His friend is facing major surgery, and he is reminded of the Lord’s many exhortations against anxiety. Knowing with certainty that the King of Kings is by our side should flood us with peace. Don asked for personal thoughts or elaboration on the passage, (at least I think that’s what he asked for….had so much on my mind lately, it’s hard to have clarity of thought!), and I remembered this brief exposition/commentary I’d banged out on the related verse in Joshua 1:5 (as quoted by the author of Hebrews).
Rather than filling up the Scripture Student combox, I figured I’d re-post my thoughts over here. It’s funny, reading your own words several years after the fact! I wrote this in an earlier time in my walk with God, when I was only a novice student of hermeneutics (the study of Bible interpretation). Nevertheless, God’s Word was as living and active to me then as it is now, and I sought Him diligently therein. He was always faithful to teach me, and He still is….when I am faithful to seek.
A little over a year ago, I started a personal study called "The Way of Agape" and have found its principles of dying to self (in order to be a clean vessel of God's love to others) quite challenging, to say the least. According to author Nancy Missler, step one in loving God the way we should is knowing He loves us.
We all say we know God loves us, but many of us struggle to get into our hearts what we know in our heads….that He truly loves us independently of what we do. In addition, the term "unconditional love" does not appear anywhere in the Bible. On impulse, I flipped to the verses listed "proving" God loves us, and near the top of the list was Hebrews 13:5, which contains the familiar promise that we repeat to ourselves to affirm that God is with us: "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."
But do we ask ourselves "what does this mean to Christians, in practicality?" Is it just a warm fuzzy catch-phrase?
Of course, I do believe that God loves us tenderly and personally; but is this just an endearment? If we look at the circumstances under which God promises His presence, we may glean some insight into its application. Seeing the verse in the King James Version helps us realize God’s assurance is individual, and not just collective. The translation uses the you-singular term “thee”, rather than the plural “ye”, which is faithful to the original Hebrew. Many of God’s promises are, in fact, “singular” and therefore personal words to us, but we often miss that in the newer translations. What an amazing thought, that we are not simply one of 6 billion faces to the Almighty; but He is faithful to sustain each one of His children in exactly the way that he or she needs.
If you look up the verse’s cross-references, you see that the author of Hebrews was quoting from Moses in Deuteronomy 31:6 as well as Joshua 1:5. Look at the context in Deuteronomy 31:6 - they were going into battle. Where was the Lord leading them when He gave this promise? Into Canaan – the Promised Land. First He says to them, "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified". He promises to go into battle with them, and assures their victory. At the beginning of the book of Joshua, the Israelites were about to take on a monumental feat and a trial – to inherit the land they had forfeited by their lack of faith 40 years earlier.
This is not a warm, fuzzy, self-affirming message; it's much more than that, if we learn to apply the illustration. What are our "enemies"? Or, put another way, what do we do battle against? Sin - especially our most ingrained, habitual sins. In Romans 7:23, Paul specifically says the carnal desires “wage war against” the spirit and law of God. Yes, we're dead to sin, but even the idealistic, Spirit-filled New Testament writers acknowledged it's a continual battle. God promises not only to fight the battle with us, but He won't abandon or forsake us when we're in defeat! That's what that verse means.
He won't leave us at the mercy of our sin [give up on us] - "Oh, she did that again. Hopeless reprobate." The context is of battle -- literal in the Old Testament; spiritual for us. This also conjures up Paul's allegory of "putting on the full armor of God" in Eph. 6:11 -- the whole idea of fighting a battle against sin and being soldiers comes through a lot in the New Testament. Paul refers several times to his fellow evangelists as “soldiers” of Christ, again comparing the spiritual battle to a military one. Soldiers on the battlefield never leave their fallen or wounded brethren behind, and God is assuring us in this simple promise, repeated three times in Scripture, that neither will He abandon us when we struggle and fail in our sin. Looking at that promise in its original context forced me to see it in a whole new light.
Many times, when we sin, our first impulse is to “run and hide”. I’ve often felt like God should be throwing His hands up by now! This promise is that He is an Ally, ever fighting by our side. The following verse in Hebrews 13:6 confirms that: “So we say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?"