Faith Laying Hold of the World to Come: Hebrews 11:8-22

Hebrews 11:8‑22  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 9
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With verse 8 we enter upon another division of the chapter setting forth the faith that embraces the purpose of God for the world to come, enabling the believer to walk as a stranger and a pilgrim in this present world. In this division, extending to verse 22, five Old Testament saints are mentioned by name: Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, each having their distinguishing marks of faith, but all looking on to the future world of glory.
Hebrews 11:88By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. (Hebrews 11:8). Abraham is the main witness to the faith that lays hold of the purposes of God, leading him to look on to another world and walk as a stranger in this world. He was called to go out of the country in which he had lived in view of another country which he would afterward receive. If God calls a man out of this present world, it is because He has a better world into which to bring him. It will be remembered that Stephen commences his address before the Jewish council by saying, “The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham.” That is a wonderful statement, but the statement at the end of the address is more wonderful, for Stephen, looking up steadfastly into heaven and seeing Jesus standing on the right hand of God, can say, “I behold the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.”
The beginning of the call is that the God of glory appears to a man on earth: the end is that a Man appears in the glory of God in heaven. Directly the Lord Jesus takes His place in glory, we see clearly what Abraham saw dimly—the full result of the call of God. We, like Abraham, have been called according to the purpose of God (2 Tim. 1:99Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, (2 Timothy 1:9)); but this means we have been called out of this present world to have part with Christ in the home of glory where He is, to be actually with Him and like Him—conformed to the image of God’s Son (Phil. 3:1414I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:14); Rom. 8:2929For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Romans 8:29); 2 Thess. 2:1414Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 2:14)).
Moreover, in Abraham we have not only a striking illustration of the sovereign call of God, but also a bright example of the response of faith. First, we read, “He went out, not knowing whither he went.” To leave your country, not knowing whither you are going, would appear to the natural man simple madness and contrary to all reason and prudence. This, however, is the very occasion for faith to shine. It was enough for the faith of Abraham that God had called him, and God knew whither He was leading him At times we want to see what will be the result of taking a step in obedience to God’s Word; consequently, we hesitate to take the step. Human prudence would carefully weight up results: divinely given faith leaves the result of obedience with God.
Second, Abraham not only went out in faith but, having left the old scene, he walked by faith before he obtained the new. Thus, together with Isaac and Jacob, he put on the stranger and pilgrim character. To him the land he was in was a strange country and he himself a pilgrim dwelling in tents. Is not this the true position of the Christian today? We have been called out of the world around us; we are not yet in the new world to which we are going. In the meantime we are strangers in a strange world, and pilgrims going on to another world.
Third, Abraham looked for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. Here we learn what it was that sustained him as a pilgrim in a strange land: he looked on to the future blessing which God has for His people. He was surrounded by the cities of men which, in that day as in this, had no righteous foundations. For this reason the cities of men are doomed to destruction. Abraham looked on to the city of God which, founded on righteousness, will never be moved. We know from verse 16 and also from chapter 12:22 That this is “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” Thus Abraham takes the path of faith in the light of the world to come.
But faith looks on to the city of God—the heavenly Jerusalem; and when that fair city comes into view, with all its glory and blessedness—the city where there is no sorrow, no crying, no death and no night— then it will be seen how right and how wise was Abraham, and how wise are all those who follow in his steps, in letting go this present world and walking as strangers and pilgrims to the city of God.
Hebrews 11:11-1211Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised. 12Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable. (Hebrews 11:11‑12). In Sarah we further learn that faith not only looks to God in the face of pressing difficulties, but trusts in God in spite of natural impossibilities. She did not look at the ordinary means of obtaining a son or reason, “How can this be?” Her confidence was in God, that He would faithfully carry out His own Word in His own way. God honored her faith by giving her a child “when she was past age.” Thus God secures a great company of people according to His purpose, but does so in His own way, from one “as good as dead.” As so often in the ways of God, He carries out His plans by vessels of weakness in circumstances that seem hopeless. He brings strength out of weakness, meat out of the eater, life out of death, and “so many as the stars of the sky in multitude” from one as good as dead. “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”
Hebrews 11:13-1613These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. 14For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. 15And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. 16But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:13‑16). Further, we are told that these saints not only lived in faith, but they also “died in faith,” not having received the promises. They having died, God gives us a wonderful summary of their lives. In their history we know that there was much failure, for they were men of like passions with ourselves, and their failures have been recorded for our warning. Here the failure is passed over, and God records all that in their lives was the fruit of His own grace. These verses are God’s epitaph upon the Patriarchs.
First, we are told that they looked beyond things seen. They saw the promises “afar off.” They were persuaded in their minds of the certainty of the future glory and they heartily embraced the hope of glory.
Second, the future glory being heartily embraced produced a practical effect in their lives—they confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
Third, confessing themselves to be strangers and pilgrims, they gave a clear witness to God, “For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek [their] country.”
Fourth, they overcame the opportunities to return to the world which they had left. Those who answer to the call of God and separate from this present world will find that the devil will seek to draw them back into it by giving them opportunities to return. The lust of the flesh, the attractions of the world, the claims of natural relationships, the business circumstances of life, will in various ways and at different times open to us opportunities to return. Abraham declared plainly that he was a stranger and a pilgrim: Lot declared plainly that he merely followed a man, for three times it is recorded that he went with Abraham. So, when the opportunity came, Lot embraced it and returned to the cities of the plain, while Abraham passed on to the city of God. Alas! how many since Lot’s day, not having embraced the promise, have embraced the opportunity to turn from a path which is impossible to nature and a constant trial to the flesh.
Would we escape the opportunities to return, then let us see that we declare plainly that we are on the Lord’s side. Would we declare plainly, then let us definitely accept the path of separation from the world as strangers and pilgrims. Would we be truly strangers and pilgrims, then let us look on to the vast vista of blessing that is opened to us in the new world; let us be persuaded of the reality of the coming glory and heartily embrace it in our affections.
Fifth, having refused the opportunities to return to their own country, they were free to press on with “desire” to a “better country,” that is “an heavenly.”
Sixth, of men whose lives are thus characterized we read, “God is not ashamed to be called their God.” In the details of their lives there were many failures, and much of which they doubtless were ashamed, but the great governing principles of their lives, which moved them and gave character to their walk, were such that God was not ashamed to own them and to be called their God.
Seventh, for such God has prepared a city, and in that city all in their lives that was of God will have a glorious answer.
If these things mark us in this our day, may we not say, in spite of our many failures, our weaknesses, and our insignificance in the eyes of the world, God will not be ashamed to be called our God?
Hebrews 11:17-1917By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, 18Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: 19Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure. (Hebrews 11:17‑19). The life of Abraham illustrates another phase of faith. If the life of faith is tried by the opportunities to turn back which are presented by the devil, it will also be tested to prove its worth by trials sent from God. So we learn that Abraham “was tried” when he was told to offer up Isaac, his only begotten son—the very one through whom the promises were to be fulfilled. His faith answered to the test and enabled him to offer up his son, accounting that God was able to raise him up even from the dead.
Isaac is next brought before us as an example of one who walked in the light of the future, for we read that he “blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.” The history of the blessing of his sons is given in Genesis 27; as we read that sad chapter, in which every member of the family breaks down, we can discover little evidence of any faith. There, Isaac appears to be governed by his appetites and seeking to act according to nature. Here, God, who sees behind all outward failure, lets us know it was by faith Isaac blessed his sons concerning things to come.
Jacob is next mentioned amongst the elders who obtained a good report through faith; but apparently, in his case, God waits until he is dying before He records the act of faith that gave Jacob a place amongst the elders. His course as a saint was marred with many a blemish. A deceiver of his father, a supplanter of his brother, an outcast from his home, a wanderer in a strange land, serving a master whom he cheated and by whom he was deceived, his children a grief to him, Jacob ends at last his checkered career as a stranger in Egypt. Nevertheless, he was a true saint of God, and his stormy life had a bright sunset. Rising above nature, he acts in faith in blessing the sons of Joseph. Nature would have given the first place to the elder, but Jacob, knowing by faith that God had purposed the younger for the chief place, crossed his hands, and, in spite of the protest from Joseph, he gives the younger the first blessing.
Lastly, Joseph is brought before us as an example of faith looking on to the future, for we read that, when dying, he made mention of the departing of Israel. Never had man wielded such power or occupied such a place of worldly glory as Joseph in Egypt, yet when he is dying all the glory of this world fades from his vision. Instead of looking back to the past glories of Egypt, Joseph is looking on to the coming glories of Israel. At that moment it looked very unlikely that Israel would ever leave Egypt. They had settled down in Goshen and we read that “they had possessions therein, and grew, and multiplied exceedingly.” However, faith saw that one hundred and fifty years hence Israel would be delivered from Egypt to enter their own promised land, and faith gave commands in view of their departure.