Q – I was talking with a friend who is pursuing a music career. She asked me if she should share the vision she had for doing her music with the producers she was meeting with, or if she should keep quiet. She mentioned the verse in Habakkuk, “Write down the vision on tablets…”
Well, I told her that nowhere in scripture does it say that random verses taken from their context are fair game for Christians to apply to themselves. A discussion ensued about reading in proper context. She said, ‘But I just don’t know how understanding that God is taking care of Israel increases my faith.’ I’m not saying the Habakkuk verse can’t be something God spoke to her personally through, but I am skeptical of reading scripture as though it only applies to my circumstances. It turned into an interesting discussion.
So, the example that came up was Hebrews 11. My friend said that these verses could mean that God might not do what He promised to do. Ever since she’s moved to CA, this passage has bothered her because she found herself unable to unlock it. I’d never had any idea, either. But, suddenly I got that bright flash of understanding when I thought about it in terms of the New Covenant.
I told her my take on it, but I want to know if I’ve got it.
Chapter 8 starts with the repeating of the New Covenant. Chapter 9 talks about how the first covenant was a shadow of things to come with its regulations, and that Christ is our High Priest (I am giving only the broad overview) and Mediator of the New Covenant. This is, generally, how any first-century Hebrew would have read it, I think, however simplistic I am being. Chapter 10 talks about Christ having provided a better sacrifice for us than the sacrifices in the temple; our sins are forgiven and Christ is promised as our reward.
THEN chapter 11 kicks in. And to my sight, this is all talking about people who were under the Old covenant who did not see the inception of the New; yet by faith they lived trusting that God would be faithful to all He had promised. As in, they would have all known about the Abrahamic Covenant and all looked for its fulfillment.
So when it says, ‘Though all these people by their faith won God’s approval, yet none of them received what he had promised, for God had provided something still better for us, that they, apart from us, might not attain to perfection,’ it’s talking about the promise of the New Covenant, not some personal promise made to Moses or Rahab or those sawn in two.
So my conclusion was, though all these people were indeed faithful and approved by God, none of them received the New Covenant, which is what we received.
Am I on track here or completely out in loony-land? I will also check out your Hebrews commentary. Thanks!
Jim – You’re thinking along good lines as far as Hebrews 11 is concerned, but let me throw something more into the mix. One of the supposed difficulties about the book of Hebrews is the apparent contradiction between these two passages –
“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 shew 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:” (Heb 6:13-18)
“By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised. Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable. 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. ” (Heb 11:8-13)
Chapter six says that Abraham “obtained the promise.” Yet, chapter eleven says that he – and all the “heroes of faith,” so called – died in faith, not having received the promises. Critics love to create a false tension between these two sections. But, straightening out that supposed conundrum will also help answer your question.
In Genesis 15:6 we read that Abraham believed God it was counted to him for righteousness. What did Abraham believe? He believed the single promise that he would have a son. And, through the son would come an innumerable seed, a great company of offspring. Abraham believed (‘aman’) and God counted that as righteousness. So, Abraham did, through faith, eventually receive the son he was promised – thirty years after the initial promise. That’s what Hebrews 6 is talking about. But, God went on and promised Abraham even greater blessings – He promised him the whole land of Palestine as an eternal inheritance. “The land of promise.” Abraham left his home in Ur of the Chaldees and journeyed the rest of his life as a sojourner – the meaning of “Hebrew” – but he never truly gained possession of the land. Meanwhile, he had offspring – “Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise.” That phrase makes clear that we’re no longer discussing the initial promise of a seed or offspring. That promise was already on its way toward fulfillment in Isaac and Jacob. But, the Abrahamic Covenant – the promise of land inheritance, the unified kingdom, peace and prosperity, was given to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Ephraim. And, all the “heroes of faith” of chapter 11 looked for that fulfillment, but they all died, not having received the promises. Why? God had a better plan. He will not fulfill the promise He made with Himself until all Israel historically and futuristically have lived and are ready to be gathered, an innumerable company of people. Remember that when the Hebrews’ author wrote of “us” and “them,” he was writing within the Israelitish context. “Them” referred to the historic forefathers of Israel, those who carried the immutable promise. And “us” was converted Jews, believing Hebrews, who continued to look for the fulfillment of those promises made to Israel. So, we cannot impose Gentile church concepts onto that promise. It’s quite plain, really. Israel is still waiting for the completion of the promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob concerning their kingdom and their King. They are looking for a restored nation and David’s throne. And, even here in the New Testament, in the book that proclaims Israel’s historic connection to the New Covenant, the author continues to insist that it is coming, despite the fact that it hadn’t happened, yet. And, that’s the same thing I keep saying. Now, as far as your friend’s concern that God might not do what He promised to do, that’s not the author’s intent at all. What he was driving at was simply the realization that the inception of the New Covenant was further proof that God was continuing to keep His word to His chosen people – their Messiah had in fact come, just like Scripture promised, and all the forefathers looked forward in faith to the full redemption and restoration of their nation. So likewise, Hebrew believers should mirror that faith and continue to look ever forward to the final day of redemption for Israel. The promises are firm. They are simply a matter of future fulfillment. That’s his whole point. And, the reason God delayed the onset of the promises is so that everyone will be included. So, he concluded –
“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:1-2)
It’s all about faith. We are being saved by grace through faith. But, in order to mimic the faith of Abraham, we need an object of faith to hope for. The Israelites hope in Abraham’s covenant. Paul said that we Gentile believers look forward to the redemption of our bodies. That’s the focus of our faith –
“For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it. ” (Rom 8:22-25)
Either way, we are living by faith (not by sight!) looking forward to the promises God has given us. We do not see them, but we know them and believe them and walk through this life as though they are more true and verifiable than every circumstance to the contrary. The focus of faith is God’s word of promise. To the Hebrews, it’s a historic promise of inheritance. To the Gentile, it’s the gathering of the body of Christ. But, in either case, God has provided us with ample evidence of His faithfulness to His own word, and has provided us with substance to rest our faith in. Then, He counts that faith as righteousness. Once again, God provides everything necessary for our complete and utter redemption, saving us “to the uttermost.” I hope that helps. At least it probably stirred the pot a bit.