The Abrahamic Covenant: Part 16

Practical Faith and the Riches of Ur

John Plunkett
September 19, 2015

Last time in part 15, as we went in order through twenty-seven verses of Hebrews 10, God (I believe) took us through a dizzying array of amazing and inspiring sub-topics.  Here are just few of them:

·        Our need for patience as we join Jesus as He  looks forward to His sure return to this earth,

·        Our perfection and sanctification as a result of Jesus’ sacrifice,

·        The New Covenant offering of Jesus’ flesh, blood and even the “water” that came out of His torn Body,

·        The tearing of the Temple veil – symbolic of the tearing of Jesus’ flesh and all that revolves around that,

·        Conscience: both good and evil,

·        God’s gifts of confidence and faith,

·        The requirement for good works, including Christian fellowship,

·        God’s Fatherly – but firm – warnings not to willfully neglect Christian fellowship, especially because the source of such neglect is Satan,

·         The single sacrifice of the New Covenant compared with the multiple sacrifices of the Old Covenant,

·         The promised substance, wages and reward – i.e. all the gifts of the New Covenant,

·         The worthwhile work, effort, resistance and struggle of the Christian life.

That was a lot to cover in so few verses, and in such a short a time.  But please hold on tight as we continue this exciting roller-coaster ride of sub-topics that God has given us in His amazing epistle to the Hebrews, all so very relevant to the covenants.

Just to bring us up to date, let’s read again verses 35 to 37 of Hebrews 10, where we finished last time – along with God’s superbly inspiring, encouraging, and exhortative conclusion – looking forward confidently and patiently to the receiving of this promised reward and to the return of Jesus Christ:

Hebrews 10:
35:  Cast not away therefore your confidence, which has great recompence of reward.

36:  For you have need of patience, that, after you have done the will of God, you might receive the promise.

37:  For yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry.


That, of course, is the promise of the returmn of Jesus Christ and the wonderful "World Tomorrow."


But as we begin Part 16 of this Bible study series, still in chapter 10, let’s come back to the "world today" – or rather, to the Church of God today:


38:  Now the just shall live by faith {Greek: pistis}: but if any man draw back {Greek: hupostello}, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.

39:  But we are not of them who draw back {Greek: hupostole} unto perdition; but of them that believe {pistis} to the saving of the soul.


These two verses contain some Greek words that are worth looking into a little deeper:


First ‘pistis’ (Strong’s 4102), which is translated in verse 38 as the noun form, “faith” and in verse 39 as the verb form “believe”.


We recently read (in verse 35) that God wants us – the human parties to His New Covenant – to maintain our confidence and patience.  


Here He commands us to live by faith.  Yes, faith, which goes hand-in-hand with confidence and patience, and which the writer of the book of Hebrews goes into in more detail in chapter 11.


But just as in verses 26 to 29 which we studied last time, God inspired some loving, fatherly warnings to be included here.  And for our benefit.  He also warns us here to beware of one of the implied opposites of faith – drawing back!


In verse 38, using the term “draw back”, the Hebrews author uses the verb form ‘hupostello’ (Strong’s 5288) which is also translated in the King James Version as keep back, shun or withdraw.  Its extended Greek meanings include: to let down, to lower, to be timid, and to shrink.


In verse 39, the author uses the noun form ‘hupostole’ (Strong’s 5289) which means the timidity of a person who is stealthily retreating.


It is true that the Christian life requires continued effort and resistance.  At its worst, it is a spiritual battle.  It is not always like that, thankfully. There is a lot of happiness and joy, of course; but there is also some serious effort and resistance that is required.


But if we draw back in a timid retreat from the fray, we cannot just expect to dwell for the remainder of our lives in the peace and quiet of our comfortable living rooms.  


Rather, God tells us here that, if we draw back, not only will we lose our “wages,” we’ll also be drawing back “unto perdition”!


So then, what is perdition?


The Greek noun used here for perdition is ‘apoleia’ (Strong’s 684) which is translated elsewhere in the King James Version as utter destruction, waste, damnable, perishing and ruin.   


Do you desire any of those conditions?  I’m sure I don’t!  So, just as Jesus’ disciples did, let’s keep on praying that God will increase our faith.  Yes, faith!  The very opposite of drawing back!   


We all know by now that we cannot work up faith of ourselves, and that it has to be given to us by God.  However, we need to be praying for faith.  And once God gives it to us, we need to be exercising it.  


We all need to keep at it!  Let’s never give up the fight!  No retreat!  Let’s strap on the armour and the weapons of God!  Let’s continue to move forward into the fray, shoulder-to-shoulder with our fellow-soldiers-of-Christ.  Let’s find out what our individual parts are on our side of the New Covenant – and let’s get to it!


Now let’s move on into chapter 11, which is commonly known as “the faith chapter.”  But today, in addition to faith, we’re going to concentrate on the chapter’s references to the covenants.  


But actually, the words "covenant" and "testament" (both from the Greek word ‘diatheke’) are not mentioned at all in chapter 11!  It’s strange how the Greek word ‘diatheke’ appears in chapters 7, 8, and 10; then skips over chapter 11 and comes back in chapters 12 and 13!


Nevertheless, even though the word ‘diatheke’ does not actually appear in chapter 11, the covenants certainly are referred to in it... a lot!


The chapter begins with a well-known definition of faith:


Hebrews 11:1:
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.


How can we even mention the word faith without thinking of Abraham, the very "father of the faithful" and of the wonderful two-part covenant that God made with him?


You might remember that the word substance was mentioned in verse 34 of the last chapter (10), which we discussed last time, where it referred – just as it does here – to the guaranteed substance of the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant and the New Covenant.  


Please also keep the word “evidence” in the back of your mind as well, because it will crop up again later.

2:  For by it {faith} the elders obtained a good report.


The elders mentioned here are not New Testament era church ministers.  The author is writing about the "patriarchs" – the Old Testament era “heroes of faith” who he lists throughout the remainder of this “faith chapter.”


The noun term “a good report” is interesting too.  It is translated from the Greek verb ‘martureo’ which appears in different English terms in the next few verses.  We’ll come back and discuss it shortly.


3:  Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.


So those "things which are seen" would include everything that we see – the mountains, the islands, the oceans, etc.  Amazingly, they are all made of things which we cannot see!


This astonishing statement dovetails with verse 1!  


·        Even many of the world’s scientists are coming to believe that what was written here is true!  I was recently watching an episode of an excellent (though evolution-based) BBC documentary series called “The Story of Science” in which the presenter – Michael Mosely – stated that it has been proved that everything that exists consists of empty space and that all of what we perceive to be solid matter is merely a series of electrons flying around each other.  He then made this statement:

Scientists have proved that if the empty space was removed from the atoms and molecules which make up the whole human population of the world, all 7 billion of us could fit into a space smaller than a single sugar cube!


This just shows how God’s Holy Word agrees perfectly with true science!


But let’s not stray too far off our covenant topic today.  When I was searching through Hebrews 11, looking for the appearances of the words “covenant” and “ testament” specifically, I ran across the words “ testifying” in verse 4 and “ testimony” in verse 5.  Thinking (erroneously) that either or both of them might be related to the word testament in the English or the Greek, I looked them up and found that both of them – plus the word “witness” in verse 4 – plus the phrase “a good report” in verses 2 and 39, are all translated from the Greek verb ‘martureo’ (Strong’s 3140).  Here are verses 4 and 5:


Hebrews 11:

4:  By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness {martureo} that he was righteous, God testifying {martureo} of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaks.

5:  By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony {martureo}, that he pleased God.


‘Martureo’ is translated elsewhere in the New Testament as be a witness, bear witness, bear record, have a good report, or give testimony.  Its extended meanings include: To affirm that one has seen, heard or experienced something, or that he knows it because taught by divine revelation or inspiration.

So a person has either seen it with his own eyes, has experienced it personally, or he knows it because he was taught by divine revelation or inspiration.


The verb ‘martureo’ stems from the noun ‘martus’ (Strong’s 3144) which is translated in the New Testament as witness, martyr and record.  Its extended Greek meanings include:

·        A witness in a legal, historical or ethical sense,

·        A spectator of anything, e.g. a contest,

·        A literal martyr – i.e. one who has proved his/her faith by his/her willingness to undergo a violent death.


Of course, Abel and Enoch both predated Abraham by many, many years.  So we might ask: Can they – and this term ‘martureo’ – really be relevant to our study?


Yes, they can.  Why?  Because both Abel and Enoch are both listed amongst the first and finest examples of faith – as was Abraham.  In some ways, Abel, through his obedient relationship with God, was a precursor of Abraham and a precursor of the Abrahamic Covenant, because his blood offering was the first to be recorded as being acceptable to God.  I am not talking here about his own death; but to the animal sacrifice he gave.


Enoch may also be looked upon as another precursor of Abraham, because the scriptures state twice that Enoch (actually Enoch II because there had been an earlier man by that name) whose name means “dedicated” “walked with God” as did Noah and as did Abraham who “believed God” to the point that he even came to be known as “the friend of God.”


But also, just like Abraham, the examples of the faith of these two men confirmed that they witnessed (martureo) – they had seen, heard and experienced certain things through direct, personal contact with God; so that their knowledge was taught to them by divine revelation and inspiration.


Likewise, even though Abraham had not physically witnessed (martureo) all of the results of God’s covenant promises to him, he “saw” them in his mind’s eye, he firmly believed God, and so the sure evidence was in his faith.  Again, that faith of his was given to him by God; but he still had to exercise it.  None of us can just ask God for more faith; but do nothing with it.


Next comes a loving, fatherly warning for us all:


6a:  But without faith {pistis} it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe {pisteuo} that He is…


"He is"?  Who is?  God is!  Which god?  In the Greek, Jesus.  In the Hebrew, Yᵉhowshua, which means YHVH is salvation."  Yes, YHVH – the Eternal – the Self-Existent One!  He is!!!


This reminds me of how frequently Jesus said “I AM.”   


Some will claim that a simple belief in His existence is all that we have to do.  But many, many other scriptures prove that that is just not true.  Yes, we do have to believe that He is; but we also have to believe many other things that go along with that fact!


What we are told in this verse is almost a repetition of what we were told at the end of chapter 10 about faith, about belief, and about their converse – drawing back.


But if simple belief in God’s existence is just the starting point, what else is there?  In the second half of verse 6, we find something else that is very significant.


6b:… and that He {God} is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.


The Greek word for rewarder is ‘misthapodotes’ (Strong’s 3406).  It means the one who pays the wages.  As the originating party of these covenants, God the Father (with Jesus Christ) is the husbandman who is mentioned in some of the parables Jesus gave.  He is the ultimate “business owner.”  He is the “accountant.”  He is the “paymaster.”


As mentioned in the latter verses of chapter 10, God the Father is the one who has our promised covenant rewards – our “paycheques” – stored in heaven for us.  


We know that God the Father is the one who does the calling and the choosing of His “workers” – those on the human side of the New Covenant equation.  But we – the human parties of the New Covenant – must also be doing our part.  And, as God tells us here, one part of our part is to be continually seeking God the Father and Jesus, to be seeking the faith that only they can give us – to be seeking them with great diligence.


Please note this phrase “diligently seek” (Greek ‘ekzeteo’) because we’ll see it crop up a couple of times again as we move on.


This diligent seeking of God is not just a one-time activity.  We must be constantly seeking God the Father and Jesus through the communication that they so graciously offer us – daily at the very minimum – through prayer and Bible study.


The single Greek word translated here as “diligently seek” is ‘ekzeteo’ (Strong’s 1567) which is also translated in the New Testament as require, seek after, seek carefully and enquire.  These are all great things to be doing with our relationship with God; but even better are the extended Greek meanings of this word ‘ekzeteo’ which include:

·        To seek out,

·        To search for,

·        To investigate,

·        To scrutinize,

·        To seek out for one’s self,

·        To crave!


Please don’t let anyone ever convince you to simply believe the words of any human being.  Including any minister.  Including me!


Rather, please be like those "more noble" Bereans of Acts 17!  Receive the Word just as those Bereans did – with all readiness of mind.


But please don’t stop there!  Please practice ‘ekzeteo’!  Search the scriptures daily, as they did, seek out for yourself whether or not the things that any minister says are so and, if you don’t have it already, develop a craving for God’s Word.


Resist the temptation to merely search the Internet for the opinions of human beings.  The Bible is where God's Word is.  Of course, it is fine to use our comparitivly recent inventions such as concordances, computer Bibles and the Internet for research.  But for thousanss of years, God's true people have relied on the Bible because that is where God's Word is.


Next, the author of Hebrews once again turns his attention back to what was apparently one of his – or his heavenly inspirer’s – favourite subjects – Abraham and his covenant, both of which had been discussed at length back in chapters 6 and 7.


8:  By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance.  And he went out, not knowing where he was going.


Back in my working days in the B.C. Telephone company (now Telus), I once attended a seminar called “Management by Objectives” in which we were taught something that God knows very well... that it is very, very difficult for a person to work towards a goal if he can’t see – or at least mentally visualize – that goal and its benefits for that person.


But that is exactly the task that God gave to Abram!  Without telling Abram what his objective destination was, God told him to get up and go.  


So, what did Abram do?  He got up and went!


If God tells us to “get up and go,” will we obey?  Of course, we all know of brethren who have been deceaved into gettting up and going somewhere because some false minister told them that it was "time to flee" when it wasn’t.  But if and when God tells us, and convinces us through a true prophet to get up and go, will we obey?  (See Deuteronomy 18:15-22)


The “inheritance” mentioned here was, of course, the reward – or actually the plural rewards – both the race and grace rewards – firmly promised by God according to the terms of the Abrahamic Covenant:


9:  By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise;


The land of promise was part of the promised inheritance of the Abrahamic covenant.  But it was promised for the future!  Not for Abram’s human lifetime!  


Yes, he and his family did dwell in the "initial" Promised Land of Canaan and its environs; but only for a very short time – dwelling in tents – temporary dwellings!  


But there in “the land of promise” – as with other stop-overs of lesser significance – whenever they started to feel comfortable, the LORD brought about conditions intended to move them on.


And of course, that was okay with Abraham, because he was more interested in the real, ultimate Promised Land – the more substantial one:


10: For he looked for {he waited for} the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.


The Greek word translated here as “looked for” is 1551 ‘ekdechomai’ which has some minor similarity to ‘ekzeteo’ (diligently seek) which we examined earlier.  Ekdechomai can also mean tarry for, expect, wait, receive and accept, all of which give us the idea of the requirement for faithful, confident patience.


These people – Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac – were mere human beings.  Yes, but even though they had the genes of kings and queens in their blood, they weren’t even allowed to build permanent structures during their temporary stay in “the land of promise”!


They faithfully and patiently accepted the fact that they would have to wait for the country, the homeland and the solid city (the one with real foundations) that God had promised them, and that it was for a future time.  What an example for us!

11:  By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him {God} faithful who had promised.


Sarah had faith... that God is faithful... faithful to fulfil all His promises.


Sarah and Abraham both initially laughed at the idea that they could parent a child at their advanced ages; but both of them gradually came to have a strong confidence that God always keeps His promises.  He doesn’t always tell us when, but he always keeps His promises.


Just as God has chosen to be faithful on His side of His Covenant agreement, we see repeated here the fact that, on man’s side of "the deal," faith was – and still is – very necessary for the receiving of the covenant promises.

12:  Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude — innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.


If you were an elderly lady, and if your husband was pushing 100 years old, and if you had been childless for your whole adult lifetime, and you if had been repeatedly promised that you were going to be the parents of millions of children, even though it was the LORD Himself who made these promises, it would still require great faith!


13:  These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were persuaded {Greek ‘peitho’} of them, embraced {Greek ‘aspazomai’} them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.


When he says, “these all,” the writer is not, of course, referring to Abraham’s innumerable descendants mentioned in the previous verse.  Rather, he’s specifically referring to the five faithful ones that he’d just listed between verses 4 and 11: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Sarah; but perhaps the last two primarily.


Just look how their faith (specifically with regards to the covenant promises) is described here. Four major points from this one verse:


1.     In their mind’s eye, they were able to mentally “see” the future results of the Covenant promises – even though the fulfilment of them was afar off in the future.

2.     They were persuaded of them.

The Greek word ‘peitho’ (strong’s 3982) means that they were assured – they trusted – they believed – and they had confidence – that those covenant promises were as good as theirs.  As we might say today, “They knew that they could take ‘em to the bank.”

3.     Despite the hardships of what we might today call “their Christian journey” – a literal journey in their case – they even embraced those hardships... because, through their great faith, they were able to mentally see the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel.”

The Greek word for “embraced” is ‘aspazomai’ (Strong’s 782), which means that they respectfully saluted those promises (and even the hardships that would lead them there), they welcomed them, they greeted them, they received them joyfully, they even drew them to themselves with affection!

4.     They confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

Just as we are!  We picture this concept each year at the Feast of Tabernacles by staying in temporary dwellings.  I remember one memorable Feast in Penticton, BC, Canada, when our family and our closest church friends stayed at a humble hotel called “The Pilgrim House.”  How very significant we thought that to be way back then!    


This fits in very well with the embracing of the hardships.  Again, what amazing examples for us.

The Greek word for "confessed" is "homologeo" (Strong’s 3670), which means that those heroes of faith acknowledged that they were foreigners and aliens on the earth.  It can even mean that they gave thanks that they were foreigners and pilgrims!  This fits in so well with their embracing of their situations – despite the hardships.  


And again, what great examples for us!  Yes, us!  We who have received so many of the physical blessings of the race part of the Abrahamic Covenant, as well as an earnest of the grace part!  We who are so much closer to the time of the main fulfilment of the Covenant promises at Jesus’ return than those heroes of faith were.


Continuing – still in Hebrews 11:

14:  For those who say such things {those who confess that they are strangers and pilgrims on this earth} declare plainly that they seek a country {Greek ‘patris’: homeland}.


Back in verse 6, we read that God “is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”  If, like these heroes of faith, we are diligently seeking God, then we will, just like them, be diligently seeking this homeland which he has faithfully promised.  


How strongly are we praying “Thy homeland come”?  


God’s homeland is one of the major rewards of those who diligently seek Him and His homeland.  I'm not talking about His present home in heaven, of course (although even that one is promised to come to us one day after the second resurrection: Reveleation 21:1-3); but the author is writing here about the earthly homes that are included in God’s covenant promises to Abraham:


·        The physical (race) homeland in the land of Canaan, and the area around the land of Canaan.

·        The wonderfully blessed physical (race) homelands that were given to the scattered children of Israel – including Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, France, and many other places who have been richly blessed by God.

·        The even more marvelous (grace) promised homeland that we will share with Jesus at His return at the beginning of the millennium.

·        And yes, after the end of the millennium, the home of God the Father when He brings to us the New Heavens and New Earth and dwells with us.


These are the homelands, and the countries and the cities that Abraham was so diligently seeking.


15:  And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return.


Although it is referring to Abram’s family coming out of Ur of the Chaldees, this verse reminds me of the Israelites after God had so mercifully freed them from their slavery in Egypt.  As soon as those Israelites started experiencing some minor hardships (which God had apparently set up to test them – for their own good), they started whining that they’d been better-off in Egypt.  Some even demanded that they go back there.


But Abraham and his family didn’t do this.  Even though their original homeland country may likely have been quite comfortable, they rejected the opportunity to return there and they gladly accepted the hardships of “the road.”


I want to finish today’s study by asking a couple of questions:  What was Ur of the Chaldees really like?  Was it really a hardship for Abram and his family to leave it, and to have their potentially comfortable lives in Ur, replaced by a nomadic existence on the road for the rest of their physical lives?


I will just give you a snapshot look at it from the encyclopedia:


Ur of the Chaldees:  the Hebrew name for it is ‘Ur Kasdim.’  The archaology experts believe that the location of ancient Ur can be found at the site of some extensive ruins at a place called Tell el-Muqayyar in southern Iraq.  You can look it up on Google Maps and you can see where the ruins are.  


What you'll notice is that it is a very brown, burnt and barren desert place.  Although it is true that Mesopotamia was once called “the fertile crescent,” today the whole area appears to be largely desert – except for the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.  But according to the encyclopedias it was not always that way.


So, what was Ur like back then in Abraham’s time – around the second millennium BC, approximately 2,000BC?  Was it a comfortable place to live?


The encyclopedia says that Ur was an important Sumerian city state in ancient Mesopotamia.  It emerged in the 3rd millennium BC – i.e. between 2,000 and 3,000BC, although it was already growing as an urban centre during the 4th millennium BC, which would probably have been the Tower of Babel era.


The empire of the 3rd dynasty of Ur at the end of the 3rd millennium BC (i.e. around 2,000BC) was the most centralized bureaucratic state that the world had ever known.


The discovery of some royal tombs have confirmed its splendour.  In those tombs archaologists found immense quantities of luxury items made out of precious metals and semi-precious stones which would have required importation from long distances.  Such wealth was unparalleled up to that time and is testimony of Ur’s economic importance.


Ur was the most important port on the Persian Gulf (which extended much further inland than it does today).  All of the wealth which came to Mesopotamia by sea had to pass through the city of Ur.


All of this archaological evidence indicates that Ur must have been a prosperous, affluent and relatively comfortable place to live – as well as a hard place for them to leave behind.


But even though it was one of what we might think of as the affluent capitals of the ancient world of Abraham’s time, God gave Abraham and his family a vision of an even better place, a far better place – plus the desire to uproot and to go seeking that better place:


16a:  But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly...


So they came to desire this better country – this far better country than Ur, where they started.


Of course, Abraham’s family and descendants were just as human as we are; so they did have a natural human desire for the promised physical race blessings, including the race blessing country of the land of Canaan, and ultimately a desire for the promised race blessing countries of Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, the United States, etc. –  yes, all lands of milk and honey – lands which certainly were much better than Ur was even in its glory days.