Sighing for Home

The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is known by many as the “chapter of faith” or even the “hall of fame” of faithful people in scripture. This is for good reason: the writer of the Hebrew letter presents to a lengthy (but not exhaustive) list of Old Testament men and women who exhibit the sort of faith that is pleasing to God. The majority of the chapter is organized by the repeated statement “By faith”, followed by names of the faithful. In this manner we are reminded of Abel, Enoch, Abraham (twice) and other notable examples of faith. This pattern of “By faith” is repeated between v.4 and v.31, where Rahab’s faith is described. That is, except for one section.

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone 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 for them a city.” (Hebrews 11.13-16)

When the Holy Spirit stops in the middle of an obvious pattern to tell us something, we would be wise to notice and pay attention. Furthermore, the Spirit inspired the Hebrew writer to do so smack in the middle of two descriptions of the faith of Abraham! What is described here must be of the highest importance to our understanding of faith as we seek to imitate the faith of Abraham and Joseph and Rahab.

True Faith Is Held to the Point of Death

Find your personal Bible and read Heb. 11.13 again. Slowly.

People like Abraham and Sarah changed their lives and even their homes based on promises that God made to them. They spoke and acted on their belief, refusing to give up hope after months, years, and even decades went by. After all of that, they died having not received their promises. And yet this is exactly what is commended about their faith in this passage! People like Abraham and Sarah were willing to trust God to the point of living (and dying) as exiles in a strange land.

We often quote a section of Revelation 2.10: “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life.” Do we truly comprehend the gravity of this command? Are we as willing to change our words, our actions, our living situations, our relationships, everything in order to see God’s promises and greet them “from afar”? The truth is we need not wait for the revealing of all things at judgment to know if this is the case or not. The Holy Spirit goes on to instruct us in v.14 as to how we can know whether we truly seek a home with God, or whether we’re comfortable here.

Our words and actions “make it clear” what we seek.

The faithful weren’t perfect people. Even Abraham, the only person whose faith is mentioned two separate times in this list, was far from perfect. But in v.14 we have an indicator of how we can tell whether someone is truly looking for a city “whose designer and builder is God” (Heb. 11.10). In short, their actions and their words “make it clear” to both the Father and to others. The truly faithful in this list are not noted for their beliefs because their beliefs were made evident by their actions and their words. Look through the chapter and you will find example after example of men and women DOING according to their belief. In each case the Holy Spirit tells us exactly what this is called: “By faith”.

What we seek today is made evident in the same manner. The truth about what we believe is revealed by our words and our actions. In his commentary on this passage, Matthew Henry puts it this way: “This country they seek: their designs are after it; their desires are after it; their discourse is about it; they diligently endeavor to clear up their title to it, to have their temper suited to it, to have their conversation in it, and to come to the enjoyment of it.” In short, if we are truly filled with a desire to be at home with the Father, it will be evident in our words, our actions, and our attitude.

Going “back to Egypt” begins in the heart.

The fact that Abram and Sarai left Ur of the Chaldees and traveled to the land of Canaan implies at least the possibility of a return trip. Furthermore, both Abraham’s servant (on behalf of Isaac) and Jacob actually return to Mesopotamia to seek out wives (cf. Gen. 24; Gen. 28-29). The possibility (and relative ease) of returning to their homeland shows us the depth of commitment within the family of Abraham to the promises of God. Hebrews 11.15 describes to us a simple truth: if they had been thinking about returning, they had ample opportunity to do so. On the other hand, they chose not to dwell upon where they had come from and instead focused their minds and hearts on the promises of God. “But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.” (Heb. 11.16a)

The reality of having faith in God’s promises is that there are ample opportunities to turn away and “turn back to Egypt”. When our minds begin to think longingly about a life out in the world, free from God’s commands, the simple fact is there are innumerable opportunities and avenues by which we can abandon the LORD. Where we allow our minds and hearts to dwell will inevitably lead us in that direction, whether that be towards a deeper commitment to God or not. “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” (Romans 8.5). Perhaps this is why on multiple occasions Paul instructed his readers to renew their minds, to continually focus and re-focus their thoughts on God (Eph. 4.23; Rom. 12.2; Col. 3.2) as well as warning against having minds set on the flesh (Phil. 3.19).

God is unashamed of the truly faithful.

The final statement in this aside (11.16b) shows God’s reaction to the faithful. The first statement made about God has the potential to be encouraging or sobering: “Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God”. If one has the faith of those described in Hebrews 11, God is not ashamed to be known as their God, which provides invaluable reassurance to those who are suffering and struggling to keep their faith in God. Even while you are weak, even while you are broken, even while the masses hiss and jeer at you, God stands with you! “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7.56). Hebrews 11.16 concludes with God’s faithfulness: “for he has prepared for them a city”. A home awaits all those who chose to be pilgrims and strangers based on His promise of a heavenly abode.

On the other hand, the inverse is also true: if God’s people are faithless towards Him, He is ashamed to be called their God! In Matthew 7.21-23, even those who call Jesus “Lord” and declare they have done “many mighty works” in His name are shown God’s attitude toward those who ignore His commands, and the adjective “ashamed” perfectly applies to His words here: “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (7.23b). To be faithless and sinful in the face of God’s blessings has never ended well. God “regretted” that he had made man (Gen. 6.5-6) due to their great wickedness, and a flood ensued. God “regretted” that he had made Saul king (1 Sam. 15.11) due to his disobedience, and his line was rejected from leading Israel. How will God feel about those who have “trampled underfoot the Son of God” (Heb. 10.29)?


Decide today to see God’s promises and greet them from afar. Speak and act so that your goal is clear to everyone. Think about that better country. Have faith in the Father’s promises, for not even your death can render Him faithless.

 -Kyle Sanders