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The Faith of Abraham

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. 9By 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. 10For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11By 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. 12Therefore 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, 14for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16But 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.

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8. From the antediluvian saints he passes to the patriarchs of Israel, to whom "the promises" belonged.

called—by God (Ge 12:1). The oldest manuscripts and Vulgate read, "He that was called Abraham," his name being changed from Abram to Abraham, on the occasion of God's making with him and his seed a covenant sealed by circumcision, many years after his call out of Ur. "By faith, he who was (afterwards) called Abraham (father of nations, Ge 17:5, in order to become which was the design of God's bringing him out of Ur) obeyed (the command of God: to be understood in this reading), so as to go out," &c.

which he should after receive—He had not fully received even this promise when he went out, for it was not explicitly given him till he had reached Canaan (Ge 12:1, 6, 7). When the promise of the land was given him the Canaanite was still in the land, and himself a stranger; it is in the new heaven and new earth that he shall receive his personal inheritance promised him; so believers sojourn on earth as strangers, while the ungodly and Satan lord it over the earth; but at Christ's coming that same earth which was the scene of the believer's conflict shall be the inheritance of Christ and His saints.

9. sojourned—as a "stranger and pilgrim."

inGreek, "into," that is, he went into it and sojourned there.

as in a strange country—a country not belonging to him, but to others (so the Greek), Ac 7:5, 6.

dwelling in tabernaclestents: as strangers and sojourners do: moving from place to place, as having no fixed possession of their own. In contrast to the abiding "city" (Heb 11:10).

with—Their kind of dwelling being the same is a proof that their faith was the same. They all alike were content to wait for their good things hereafter (Lu 16:25). Jacob was fifteen years old at the death of Abraham.

heirs with him of the same promise—Isaac did not inherit it from Abraham, nor Jacob from Isaac, but they all inherited it from God directly as "fellow heirs." In Heb 6:12, 15, 17, "the promise" means the thing promised as a thing in part already attained; but in this chapter "the promise" is of something still future. However, see on Heb 6:12.

10. looked forGreek, "he was expecting"; waiting for with eager expectation (Ro 8:19).

a cityGreek, "the city," already alluded to. Worldly Enoch, son of the murderer Cain, was the first to build his city here: the godly patriarchs waited for their city hereafter (Heb 11:16; 12:22; 13:14).

foundationsGreek, "the foundations" which the tents had not, nor even men's present cities have.

whose builder and makerGreek, "designer [Eph 1:4, 11] and master-builder," or executor of the design. The city is worthy of its Framer and Builder (compare Heb 11:16; Heb 8:2). Compare Note, see on Heb 9:12, on "found."

11. also Sara herself—though being the weaker vessel, and though at first she doubted.

was delivered of a child—omitted in the oldest manuscripts: then translate, "and that when she was past age" (Ro 4:19).

she judged him faithful who had promised—after she had ceased to doubt, being instructed by the angel that it was no jest, but a matter in serious earnest.

12. as good as dead—literally, "deadened"; no longer having, as in youth, energetic vital powers.

stars … sand—(Ge 22:17).

13-16. Summary of the characteristic excellencies of the patriarchs' faith

died in faith—died as believers, waiting for, not actually seeing as yet their good things promised to them. They were true to this principle of faith even unto, and especially in, their dying hour (compare Heb 11:20).

These all—beginning with "Abraham" (Heb 11:8), to whom the promises were made (Ga 3:16), and who is alluded to in the end of Heb 11:13 and in Heb 11:15 [Bengel and Alford]. But the "ALL" can hardly but include Abel, Enoch, and Noah. Now as these did not receive the promise of entering literal Canaan, some other promise made in the first ages, and often repeated, must be that meant, namely, the promise of a coming Redeemer made to Adam, namely, "the seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head." Thus the promises cannot have been merely temporal, for Abel and Enoch mentioned here received no temporal promise [Archbishop Magee]. This promise of eternal redemption is the inner essence of the promises made to Abraham (Ga 3:16).

not having received—It was this that constituted their "faith." If they had "received" THE THING PROMISED (so "the promises" here mean: the plural is used because of the frequent renewal of the promise to the patriarchs: Heb 11:17 says he did receive the promises, but not the thing promised), it would have been sight, not faith.

seen them afar off—(Joh 8:56). Christ, as the Word, was preached to the Old Testament believers, and so became the seed of life to their souls, as He is to ours.

and were persuaded of them—The oldest manuscripts omit this clause.

embraced them—as though they were not "afar off," but within reach, so as to draw them to themselves and clasp them in their embrace. Trench denies that the Old Testament believers embraced them, for they only saw them afar off: he translates, "saluted them," as the homeward-bound mariner, recognizing from afar the well-known promontories of his native land. Alford translates, "greeted them." Jacob's exclamation, "I have waited for Thy salvation, O Lord" (Ge 49:18) is such a greeting of salvation from afar [Delitzsch].

confessed … were strangers—so Abraham to the children of Heth (Ge 23:4); and Jacob to Pharaoh (Ge 47:9; Ps 119:19). Worldly men hold fast the world; believers sit loose to it. Citizens of the world do not confess themselves "strangers on the earth."

pilgrimsGreek, "temporary (literally, 'by the way') sojourners."

on the earth—contrasted with "an heavenly" (Heb 11:16): "our citizenship is in heaven" (Greek: Heb 10:34; Ps 119:54; Php 3:20). "Whosoever professes that he has a Father in heaven, confesses himself a stranger on earth; hence there is in the heart an ardent longing, like that of a child living among strangers, in want and grief, far from his fatherland" [Luther]. "Like ships in seas while in, above the world."

14. For—proof that "faith" (Heb 11:13) was their actuating principle.

declare plainly—make it plainly evident.

seekGreek, "seek after"; implying the direction towards which their desires ever tend.

a country—rather as Greek, "a fatherland." In confessing themselves strangers here, they evidently imply that they regard not this as their home or fatherland, but seek after another and a better.

15. As Abraham, had he desired to leave his pilgrim life in Canaan, and resume his former fixed habitation in Ur, among the carnal and worldly, had in his long life ample opportunities to have done so; and so spiritually, as to all believers who came out from the world to become God's people, they might, if they had been so minded, have easily gone back.

16. Proving the truth that the old fathers did not, as some assert, "look only for transitory promises" [Article VII, Book of Common Prayer].

now—as the case is.

is not ashamedGreek, "Is not ashamed of them." Not merely once did God call himself their God, but He is NOW not ashamed to have Himself called so, they being alive and abiding with Him where He is. For, by the law, God cannot come into contact with anything dead. None remained dead in Christ's presence (Lu 20:37, 38). He who is Lord and Maker of heaven and earth, and all things therein, when asked, What is Thy name? said, omitting all His other titles, "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" [Theodoret]. Not only is He not ashamed, but glories in the name and relation to His people. The "wherefore" does not mean that God's good pleasure is the meritorious, but the gracious, consequence of their obedience (that obedience being the result of His Spirit's work in them in the first instance). He first so "called" Himself, then they so called Him.

for—proof of His being "their God," namely, "He hath prepared (in His eternal counsels, Mt 20:23; 25:34, and by the progressive acts of redemption, Joh 14:2) for them a city," the city in which He Himself reigns, so that their yearning desires shall not be disappointed (Heb 11:14, 16).

a city—on its garniture by God (compare Re 21:10-27).