ABRAHAM’S SOJOURN IN THE LAND OF PROMISE (Hebrews 11:9, 10)
Abraham walked by faith and not by sight. Each step of the way he walked more progressively in faith. He walked with earnest expectation of hope. It was the faith which is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen! Without this faith, which believes that God is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Mm, it would have been impossible for Abraham to please God. He was to believe to the saving of the soul, and not fall back into unbelief and eternal destruction. For, as we have emphasized in an earlier essay, Abraham is not a mighty hero among men; he is a poor, weak, struggling saint, who out of weakness is made strong. The secret of his strength is the faith of God by which he is empowered. Faith is the victory which overcomes the world, and such was the faith of Abraham.
This example of what God wrought in Abraham is held before the eyes of the Hebrew Christians for their encouragement and admonition to persevere in the good walk of patience, which they need. We do well not to lose this practical aspect of this writing out of sight.
The writer here selects another aspect of the life of Abraham. In the former verses he had pointed to the obedience of Abraham in leaving the land of the Chaldees, underscoring that he “went out, not knowing whither he went!” Such was the deep trust of Abraham in the LORD. Now the writer selects an aspect of Abraham’s life which he had in common with both Isaac and Jacob. They were fellow-heirs of the same promise to eventually inherit the land. The point here is that the patriarchs were pilgrims and strangers in the earth. This they confessedthemselves to be.
We do well to take notice of this aspect of their life of faith and hope, the hope of Israel!
This pilgrimage was in the “land of promise.” This was a promised land. The writer does not here give the geographical location of the land, situated on the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. That is not his interest. Nor does he speak of it as being the “land of Canaan” who was a grandson of Noah, son of Ham. On the contrary he speaks of it as a land of promise. That the Greek Article is missing indicates that the writer does not mean to identify the land, but rather that he is qualifying the land as to its spiritual nature by virtue of the immutable promise and oath of God. It is a land which the heirs of the promise would receive by the lot of God. It was really a land where Abraham would dwell as a possessor as a “great nation.” (Gen. 12:2)
At the time of Abraham we read “and into the land of Canaan they came . . . and the Canaanite was then in the land.” (Gen. 12:5, 6) This meant that the Canaanites were the possessors of the land, they claimed it and builded, cities in it, developed their culture and art here, and said this is our dwelling-place; here will we live. When the sin of the Amorite is full then will the Lord root the Canaanite out of the land, which came to pass initially in the days of Joshua, and was finally completely under David when Jerusalem became the city of the Lord in the land. Meanwhile for a period of some two hundred forty years the patriarchs are pilgrims in the land. It was God’s dispensation of pilgrimage for the fathers. They merely sojourned in the land!
All that these fathers had was God’s promise to give to them this land! Hence, it is called: land of promise. It was the promise of God in which God stated in so many words that he would give them this land. And faith here, therefore, is a clinging to the promise of God, believing His Word, His oath. God had spoken and they believed. Says the LORD “Unto thy seed will I give this land.” And Abraham in response of faith “builded an altar unto the Lord,” who appeared unto him. There had been a Theophany. In some form God, the God of glory, had appeared. (Acts 7:2) And thus Abraham took the first step in his earthly pilgrimage in the land. He kept the Sabbath in hope!
Those who would like, to pursue this matter of God’s promise concerning the land, His assurance that He would certainly give the land to the fathers, should read those passages in Scripture which speak of this specifically. We refer to such passages as Genesis 13:15 where we read God’s repeated promise to Abraham “For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed forever. And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth; so that if a man can number the dust of the earth then shall thy seed also be numbered.” Or, again, we refer to the beautiful promise of God in Genesis 17:8 “And I will give unto thee and to thy seed after thee, a land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” This promise is repeated in such passages as Genesis 24:7, 26:4 to Isaac and Jacob, as well as to Moses in Deuteronomy 34:4, and it is sung of in joyful praises in Psalm 105:9, 11. Truly the Bible is replete with these great and precious promises. Thus did God work faith in the hearts of the pilgrim fathers by holding these promises before their eyes. And thus faith is wrought in our hearts when these same promises are held before our wondering eyes as they have been made yea and Amen in Christ Jesus, to the glory of God the Father. (II Corinthians 1:20)
Now truly the lives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were ones of sojourning in the land. They really felt that they were not permanent citizens of the land at all. They did not feel at home, did not act as those who were at home. They really had no “home” here on earth. To return to the land of Ur of the Chaldees was impossible. They had obeyed in faith to leave that land forever! To put up a house, build a city in the land was impossible. It did not belong to them. They were merely sojourners, nomads with their flocks. The various terms used to describe this dwelling in the land in hope of obtaining the promise are very significant as a mere word-study. The terms in the Hebrew are such that they either indicate that the patriarchs were strangers (fr. M. French estrangier, foreigner from extraneus, external, from extra– outside.) A stranger is an outsider, he is really outlandish, one who does not belong in the land. The only business that Abraham had in this land was the command of the Lord to live here in hope of receiving it. He was a pilgrim (per anger) one merely passing through the land. Hence, his entire life was different. It was a pilgrimage! That is emphasized in the text. And such these fathers were confessedly. They acknowledged before the people of the land that they were such pilgrims and strangers on the earth. They gave account of the hope which was in them and gave glory to God! (I Peter 3:15) Truly, they were a strange people who were never understood by the people of the land. These did not understand the Patriarchs because they did not know the God of glory!
THE EXPECTATION OF ABRAHAM AS A STRANGER IN THE LAND (Hebrews 11:10)
What was the secret of this strange conduct of these Patriarchs? They were men of like passions as we. They could have returned to their country. The Canaanites did not put them in bondage as did the Egyptians later with an entire nation. This the writer to the Hebrew also underscores in Hebrews 11:13-16. And we do well to take notice of this. This passage is a key-passage to understand the conduct of these strangers, and also clearly states how these fathers understood the promise of God! Fact is, that these strangers and pilgrims died in the land “not having received the promise” of possessing the land. How could these Patriarchs die in peace and not feel that the LORD had forgotten His promise? They understood that the real country was the heavenly country. That country was a “better country” wherein God would grant them all the things which he had promised already in the Protevangel of Genesis 3:15. Hence, they are not merely pilgrims and strangers in the land of Canaan, but they are such in the earth. They raised their eyes not from Ur of the Chaldees to the earthly land of Canaan, but they lifted them up on high to heaven itself, where one day Jesus would enter in glory as the chief Captain and Author of their salvation. They saw clearly that it was not the: earthly land of Canaan which they sought. Hence, they must not only live, but also die in the land, and “be gathered to their people.”
Wherefore we read that Abraham looked for a city. Fact is that the text says that he looked for “thecity.” And this city must not be in the land of Canaan, such as men build. For an earthly city is earthly in every sense of the term. Earthly relationships, fellowships, laws and ordinances. It also has no permanency. All the cities of this earth disappear, disintegrate, and lie buried under the sands of time. Their place and name is known no more. Such was. the plight of the city of Cain which went down in the Flood even though it stood for hundreds of years! And such was the plight of the city of Babel whose tower was never finished but “received the mortal wound.” And thus it was and is with all the cities of the world, and thus it shall be one day, when “in one day” Babylon shall fall and be cast as a stone into the sea. (Rev. 18). But Abraham looked for the city. He looked for the city which has “the foundations.” Because earthly cities have crumbling foundations they do not stand. But the foundations of the city of our God are righteousness and truth. They are righteousness and truth which have been established in the “Seed,” which is Christ; the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ. And this righteousness is the “chief corner-stone.” And the foundations are the basic teaching of the Gospel, the word of promise fulfilled, preaching Christ’s merits on the Cross, and justification in His blood.
The city which Abraham sought, with Isaac and Jacob, is beautifully portrayed to us in Biblical symbolism in Rev. 21, where John in the Spirit is shown the Bride of Christ, the numberless throng of Abraham’s great nation under the picture of a “city,” a holy city, the New Jerusalem. We cannot enter into an interpretation of that passage. We refer the interested reader to the beautiful’ exegesis. given by the late Rev. Herman Hoeksema in his “Behold He Cometh,” pages 669-704. I cannot urge the reader too strongly to read these pages from Rev. Hoeksema. It will be a great spiritual feast and will be an incentive to lift up your weary eyes on high, so that we may gird up the loins of our mind and be sober and hope perfectly for the revelation of Jesus Christ. (I Peter 1:12)
This city is designated as being one of which “God is the Architect and Builder.” The emphasis in the text falls on “God.” God and no one else has thought out the beauty, the grandeur, the immovableness of this city in Jesus Christ His Son. That Abraham sought this city (and he had good reasons to do so) was because of the very wording of the promise, as well as the pedagogical way in which the LORD Himself led him step by step.