We’d take a boat out to snorkel in the clear water off Grand Bahama, and before rolling overboard, we’d drop an anchor. Otherwise ocean currents would move that boat far from us–or us from it. Throwing an anchor and setting it was not trivial; to stay still when things around you are moving takes effort.
We must pay more careful attention, the writer of Hebrews says, so that we do not drift away. He is thinking about currents here, and how easily we slide far past our starting point, from what we once said and thought was important. By directing attention to the great salvation which was announced by the Lord, our writer anchors readers in the midst of forces that push and pull.
If we take salvation to encompass all that Jesus was referring to with His teaching about the kingdom, then we hear a warning against leaving what the Lord came to establish and into which He was inviting people. Such leave-taking was apparently a live issue in the early church (we find the matter addressed by Paul and John, as well), and we’ll encounter it more pointedly later in this book (at 6:4ff). For now, though, let’s notice the encouragement to cling to what we have heard.
The first person plural here–the we–aligns the writer with his readers, and shows that he does not think himself immune to drift. It also forms a contrast with those long ago, who heard the message spoken by angels. Jewish tradition held that angels met Moses on Sinai and conveyed details of the Law to him (for Biblical nods in this direction, check Deuteronomy 33:2; Galatians 3:19; Acts 7:53), thus setting the Law in a place of prominence. Then Jesus comes along, with a different perspective.
Our writer insists that what Jesus says takes priority–even over what angels convey. It’s another masterful handling of a complex matter by this writer, who, like Jesus, does not dismiss the Law so much as ‘place’ it. He knows that what angels say and bring has value, but insists that what Jesus says and brings is of even greater import. It is this writer’s conviction that attention to what Jesus announced and others confirmed–the ‘apostolic witness’–will help readers hold steady.
This accords significant importance to ‘revelation’–God’s particular communication with people through Scripture–and in the process evokes both questions and arguments. We can, for instance, see words on a page–even words of Jesus and the apostles–but come to different conclusions about how we interpret the words, and how we weave their sense into the fabric of life.
Our writer does not give us a single key for unlocking answers to all these concerns. Rather, by tackling a number of knotty ‘problems’, he models the value of careful thinking. This too: he never loses sight of the Lord. Indeed, for this writer, matters of the head and heart are linked, and intricate ‘arguments’ can never replace reverent awe.
So he keeps pointing us to Jesus. He is interested in angels, in history, in current affairs–but he is captivated by the One who announced salvation. Listen to Jesus, he says, and do not get swept away by dangerous currents. Does he realize that what Jesus says will be parsed, disputed, and at times even dismissed? Certainly. But he also knows that hearts fixed on Jesus will find ways to understand, and not drift from what is good, and true.