Hebrews 11:8-12

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, January 31, 2022 0 comments

by Katie Erickson

“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.” -Hebrews 11:8-12

Abraham is considered to be the father of the nation of Israel, as many Sunday School children know from the catchy song (“Father Abraham had many sons, many sons had Father Abraham…”). While we could point out the technicality that Abraham’s grandson Jacob was the one whom God renamed Israel and whose sons’ descendants became the tribes, Abraham was the one to whom God gave the promise of becoming the father of a great nation.

This is why the author spends so many verses on just this one person when reciting the great heroes of the faith. The section on Abraham actually spans verses 8-19. The author of Hebrews seems especially fond of Abraham, as he’s mentioned ten times over the course of the letter. Abraham is clearly a great example of faith in God; he accepted God’s promises even though he really had no earthly reason to assume that they would be fulfilled. Yes, a few faithful men had come before him, but we know from Genesis 11:10-32 that it was multiple generations from Noah until Abraham lived.

For today’s passage, we start at the beginning of the story of Abraham that we have in the Bible – when God told him to leave his homeland and move to a new land. You can read about this part of Abraham’s story starting in Genesis 12. God told Abraham to move to a different land, and Abraham went. When we move to a new place, we typically know where we’re going – probably many details about the new place, too! But Abraham did not know the destination when he packed up everything to move. He simply trusted God that God would keep His promise to show him where to settle.

But even when Abraham God to that land, he wasn’t able to truly settle there; he lived “like a stranger in a foreign country” (verse 9). The land had been promised to Abraham and his descendants by God, but it was not theirs to possess just yet. Even Abraham’s son Isaac and his son Jacob were not permanently settled there, as they lived in tents there during their lives also. We know from later in Genesis that Jacob’s sons and their families ended up in Egypt after the famine, and it was not until the time of Moses when the people (by that time a huge nation) even began to travel back to this promised land.

Why was Abraham okay with this situation? “For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (verse 10). To the original audience of the book of Hebrews, the city was considered the highest form of civilization. The foundations mentioned likely refer to the strong spiritual foundation of the promises of God rather than the physical foundations of a city. God is both the designer and the one who constructs this perfect city. Many scholars believe this is a reference to the New Jerusalem of Revelation 21. Abraham wasn’t just looking forward to the promised land or even the future city of Jerusalem that would be built there but of our future perfect dwelling with God for eternity. That is the only place that God truly designed and built that encompasses God’s perfection.

Verse 11 may represent the author embellishing things a bit, or perhaps remembering the story of Sarah more fondly than how it actually happens. The author portrays Abraham’s wife Sarah as being fully faithful and having confidence in the promise that she would bear a child, even in her own age. But in Genesis 16, we see Sarah losing faith in God’s timing, so she uses her servant Hagar to try and give them a son. Then in Genesis 18, Sarah laughs when the visitors say that she will bear a child in her old age. Neither of those sound like having faith that God will do what He promised to do!

But we know that God was faithful to His promise. Even though Abraham was “as good as dead” (verse 12) because of his old age, God gave him and Sarah a son, from whom came countless descendants. Because God promised and Abraham believed, God’s promise was fulfilled. Abraham’s faithful obedience resulted in blessings beyond what they could count - more numerous than the stars in the sky or the sand on the seashore.

I know I am thankful that God does not often call me to do things that require as much faith as Abraham packing up and moving to a land he didn’t yet know. But God still does work in our lives today, often without letting us know all of the details. Years ago, I heard this idea interpreted in light of Psalm 119:105: “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” A lamp or a light on the path are not considered to be very bright. Often, they would only serve to illuminate the next step, not the whole path. God often only gives us the next step we need to take, and we need to have faith in Him that He knows the whole path that He is calling us to.

Abraham was called to take that next step in faith – move to a land that God would show him – and he did, knowing by faith that God would work it all out. Abraham was called to believe in the promise God gave him that he would have numerous descendants, even while he was getting old and still childless; by faith, Abraham believed that.

What next step is God calling you to take in your life by faith? Listen for God’s voice in your life, through prayer, through other believers speaking into your life, through reading God’s Word, or even through the voice of God speaking directly to you. And when you discern what God is telling you, have faith that God will fulfill what He promises you!

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