"I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life"

Father God, thank you for the love of the truth you have given me. Please bless me with the wisdom, knowledge and discernment needed to always present the truth in an attitude of grace and love. Use this blog and Northwoods Ministries for your glory. Help us all to read and to study Your Word without preconceived notions, but rather, let scripture interpret scripture in the presence of the Holy Spirit. All praise to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

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Friday, July 22, 2011

I Will Never Leave Thee nor Forsake Thee - Conditional or Unconditional Promise of God?

I will Never Leave Thee nor Forsake Thee

You often hear Hebrews 13:5 quoted from the pulpit. It is usually used as a blanket statement applicable to all Christians, especially by those who believe in the Calvinist doctrine of “once saved – always saved.” But is it being quoted properly? Is it an unconditional promise to all Christians? Let’s look a little deeper into that statement.

In the previous chapter, the writer of Hebrews mentions the Israelites standing before the mountain when God spoke to them at Mount Sinai (v18-21) and how the people could not bear to hear God speak. He then goes on to say that they are no longer at Mount Sinai but at Mount Zion, at the New Jerusalem (v22). In verse 25 and 26a, he states, “See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him Who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him Who speaks from Heaven,”…

There would appear to be a contradiction here at first glance, God promises to never leave nor forsake us, but then, threatens us if we don’t listen and obey Him. In fact, there is no disagreement here which we will see if we look a little more closely to the use of the statement in the Old Testament.

The first use is in Genesis 28:15 where God is speaking specifically to Jacob, promising to be with him until he completes what God has given him to do. That has little application to the general use of the term. Similarly, Joshua 1:5 appears to be God’s promise to Joshua to always be with him, as he was with Moses.

However, God, in Deuteronomy 31:6, spoke it to Moses as Moses was giving his final address to the Israelites before he commissioned Joshua to lead the people into the Promised Land.

Just before that, God also said, “I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess. But if your heart turns away so that you do not hear, and are drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them, I announce to you today that you shall surely perish…” Deuteronomy 30:15-18.

So it is clear that the promise God gave the Israelites that He would never leave nor forsake them was not a blanket, unconditional statement. It was, in fact, in direct relationship to their faith and obedience as manifested in their entering and conquering the Promised Land. Even in this matter, the Lord’s presence was dependent upon the Israelites keeping the covenant which the Lord commanded them; for Achan had taken silver and gold and garments that had been forbidden. Consequently, the Lord did not go with them when they went up against the few men of Ai, and so, the men of Ai routed the Israelite soldiers and killed 36 of them.

When Achan was found out, Joshua took him, his family, his possessions, even his animals, and had them stoned and then burned and then buried under a great pile of rocks.  God is serious about our obedience; don’t ever think that disobedience is a small matter.

So what we have learned so far is that God’s promise to never leave nor forsake you is not unconditional and that it seems to be, at least as far as the Israelites were concerned, for the purpose of conquering the land.

We could also look at the generation that heard God speak from the mountain and asked to be excused so that they wouldn’t have to hear Him. This same people reached Kadesh-Barnea and refused to enter the Promised Land out of fear of the giants and walled cities. Had they forgotten God was with them? After all the miracles in Egypt, at the Red Sea, in the desert, they still did not trust God. They refused to listen to Moses, Joshua, and Caleb. When the Lord condemned them to 40 years in the wilderness, they had a sudden change of heart, but it was too late. They decided to go up against the Amorites and Canaanites in spite of the fact that Moses warned them against it. Numbers 14:42 “Do not go up, lest you be defeated by your enemies, for the Lord is not among you.”

Of course, they did not listen to Moses and went up to fight and were severely routed, again, because God was not with them. These are those, who refused Him Who spoke on earth, and were condemned to fall in the wilderness, indeed, some falling straight into Hell. Numbers 16:1-34 tells the story of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram and some 250 leaders who rebelled against the God-given authority of Moses and Aaron with the consequence that the earth opened up and they were swallowed alive into the pit. Some versions called it Sheol rather than the pit. Sheol is another name for Hell.

 The writer of Hebrews quotes God as saying in regard to that generation, “So I swore in my wrath, they shall not enter My rest.” Ch3 v11.  What is “My rest?” For the Israelites, it was rest from war after they had conquered the Promised Land. But what does it mean for New Testament Christians? An obedient, faithful, NT Christian has already entered the Promised Land and is in the process of conquering the giants and walled cities. Some might suggest that when we have conquered the internal enemies, that we can rest in Jesus. That’s certainly true to a point, but we are also called to intercede, to stand in the gap for others who are still in the midst of battle. In this life, we should never stop assailing the gates of Hell.

Entering God’s rest can refer to two other possibilities. One is the Millennial Reign, where there is peace on earth and the lion lies down with the lamb. This is a tantalizing period in the future that we understand too little about. Some suggest that only those who are martyred for Christ will be ruling with Him in that thousand years on earth. Others believe all Christians will partake in it. Nevertheless, it could be the “rest” that God refers to.

The other possibility is the rest one gets when they enter Heaven. There is considerable Biblical support for the idea that when we enter Heaven after our body dies, that we rest until either Jesus returns to earth, or until Judgment Day at the end of the Millennium. The judgment on the sons of Korah seems to indicate that the alternative to entering God’s rest is Hell. Consequently, I suspect that God is referring to our rest in Heaven.

Whatever God’s rest is, we should be doing whatever we have to to make sure that we get there. And again, “much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him Who speaks from Heaven,”… Shall we consider God’s statement that He will never leave nor forsake us to be an unconditional promise? I think not. So then, when can we rely on God keeping that promise?

I think it is clear, when we are obeying His commands. Not in a legalistic way because Jesus delivered us from legalism; His law is written in our hearts if we are rightly related to Him. But if we find that we are breaking His laws, then we need to see that as an indication that we are not in a right relationship, and we must fall on our face and seek His. At the very least, seek help from a wise counselor.

Jesus said, in John 14, that if we fail to keep His commands, it is because we don’t love Him. If we don’t love Him, it is either because we don’t know Him well enough, or because we love ourselves too much. If that is you, repent, and spend much more time reading about and praying to Jesus; not only praying to, but listening to Him.

Most of the quotes above either contain, or are prefaced by, comments that the disobedient did not listen. Listening to God is a necessary condition of a person who is rightly related to God. “if your heart turns away so that you do not hear” is a clear indication that if you do not hear the Lord, something is out of order in your heart. It could be pride, or selfishness, busyness, or something else that has replaced God in your heart.

The Holy Spirit should be constantly teaching and guiding the true searcher. How do you know if you are hearing from God? What He says will line up with scripture and with the character of God. Furthermore, when God speaks, it will almost invariably provoke, in the listener a sense of humility if not outright fear.