From Tents to a Heavenly City

Hebrews 11:8-22

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; 10 for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

11 By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude—innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.

13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. 14 For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. 15 And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.

17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, 18 of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” 19 concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.

20 By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.

21 By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff.

22 By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the departure of the children of Israel, and gave instructions concerning his bones.

By faith, Abraham “went out, not knowing where he was going.”  This is an amazing statement.  When was the last time you went out, not knowing where you were going?  Have you ever planned a trip with no destination in mind?  But when God told Abraham to go, he went.  Remember that Abraham is our faith example from Genesis 15:6 in that “he believed God, and it was accounted unto him for righteousness.”  

Verse nine tells us that he arrived in the Promised Land that God showed him but did not possess it as his own.  He dwelt there “as in a foreign country,” living in tents.  Why is this important?  It is an example to us that it is possible to be in the world without being of the world.  Abraham desired that which is built and made by God and was willing to wait for that in a tent rather than ignore his call and (presumably) stay in a nice house back in Ur.  More about that in a moment.

Verses 11 and 12 bring up something interesting about Sarah.  If we go back to Genesis 18 and read the story of the promise made to her that she would have a son, we see that she laughed at the idea.  She struggled to believe that childbirth was a legitimate hope in her old age.  Yet notice that in Hebrews, there is no mention of her doubt.  We only see her faith.  In fact, verse 11 says that she “judged Him faithful who had promised.”  This is what grace does.  Grace covers our doubt and credits us with righteousness that we don’t deserve.  

It isn’t realistic to expect to live without a doubting thought ever crossing our minds.  That’s the battle that we fight.  It’s the battle of braving grace.  Yet even when uncertainty about what we can see creeps in, faith believes God, knows “that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” as we read in Hebrews 11:6, and uses that truth to push back against doubt.  Don’t let doubting thoughts be a source of condemnation.  Fight the fight, and believe God.  When you believe Him, He doesn’t count an attack of doubt against you any more than He did with Sarah.  

Verses 13-16 bring us back to our previous discussion about Abraham dwelling in tents.  First, notice that verse 13 says that “these all died in faith”.  They believed God with their last breaths and died in expectation of a reward.  Just . . . wow.  They did not receive the promises, but could see them off in the distance.  Knowing that the promises were out there, they didn’t give up.  They stayed in faith for promises that they knew they wouldn’t touch in their lifetimes because they knew that earth was not their home.  They even confessed this – “that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”  

Remember, this is a letter to Hebrews.  Their heritage goes back to those who came out of Egypt and died in the wilderness because they were not in faith.  They kept looking back to Egypt.  So the author paints that picture again in verse 15 with the reminder that these folks dwelt in tents and did not look back to the homes they had left.  They desired a heavenly country and for that reason, “God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.”

Hebrews 11 is a chapter about people who braved grace in incredible ways.  In faith, they looked down through history and saw the promises and knew that they were for generations to come.  I can’t help but think of 1 Peter 1:10-12:

“Of this salvation the prophets inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.  To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which have now been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven – things which angels desire to look into.”

Friend, we are partakers of a grace that so many died hoping to see and even that angels don’t understand.  I confess a tendency to forget the magnitude of what we’ve been given.  We go about life and lose focus.  It happens.  But in moments like these we are reminded of so many who have come before us and who lived and died in mind of what was to come.  Now, it is here.  It is our time to brave grace for His glory.

Day 24 – Looking to the Reward