|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
11:8-19 We are often called to leave worldly connexions, interests, and comforts. If heirs of Abraham's faith, we shall obey and go forth, though not knowing what may befall us; and we shall be found in the way of duty, looking for the performance of God's promises. The trial of Abraham's faith was, that he simply and fully obeyed the call of God. Sarah received the promise as the promise of God; being convinced of that, she truly judged that he both could and would perform it. Many, who have a part in the promises, do not soon receive the things promised. Faith can lay hold of blessings at a great distance; can make them present; can love them and rejoice in them, though strangers; as saints, whose home is heaven; as pilgrims, travelling toward their home. By faith, they overcome the terrors of death, and bid a cheerful farewell to this world, and to all the comforts and crosses of it. And those once truly and savingly called out of a sinful state, have no mind to return into it. All true believers desire the heavenly inheritance; and the stronger faith is, the more fervent those desires will be. Notwithstanding their meanness by nature, their vileness by sin, and the poverty of their outward condition, God is not ashamed to be called the God of all true believers; such is his mercy, such is his love to them. Let them never be ashamed of being called his people, nor of any of those who are truly so, how much soever despised in the world. Above all, let them take care that they are not a shame and reproach to their God. The greatest trial and act of faith upon record is, Abraham's offering up Isaac, Ge 22:2. There, every word shows a trial. It is our duty to reason down our doubts and fears, by looking, as Abraham did, to the Almighty power of God. The best way to enjoy our comforts is, to give them up to God; he will then again give them as shall be the best for us. Let us look how far our faith has caused the like obedience, when we have been called to lesser acts of self-denial, or to make smaller sacrifices to our duty. Have we given up what was called for, fully believing that the Lord would make up all our losses, and even bless us by the most afflicting dispensations?
Verses 14-16. - For they that say such things declare plainly (or, make manifest ) that they seek a country (i.e. a native country, a fatherland, πατρίδα). And truly if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now (i.e. as it is) they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God (see refs. under ver. 9): for he hath prepared for them a city. In consideration of the drift of the whole of this interesting and suggestive passage (vers. 9, 10, 13-17), the question arises whether the patriarchs are represented as actually themselves looking forward to a heavenly inheritance. In their history as given in Genesis, as, indeed, in the Old Testament generally (at any rate, in the earlier books), there is, as is well known, no distinct recognition of the life to come. The promise to Abraham seems to imply only an innumerable seed, its possession as a great nation of the earthly land of promise, and through it some undefined blessing to all the families of the earth. Nor are the patriarchs represented as looking forward to a fulfillment of the promise beyond the limits of the present world. Even so their history is singularly instructive. They lived in hope of things not seen through faith in the Divine promise. The very fact that they were content to die without themselves attaining, if so God's purpose might be accomplished to their seed, invests them with a peculiar grandeur of unselfishness. Their faith was essentially the same principle as that of Christians, even though the final object of Christian hope were hidden from their eyes; while their dwelling in tents as strangers, and the home and city seen afar off, are apt emblems of the present life and the heavenly citizenship of Christians. It may be that this is all that is intended in the Epistle, the history being allegorized, as that of Isaac and Ishmael is in the Epistle to the Galatians. If so, the apparent attribution of a heavenly hope to the patriarchs themselves must be accounted for by a blending of the actual history with its ideal meaning, such as was observed in the chapter about Melchizedek. But it is difficult to understand the expressions used as implying no more than this. Abraham is said to have himself looked for the "city that hath the foundations," of which God is the Builder - a description which cannot but denote the "heavenly Jerusalem," of which the city whose foundations were on the holy hills below is regarded elsewhere as but a type and emblem (cf. Hebrews 12:22; Hebrews 13:14; Galatians 4:26; Revelation 21:14; also infra, Hebrews 8:2, where η}ν ἔπηξεν ὁ Θεὸς is said of the heavenly tabernacle). This interpretation is further supported by our finding in Philo similar views of a heavenly counterpart to Jerusalem as the final object of Israel's hope. Again, the country desired by the patriarchs is, in ver. 16, distinctly called a heavenly one. Nor is the view at all untenable that, notwithstanding the silence of the ancient record on the subject, they did look forward to a life after death with God, seeing in the promised earthly inheritance an emblem and earnest of a heavenly one. Well known is Bishop Warburton's argument that a belief in a future state, which was so ancient and universal, and so prominent especially in the religion of Egypt must almost of necessity have been shared in by the race of Abraham, and hence that the silence about it in the Mosaic record must be due, not to its absence from the creed of Israel, but to the peculiar purpose of the Mosaic dispensation. Worthy of attention also are Dean Stanley's words (Lect. 7. on 'Jewish Church') "Not from want of religion, but (if one might use the expression) from excess of religion, was this void left. The future life was not denied or contradicted, but it was overlooked, set aside, overshadowed, by the consciousness of the living, actual presence of God himself." But though such void there is, however to be accounted for, there are still, even in the Pentateuch (as certainly in the Psalms and prophets), occasional glimpses of the hope of immortality. The mystic tree of life in the midst of the garden, the predicted bruising, of the serpent's head, the mystery of Enoch's departure from the world, and notably (as our Lord himself points out) God still calling himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob after they had been long ago gathered to their fathers, are intimations, even in the Pentateuch, of a belief in man's immortal hopes. And it may be added, with reference to the history immediately before us, that Jacob's application of the idea of his being a" sojourner " - used by Abraham with reference to the abode in Palestine - to the whole course of his life upon the earth, in itself suggests the meaning attached to such language in the Epistle. Hence no violence is done to the meaning of the history rather it may be that its deeper meaning is brought out, if the patriarchs are regarded as entertaining a hope of a heavenly inheritance to themselves, and seeing beyond the earthly types. But even f we suppose such immortal hopes as having been in them at the most but vague and dim, still their faith in and longing for a fulfillment of the promise in any sense was really a longing and reaching after the eternal realities which the first fulfillment typified. Compare the view taken in Hebrews 4. of the meaning of "God's rest." Delitzsch thus enunciates this view of the passage before us: "The promise given to the patriarchs was a Divine assurance of a future rest. That rest was connected, in the first instance, with the future possession of an earthly home; but their desire for that home was at the same time a longing and a seeking after Him who had given the promise of it, whoso presence and blessing alone made it for them an object of desire, and whose presence and blessing, however vouchsafed, makes the place of its manifestation to be indeed a heaven. The shell of their longing might thus be of earth; its kernel was heavenly and Divine, and as such God himself vouchsafed to honor and reward it." From the general mode of life of the patriarchs the review now passes to particular acts of faith, beginning with Abraham's memorable one, the offering of Isaac.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
For they that say such things,.... That they are strangers and pilgrims on earth:
declare plainly that they seek a country; heaven, so called, for the largeness of it; it is a good land, a land of uprightness; a pleasant land, a land of rest, though a land afar off; here the Father of Christ, and Christ himself, and all his people dwell: the Syriac version renders it, "their own city"; the place of their nativity, of which they were citizens: the act of "seeking" it supposes some things, with respect to the place where they were, as that they were in a strange land, had no settlement there, nor satisfaction in it, and that they sat loose to the world, and the things of it; and some things respecting the country sought after, as that they were not in it; that it was at a distance from them; that they had some knowledge of it, and of the way to it; that their desires were after it, and that they had a strong affection and value for it: the right way to this country is not mere civility and morality, nor legal righteousness, nor birth privileges, nor submission to outward ordinances, nor a mere profession of religion, but the Lord Jesus Christ; he is the true way to eternal life; it is his righteousness which gives a title to it, and on account of which believers expect it, though not without holiness, nor without trouble. The right manner of seeking it is, in the first place, above all things else, with the whole heart, by faith, and by patient continuance in well doing. Many are the reasons which may induce believers to seek it; it is their own, and their Father's country; it is a better one than that in which they are; and because of the company they shall there enjoy, and the work they shall be employed in; and because of the happiness they will be possessed of; and because their inheritance, riches, and treasures, lie here.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
14. For—proof that "faith" (Heb 11:13) was their actuating principle.
declare plainly—make it plainly evident.
seek—Greek, "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.
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