By 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…
Abraham, the friend of God and the father of the faithful, was homeless man in a strange country, dwelling in tents like an Arab or a Tartar. This fact, though not inexplicable, is so far singular as to deserve our particular attention.
1. Why, then, was Abraham a wanderer, a homeless man, a sojourner in the land of promise? I remark that it was not on account of poverty. Abraham was rich, by inheritance, by acquisition — rich by the blessing of God on the increase of his possessions, and rich through the favour of the kings and chiefs whose friendship he enjoyed.
2. Was it, then, because he had no real estate, no landed property, to which he could lay claim and on which he might reside? The whole land of Canaan was in one sense his own. It was his by express grant from Jehovah — made sure to him and to his heirs for ever.
3. We read that when Abraham first crossed the Jordan from the East, "the Canaanite was in the land." The Hivite, the Hittite, the Jebusite, the Amorite, and other sons of Canaan, had possession of the country. And so thickly were they settled, in the central part at least, that there was not room for Abraham and Lot to live together. May it not be, therefore, that these actual possessors of the country would not suffer him to dwell among them? Had they known his pretensions, or, to speak more properly, his rights, they might have hated him and driven him away. But as he made no efforts to enforce those rights, and as he came among them from the East with flocks and herds, and as an independent chieftain, they received him with respect, and this respect increased. It was not, therefore, on account of any enmity between him and the Canaanites that, instead of founding a great city, he preferred to live a wandering life. There must be other reasons for his course.
4. It may be suggested that his perseverance in a wandering course shows him to have been a mere barbarian, one who was unable to appreciate the comforts of a settled life, or rather, who had never had experience of them. Thus we find that in Arabia there are tribes of Bedouins who regard their wandering life as the most honourable possible, and laugh to scorn those pleasures and advantages of civilised society about which they know nothing by experience. But let it be observed that these tribes inhabit the Arabian desert, where cultivation exists only in detached spots, and where the herdsman is obliged to change his pasture-ground and home continually. Abraham, on the other hand, was in a fertile, cultivated, thickly settled country full of proud cities, walled towns of inferior size, and villages innumerable. It was not because he knew no better that he obese to dwell in tents instead of houses, and. to govern an encampment, not a city or a kingdom.
5. Was it, then, because he thought it wrong to lead a settled life in towns and cities, that he dwelt in tents? There is no trace of such a doctrine in the Word of God, and Abraham was too well grounded in the Divine will to hold it as a superstition. He was no ascetic.
6. To some the thought may here occur that we are searching for the explanation of a fact which needs none. Why should Abraham's wandering be considered stranger than the wandering of any other Eastern chief? And as those of the: highest rank lead such a life to this day, it need not be regarded as below the dignity even of the Father of the Faithful and the Friend of God. He came inter the country with his flocks and herds; and as the land was densely peopled, he was under the necessity of frequently changing his encampment and his pasture. This would be wholly satisfactory but for the apostle's mention of the patriarch's unsettled life as a remarkable evidence of faith.
7. Having thus determined negatively that it was neither poverty nor want of title to the land, nor opposition on the part of the inhabitants, nor ignorance, nor mere ascetic self-denial, nor a. regard to temporal convenience that induced him to reside in tents rather than in a palace and a city worthy of so great a prince, we are ready to receive the explanation of the text, which is this: "he looked," or was looking, "for a city." The sense is not that Abraham was wandering in search of a city upon earth, but that, he lived in quiet expectation of a city. "If we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it." It was this " patience of hope" that rendered Abraham indifferent to the walled cities of the Canaanites around him. whose antiquity was of ancient days, and whose defence was the munition of rocks. Nothing so effectually breeds indifference to present objects as the hope of better things to come. The traveller pressing homewards after a long absence can pass, with a contemptuous smile or absolute unconsciousness, those very objects which the homeless traveller dwells upon with rapture.
8. And what sort of s city did he look for, in contempt of those around him? How did the city of his expectations differ from the cities of the Canaanites and the Philistines, from old Damascus, and from Ur of the Chaldees? It had foundations. And had not they foundations? In one sense they had none. They were liable to change. In the same sense, Abraham's city, which he looked for, had foundations — has them now; for observe the present form of the expression. It was a city, therefore, not of this world; for in this world there are no foundations time-proof. And whence had the. city of his hopes these firm foundations? From the Architect.
9. Whose Builder and Maker is God. God does not build like man. The foundations of His structures are laid deep in His decrees, and the cement has been growing hard from all eternity. His power over the materials He uses is not merely the disposing power of a builder, but the absolute power of a maker. What He builds He creates. The city of which He is the Maker and Builder is eternal; it has foundations which decay can never weaken, and which laugh at the violence of storm and earthquake. And who are its inhabitants? (Revelation 21:24-26). And are none to be excluded? Ah, yes! (Revelation 21:27). This is the grand distinction of the city for which Abraham looked. It is a city free from sin. In this it differs from all earthly cities, And why is it called a city? Because with a city we associate ideas of substantial strength, immense wealth, regular government, social intercourse, refinement of manners, and external splendour. But what are all these, in the cities of the earth, to the surpassing glories of that city for which Abraham looked, and where the saints shall be enthroned as kings and priests unto God?
10. Here, then, we begin to see a marked resemblance between his case and our own. However remote from our experience what has hitherto been said of his condition, at last we are alike, we are all sojourners and strangers upon earth, we seek the same city as the patriarch. However well we may be pleased with it, however fully satisfied with what it can afford, we know that our abode in it is only for a time; it is not the place of our rest. And of this we are receiving constant admonitions.
11. Now this feeling of uneasiness, this sense of homelessness, is, as you well know, incompatible with happiness. In order to be happy you must have a home, either present or in prospect. Have you such a home? Remember that earthly homes, in reference to eternity, are nothing worth. Look at the households breaking up around you, and say whether these can be your solace and your stay for ever. What will you do then? Will you waste yourselves in misanthropic discontent! No! do as Abraham did: look forward to the city which hath foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God. The more unsatisfactory you find this world, look the more eagerly and steadfastly on that which is to come.
12. But here let us guard against a fatal error — the error of imagining that mere expectation is alone required. Believe me, multitudes have looked for that city who have never reached it. There is but one path to it through the wilderness of life, and that path is a narrow one. It was by that path that the Father of the Faithful gained the object of his faith and hope. If you would gain it likewise, you must walk in the footsteps of the Friend of God. Do you ask what path he travelled? I reply, the:path of humble, childlike faith.
13. And now let me turn to you who have your faces turned to Zion, and are already looking for that city to which Abraham aspired, and where he reigns in glory. It is said that when the caravan of pilgrims to the sepulchre of Christ cross the mountains of Judaea, worn with hunger and fatigue, they are sometimes ready to relax their efforts, and despair of safe arrival. They may even repent of their own folly in attempting so adventurous a journey, and wish themselves in safety at their own distant firesides. But these thoughts all vanish when the summit is attained, and from the mountain's brow they catch a glimpse of Olivet and Zion, and the forsaken city seated in her widow's weeds upon her throne of hills. That sight reanimates their courage and renews their strength. With simultaneous energy they rise and hasten onward, and the roughness of the journey is forgotten in the presence of Jerusalem. Oh! we are also strangers and pilgrims, and our way through the world may be precipitous and rugged, and so long as we look only at the things around us, our hearts may well grow faint and our knees feeble. But amidst these discouragements, look upward to the heavenly hills, and, through the dust and smoke of this world's troubles, keep the eternal city steadfastly in view. That sight will make your hearts beat with new vigour. It will nerve your arm for battle and your bosom for resistance. It will enable you to look down with contempt upon the pleasures and temptations of the world; it will preserve you from illusions, painful even to the Christian, and, ah! how often fatal to the unbeliever.
(J. A. Alexander, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: By 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.