These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them…
This is a confession which all the patriarchs made; if not in words, more emphatically in deeds. We find it expressly made on five occasions in the Old Testament.
I. The first two instances of this confession occur in historical narratives, and may be considered by themselves.
1. Abraham says to the sons of Heth: "I am a stranger," &c. (Genesis 23:4). You are alone, and would fain be let alone, in your grief. You care not for companionship; you shrink from it. "Leave me to myself," may be your instinctive cry. "Only give me liberty in quietness to bury my dead. Earth may have many things attractive to you: for me, it can furnish only one thing I care for; a grave for my dead." This may be a morbid frame; and it may have a fascination for the mourner; and such a fascination as is apt to grow. It may become the luxury of woe; and, like all luxury, it will enervate and enslave. It is to be resisted in its beginning. As a lover of men, you have much to live for; to do good as you have opportunity. As a lover of Christ, you have more; for to you to live is Christ. In this spirit, you may well and warrantably use the language of the patriarch; with fullest fellowship and sympathy, "Have pity upon me, O my friends!" "You may have been wont to regard me simply as a stranger; separated from you; moving in a different sphere, and following different ways. You may have seen perhaps, with some not unnatural grudge, my prosperous state; thinking it hard that such an uninvited intruder into your country should possess such wealth in flocks and herds: or the simple worship of my household may have provoked your indignation or contempt. I was not one of you. You saw me as a stranger; as one whom you did not understand, and could not altogether like. But see me now, a stricken mourner, a desolate old man, fain to come to you and ask from you a grave in which to bury my dead." There is that in sorrow which makes men kind; which makes them kin. How precious, in this view, may a season of distress be to one labouring among his neighbours on behalf of Christ!
2. The Lord says to Israel, "The land is Mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with Me" (Leviticus 25:23). This may be regarded almost as a kind of rejoinder to the pathetic appeal which we have heard Abraham making to the sons of Heth. "Thou art here again, 'after a long interval, in the land where thou wast once a wanderer. Then thou was a stranger and sojourner with the sons of Heth. Now thou art a stranger and sojourner with Me. Then thou didst acknowledge them to be thy hosts, and thyself to be their guests. Now thou art to feel that I am thy Host, and thou art My guest. For the land is Mine. Thou sojournest with Me." There is comfort in this thought applied retrospectively. Thou didst indeed then succeed in purchasing a few feet of ground, that thou mightest bury thy dead in no borrowed tomb, but in a sepulchre thou hadst by purchase made thine own. But, after all, it was in a land possessed by alien tribes, a land of strangers. Is it not a satisfaction, solace, to reflect now that it was in a land which is the Lord's? This comfort may be yours, believer. You too bury your dead in a land that is the Lord's. And the land is the wide earth; for the earth is the Lord's. Whenever you have to bury your dead, it is in a land of which the Lord says, It is Mine. To leave loved remains on a foreign strand, slowly and sadly to lay down the brave where the foe is sullenly firing; to lose the weary adventurer in the wild jungle, abandoned to his fate among its beasts of prey; to cast with measured plunge into the deep sea the .cold form which you prize above all its treasures: ah! what a hard sore trial of love and faith. But courage. "The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof! " There is admonition also in the thought. If you were hospitably received in some great and good man's house, seated at his table, and allowed the full range of his wide domains, you would not think of taking liberties as if all were your own. You would be on your guard, lest you should abuse his hospitality. You would beware of encroaching on his condescension. And you would pay him the decent compliment of showing how much you valued him and his company above all his goodly fare. Then again you would be careful not to set your heart too much upon your temporary residence, and its temporary entertainment. You would moderate your taste for the enjoyments and indulgences which are yours only for a brief and uncertain time; allowed to you by him whose guest you are. And you would not think of giving away to foolish friends the goods stored up in his cellars; or cutting down the timber of his woods for your own pleasure or aggrandisement. This figure or parable may explain and enforce the right and safe way of using this world without abusing it. As the Lord's guests you cannot be indifferent or stand neutral in the great strife that is going on in the land of which He says, It is Mine. You must take a side. Nor can there be room for doubt what the side is to be. The buried bones of your pious dead, whose graves are all over the field of battle, forbid all hesitancy or indecision, all cowardice or compromise. The earth is indeed the Lord's. And it is ere long to be triumphantly vindicated and gloriously Occupied as His. But meanwhile it is the Lord's, as a kind of debateable territory, every inch of which has to be fought for, to be won and kept as it were, by force of arms; like the parcel of ground which Jacob bought, but which, nevertheless, his sons had to conquer by their swords and their bows. And it has in its bosom a countless multitude of redeemed bodies, belonging to redeemed souls; bodies now vile perhaps, but destined to be conformed to the Lord's own glorious body. You cannot be idle while the battle is raging that is to end in such a victory. Two things in particular you must have much at heart. The first is to break every tie that ever bound you, or could bind you, to the usurper's service; the service of the prince of this world. You cannot now be brought under Satan's bondage; for greater is He that is for you than all they that can be against you. You cannot now be blindfolded by the great deceiver. You know the truth, and the truth makes you free. Surely now you will not betray your Host with whom you dwell, by shrinking from knowing His name and defending His cause, or by keeping up a treacherous correspondence with the enemy. Rather, secondly, knowing His mind and heart, seeing how intensely He longs to clasp to His bosom, and welcome into His home, and entertain as His guests each and all of those fighting in the rebel host, will you not be ever appealing to every one of them whom you meet with, every stranger wandering afar off, every unwary youth enlisting himself as a recruit?
II. The three other instances of this confession of the text occur in devotional exercises, and they may be made to fit into one another.
1. "We are strangers before Thee and sojorners, as were all our fathers" (1 Chronicles 29:15). Here the thought " we are strangers before Thee and sojourners " is brought in to heighten the admiring and grateful joy with which David contemplates the amazing goodness of God, in permitting him and his people to do so much, to do anything, for the building of His house and the glory of His name. What grace, what condescension, is there in this! The Proprietor and Lord of all things enables and inclines us who are His guests, sojourning with Him in the land that is His own, to offer as our gift what already, as His property, belongs to Him alone; and most generously consents to accept the offering!
2. "Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear unto my cry; hold not Thy peace at my tears: for I am a stranger with Thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were" (Psalm 39:12). This is your sad cry as you suffer under the inevitable evils of a stranger's lot, even though you may have the blessedness, in the land in which you are strangers, of being sojourners with him whose land it is. For, however hospitably he with whom you are sojourning may entertain you, it is still, as it were, within the precincts of an inn, nor can you expect to escape the vexations and troubles inseparable from that mode of accommodation. Then you must remember that the land in which as strangers you are for the present entertained as sojourners, is the earth which has been cursed for your sin, and on which, with whatever mitigation, the sentence still lies. You may think it strange, perhaps hard, that you should be thus lodged, even temporarily; in the midst of creation's groans, mingling with your own. But for wise ends your gracious entertainer considers this to be right. And may you not always be appealing to Him, and reminding Him of your relation to Him?
3. "I am a stranger in the earth: hide not Thy commandments from me" (Psalm 119:19). The point and pith of this prayer would seem to lie in the continual need which one who is a stranger on the earth has of communion with Him whose guest he is; with whom, as a stranger, he is a sojourner. In that character, as a stranger on the earth, I do not now desire to have more fellowship with the people of the land than is necessary for pious ends; for the comely burial of my dead, or for the discharge of my duty of love to the living. I would rather converse with Him who says, "The land is Mine." And the medium of conversation with Him is His word, or His commandments. His commandments, His communications of whatever sort, precepts, promises, histories, prophecies, warnings, encouragements, all sayings of His, for they are all commandments, I desire to use as means of real personal converse with Him. But I cannot do so unless He opens my eyes. Therefore, I pray, "Hide not Thy commandments from me."
(R, S. Candlish, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: These 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.