Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge. Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. ~ Hebrews 13:4-5
I’ve been studying and teaching Hebrews for the past 4 months. We are on the last chapter … and I have learned so much. It was not an easy book to study or teach and has stretched me and challenged me outside of my comfort zone. But it is definitely a book that has helped me understanding the benefits of the New Covenant more than anything else I’ve read.
Hebrews is such a fitting name for this Epistle. Not because it was written to Jews, but because of what Hebrews means. The word comes from the Hebrew verb ivri meaning “to cross over”
The very first Hebrew was Abraham and there were 2 ways in which he “crossed over”… first, he crossed over from Mesopotamia into Canaan and secondly, he crossed over from the world of idol worship that was familiar to him and his family to a new realm, one in which the One True God was worshipped instead. In both senses Abraham became forever an “ivri” – a Hebrew, one who crossed over.
That fits this Epistle so well — crossing over. These Jews had crossed over from the familiar realm of the Old Covenant to life in the unfamiliar but liberating, grace filled New Covenant. They were under intense persecution and were being pressured into returning to the Old and this letter was to encourage them to remain in Christ. This letter presented to them a contrast of the old and new covenant — and the supremacy of Jesus and the New Covenant… a far better, superior covenant.
Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge. Let your conversation be without covetousness;
Our study of this book was verse by verse, always keeping it in context of who it was written to and why. When I came to chapter 13, specifically verses 4 and 5, it just seemed so out of context to command them to keep the marriage honorable and the marriage bed undefiled with the warning that God will judge the immoral and those who commit adultery. And then in the next verse he’s telling them to live free from the love of money and be content with what they have. Sex and money…. were those the two biggest concerns the writer of Hebrews has for these believers?
Of course we are to live holy, pure, godly lives. Of course we are to be faithful in our marriages and sex is wrong outside of the marriage relationship. Of course we are to not be covetous, greedy, or lovers of money. And of course we are to be content with what God has given us.
But is that all this verse is saying?
Remember, the book of Hebrews is about the contrast of Old Covenant and New Covenant. The writer has explained theses contrasts to us for the last 12 chapters and has warned us several times throughout this letter to not fall from grace, to not turn away from Christ (apostasy), to steer clear of idolatry and going back to Judaism, and to enter into the rest of the finished work of the cross.
So, with all of that in mind, we don’t want to look at these 2 verses through the lens of the Old Covenant pattern which is…. if I am not faithful in my marriage or if I sleep around — if I mess up! If I sin in this area! If I do those things, then God is going to judge me. The problem with that “Old Covenant” lens is that He already poured out all of His judgement for my sins on Jesus.
- Isaiah 53:5: The punishment that brought our peace was upon Him
- 2 Cor 5:21: He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
- Romans 5:8-9: But God proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Therefore, since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from wrath through Him!
This letter was written to believers (believing Jews) not unbelievers/unsaved. So, even if I did do those things after I’m saved, God doesn’t call me an adulterer or a whoremonger. He calls me righteous! He sees me as I am… not by what I do or have done.
So who does God call the adulterer and the whoremonger? Who does He refer to as covetous?
- several verses in the other epistles mention sexual immorality as a false teaching — Eph 5:3-7; Jude 1:4; 1 Tim 4:1-5; 2 Peter 2:14; 1 Tim 1:3-10;
- Jeremiah 23:10 also talking about false prophets and calls them adulterers.
- Sexually immoral in Heb 13:4 is the same Greek word used in Heb 12:16 to describe Esau as a fornicator.. an idolator. — The root word is porne which means an idolatrous community.
- Adulterers in Heb 13:4 is “moichos” which figuratively means an apostate
- In the Old Testament, whenever Israel went into idolatry, God called it “adultery.”
- Idolatry is spiritual adultery
- Col 3:5 Put to death, therefore, whatever is worldly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry
- 2 Peter 2:3 By covetousness they [the false teachers] will exploit you with deceptive words;
Historically, at the time this was written (and the other epistles), there were false teachers that had infiltrated the churches and were attempting to turn the believers away from the grace of the New Covenant…. away from it’s teachings… away from Jesus.
What were some of the strange, false, demonic doctrines that these false teachers were teaching?
- There were those who were forbidding marriage, believing celibacy was purity and pleasing to God (1 Tim 4:3)
- There were those who were perverting the grace of God into a license for immorality (Jude 1:4)
- Of course there were the Judaizers who were encouraging them to go back to the Law (which is adultery/idolatry – Romans 7:1-4)
- All of these false teachers were motivated by greed (covetousness – love of money)
….and be content with such things as ye have:
Be content in the original language is “with the things that are present.” Present = right now. So, what was “present” for these Believing Jews the writer was talking to?
- They had put their faith in Jesus alone for salvation.
- And because of it, they were suffering intense persecution and the reality of having to flee Jerusalem and everything they had previously known
- From all that was familiar… the temple, the priests, the sacrifices.. their family and friends.
Remember they were feeling the pressure to return to Judaism and they were being influenced by false teachers. This is an encouragement to them not to fall back into idolatry (the Law/Old Covenant) but walk free of that because Jesus is enough.
For hasn’t He promised you that “I will never leave you; never will I forsake you
1 Kings 8:57 — Part of Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple was that the Lord would never leave them nor forsake them. He was declaring that God had kept His promises and not one word had failed which He promised through Moses.
What a fitting thing for the writer of Hebrews to remind the people of…. he’s already told them that the New Covenant is far superior to the Mosaic covenant. Now, he’s encouraging them that if God kept His promises and not one word failed which He promised Moses, they can trust Him to be with them and never leave or forsake them because “Jesus has obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises” (Heb 8:6).
Then he reminds them that their response because of that… because Jesus is enough…should be “So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do to me.” (Heb 13:6)
When you begin reading the Bible through the lens of the New Covenant you begin to see things in Scripture that you never saw before…. and you truly begin to find the Father’s heartbeat. This grace filled New Covenant is liberating!