Sunday, 10 March 2019
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. Hebrews 11:13
Speaking of those mentioned in the previous five verses, meaning Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob, the author stops for a moment and notes how their life of faith ended. He states, “These all died in faith.” To grasp the full extent of this statement, one can take the definition of faith provided in verse 1 and include it as a part of the thought –
“These all died having the substance of things hoped for, and with the evidence of things not seen.” Their hope remained with them concerning the things they had not seen, but knew to be true. Their faith at their time of death was not realized in seeing what they hoped for. As the author says, “not having received the promises.”
At the fall of man, the Lord God promised One who would come to restore that which was lost. This was a hope of these people, and that hope had not yet transpired. At the call of Abraham, the promise of an inheritance was added into that. For him and his wife Sarah, and then their son Isaac, and then their grandson Jacob, that hope was not realized upon their deaths. But they knew it was to come about. These people had, in fact, received the promises but not the substance. Despite this, the author says, “but having seen them afar off were assured of them.”
Jesus takes this state of Abraham and shows how true it was with him. In John 8:56 we read –
“Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.”
Abraham saw the promise afar off, and he was assured of it. Messiah would come! The promised rest would be granted! All things would be made new! This is how each of these lived. There was the absolute assurance in their souls that God’s promises would be realized. In this, the author then says they “embraced them.”
Here, the NKJV (following the KJV) destroys the intent that the author is attempting to convey. The translation of “embraced,” can be inferred from the original Greek, but to translate it this way ruins the symbolism. To embrace is to hold. These people of faith saw the promises from a distance and “saluted” them, or “greeted” them, knowing they could not expect their fulfillment in this life. It is as ships passing by which can only be hailed with a salute. The only possible way of translating this “embraced” while conveying the proper intent would be to make a lengthy paraphrase, such as “embraced them in their minds,” or something to that effect. Rather than embracing them, they saluted them from afar “and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”
The author was probably thinking of Abraham’s words when he penned this. In Genesis 23:4, at the death of his wife Sarah, he said to the people of the land, “I am a foreigner and a visitor among you. Give me property for a burial place among you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” Though promised the land as an inheritance, during his life he remained a stranger and a pilgrim. Jacob, when introduced to Pharaoh, spoke of his own pilgrimage –
“‘The days of the years of my pilgrimage are one hundred and thirty years; few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage.’ 10 So Jacob blessed Pharaoh, and went out from before Pharaoh.” Genesis 47:9, 10
The final words of the verse, “on the earth,” could be speaking of only Canaan, as it does at times in the New Testament, but it certainly means more than this. It extends to the entire earth. Jacob claimed he was a pilgrim while in Egypt. The arena in which these people of faith lived was a proving ground for their faith in preparation for a home which they could only see from afar and greet with a hopeful, but assured, confidence that the promises would be fulfilled someday.
Life application: We all treat this life in different ways. Some, as the old saying goes, are “so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.” Some hold on to this life as if it is the only thing that can be fully trusted – even doubting the promises of Scripture beyond John 3:16. In between these two are countless variations. Some people “really want to see the Lord” but just “not today.” Some want Him to come after their child’s wedding – but anytime after that is fine. Others continue to work diligently in their jobs, but they never stop hoping for the Lord’s coming. Each moment for them is a moment of anticipation – even in the midst of life’s joys and trials.
The last is the type of person being described in this verse. He admits he is only an alien and a stranger. Temporary aliens in a foreign land continue to work, tend to life’s business, and raise families, but they always wait for a return to the land they love. This is similar to what the Jewish people would state, year after year for almost 2000 years, at their annual Passover – “Next year in Jerusalem!” Even though they were scattered around the world – even to the remotest parts – they never stopped hoping for a return to their land of promise.
Watching old footage of the joy of returnees after the long dispersion is a wonderful experience. This is what it should be like for every Christian as we wait on the Lord Jesus and the promise of the heavenly Mount Zion – the New Jerusalem. In fact, the last prayer of petition in the Bible leads us in the attitude we should hold dear, “Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” Revelation 22:20. What is the great hope of your life? Heaven awaits, and where heaven is, there the Lord Jesus is. Yes, come Lord Jesus.
Lord God, there is nothing in this world that truly has value apart from the sure hope we possess in Christ Jesus. Without that hope, everything else is futility and chasing the wind. We heap up wealth for a future which is unknown, and certain to end in death. What is the point apart from hope in Christ? But in Him, we have the surest hope of all. Our pilgrimage here makes all the sense in the world when we anticipate what He has made available to us. Hallelujah for Jesus our Lord. Amen!