What does God mean when He says, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you' (Hebrews 13:5)?
It is a common part of the human experience to, at times, feel abandoned or forsaken by others. Sometimes a person who is close to us chooses to walk away. Other times the natural changes of life result in shifts in our relationships. Sometimes we even feel abandoned when a loved one has died. But, God never leaves. One of the most comforting promises in the Bible is that God will never leave or forsake us. The second part of Hebrews 13:5 states: "He Himself has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you'" (NKJV).
This line first shows up in Deuteronomy 31 where Moses encourages the Israelites about going to take possession of the Promised Land. In part, he tells the Israelites, "Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you" (Deuteronomy 31:6). He then exhorts Joshua, the upcoming leader of the Israelites, "Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land that the LORD has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall put them in possession of it. It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed." Joshua's leadership role was sure to be daunting, especially with the associated challenge of leading the Israelites into the Promised Land; Moses' words would have been a comforting and encouraging reminder of God's steady presence.
God gave this same assurance to other people throughout the Bible, including Jacob (Genesis 28:15), Joshua (Joshua 1:5, 9), and the poor and needy (Isaiah 41:17). David encouraged his son Solomon, "Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the LORD God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the LORD is finished" (1 Chronicles 28:20).
Jesus, the Son of God, promised His disciples (and His followers today): "behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20). He promised to send a Helper, the Holy Spirit, who will never leave us: "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you" (John 14:16–17; cf. Ephesians 1:12–13).
While Jesus was on the cross dying for our sins, He cried out with a loud voice: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). This line harkens back to a prophetic psalm by David, which discusses things that happened during the crucifixion of Jesus and opens with: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?" (Psalm 22:1). Jesus experienced being forsaken so that we would never have to.
God will not ever abandon us or leave us behind. Through Jesus sacrificing His own life for our sins and rising back to life to prove He is who He says He is and His sacrifice is sufficient to atone for our sins, we are able to be made a part of God's family. Salvation through Christ gives us the right to become children of God (John 1:12). All who have put their faith in Jesus have been adopted into His family: "For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, 'Abba! Father!' The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him" (Romans 8:14–17). Romans 8 goes on to explain that nothing can separate us from God's love in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:31–29). Even earthly parents may abandon us, but we can have peace in knowing that our Heavenly Father never will (Psalm 27:10), and we have the Spirit inside to give us that comforting reminder.
The surrounding context in Hebrews 13 is an exhortation to holy living, showing hospitality, and caring for the needs of others. Hebrews 13:5–6 states: "Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.' So we can confidently say, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?'" This passage is not just a comfort; it is an exhortation to find our contentment and our confidence in the nearness of God. He is the Helper who is always with us.
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