Negative encouragement – a reflection on Hebrews 13:5b
‘Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”’
The second half of the Hebrews 13:5 is one of those verses worth looking at in the original Greek. English translations find it difficult, and indeed the English language itself struggles to cope with the multiple negatives found in the verse – in fact there are five! In the Greek the text reads:
Οὐ μή σε ἀνῶ οὐδ’ οὐ μή ἐγκαταλίπω (Ou me se ano oud ou me enkatalipo lit. Never (1) not (2) will I leave you nor (3) never (4) not (5) will I forsake you).
They are words spoken by Moses at the end of his life as he encouraged the people he had led to cross the Jordan under the leadership of Joshua; they are some of the last words Moses spoke to his people: ‘he will never leave you nor forsake you’. (Deuteronomy 31:6) – the exact same words are spoken by Moses to Joshua two verses later in Deuteronomy 31:8.
Here in the book of Hebrews however, rather than use repetition to bring particular emphasis to the words of God, the writer uses an abundance of negatives! In short, this is something God really wants his people to REALLY understand. Perhaps the best attempt at an English translation we can arrive at, although it perhaps lacks the elegance of the above translation, would be:
‘God has said "Never ever am I going to leave you and never, ever, ever will I forsake you!"’.
And so, whatever challenge lays before us, whatever Jordan we have to cross, one thing we can be abundantly, absolutely, irrevocably, undeniably and certainly sure of is that God will not leave us or abandon us as we take the next step forward.