When God made a promise to Abraham, because he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, ‘I will surely bless you and multiply you.’ And thus Abraham, having patiently endured, obtained the promise. Human beings, of course, swear by someone greater than themselves, and an oath given as confirmation puts an end to all dispute. In the same way, when God desired to show even more clearly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it by an oath, so that through two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible that God would prove false, we who have taken refuge might be strongly encouraged to seize the hope set before us. We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf, has entered, having become a high priest for ever according to the order of Melchizedek.
Having dealt with love in the previous section, the writer to the Hebrews turns to faith and hope.
These three are intimately connected, with love being the ground from which faith and hope spring. Faith being “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Abraham is the great example of this – promised a son when he and his wife were both beyond child-bearing age and holding firm to that promise until he saw its fulfilment in Isaac. But hold on a minute, what about that business with Ishmael? I’m not saying that I’d have done any better, but Abraham slipped up rather when he tried to make God’s promise come true by himself. Of course, you can follow his logic. Sarah was too old, and any children by Sarah’s servant would still be Abraham’s. Perhaps that’s what God meant all along?
But no. God’s route for Abraham was not the clearly way-marked path across broad meadows, but through deep canyons of seeming impossibility. When his own methods of fulfilling the promise had failed, Abraham was left with just one option: faith.
Abraham was forced to rely on God, and maybe that’s why God left it so long before Isaac was born. Sometimes we need to have our own solutions stripped away before we are ready to look at God’s.
Looking back at the start of this year and the changes wrought by coronavirus, many of us have had things that we relied upon stripped away. Our routines have changed beyond recognition. School has changed, work has changed, even church has changed. Some of us have lost livelihoods, health or tragically, loved ones.
We may feel as lost as Abraham, shipwrecked in a storm grasping only to an unreasonable promise. But hope in God is not a piece of floating driftwood. It is fastened to the bedrock of the earth, and well worth holding on to.
Prayer God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Thank you that even the great heroes of faith are fallible humans like me. Thank you that you cope with our failures and patiently restore us. Help us to see beyond our own plans to the greater plans of yours and to place our hope always in you. Amen.
Fay Rowland, graduate researcher Wesley House, Cambridge, member Christ the King Church of England, Kettering