“For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself,” (Hebrews 6:13, KJV 1900)
In my adult life, I have served on several courtroom juries. Every witness was sworn in. The process used to include putting your hand on a Bible and raising the right hand and swearing to an oath. It went like this, “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” To swear in this context is to make a statement under an oath to tell the truth.
The practice is not a new one. In biblical times, people also would make an oath. They would swear by one of greater authority to affirm their statement or commitment. They might swear by the Temple (Matt 23:16), or higher authorities that what they were saying was true or that they would keep their commitment.
Here, the author of Hebrews is making a statement about the assurance that we have in God’s promises. He uses the example of Abraham. God gave him a covenant promise to bless and multiply him. To emphasize the great assurance Abraham had in the promise, the author makes a special note of saying that God swore by Himself because there was no one greater by whom He could swear.
We see this in Genesis after Abraham offered Isaac according to God’s command. “By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son:” (Genesis 22:16, KJV 1900)
The significance of this becomes more apparent when we think about the promise in the context of the one giving it. First, God’s promises flow forth from His own infinite, unchanging and perfect attributes. God is infinitely holy, just, good, righteous, and true. He is infinitely powerful and He is unchanging. He is not like man. Man is capricious and arbitrary, whimsical, and unreliable. God is perfect. It is totally impossible for Him to lie. Because of His infinite perfection, He cannot and never will break a promise.
More than this, He swears on His own infinitely perfect and eternal being that He will ensure the fulfillment of His promises. Now, being God, He did not need to swear to keep His promise. His word is infinitely sufficient. Yet, He makes this point for us to be doubly assured that what He has promised, He will do.
For us who believe, this is great news. When He promised eternal life to all who would trust in Christ alone for their salvation, He made an irrevocable promise. Not only did He begin this great redemptive work in us, He will also see it through to completion (Philippians 1:6).
This is the message the author of Hebrews is sending to his Jewish audience and this is God’s message to all who have truly trusted in Christ. Live confidently in the assurance that God will keep you safe and you will see Him in glory.