Surveying the Text: Hebrews

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There are seven Old Testament passages quoted in the first chapter of Hebrews alone, and five of those seven passages have to do with the submission of the nations to Christ. That is what the entire book is about—and we are taught this through the author showing us that this is what the entire Old Testament is about. There are almost forty explicit quotations from the Old Testament here in this book, and this is not counting the numerous allusions and references. All of them fit into the story of the greater Joshua, subduing the nations of Canaan, that is, the nations of the world.Plant From Bible

The Text:

“For he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee(Heb. 13:5b).

Summary of the Text:

This text is what we might call a naturally inspirational one. “I will never leave you” is a text you might want to have imprinted on a cocoa mug for a rainy day, or on a Christian inspirational poster portraying a glorious California sunset. But a far better image for such a poster would be a panoramic view of Normandy beach just before the invasion. This is a quotation from Deuteronomy 31, and here is the original context:

“The Lord thy God, he will go over before thee, and he will destroy these nations from before thee, and thou shalt possess them . . . And the Lord shall give them up before your face, that ye may do unto them according to all the commandments which I have commanded you. Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee” (vv. 3-6).

It is also noteworthy that this promise from Deuteronomy is also quoted in the next book, Joshua, the book that describes the course of the invasion. Note the military language.

“There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them. Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest” (Josh. 1:5-7).

Jehovah God, the God of battles, will be with us in our battles.

The God of Builders:

Moreover, especially when we see how Hebrews handles it, applying it to the establishment and building of the Church, we should be struck by this same language when David is giving Solomon a charge to build the Temple—the type of the Church.

“And David said to Solomon his son, Be strong and of good courage, and do it: fear not, nor be dismayed: for the LORD God, even my God, will be with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee, until thou hast finished all the work for the service of the house of the LORD” (1 Chron. 28:20).

A New Testament Deuteronomy:

So the book of Hebrews is a New Testament Deuteronomy. This can be seen in a number of ways.

First, the book of Deuteronomy is quoted five times, three of those instances being from chapter 32. This is the chapter containing the Song of Moses, the great reminder of the entire book of Deuteronomy, the chapter that sums all the issues up. Second, the book of Hebrews places the recipients of this letter as an antitype for the people of Israel in the wilderness—at the end of which the book of Deuteronomy was given to them (Heb. 3: 7-4:11). Third, the people who first read the book of Hebrews were on the threshold of God’s great invasion of the world, and this is how they are encouraged (Heb. 13:5; Deut. 31:6). Never will I leave you during the course of the invasion of the land.

And fourth, the structure of the book of Hebrews (generally) follows the same structure as that of Deuteronomy. There is a preamble (1-2), an historical prologue (3-4:15), general stipulations (4:16-7), specific stipulations (8-10), divine witnesses are called (11), and the book concludes with blessings and curses (12-13). As one commentator discusses the structure of Deuteronomy, we see that book the same way: there is a preamble (1:1-5), an historical prologue (1:6-4:49), general stipulations (5-11), specific stipulations (12-26), blessings and curses (27-28), and then the witnesses, just slightly out of place (30:19; 31:19; 32:1-43). It is striking that Deuteronomy and Hebrews are so structurally similar. Combine this with their common thematic elements and the point become plain.

More to the Point:

Immediately after our text, the author of Hebrews quotes Psalm 118. This is the psalm that speaks of Christ (the stone the builders rejected, v.  22-23; and see 1 Pet. 2:7; Acts 4:11; Luke 20:17; Mk. 12:10-11; Matt. 21:42), and which also blessed the Christ, who came in the name of the Lord (v. 26; Matt. 21:9; Jn. 12:13; Mk. 11:9; Luke 13:35; 19:38). This is the context of what he quotes: “I called upon the Lord in distress: the Lord answered me, and set me in a large place. The Lord is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me? The Lord taketh my part with them that help me: therefore shall I see my desire upon them that hate me” (Ps.118:5-7).

The biblical faith, lived as it should be lived, will always generate resistance and conflict. This should not be a surprise; it should not come as a shock. The charge we are given in this context is the charge to be strong and courageous. This means that we are in the midst of circumstances where it would be easy to not be courageous, and not be strong. What is God’s role in this? He does the “not leaving.” He does the “not forsaking.” What do we do? We believe Him when He says this, and the natural response to this faith is courage.

This means, then, that courage is a function of knowing two basic things about history. The first is knowing where you are in that history, and the second is knowing that God is with you, during that particular moment of history. If you know where you are, but not where God is, that is despair. And if you know right where God is (in your heart), but you have no idea where you are, all you can do is maintain your devotional life until you die and go to heaven. But God is with you, and He is with us, and we are in the land of this world, an antitype of the land of Canaan. Where in the antitype history are we? We are somewhere in the book of Judges, slowly, surely—seeing both victories and reverses—subduing the land. And, no matter how grim it may look, God will never forsake us.

This material can also be found in Christ and His Rivals.

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doug sayers
doug sayers
5 years ago

Thanks for these Doug. Interesting comparison with Deuteronomy. I shouldn’t be surprised that you would think knowing where we are in history is essential to courage but I tend to think that courage is almost entirely a function of knowing that Jesus is with us, to the end of the age. I have my doubts that most of the folks mentioned in chapter 11 had read much world history or prophecy but they had plenty of courage. If you are saying that it is enough for everyone to simply be looking for the city whose builder and maker is God,… Read more »

5 years ago

The moon waxes and wanes, but, it’s Maker is still realizing it’s purposes. Today, the Anglo-Saxon first world is darkening, but, Christ is growing His church. Today…

Bro. Steve
Bro. Steve
5 years ago

I look at Hebrews as being strongly premillennial in its outlook. He that shall come, will come. And after a great shaking, only what is unshakable will remain.