In his commentary on Hebrews, Long writes, “Every athlete needs to hear shouts of encouragement from the stands, and the Preacher summons cheer leading from no less than the prophets Isaiah and Habakkuk. Blending a loose translation of Habakkuk 2:3–4 with a few words from Isaiah 26:20, the Preacher allows these voices from the Old Testament to spur on the runners on the track. As presented by the Preacher these prophets of old say, in effect, ‘Do not hold back. The time left is very short, so push on, harder, harder.’”[1] He’s commenting on Hebrews 10:37-38 which says, “For, Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.”

In a way, Long presents cheerleaders pushing us on to try harder and harder because his analogy sees us as running the race of our salvation. I don’t see it that way. I see Jesus as the “runner” who finished first on our behalf!  The focus on “My righteous one” sounds messianic to me. The only perfectly “faithful” and “faith-filled” one is Jesus. The perseverance is not so much trying harder but resting in God’s promises and waiting it out through dismal times. Just trust God. He’s settled the issue. Don’t revert to self-effort and religious ritual. That’s what shrinking back is all about!  But relax in the hands of the God who loves you and sent His son to die for you. You believe! Kistemaker writes, “The righteous person who perseveres does not receive God’s promise on the basis of keeping the law and doing the will of God. He receives the promise by faith. The object of faith, of course, is understood. The believer places his faith in Jesus Christ. Out of a relationship of trust and confidence, the believer lives.”[2]

Studying Hebrews 10:37-38 opens up a plethora of controversies. It seems there are numerous textual variants from ancient manuscripts. The quotes from Habakkuk and Isaiah come from the Septuagint and not the Hebrew Bible and the words have added pronouns and a reversed order. It would take a doctoral dissertation to sort it all out but one thing we know and which is going to be clearly stated by the author in Hebrews 11:6 is “without faith it is impossible to please God.” Reconciling the various arguments with clearer statements give us the reality that Jesus is the righteous one. He is the “faithful” one in whom we have faith. It’s faith in him and his sacrifice on our behalf that pleases God. Shrinking back is to return to a system of religious observations and ritual instead of confidence in the one who fulfilled them all. This is what the writer will conclude in Hebrews 12:1-2 when he tell us what it means to “run the race.” It’s not trying harder, exerting more effort, being more dedicated. It’s focusing on Jesus. He says, “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.”

[1] Thomas G. Long, Hebrews, Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1997), 112.

[2] Simon J. Kistemaker and William Hendriksen, Exposition of Hebrews, vol. 15, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001), 303.