“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—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
How many times have we watched a movie where a parent promises to be there for a child but then fails to follow through? The son or daughter loses hope in the character of the parent. As trust is eroded, the child becomes increasingly independent and distant from his or her parent. When a promise is made, the receiver puts his or her full confidence in the character of the speaker. If this promise is not delivered, doubt and mistrust take over. The end result is a disintegration of the relationship. We can all relate to this. Some of us have had significant promises broken and thus have put up walls against people in certain situations. Broken promises can be devastating. They can drive us to a state of despair which leads to bitterness, isolation, and loneliness. At times, you may be tempted to think that God has been unfaithful to fulfill His promises to you. However He is the One whom we can always trust. The very nature of God guarantees that all His promises will be fulfilled.
In this expedition of Hebrews 11, we will focus on this theme of God’s promises. The writer speaks of men “who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised” (verse 33). One of the most significant promises given in the Old Testament is what is often referred to as the “Abrahamic Covenant.” Abraham was told that from his offspring would come a great nation and “all peoples on earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). Isaac and Jacob were also waiting for this promise. Interestingly, Hebrews 11:13 says: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.” What does this mean? At times, does God fail to fulfill His promises? How were they able to escape being biter at God? The following sentence gives us a clue to this mystery...
“[And they]…admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:13b-16).
The end of Hebrews 11 reveals the same scenario. Read verses 35 to 38. We see the historical journey of generations of God’s people (which is still going on today and will continue until Jesus returns) who were tortured, imprisoned, destitute, persecuted, mistreated, and even killed for their faith. The Lord honors them by saying: “The world is not worthy of them” (verse 38). These saints persevered because they looked toward their eternal life as their destiny. They knew that God was at work in and through them to accomplish His Kingdom purposes. Their lives were not their own. They lived for His purposes. They felt honored to be a part of fulfilling His plans.
There is an important component of faith that all the saints of Hebrews 11 exhibited. They believed in the goodness, love, and faithfulness of God. Their faith was not in the promise. Their faith was in the Promise Keeper! Therefore, they knew that His promises would be fulfilled. They also knew that this might not happen in their generation or even during their earthly lives! They persevered through any trial, pain, or seemingly impossible situation in order to carry out God’s will, trusting in His promises along the way. Why? Because they trusted in the character of God. And they lived for His purposes, not their own.
God is both the Promise Giver and the Promise Keeper. Jesus’ disciples thought that He was the fulfillment of God’s promise to restore Israel and set them free from the captivity of the Roman Empire. Some became discouraged when Jesus was crucified and they fell away from their faith. Yet others knew that God is always faithful to His Word, and though they did not understand why Jesus died, they trusted in God’s faithfulness and continued to follow Him. Our interpretation or understanding of His promises is not always accurate. But what we can be sure of is the unfailing love and faithfulness of our God.
Today’s Bible Reading: Hebrews 11:13-16; 35-38