood, he will raise us back up. The Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead will raise us from the dead. God’s promise and oath empower and settle us as we build our lives upon his promise and oath. They enabled Abraham to obtain the promise. They will do the same in us, but we must not judge God’s work with fleshly eyes. We must see with the eyes of promise and oath. We must trust the covenant keeping God. Men will fail us. We shall fail the Lord and ourselves, for not an ounce of strength is to be found in us. All strength and patience and endurance are to be found in drawing near to the faithful God. His promises will never fail (1 Kings 8:56).
God Cares for the Heirs of Promise (vv. 16-17)
None Higher than God, Nothing More Certain than His Word
This is not a teaching for us only if we are walking on the mountain tops of faith. This is faith’s food in the valley of affliction and suffering. Abraham climbed up Moriah’s heights by the strength he received from God’s promise and covenant. He had to look higher than himself, what he understood or felt at being given a command to sacrifice his own son. When we seek to verify to others the truth of what we affirm, we call a higher authority to bear witness to our words (v. 16). In the case of his covenant to save the world through Abraham’s greater Son, God called himself to bear witness. He had done this earlier when he passed through the split pieces of the sacrifice (Gen. 15:17-18). He took upon himself the full responsibility for fulfilling his promises. He even took the curse of the covenant upon himself.
Never must we forget that God has revealed and bound himself to us by covenant. His purposes of redemption in Christ and gathering of the church under his Son and filling the earth with his glory depend upon his faithfulness. He has sworn by himself. In our doubts, we must remember that his “faithfulness reaches to the clouds” (Ps. 36:5). God can sooner cease being God and thus destroy himself than he can allow one word of his good promise to fall to the ground (Isa. 55:10-11). This is all our strength, hope, and joy in a world of trouble, or when facing persecution, or in the daily battle against the world, flesh, and devil. God is faithful. Nothing is more certain than his promises. Build upon this foundation, and the troubles of life will not move us. We shall obtain the promises. God will keep us, raise us from the dead, and bring us to his eternal kingdom. His faithfulness is faith’s pure food.
The Immutability of God’s Counsel
Behind God’s covenant promise and certifying oath is his good will to us, “the heirs of the promise.” He knows our weakness. He tests us, and he also loves us. His will and purposes for us are good, as Jeremiah so boldly confessed in a very dark time (Jer. 29:11). In the midst of our troubles, God looks upon us as his children and the heirs of a great and eternal kingdom that he has promised to us. He has sealed his salvation pledge with the blood of his own Son, which is called the “blood of the everlasting covenant” (Heb. 13:20). He will never alter his purposes of grace or remove his covenant of love with us (Ps. 89:34). “Immutable” means “fixed, unalterable.” Our Father calls us to build our lives upon his fixed purposes of redemption. His counsels do not change. Our lives and circumstances and feelings constantly change. The world’s changing fashions and pleasures reveal its feverish instability. We must therefore hold to God’s unchanging hand. He has given us his word. He has confirmed it with an oath – “By myself I have sworn.” His oath to Abraham is now greatly expanded and clarified by the cross of Jesus and his resurrection. “By myself through the shed blood of my Son have I sworn.” Nothing will stop God from fulfilling his word. It may seem impossible to us. Like Abraham, we must feed upon the certainty of God’s word and his sworn faithfulness.
God Cannot Lie (v. 18)
The Two Immutable Things
His promise and oath are the two immutable things. Take this in, child of God. Child of the world, consider that if you do not build upon these two things, you have built your life upon nothing. All your purposes, hopes, and dreams will ultimately crash to the ground. Our only stability lies in knowing and trusting the God who cannot lie. He does not deceive us. He may send a deceiving spirit to judge ungodly men (2 Thess. 2:11), but the lie does not originate from his pure heart. What he may do to judge the wicked is his own business. For us, we may rest assured that he will never deceive us. His word, therefore, must be kept. If we call upon him, he must answer us. If we confess our sins with broken hearts, he must forgive us (1 John 2:9). If we are in trouble, he must help us (Ps. 50:15). This is not because he owes us anything or that we are worthy of any of these blessings. His faithfulness to us is all of grace and mercy. He has revealed his faithfulness and certified his promises to settle our faith. He crucified his beloved Son to say, “My counsels will stand, the thoughts of my heart to all generations” (Ps. 33:11). Everything around us may be topsy-turvy and our hearts melt with weakness and fear. He is the same. He cannot lie. He will keep what we have committed to him (2 Tim. 1:12).
God’s Faithfulness Our Refuge, Consolation, and Hope
This is our great consolation in the world, our encouragement, that which makes our faith buoyant and able to overcome the world. God’s immutability – as we worship him for his glory, embrace this truth about his character, and trust him accordingly – empowers us to believe and obey, to love our enemies and do them good, and to pray for those who mistreat us. God’s unchanging faithfulness has strengthened men to lay down their lives in the fire and place their necks upon the block. We shall hold fast to our lives and be unwilling to devote them to his glory unless we believe that he will keep his word and preserve us forever! The Hebrew believers had to be brought back to this basic foundation of everything – God is faithful. His promises cannot fail. Why else have we fled to God for refuge from the wrath to come except that we believe his promise of mercy to us in the Lord Jesus? Having believed his promise, we are led by his faithfulness to lay hold of the hope set before us. What is that hope? That God will freely forgive our sins, blot them out, and throw them into the depths of the ocean. He will preserve us in this stormy world, bring us safely to our heavenly home, and raise our bodies from the dust.
We cannot honestly look at ourselves and say, “I will bring myself home.” The most ardent believer but crawls toward heaven; the strongest are but half-awake to God’s promises. Even the wise virgins fell asleep! Can we face Satan and expect him to flee? We have fallen too many times. In those times, did we call upon the faithful God? Did we flee to him as our refuge? When tempted, we must encourage ourselves by his sworn promises. These are faith’s only food. They are the very sword of the Spirit and the sword coming out of our Savior’s mouth. They will vanquish fear, fire, and sword. At the same time, they are the cries of a weak and not yet perfect faith. God has ordained that through these weak means, we shall overcome. It sounds too wonderful to believe. Those who make this confession and build their lives upon it trust the faithful God. They are full of weakness; he is full of faithfulness. His promises are so many invitations for us to return to him constantly for encouragement and strength and wisdom. He cannot deny himself. He cannot break his word to us. We must take him at his word, for as our Savior taught us, he will not do many mighty works if we are divided and unbelieving (Matt. 13:58).
God Invites Us to Come Boldly (vv. 19-20)
By Giving Us Such a Hope as an Anchor within the Veil
Hope is the assurance that God will keep his word. It is related to faith, by which we believe and rest upon his promises. Hope has a future element. It looks beyond the present trial and temptation. It lays hold upon God’s faithfulness. He will keep his word, whatever we may be experiencing at the moment. This hope is the anchor of our soul within the veil. Sailors released the ship’s anchor into the solid ground at the bottom of the sea. Hope is like an anchor we have cast into the very presence of God. We have actually cast our anchor into the solid ground of God himself, his promise and oath. With hope in his promises, we have firm and stable ground. This world is sinking sand. God is the Rock of ages. He has drawn near to us and made sworn promises to us and sealed them with the blood of his Son so that our anchor may be in him. The veil of sin separating us from him has been torn down by our blessed Savior’s perfect obedience and vicarious sufferings. God invites us to cast our anchor into his presence.
By Sealing Our Hope with Jesus as Forerunner and Priest
God has come down to us in his Son (John 1:18). He has crucified and raised his Son. Jesus Christ is our Mediator and our Head. He took upon himself our flesh and became one with us in order to raise us up to be like him. Hope’s anchor never rests in God generally conceived but specifically into the Rock of Ages that was cleft for us, Jesus Christ. He passed through the worst fires and temptations. He endured all trials, tears, and pain. He overcame them all by laying down his life for us on the cross. He is now raised to be our faithful and merciful high priest within the veil of God’s presence. Cast the anchor of hope in the person and work of Christ, in our interceding, reigning Jesus. Can he ever fail or forget us? Our names are engraved upon his hands and upon his breast. He cannot lose us. The storms of life will sometimes blow like a category five hurricane, but we see Jesus. He has entered into his rest. He has triumphed over the dragon, made satisfaction for our sins, and is set down at God’s right hand. He is holding us. He will not let go the anchor of our hope. He will never turn away one who looks to him. God’s promises must be more precious to us. We are weak and defeated and joyless because we do not feed faith and fire hope with the sworn promises of God – to preserve and bless, to keep and forgive, to build his kingdom and crush Satan under our feet. He will fill the earth with his glory and bring all his children to glory. He will raise us from the dead. Faith believes this. Hope is assured of it. God has sworn.
Many Scripture truths are not revealed to give us a list of things to do. Faced with God’s immutability, our first and perhaps dominant response must be worship. It is hard if not impossible to turn away from Christ if we are worshipping God for his steadfast love and faithfulness. It is hard to be afraid of an enemy or to be cowardly when God’s glory is under attack if we are seriously struck by his unchangeableness. His words, therefore, his covenant and his oath, are unchangeable. They cannot be altered. His purposes, as his word and love, are fixed, settled (Ps. 119:89; Zeph. 3:17). Our world and our nation especially have run into many areas of danger because they have embraced changeable man as their foundation. Man makes a very poor deity. Even his scientific paradigms, which are so reverently worshipped, are subject to constant change. Fashions, technologies, and economies come and go. God alone endures forever. His word alone stands sure.
It is easy for us to be carried away by the changeableness that surrounds us. Doctrines change. The worship of our forefathers is now blasé and replaced with a digital form they would not recognize and would reject. Does it remain God’s purpose to save the world through his Son? Are his counsels really being carried forward in our particular age? He does not alter. Might it be that those who control the microphones and screens and money are really not that important after all, that they are in fact dust God is blowing away into the dust bin of history? What we must recover is a sense of God’s immutability. He works, but is not worked upon; he moves, but remains immovable in his purposes. This is our stability in the world, but only if we take seriously that God’s word and oath share in his immutability. The world may fall down around us, for God will blow on it with his storms (Mat. 7:21-23). If we are wise, we shall see through the smoke and build our lives upon the Rock of Ages. “He has remembered his covenant forever, the word which he commanded to a thousand generations” (Ps. 105:8). “The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God shall stand forever” (Isa. 40:8). Therefore, “He that does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17).
Let us now fall down before the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy, confessing that we are unfaithful and subject to so many evils and temptations that our sole hope is his promise to us in his Son. Let us also praise him for his faithfulness and for never forgetting or altering his word and covenant, so that in him we have a sure hope and anchor for our souls. Now, looking to Jesus this week, let us move forward trusting only God’s promise and endeavoring to abide in our Savior, for he alone is our strength and life.