I WILL NEVER LEAVE THEE, NOR FORSAKE THEE
Based on a Sermon preached in PCC morning Worship Service on 22 July 2001, by Ps Jeff O’Neil


“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 13:5)


I once saw a van, which had an advertisement on its sides. It read: “A promise is nothing until it is delivered.” I thought, “That’s a good point!” But on mature consideration, I realise that it is suitable for business and for the world, but cannot be applied to God. “Faithful is he,” declares the Apostle Paul. “God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” (Num 23:19).


Here in our text is a precious promise, a great and exceeding precious promise! And it is the design of the Apostle, throughout this epistle, to fortify and strengthen these Hebrew Christians against apostatising from the faith, and to encourage them to bear up under pressures and persecution from their fellow country men.


They had “endured a great fight of afflictions” (Heb 10:32). They were “a gazingstock both by reproaches and afflictions” (Heb 10:33), and even “took joyfully to the spoiling of [their] goods” (Heb 10:34).


He exhorts them to “the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees” (Heb 12:12); and to have patience (Heb 10:36); and to “be content with such things as [they] have…” (Heb 13:5). They were not to be covetous, but content for He would never leave them. “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim 6:6), teaches the Apostle Paul. And he says that, not only by precept but by example, for as he makes clear: “For I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Phil 4:11). The Christian through Christ can do what Adam or the angels could not. Adam was in paradise and yet was not content. Fallen angels were in heaven, and yet not contented.


In their circumstances, they needed to realise an important truth and promise: “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”


Subjects of the Promise


And the Apostle takes this promise from the Old Testament where it is repeated several times. It was spoken by Moses to the people of Israel (see Deuteronomy 31:6). It was spoken by David to Solomon (see 1 Chronicles 28:20). It was spoken by God to the Church (see Isaiah 41:10–13). Here the Apostle applies it particularly and pertinently to these New Testament Hebrew Christians, and that is a great comfort! For God had given this promise originally to Joshua (Jos 1:5). But he lifts it out of the past and applies it directly to New Testament Christians, thus showing that all the promises are for the Church of all ages and for individuals. “For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us” (2 Cor 1:20).


We should have no reluctance then, to appropriate this sweet promise to ourselves in our circumstances. It is relevant at all times, and to all times! When Joshua had to take over leadership and go into the Promised Land, not really knowing what the future held, God assured him: “There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee” (Jos 1:5).


But the fact that the Hebrews had different circumstances to Joshua and yet were given the same promise, gives us the right and privilege to use it in our individual situations.


Whatever your particular problem, anxiety, uncertain future, or whether the problem you are carrying is physical, mental or spiritual, this promise is for you!


You may be frightened of the future; you may be wrestling with family problems; you may be hiding a malady of body or soul,—whatever your secret trial and burden,—this promise is for you!


Whether you are living in anticipation of your circumstances, or battling in the middle of it right now, God has promised to be alongside you. “[He] will not leave you comfortless.”


Did not the three young men suffer for their uncompromising faith when they were thrown into the fiery furnace? What a trial it must have been for them? But did they not find, in the midst of their experience, that one walked with them whose form was like unto the Son of God (Dan 3:25)?


Did not two of the Lord’s disciples walk on the road to Emmaus, downcast and sad at the death of their Lord? Did they not find their hearts strangely warmed (Lk 24:32) when the Lord Himself drew near and walked with them?


Did not the Church, in the wilderness experience, find the “angel of his presence” going with them and that “In all their affliction he was afflicted” (Isa 63:9)? If so, the Church in the New Testament can expect the same presence with her!


Was it not a great promise He left us when He departed this world: “lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Mt 28:20)? Did not the Apostle John say of the Lord Jesus Christ: “Having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end” (Jn 13:1)?


So then, He cannot leave nor forsake us. He is bound not only by His eternal love, but by His own promise, and He is debtor to His own faithfulness.


Character of He Who Promised


Who said this? Our text says: “For he hath said,” quoting the words of the Lord to Joshua. And I am told that this expression is peculiarly emphatic. Notice that it is not Moses, or another prophet, but He has said: the infinite, all wise, omnipotent one has promised!


We look to a promiser and assess whether he has the intention, or resolve, or the ability, to fulfil his promise, but Paul stresses, “He hath said.” His resources are limitless; His power unlimited; His immutability eternal,—unchanging in purpose, in being, and in ability. “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever” (Heb 13:8).


The Immutable has said: “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”


Content of Promise


What has He said? In this glorious promise, we have a twofold pledge, which guarantees divine presence and divine assistance.


In the first place, “He will never leave thee,” literally means “He will never send thee back!” That is, He will never go on without you, that you are left alone. God has pledged His presence every step of the way. The task and future ahead of Moses were immense, but God said, “My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest” (Ex 33:14; cf. Isa 63:9).


A child will say to his mother, perhaps in darkness, or in sickness, or in trouble: “Don’t leave me, ma ma.” And Christians can be fearful when in distress, of faith and emotions, but God says: “My child, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.”


In the second place, “Nor forsake thee,” means “never leave you down in.” Whatever circumstance, you will find yourself in, “I will never leave you down: You will have my divine assistance.” Friends, or even family, will leave us down when we most need help, but He assures us: “I am not like that, I will not leave you to fend for yourself, I will never forsake you.”


And faith must lay hold of that promise. When you are passing through a trying time; or circumstances appear as a mountain before you; or the outlook seems bleak, faith, the hand of faith, is to grasp it and make it your own. Swinnock says it well: “Faith and prayer will at the last, like a skilful midwife, deliver the promises safely.”


I have found that every Christian carries a private burden, an anxiety that they do not share with others save someone they can unburden to. At a recent conference this was confirmed to me when talking one to one with Christians there: Everyone had a cross to carry! Behind the public face there is a heartache or an anguish, or something that seems so insurmountable.


Behind the cheerful conference fellowship, there were walking problems! And all congregations are like that, no doubt this one. But I want to urge you, in the loneliness of your condition, to trust in the sincerity and faithfulness of this particular saying: God means it, you take it! God knows what is best for you.


Strength of Promise


Now, I want to tell you something lovely about this promise: something sweet and precious, something that strengthens its dependability and something that encourages the soul to believe and name its own!


In the original, there are two features about this promise that do not come out in the English.


In the first place, the verse may be read like this, “I will in no wise leave thee, nor in any wise forsake thee.” Now that seems to add a dimension of impossibility that God would at any time, or any occasion, forsake His people.


But the second reading which underlies this promise is wonderful in its stipulation. In the original (Greek: ou mê se anô oud’ ou mê se egkatalipô), this text has five negative particles, and it may be read: “I will never, never, leave thee; never, never, never forsake thee.”


It has the force of five negatives! It is as if God in Christ cannot stress or emphasise enough, that in your affliction, it is an impossibility for Him to neglect your need, or ignore your pain: “I will never, never, leave thee; never, never, never forsake thee!”


What a promise to support you! What a promise to rest in! What a promise to quicken your hope and expectation! In the light of that, what does faith do? Well, notice the following verse: “So [i.e., on the grounds of that immutable promise] that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper” (v. 6). Contrast with verse 5. There it is written, “he hath said,” but here, “We… boldly say.” That is faith responding to the promise and responding boldly. It is not presumption, nor a psychological trick, but rather the boldness of faith reacting to the preciousness of promise! On account of what the Lord said, I can declare with all boldness: “The Lord is my Helper!”


It is instructive to note that the Apostle is, in fact, citing Psalm 118:6—“The LORD is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me?” This statement in the context of the Psalm is clearly the Psalmist’s reaction of faith, for in the previous verse, we read: “I called upon the LORD in distress” (Ps 118:5a). The Psalmist had his problems, but faith conquered and set itself upon the God who is there at all times and all places!


If God has pledged never to abandon me, then I will believe that He is my Helper; He will be my Strength; that underneath me are His everlasting arms, constantly!


Conclusion and Application


1. Consider the faithfulness of God who promised. The Apostle Peter encourages us: “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise” (2 Pet 3:9). There is no forgetfulness, or want of principle, or pettiness, or lack of ability, with God. He is faithful and true; the God who cannot lie; the unchanging sovereign Lord who says what He means and means what He says! “I am the LORD, I change not” (Mal 3:6), He says. And so our blessed Lord Jesus assures us: “If it were not so, I would have told you” (Jn 14:2), and that is true of all His words and promises.


Thus the saints of old spoke with great confidence concerning the promises of God: “Doth his promise fail for evermore?” (Ps 77:8), asked David. The sense in this rhetorical question is that it is unthinkable that God should fail to keep His promise. A generation later, Solomon confirms that his father’s confidence was not in vain: “Blessed be the LORD, that hath given rest unto his people Israel, according to all that he promised: there hath not failed one word of all his good promise” (1 Kgs 8:56a).


Be like Abraham, who “staggered not at the promise of God” (Rom 4:20). The Lord promised: “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Heb 13:5). Take this promise into your heart, into your life, into your experience, into the pocket of your soul.


2. Consider, dear friends, the various facets of this promise according to the Scripture:

 

God is for us: As Paul says: “If God be for us, who can be against us” (Rom 8:31)?

God is with us: For what He says to Paul, He says to us all: “Be not afraid…. For I am with thee” (Acts 18:9–10).

God is about us: For the Psalmist says, “As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the LORD is round about his people from henceforth even for ever” (Ps 125:2).

God is in us: For we are they, “to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:27).


Listen, my friends, there is nothing then, that can separate you from the presence and assistance of God, or His love in Christ Jesus: You cannot sink into the depth; you cannot be scorched by fire; you cannot walk in loneliness and despair; you do not face the trials and temptations alone, for God said: “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”


3. Consider the application of this promise in the circumstance you are in:

 

When you feel disappointed, depressed and even frightened because of your problems, and you seem to be soldiering on alone, or even questioning your salvation because of your state and condition, then start talking to your soul. This is a biblical practice. Under the weight of depression, David asks: “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me?” And then responding to himself, he urges his soul: “hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance” (Ps 42:5). So then when you are undergoing similar trials, urge your soul to cast itself upon the help, presence and comfort of the Almighty God.

When friends and family do not seem to understand your difficulty, or cannot enter into your private sorrow or trial, or financial difficulties, then arm yourself with this promise: But the Lord is my Helper and He will never leave me in my distress nor forsake me in my trouble.

When the devil would tempt you and insinuate to you that Christians or family or God Himself are unsympathetic or disinterested in the troubles that beset you, then say: “Get thee behind me Satan, I have one who knows and cares, and is with me in the midst of my conflict. He will never leave me, nor let me down.”

When passing through grief, then with the same confidence, sing: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me” (Ps 23:4a).


4. Consider that this promise is not only true for individuals, but also true for the church. If, as a church, you set your hearts and faith upon this promise, you will find, whatever the future holds, that faithful is He that promised.


If He was with the church in the wilderness, He will be with the church in Singapore.


If He proved His presence and assistance to the infant church in Acts, will He not work here? Yes, wolves will seek to scatter the flock. Yes, inevitably personality clashes will arise, and it may result in strivings within and fighting without. Yes, the leadership will be tested, and loyalty passed through the furnace. But He hath said: “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”


Don’t be covetous of others, or other churches. But be content in your providence and be guided by your providence, for He will never, never leave thee; never, never, never forsake thee.


Ps Jeff O’Neil
(edited by JJ Lim)