Have you ever heard someone say that the best commentary on Scripture is Scripture? What they mean, typically, is that the meaning of a passage is best found by what the other writers of Scripture thought it meant. That isn’t always easy, and not every passage of Scripture is referred to by other writers. But when it happens, it’s very convenient.
Scripture is “God-breathed”, and therefore has our Creator as its author even though there were many writers. Precisely how He worked through human agents is still hotly debated, and were not going to continue that debate here. In any case, when a writer of Scripture refers to another passage of Scripture, it’s pretty safe to say they are right about it.
The writer of Hebrews refers to a lot of old Hebrew Scripture, and here he interprets the life of Abraham and the other Patriarchs.
All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.Hebrews 11:13-16 (NASB)
As I read about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, it never occurred to me that these guys were looking for a city. They never seemed to be interested in living anywhere other than their tents. But the life of Jacob and his sons brings out the “sojourner” belief about themselves. And Abraham was very clear about not returning to his home country. In fact, something he says about Isaac makes it clear that the life in tents wasn’t all that easy on them.
The servant said to him, “Suppose the woman is not willing to follow me to this land; should I take your son back to the land from where you came?” Then Abraham said to him, “Beware that you do not take my son back there! The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my birth, and who spoke to me and who swore to me, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give this land,’ He will send His angel before you, and you will take a wife for my son from there. But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this my oath; only do not take my son back there.” So the servant placed his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master, and swore to him concerning this matter.Genesis 24:5-9 (NASB)
Now, this is not a clear assertion by Abraham. And it can mean that Isaac didn’t like the life, but not necessarily. Yet, as I read it, I wonder if Abraham was aware of the choice he made that Isaac never really was able to make. Haran had people like them in customs and speech. Yet they were shepherds living in a city not in tents. Isaac may not have even thought that was an option. Lot did, and moves his family into Sodom. Abraham couldn’t let that happen to Isaac.
Not that those among whom they lived, the Canaanites, didn’t tend flocks and live in cities, but they weren’t Arameans, they were Canaanites. They weren’t from Mesopotamia, their religion was different, their language was different, their customs and practices were different. And while the Canaanites were drifting away from El Elyon (God Most High), Abraham and his descendants were drawing closer to Him. It was critical that Isaac remain in the Land of Promise, and yet not become lost among the people of Canaan (Gen. 34:18-24). That required a life in tents.
Perhaps, you feel unsettled. You may feel like everything is temporary, and find it difficult to gain a sense of fulfillment or satisfaction, like you’re done. Good! If that’s you, it’s supposed to be what life as a disciple of Jesus is like. We aren’t home, we’re not “done”, we’re all “strangers in a strange land”. In fact, if you fell settled, like everything is set, and you’re fulfilled and satisfied, then you are done, just not in a good way. This place cannot be our home. The whole point of the writer of Hebrews here is that we should be looking forward in faith to the city to come.
This time of “lockdowns”, “quarantines”, and “pandemics” we can feel afraid of the uncertainties. Don’t fear them. Don’t fear what you cannot see, because what we have to look forward to is just beyond all this chaos. Take courage, in fact, be an example of courage. Be unafraid to love, to care, to encourage, and be respectful of others. What will distinguish disciples of Jesus from those who are perishing should be most evident in times like this. We should not fear what they fear. We will be able to love in the face of cold hard apathy, we will be able to care and encourage in the face of discouragement.
Who can you think of that you can encourage today? Do it! Let the Spirit of Jesus guide you to His work in the lives of those around you.
That’s my view through the knothole this morning.
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation