Today’s Reading: Hebrews 13
Anything can happen before the year ends. You may meet your mate. You may get pregnant. You may graduate, start a new career, or move. You may have your first job interview. You may become an empty nester or attend your child’s wedding or have your first grandchild. You may start attending a new church or you may start a new walk with God.
The bad stuff can come just as fast. You may get a divorce, have a miscarriage, deal with a foreclosure. You may get fired. The doctor may say you have cancer. Your child may become an atheist. You may experience the death of a spouse, a child, a parent, or a close friend.
Nothing seems to be concrete or forever. And for all the change that happens in our lives, Hebrews 13 reminds us that despite change, there is One who does not change: “He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me” (Hebrews 13:5-6, KJV).
There is a tribe in South America that has an initiation rite for their young men when they turn twelve years old. One of the things they do is take them into the deepest part of the jungle and leave them all night by themselves. It was their own father who had to lead them and leave them there for their dreaded night alone.
The boy would sit in fear all night listening to the ghoulish sounds of the forest. When the sun finally rose the next morning, the boy would look just a few feet away and would see that his father had been sitting there the entire time; he just didn’t know.
The boy would ask, “Have you been there all night?” To which the father would reply, “Of course I was there all night. Do you think I would leave you alone? Do you think that I would have ever left you in this place alone?”
God says the same thing that this South American father says. God says, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” Hebrews 13:5 is a rare verse. It has been translated by many as simply, “He will never leave you nor forsake you.” That is good English, but it is not good Greek in this instance. This verse contains an unusual triple negative. That is not good English (like “I ain’t got no money”), but it is good Greek. It should actually be translated, “He will never, never, never leave us nor forsake us.” In fact when the verse is complete, it has five negatives in total—reassuring the Christian believer that the Lord will never, ever, no not once, never forsake nor leave us. This is such a beautiful truth. God has promised never, no, not ever, never, to leave nor forsake us. That means a lot of negatives is a real positive for us Christians.
Jewish commentators believe it was a way of confirming the truth in the testimony of more than two witnesses. Jesus used that method often: “Verily, verily, I say unto you.” One verily was not enough for Jesus.
When in conflict or hard times, our tendency is to ask the same question over and over. And it seems that God wants to make sure we get it immediately that He’s not going anywhere and that He’s here to stay for you.
When C. S. Lewis married the American Joy Davidman, and then soon found out that Joy was dying of cancer, Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed that he could have used a screaming room.
Why do we feel that way? We feel that God is nowhere to be found. And like C. S. Lewis, we want to scream. But according to Hebrews 13:5, things may change, people may change, but God won’t. He is always going to be there. That is a promise you can count on.
Gladys Aylward was a missionary to China in the early 1900s and was forced to flee when the Japanese invaded Yangcheng, the area where she lived. However, she was determined not to be the only one to make it to safety, so with only one assistant, she led more than a hundred orphans over the mountains toward, what was at that time, Free China. In The Hidden Price of Greatness, authors Ray Besson and Ranelda Mack Hunsicker, share the account:
“During Gladys’s harrowing journey out of war-torn Yangcheng . . . she grappled with despair as never before. After passing a sleepless night, she faced the morning with no hope of reaching safety. A 13-year-old girl in the group reminded her of their much-loved story of Moses and the Israelites crossing the Red Sea.
“But I am not Moses,” Gladys cried in desperation.
“Of course you aren’t,” the girl said, “but Jehovah is still God!”
When Gladys and the orphans made it through, they proved once again that no matter how inadequate we feel, God is still God, and He can trust in Him.”
That’s what the writer of Hebrews was telling us. When we face conflict and difficult times and wonder, Will God be with me? Will He abandon us? the writer of Hebrews offers us the five-negative-promise that is a positive: “Never, positively not! It will never happen! It’s unthinkable! There is not even the slightest possibility that it will ever happen!”God will be with you.