I might have mentioned on here that we’ve doing a Hebrews bible study at our house on Saturdays. If you’re in Orlando, you’re welcome to join us since right now we’re a relatively small group.
This past week we started Hebrews 2 and covered verses 1-4:
Therefore we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken through angels proved to be so firm that every violation or disobedience received its just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was first communicated through the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard him, while God confirmed their witness with signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. (NET)
Two things stood out to me on an initial reading:
- The emphasis on “hearing”
- The nautical metaphor connected to it
So, we more or less focused our attention on the first verse and the results were more than edifying.
For starters, we did a quick word study on “heard.” In Greek, the verb form used is from the root word “akouo.” Logos, being the helpful study tool that it is, showed me that there are several related words:
- Hypakouo (“to obey”)
- Hypakoe (“obedience”)
- Parakoe (“disobedience”)
- Parakouo (“to refuse to listen”)
- Diakouo (“to give a hearing to”)
Not to commit an etymological fallacy, but it looks like Greek draws such a strong connection between “to hear” and “to obey” that the latter is simply the former with an intensive prefix. Perhaps literally, “to obey” is to “over listen” (kind of like hyperactive is being “over” active). Even more intriguing is that the verb associated with disobedience is not so much focused on the action as it is on the refusal to listen in the first place.
Next, look how this strong connection between “hearing” and “obedience” is coupled with the main imperative in this passage “pay attention.” Other ways of rendering the work could be “devote yourself to” or even “take care of.” This seems to imply that the outcome of such close attention is remembering the message heard and obeying what it commands.
Finally, the warning attached with the positive command of paying attention is that by doing so, you won’t drift away. From what I gathered in the commentary reading, this is a nautical metaphor. The idea it seems is not so much that you’ll drift off course but rather that you are already “anchored” in the safe harbor of salvation. If you must pay attention (i.e. obey) in order to not drift away, it seems like disobedience would be a prime way to drift out to sea.
Theologically, I would say we made it into the harbor by God’s gracious placement of us there. This is the Pauline emphasis of grace through faith, not by means of works. Yet the author of Hebrews also seems to bring in James’ emphasis that faith, manifested by close attention to God’s final revelation in Christ (the thrust of Hebrews 1) will result in works (or the obedience that keeps one from drifting out to sea). Underneath all of it, I would see God’s grace at work, which means that even the obedience that keeps a person anchored in the safe harbor of salvation is not by the person’s own doing. It is instead the Spirit motivated proof that our ship belongs in the harbor and is in fact anchored there by the Captain of our Salvation. As our eyes stay focused on Christ, we have no reason to worry about drifting away.