Hebrews 11:13-16, Dying in Faith

[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 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.  (NKJV)

“These all died in faith.”

It’s one thing to live by faith, but when life comes to an end, with the things that sometimes attend that end, “faith” may waver a little.  One thing that bolsters faith is the firm and settled conviction that this life isn’t all there is; there is something better just beyond that exit called “death.”  And this conviction doesn’t depend on “out-of-the-body” experiences, or books written by those who say they’ve been to heaven, and it’s “real.”  Perhaps they have been there.  And certainly, heaven is real.  So is hell.  Even so, though, the Apostle Paul said that he had been caught up to the third heaven, but he didn’t have the words to describe what he experienced, 2 Corinthians 12:1-5.  Regardless, the true believer’s hope for the future isn’t found in “experience,” but in God’s promise, cf. Jeremiah 29:11; Revelation 21:1-4, the city which has “foundations,” v. 14.

not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off.

Even though Isaac himself was evidence of the power and faithfulness of God, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob never saw the fulfillment of God’s promises about their inheritance of the land. (Now I believe that Israel [and they] will possess that land; the OT is filled with promises about that.  That, however, is a post for another time.) Nevertheless, they

were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

The attitude of faith isn’t one of expectation of great things in this life.  They may come.  They may not.  We mentioned in an earlier post that faith gives us a different perspective about this world, about fundamental differences between God’s children and the world’s children.  One of them is found in Psalm 17:14, where the Psalmist refers to men of the world who have their portion in this life.  Another verse is Luke 16:25, which records something our Lord said of two men and their experiences in the after-life.  One was a child of God and the other one wasn’t.  Some are troubled by the things mentioned in verses 19-31 and try to lighten what they say.  Whether these verses are just a parable or an expression of something real is beyond the scope of this post.  But even parables address things which are real.  There is something our Lord said, however, which, even if it is just a parable, is vitally important.  In v. 25, it is said to the one who was lost, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things, but now he is comforted and you are tormented.”

To put it another way, this world is as close to heaven as some people will ever get, and for other people, this world is as close to hell as they will get.   To a world that believes that everyone goes to “a better place” at death this idea is troubling.  And there’s no way of knowing simply by the circumstances of their lives whether any particular person is saved or not.  A mansion may house a vile wretch and a cardboard box may shelter a godly person.  In that regard, prosperity or poverty don’t matter.

The point is, lest I wander too far in this direction, that the true Christian, the true believer, understands that this world isn’t all this is to his or her existence and that God’s promises don’t always come true in this life.  They didn’t for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  They also understand that these promises will come true eventually.  We’ll see a little more of this as we go through Hebrews 11.

Our problem too often is that we try to measure God’s providence by our own tape measure.  We try to fit Him into the little box of our own understanding.  That’s like trying to teach an ant how to drive.  And the difference between us and that ant is insignificant compared to the distance between us and God.  And just so you don’t misread it, we are the ant.  Sorrowfully, way too many people would put God in that position.

Too often, we define “blessing” as things which we think are “good:” health, prosperity, good “relationships”.  He’ll heal our sicknesses and fix the broken things.  Now, I believe in healing.  My own mother experienced it.  She nearly died after having me and the doctors said that she’d never walk again.  Well, they were wrong.  And I’ve known others who were healed of serious illnesses.  On the other hand, I know a dear sister in the Lord who suffered from Lupus her whole life and was diagnosed with ALS shortly before she died.  It got to the point where she couldn’t talk, but even then, she showed more joy in the Lord than most of us who are a lot healthier than she was.

And sometimes, God is pleased just to use the broken things.  I think of Joni Eareckson Tada.  The tools in His workshop aren’t all new and shiny.  After all, which of us, in one way or another, isn’t “broken”?

The people of whom Hebrews speaks in vs. 13-16 understood a little of the temporary and sometimes difficult nature of this world and life.  (See also vs. 35-38.)  That’s why we read of them that they –

confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

If they had simply been concerned about this world,

they would have had opportunity to return.

After all, the promised land was right in the middle to the trade route between north and south.  There were probably caravans often traveling through it.  They could have left at any time.

But they had a different perspective:  they were looking for –

a homeland.  …They desired a better, that is, a heavenly country.

Of Abraham himself, v. 10 says that he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.  I’ve read somewhere that Ur was built in a marsh and really didn’t have a firm footing, or foundation.  So Abraham was looking for something “solid,” as we might put it.

We really have a very sparse account of what happened between God and men in those early years.  In fact, it’s believed by many that from the Fall of Adam and Eve until the giving of the Law through Moses that there wasn’t any revelation from God.  Men were simply guided by their own “conscience.”  I think that’s an inadequate view.  There are incidental references which tell us of an abundant revelation.  For example, in Genesis 26:5, God appeared to Isaac and testified of his father that “Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My law.”  This tells us that there were “commandments” and “law” long before Moses.  We just have no, or very little, record of them.

Another example is Job, who certainly lived before the events at Sinai, and a long way from Israel.  There’s no mention of the priesthood or the Tabernacle, but the book is filled with references to sin, righteousness and judgment.  Indeed, the book opens with Job offering burnt sacrifices just on the possibility that his sons had sinned and cursed God in their hearts, Job 1:5.  And he did this regularly.  He’s described as one who was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil, v. 1.  How could this be, if there was nothing to tell him about God and what He required?  Or that defined “evil”?

Beyond that, some of the greatest “confessions of faith” come from him.  Job 13:15,  “Though He slay me, yet I will trust Him.”  I’m afraid today that we say, “If He heals me, I will trust Him.”  He had insight into the resurrection, “And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.  How my heart yearns within me! Job 19:26, 27 (emphasis added).  He had alluded to this earlier when he referred to his “change,” 14:14.

Granted, he said some things that he shouldn’t have, but God defended him against his three “friends” (and against those who would scold him today):  the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has.  Now, therefore, take for yourselves seven bulls and seven rams, go to My servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and My servant Job shall pray for you.  For I will accept him, lest I deal with you according to your folly; because you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has,” 42:7, 8, emphasis added.

Job, too, “died in faith.”

And, unless the Lord comes back first,

It will be said of all God’s people:

These all died in faith.

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