For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Such things.—“I am a stranger and a sojourner with you” (Genesis 23:4). “The days of the years of my pilgrimage. . . . the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage” (Genesis 47:9).
Declare plainly that they seek a country.—Rather, make it plain that they are seeking a home, or fatherland.
SEEK THE FATHERLAND
Hebrews 11:14WHAT things? Evidently those which the writer has just been saying that the patriarchs of old ‘said,’ as stated in the previous words - ‘They confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims upon earth.’ The writer has in his mind, no doubt, some of the beautiful incidents of the Book of Genesis; especially, I suppose, that very touching one where Abraham is standing up by the side of his dead, in the presence of the sons of Herb, and begs from them for the first time a little piece of land that he could call his Own. He tells them that he is a stranger and a sojourner amongst them, and wants ‘the field and the cave that is therein’ in which to bury his dead. Or he may be thinking of the no less touching incident, when Jacob, in his extreme old age, tells the King of Egypt that the days of the years of his pilgrimage have been few and evil, not having attained to the years of his father.
The writer points to these declarations, and reads into them what he was entitled to read into them, something more than a mere acceptance of the external facts of the speakers’ condition, as wanderers in the midst of a civilization to which they did not belong. He sees gleaming through the primary force of the words the further hope which the patriarchs cherished, though it was, as it wore, latent in the nearer hope of an earthly inheritance - viz., that of the city which hath foundations, and the country which they could call their own.
Although the writer is not adducing those patriarchs as being patterns for us, but is only establishing his great thesis that they lived by faith in a future blessing, as we ought to do, still we may take the words of my text, with a permissible amount of violence, as appropriate to all of us who call ourselves Christians. ‘They who say such things do hereby declare plainly,’ and by their lives should declare more plainly still, ‘that they are seeking a country.’
I. Note, then, first of all, the remarkable representation here given of that future for which Christians look, as being their native land.
The word of our text is very inadequately rendered in our Authorized Version as merely ‘a country.’ Fully and etymologically rendered, it would be ‘the fatherland.’ Whether we choose to adopt that somewhat un-English expression or no, at all events, the idea conveyed is that these men, having come out from Mesopotamia, and being wanderers, in their goat’s-hair tents, in the midst of the fenced cities of Canaan, were thereby seeking for a land which was their native land, their home, the place to which they felt that they belonged far more truly than to the land from which they came out, or to the land in which they were for the moment wandering. That is the idea that I would enforce as needful for all true and noble Christian living, the recognition that our true home, the country and the order with which we are connected by all our deepest and most real affinities, the land where, and where only, we shall feel at rest, and surrounded by familiar things and loved persons, is that land which lies beyond the flood.
We do not belong, and should feel that we do not belong, to the place and order where we happen to stand to-day. This present and the order of things here should be for us either like that Aram Naharaim, ‘the Syria between the two rivers,’ the dust of which Abraham had shaken from off his feet; or it should be like that rotten though splendid civilization into the midst of which He came, and of which He sternly refused to enrol Himself as a citizen. Our home is where Jesus Christ is, and there is something pro- roundly wrong in us unless we feel that that, and not this, is our native soil, and that there, and not here, is the place to which we belong.
Our colonists on the other side of the world, though they have never seen England, talk about ‘going home.’ And so we, inhabitants of this outlying colony of the great city, ought to look across the flood, and sometimes catch a sight of those bright realms beyond, and always feel that they are really our native land. ‘They that say such things declare plainly’ that they are not citizens here, but belong yonder.
II. Then, mark again, the other parallel which may be drawn between these men’s attitude and ours, in that their whole career was a seeking the true Fatherland.
Again, our translation is inadequate because it does not give the energetic force of the word that is rendered ‘seek.’ It was not a seeking, on the part of the patriarchs, in the sense of looking for an unseen thing, or searching about to find an undiscovered one. That was all done for them by God. They had not to seek in that unsatisfactory and disturbing sense, but they had to seek, in the sense of projecting their desires onwards to the blessing that God held out in His hand for them, and letting their faith grasp the promise and their thoughts expatiate in the future, which was as sure to them as the present, because God had made it. The word for seeking in the original is very emphatic. It implies the going out of longings and yearnings and thoughts to something which is there, to be grasped and laid hold of. Thank God we have not to seek our native soil as wanderers who may perchance fail in our quest, and die at last homeless. It is brought to us, and certified to us by the divine veracity, sealed to us by the divine faithfulness, reserved for us by the divine power, made possible for us by the divine forgiving mercy. But still we have to seek, letting our hearts go out towards that good land, letting our thoughts play about it and become familiar with it, letting our desires tend towards it, and ever, in all the dusty ways of daily life, and amidst all the distractions of monotonous and recurring duties, keeping our heads above the mist and looking into the clear blue, where we may see the vision of the certain future.
The management and discipline of our thoughts is included in that seeking, and I am afraid that that is a part of Christian culture woefully neglected by the average Christian of this day. If we consider the comparative magnitude of the future and the present, and the certain issue of the present in the future, are our thoughts of it such as common-sense would make them? Is that ‘land that is very far off’ a frequent ordinary subject of contemplation by us, in the midst of the hurry and bustle of our daffy life? Or have we let the glasses of the telescope of hope get all dimmed and dirty; and when we do polish them up, do we use them to look at the stars with, or at the earth and its beauties? Whither do my anticipations of the future tend? Is my hope shortsighted or longsighted? Is it only able to see the things on this side the river, or can it catch any of the glories beyond? Our fault is not in not living enough in the future, but in the selection of the future in which we live. ‘We are saved by hope,’ if we rightly direct the hope. We are ruined by hopes when they are cribbed, cabined, and confined to this miserable present. Brother! do you seek your home by the cultivation of the contemplation of it and the desire for it, and so almost emulate the divine prerogative and call things that are not as though they were?
Oh! how different our lives would be if we walked in the light of that great hope, and how different everything here would be if we regarded all here as auxiliary and subsidiary to that.
Above all, if it were true of us, as it ought to be in accordance with our profession of being Christians, that we seek a country, should we think about death as we do? Should we drape it in such ugly forms? Should we shrink from it as most of us, I fear, do as a dread and an enemy and a disaster? No doubt there is, and there always will be. a natural shrinking; but the man who can say that to die is to be with Christ, and who sets that thought ever before him, will be helped over the dark gulf; and the shrinking will be turned, if not into desire at least into calm scorn of the last enemy, the encounter with whom does not diminish his longing to be with his Lord.
These are heights, of Christian feeling so far above most of us that we are tempted to think them unreal and fantastic; but they are the heights to which we should naturally rise, if once we realised the greatness, the blessedness, the certainty of that hidden hope above. Dear friends, if we look onwards to our own end, are we only or chiefly conscious of a cold thrill of recoil and repulsion? Let us ask ourselves if our feeling
corresponds to our profession that Christ is our life, and that where He is is our heaven and our hope.
III. Lastly, notice the unmistakable witness of profession and life which we are to bear.
‘They declare plainly.’ They make it absolutely and unmistakably manifest, says the writer, that they seek a country. It did not need that Abraham should stand up before the sons of Heth and say, ‘I am a pilgrim and a sojourner amongst you.’ They all knew it. There was his tent outside the city walls, and a strange life that little tribe of people, he and his followers, lived, wandering up and down the land and refusing to settle ,themselves anywhere. They lived a life unlike that of the people among whom they dwelt, We know that in these early days there were fenced cities, outside the walls of which they dwelt, and there all the evidences of a highly developed and advanced civilization existing in the land. These patriarchs lived like gypsies in the country, roaming everywhere but rooted nowhere; and the reason they so lived was that they ‘looked for a city which hath foundations.’
‘Yes! the man, before the eyes of whose faith there is ever shining that permanent state of blessed union with Jesus Christ and of sweet society with all the good, can afford to recognise the things that are seen as transient, as they must be. He will be in no danger of mistaking the fleeting shows for eternal realities. If we are looking for the city we shall dwell in tabernacles; and the more our faith grasps the permanent realities beyond, the more will our experience realise the transitoriness of the things here by our sides.
The very fact that men call themselves Christians is a declaration that they are seeking for a city. Do you act up to your declaration? Is your Christianity a matter of lip or of life? Have you pitched your tents outside the city to confirm your declaration that you do not belong to this community? And do you live as in it, but not of it?
Our outward lives ought to make most distinctly manifest that we are citizens of the heavens, and that will be made manifest by abstinence from a great deal There are many things, right enough in themselves, which are not expedient, and therefore not right, for a Christian man to do, if they fasten him down to this present. And you will have to cut yourselves loose from a good deal to which otherwise it would he permissible for you to be attached, if you intend to rise towards God; and whatever we do like other people, we shall have to do from a manifestly different temper or spirit. Two men may engage in precisely the same occupation. For instance, there may be two tellers at one side of a bank counter, or two depositors on the other, doing exactly the same things, and yet one of them may do them so as to ‘declare plainly,’ even in that act, ‘that he is seeking a country,’ and that he is not wholly swallowed up in the love and high estimate of worldly wealth. The motive from which, the end towards which, the help by which, the accompanying thoughts with which, we do our daily, secular work, may hallow it, and make it express our heavenly-mindedness, as completely as if we went apart on the mountain, and held communion in prayer and praise with God.
We do not want ‘plain’ declarations by so-called religious acts, still less by religious professions, half as much as we do plain declarations by an obviously Christian way of doing secular things, and living the daily life of men upon earth. Remember the illustration from the conduct of the very men of whom my text speaks. I said that they kept themselves aloof from the civilisation around them. That requires modification to be a full statement of the case. They threw themselves into it, when necessary, with all energy. Lot went down to Sodom because it offered good grazing land. He behaved just as many professing Christians handle the world, going down amongst the slime-pits and the scoundrels for the sake of making a little money out of them - whilst Abraham stopped on the. more barren pastures of the hills, with freedom, security, and holiness. When Lot got what he deserved, and was involved in the disaster of the city that he had made his home, Abraham did not say, ‘It is a very sad thing, but Lot must get himself out of the difficulty.’ He buckled on his sword and armed his followers, turning himself into a soldier for the time being, and promptly gave chase to the robbers, following them all through the night, along the whole length of the Holy Land, and pounced upon them, routing them, as they lay in fancied security, and liberating their prisoner, who was the captive of his own lust and covetousness much more sadly than of the Eastern marauders.
And so, the detachment from the present, which is needful for Christian men, is to be combined with the most energetic discharge of the duties which we owe to ourselves and to those around us, and especially to be combined with the most diligent work for those who have fallen captive to the snares of the world which we, by His mercy, have been able to escape. And he will best manifest, and most plainly declare, that he seeks a country who seeks most earnestly to hallow all ordinary life, and to do the work, here and now, which God prescribes for him: There is an old story about a question being put to some good man who was fond of playing chess.
‘What would you do if, when you were at the chess-board, you were told that Jesus Christ was coming?’ ‘Finish the game’ was the wise answer. There is another story about a scene in the American House of Representatives in its early time. A great darkness came on during the sitting, and some timid souls began to think that the last day was at band. The President said, ‘Bring candles and let us go on with the debate.’ If the Master is coming, we are best found doing our work. Yes! Best doing our work, if it is His work. And all our work may be His if it is done for His sake and in His strength.
Christian. men and women! see to it that there he no ambiguity about your position, no mistaking your nationality, and that in your life, without ostentation, without offensively forcing your religion upon peoples’ notice, you declare plainly that you, at any rate, seek your native home.Hebrews 11:14-16. For they that say such things — That speak of themselves as strangers and pilgrims; declare plainly that they seek a country — Different from that in which they dwell. Or rather, that they seek their own, or their father’s country, as πατριδα, the word here used, signifies. They show that they keep in view, and long for, their eternal home. And truly if they had been mindful of that country — Ur, of the Chaldees; from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned — From the call of Abraham to the death of Jacob there were two hundred years, so that they had time enough for a return if they had had a mind to it; there was no external difficulty in their way by force or opposition; the way was not so far, but that Abraham sent his servant thither out of Canaan, and Jacob went the same journey with his staff. The fact is, all love to, and desire after their native country, was so mortified in these holy men, by faith influencing them to act in obedience to the call of God, that no remembrance of their first enjoyments, no impressions from their native air and soil, no bonds of consanguinity among the people, nor difficulties they met with in their wanderings, could kindle in them any peculiar love and attachment of their native place. Abraham in particular considered the very thought of returning into Chaldea as a renunciation of his interest in the promises of God; and therefore he made his servant Eliezer swear, that on no pretence whatever would he carry Isaac into Chaldea, Genesis 24:5-8. This absolute renunciation of Chaldea, notwithstanding God gave Abraham none inheritance in Canaan, no, not so much as to set his foot on, (Acts 7:5,) is a strong proof of his knowledge of the true meaning of the promises, and of his faith in them. But now they desire — Or desired, rather; ορεγονται, they strongly desired, they lounged after; a better country — Than Chaldea; that is, a heavenly — Which God hath promised to them. This is a full, convincing proof that the patriarchs had a revelation and promise of eternal life and felicity in heaven. Wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God — Which, speaking after the manner of men, he would have been, if he had provided nothing better for them than what he gave them to enjoy on earth. Or if they had been content with, and attached to, earthly things. But since by faith they sought after a better inheritance, on the possession of which they entered partly at death, and shall more fully enter when their bodies are conformed to Christ’s glorious body, therefore God counts it no disparagement to or reflection upon his greatness and majesty, to own himself to be a God in covenant with them, since he has provided eternal life, felicity, and glory for them. Or, as Macknight states the case, “He might have been ashamed of the name [of their God] if Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to whom as their God he had promised Canaan, but who had died without receiving the possession of it, are not to be raised from the dead to enjoy the country promised under the emblem of Canaan. The reason is, in the sense which the name of God bears in the covenant, he cannot be the God of the dead; he can neither bestow the possession of Canaan, nor of the country prefigured by Canaan, on persons who are dead. But he is the God of the living; he can bestow that country on living persons who, by the reunion of soul and body, are capable of enjoying it. And that he can restore to Abraham and to his seed their bodies, to enable them to enjoy the [heavenly] Canaan, is undeniable; because all who now live in the body, live merely by his will and power; all live by him.”
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.
declare and show plainly to all who see them, or converse with them,
that they seek a country, and a place of rest, which they were not possessed of. For no person is a stranger or pilgrim in his own country; but these inquired the way, and walked in it, which led them to a better than any this earth afforded them: and so the apostle brings us back to that which he had declared before, Hebrews 11:10, and immediately prevents the suggestion, that this country should be their former country, and clears it to be a better.
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.For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Hebrews 11:14 ff. That the patriarchs are ξένοι καὶ παρεπίδημοι, they have themselves confessed; that they were so ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, the author has added by way of more nearly defining. The legitimacy of this exposition of their words he now proves (Hebrews 11:14 … ἐπουρανίου, Hebrews 11:16). By those utterances the patriarchs declare that they have not already a country, they are only seeking it. If, now, they had set their hearts upon an earthly country, they would certainly have had time and opportunity enough to have returned to that which they had left, but this they did not; they must thus have longed for a heavenly country.
ἐμφανίζουσιν] Theodoret: δηλοῦσιν. Oecumenius and Theophylact: δεικνύουσιν.
ἐπιζητεῖν] ardently to seek or desire something.14. that they seek a country] Rather, “that they are seeking further after a native land.” Hence comes the argument of the next verse that it was not their old home in Chaldea for which they were yearning, but a heavenly native-land.Hebrews 11:14. Ἐμφανίζουσιν, show) A remarkable word. Isaiah 3:9, לא כהדו, they did not deny, they declared.—ἐπιζητοῦσιν, they seek) Citizens of the world (Cosmopolitæ) do not call themselves strangers in the world (Cosmoxeni).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.
oP. See on John 14:21. Occasionally in lxx. Rend. "make it manifest."
They seek a country (πατρίδα ἐπιζητοῦσιν)
The verb is found in lxx, chiefly in the sense of seeking after God or another deity. See 2 Kings 1:3, 2 Kings 1:6; 2 Kings 3:11; 2 Kings 8:8; 2 Kings 22:18; 2 Chronicles 18:6. Comp. ἐπιζητουμένη πόλις a city sought after (Zion), Isaiah 62:12. Πατρίς is a native country; a fatherland. Only here and in Gospels and Acts. Quite often in lxx.
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