Let’s do another “mini-Bible study” with this article, just to add a bit of variety to the column. I’m sure you are familiar with this sentiment: “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”
We have been taught to receive this as a promise from God exclusively to his people throughout all of time. If this is true, then the scriptures should contain this exact quote directly from him.
So, let’s check it out to see if we are scripturally justified in our belief. We are faced with two questions that demand an answer: does this promise appear, as quoted, in scripture; and, if so, is the quote directly from God to all of his people? I asked my trusty Bible app and here’s what I found.
The answer to question one is yes; the quote appears only once in the entire Bible, in Hebrews 13:5, where Paul (the traditional author) attributes the quote to God at some time in the past. He prefaces the quote with “for he hath said.” In the Old Testament we find that God personally said something close to our quote in question on two occasions.
First, in Genesis 28:15, he told Jacob in a dream that “I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of,” a reference to promises he made in verses 13 and 14. Secondly, in Joshua 1:5, God said to Joshua that “I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee,” a reference to Joshua’s charge to finish what Moses started.
Notice that neither of these Old Testament verses contains the entire quote we’re addressing. It appears that Paul may have taken a part of each verse to form the promise in Hebrews. And on to our second concern, did God personally make this promise to all of his people? From what we have found thus far, the answer is no.
In Genesis and in Joshua, God personally spoke only to Jacob and Joshua, respectively, and not to Israel as a whole. What then is the basis for our belief that the promise is for all of us? Could we be mistaken?
Don’t panic; there’s another verse we can count on. Turn in your Bible to Deuteronomy 31:1, where we find that “Moses went and spake these words unto all Israel.”
In the verses that follow (verses 2-5) Moses shares with Israel that God has promised to pave the way for Israel to finally occupy Canaan, the land promised them years ago. Then in verse 6, Moses reports God’s final promise, “fear not … he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.” This is the first and only time in scripture that God made this promise to all of his people.
Today we can also claim this promise for ourselves, but there is a requirement that must be met, the same one required of Jacob, Joshua and Israel; the promise only operated for them when they were doing God’s will for their lives. We today must meet that same test. Otherwise, we are on our own. It pays to follow God in all that we think, say and do in life. A word to the wise.
Rev. O.L. Johnson, a retired LAPD lieutenant, is an associate pastor in his home church. Greater New Zion Baptist, 501 W. 80th St. in Los Angeles.
Pastor’s Corner is a religious column that looks at the relevancy of scripture in life today. The column will appear monthly in The Wave and on its website, www.wavepublication.com.