We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised… (Hebrews 6:12)
Faith is a theme Hebrews returns to, and in doing so, Abraham’s life serves as a prime example. But we are not simply meant to marvel at that patriarch’s faith; we are also to bear in mind what it was that Abraham was anticipating–namely, what God had promised.
Land, yes; a ‘people’, too–but more than that, the promise God made to Abraham was personal. God noticed Abraham, offered him a place in the divine plan, made obvious that he was known and loved by the creator of the universe. From that angle, then, it becomes a bit easier to understand why Hebrews’ author has such harsh words for those who turn away: when God has done all this (the logic is that Abraham serves as a representative for the wider swath of humanity), how could a person not respond favorably?
Abraham, we’re told, received what was promised. Which is curious, since later–in chapter 11, which focuses on faith–we read that none of those who trusted God received what they were promised (11:39). How to account for this apparent discrepancy? Perhaps in this way: that Abraham got part but not all of what God intended. That is, land and progeny did come to Abraham–so much so that in his own lifetime, Abraham could quite clearly see the blessings of God. But God had in mind more than material benefits for Abraham–and all those aligned in faith with God–but this did not accrue to him during his life. Instead, Abraham had to wait. And what we learn is that he was willing to do so.
This wait was based on hope, a fixed, though future, point. And Hebrews’ author, in commending Abraham, indicates what lies before all who attach themselves to the Lord in faith. All of us are waiting, all of us are staking our lives on God’s promise being true, good, and sure. All of us are bound to hope.
We speak of hope as a yearning, but here, we can understand hope more in terms of content: there is something particular toward which we lean, on which we rest. The anchor image is potent: hope allows us to stay steady during storms, to remain fixed despite strong currents that might otherwise sweep us away.
Hope is fixed, but also mobile, able to enter the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone (6:19-20). Readers, our writer assumes, will follow the imagery here, will think of the Temple, with its most holy place, where the high priest goes to offer sacrifice. All these ideas are in his mind as he considers the person and work of Christ–and what that means for people of faith.
The imagery serves this writer’s larger program of wanting to deal with teachings about Christ (see 6:1); with it, we are getting yet another dimension of Jesus’ person and work. He is the one in whom we can have faith; He is the one who invests hope with content and to which hope is attached. And He is the one who serves as true high priest–not simply the best, or the next, but the archetypical high priest, on whom all others were patterned, to which all others looked forward. And as the next intricate image–the one featuring the quasi-mystical figure Melchizedek–unspools, we will hear more of what it means to have Jesus serving as the priest who stands between us and God.