"These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city...By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones." Hebrews 11:13-16, 20-22
In the middle of commending Abraham’s faith, the author of Hebrews switches gears. Up until this point, we’ve see men and women live by faith. Apparently the all died in faith as well. According to these verse there are several elements to dying faith:
Not having received the things promised
But having seen them and greeted them from afar
Having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on this earth
Seeking a homeland
Desiring a better country
Home conjures up ideas and images, emotions and memories that fall anywhere across the board. Many are tender, the most inviting place one would want to be. For other, home renders feelings of pain, regret, and shame. But because God created a home for us in the garden, and because Christ has been preparing a home for us since his ascension, and because the dwelling place of God will be with man again, the longing for home is an eternal one—we’re all looking in one place or another to satisfy it.
The men and women we have read about so far—Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah—acknowledged that they were strangers and sojourners on earth. Here is just a sampling of where they voiced this:
"And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God." Genesis 17:8
"And Abraham sojourned many days in the land of the Philistines." Genesis 21:34
"And Abraham rose up from before his dead and said to the Hittites, “I am a sojourner and foreigner among you; give me property among you for a burying place, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” Genesis 23:3-4
The patriarchs lived in the uncomfortable middle of sojourning. While citizens have rights and privileges and protections that come from their home country, a sojourner claims none of these. While an immigrant seeks to make a certain place his home, sojourners recognize home to be elsewhere. Tourists may visit a place to take from its sights and experiences, but only for a short time and without real connection to it.
Understanding that you, yourself, are a sojourner changes your faith. Sojourners live with a longing for their true home and that keeps them from being influenced by their temporary one. Understanding this creates a faith that lives in the world while longing for a better one.
The men and women recorded as having lived and died by faith did not experience the pleasure of God by their performance. They experienced it through the years as their minds were shaped by promises to come, as their vision was so fixed on an eternal home, and as their hearts were so cultivated through trial and hardship to desire unhindered fellowship with the God who longed to be with them.
And then they passed it on to their children. The men and women who lived and died in their faith communicated what they knew about God, how they knew him, and what he promised to them long ago.
By the time Isaac was old enough to truly understand the blessings that God had promised Abraham, he was passing on the same hope that God would finish what he started to Esau and Jacob. And then Jacob would pass it on to his sons.
The faith and testimony of the ones who walked before him, creates in Joseph such a confidence in those blessings that he doesn’t let his bones be put to rest in Egypt!
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all bore witness to God’s faithfulness, passing it on to the next generation and then the next and then the next until Joshua’s generation got to see part of the promise come to true.
Never in that time were the people of God “home”. Although included in the covenants God made with Abraham was a physical location of promised land, I’d hazard to guess that Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph wanted to be wherever God dwelled.
Take some time today to consider where this temporary home has distracted you from the promise of an eternal one. Pray for a restless longing to be wherever God is moving and working.