8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.” 13 All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14 for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:8-16; NRSV)
Next in our hall that we come to examine is Abraham. But the writer of Hebrews does not immediately go to the event that we would expect. Rather, we learn something about the call of Abraham.
Prompt Obedience (11:8)
Abraham was called to move to a new place that would be his inheritance, site unseen. In fact, not only did he never previously see the land where God was asking him to move, Abraham did not know where he is actually going. Imagine the Lord coming to us and asking us to leave our relatives and move our family to some place that we have never been. Worse, just packing up the moving van and driving until God says to stop driving!
More amazing than even this is the fact that the Greek tense of this sentence tells us that Abraham acted with prompt obedience. The tense is saying that Abraham obeyed while he was still being called. Abraham did not wait around to make this decision about whether or not to obey God’s call to move to land unseen. Abraham did not take his time in this decision to do what God said. The idea is that as soon as God said it, Abraham was doing it. God said move and Abraham went into the house and started packing.
This is another aspect to what true faith looks like. With Abel we saw that true faith worships God properly. With Enoch we saw that true faith obeys even when no one else is obedient. With Noah we saw that true faith obeys even commands that may seem illogical. Now with Abraham we learn that true faith obeys immediately. Trusting God means that I want to do what God says as soon as I learn what he wants me to do.
What True Trust Looks Like
Lived in the land of promise as a foreigner (11:9-10).
The NIV handles this passage well:
“By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob….”
Home didn’t really look like home. Rather than being given the land immediately, Abraham had to live like a stranger in a foreign country. In fact, they lived in tents, showing the temporal nature of their stay. How many of us would be upset by this! “Lord, we left our comfortable homes and our relatives to live in this land in a tent!” How many of us would waver in our trust in God once we saw this end result? Abraham was not given the land, but it was promised to his descendants. So how did Abraham endure this? How did he have the faith to continue his full trust in God when he was dwelling in tents in this land?
For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (11:10)
Abraham was seeing the unseen, as we have mentioned in our previously lessons. Faith is being able to see the unseen. Abraham was not concerned that he was living in tents. He was looking for a city that has foundations. Abraham was looking for a city that was designed and built by God. The point is that Abraham’s eyes were not on the things of this earth. He was not concerned that he was living in tents. Would it matter to us? It did not matter that living like a stranger in this land? Would it matter to us? Abraham set his eyes on his real home. This life, this world, and these possessions were not his home. We will talk more about this point shortly.
Trusted in God to expect the impossible (11:11-12).
Then the writer comes to the amazing miracle of Abraham and Sarah having a child. The point is quite simple: Sarah was barren and Abraham’s body was too old to have children. Yet, Abraham and Sarah had Isaac at the amazing ages of 100 and 90 years old, respectively. But when God told Abraham that his offspring would be as numerous as the stars of the sky, the scriptures record:
“Abram believed to Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6)
We have a hard time believing that God is able to do things that are improbable. Consider believing that God can do the impossible! We want to backpedal off of such thoughts. But brethren, true faith is the ability to believe that God can do anything, even if it may be impossible to us. I believe this should help us trust God more and surrender our lives to him. There are many things that we cannot do, but God can. I trust God that he can do things for Grace that are unexpected by the doctors. How many times the doctors cannot explain some of the recoveries that believers in Jesus have. This is not to say that God will always do the impossible because we are disciples. Faith is just the recognition that God can do the unbelievable. The example of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is the attitude we must have:
If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18)
They believed that God was able to save them. Not that God had to save them, but that God could deliver them from the fire. True faith in God is exhibited in this attitude.
Looking forward, not looking for the now (11:13-16).
The writer of Hebrews in the middle of his description about Abraham to make an important point. They all died in faith, but they did not receive the promises. Abraham is the perfect illustration of this point. Abraham did not see the land occupied by his family. Abraham did not see that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. But all of the heroes saw the unseen. They looked into the distance and knew that God would keep his promises. They all confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth. Their home was simply not here in the physical. They all acknowledged that this world was not their home. They looked for something better. They looked for the heavenly country. This world was not in their thinking. They were thinking about where they were going. Did you see that point? If they were thinking of the land they left, it would have been in their mind to possibly return. So they didn’t even think about what they left behind. They simply thought about the city built by God.
Because these people had this vision, notice the final statement about them made by the writer:
Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them. (11:16)
What a beautiful picture to think about God not being ashamed of any one of us. They looked for that city designed and built by God and they were not disappointed. Indeed, God had a city prepared for them.
The writer of Hebrews emphasizes the vision of these heroes of faith. I think one thing that we are being shown that is our deficiency is where our vision is set. Our vision is set on the things of the earth. We would not want to live in tents. We want God’s promises given to us now. This is why the ministries of “health and wealth.” We want God’s promises now. But these died without receiving those promises. Their eyes were not on what God was going to do now. Their eyes were on the eternal city designed and built by God. They did not look back to the physical world. They simply looked forward to the heavenly country. The heavenly country was what they wanted.
Can we really sing the words of the song (#684) This World Is Not My Home? “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through. My treasures are laid up, somewhere beyond the blue. The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door, and I can’t feel at home in this world any more. O Lord, you know, I have no friend like you. If heaven’s not my home, then Lord what will I do? The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door, and I can’t feel at home in this world any more.”
Where is our home? Can we seriously say that this world is not our home and that we are just passing through? I afraid that many of us look like we have camped out on this earth permanently, living life as if there is nothing awaiting us after this life. Could we honestly say that our treasures are laid up in the city with eternal foundations, rather than here in this world? We spend so much of our efforts on the things in this world. But then what will you do? After all that can be done in this life is said and done, what will happen next? Suppose you live life your way and get everything you think you can get from this life, then what? Notice the point that when we think about the things of this world, then we return to this world. We cannot be thinking about this land that we are to have left behind. We are to be thinking about the land we are going to. The mind on the things of this world places his or her treasures in this world. We can make the sacrifices the Lord requires when we keep our minds on the things of heaven, looking for our reward.