The Present Truth : July 23, 1896
“By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he looked for a city, which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised. Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable. 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. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly; wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He hath prepared for them a city.” Hebrews 11.8-16
The first thing that we note in this scripture is that all these were heirs. We have already learned that Abraham himself was to be no more than an heir in his lifetime, because he was to die before His seed returned from captivity. But Isaac and Jacob, his immediate descendants, were likewise heirs. The children were heirs with their father of the same promised inheritance.
Not only this, but there sprang from Abraham “so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea-shore innumerable.” These were also heirs of the same promise, for these also “all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” Mark this, the vast host of Abraham’s descendants “died in faith, not having received the promises.” Note that it says “promises.” It was not simply a part that they did not receive, but the whole. All the promises are in Christ only, who is the seed, and they could not be fulfilled to those who are His before they are to Him; and even He yet waits for His foes to be made His footstool.
In harmony with these words, that they died in faith, not having received the promises, but confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth, we have the words of King David hundreds of years after the deliverance from Egypt, “I am a stranger with Thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were.” Psalm 39.12. And when at the height of his power he delivered the kingdom to his son Solomon, in the presence of all the people, he said, “For we are strangers before Thee, and sojourners, as were all our fathers; our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding.” 1 Chronicles 29.15
The reason why this innumerable company did not receive the promised inheritance is stated in these words: “God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.” The further particulars will be considered when we come to their times.
A City and Country
Abraham looked for a city, which hath foundations, whose builder, and maker is God. The city with foundations is thus described in Revelation 21.10-14,19: —“And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God; and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal; and had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon; which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel; on the east three gates; on the north three gates; on the south three gates; and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” “And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones.”
That is a partial description of the city for which Abraham looked. His descendants also looked for the same city, for we read descriptions of it in the ancient prophets. They might have had a home on this earth, if they had desired. The land of the Chaldees was as fertile as the land of Palestine, and it would have sufficed for a temporal home for them as well as any other land. But neither one would satisfy them, for “now they desire a better country, that is an heavenly; wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He hath prepared for them a city.”
This scripture kept in mind will guide us in all our subsequent study of the children of Israel. The true children of Abraham never looked for the fulfillment of the promise on this present earth, but in the earth made new.
Isaac an Illustration
This desire for a heavenly country made the true heirs very easy to get along with in temporal affairs, as is illustrated in the life of Isaac. He went to sojourn in the land of the Philistines, and sowed in that land, “and received in the same year an hundredfold; and the Lord blessed him. And the man waxed great, and went forward, and grew until he became very great; for he had possession of flocks, and possession of herds, and great store of servants; and the Philistines envied him . . .. And Abimelech said unto Isaac, Go from us; for thou art much mightier than we. And Isaac departed thence, and pitched his tent in the valley of Gerar, and dwelt there.” Genesis 26.12-17
Although Isaac was mightier than the people in whose land he dwelt, he went from them at their request, even when he was prospering abundantly. He would not strive for the possession of an earthly estate.
The same spirit was manifested after he went to dwell in Gerar. The servants of Isaac dug anew the wells that had belonged to Abraham, and also dug in the valley and found living water. But the herdsmen of Gerar strove with them, saying, “The water is ours.” So they went and dug another well; but the herdsmen of Gerar claimed that also. “And he removed from thence, and dug another well; and for that they strove not; and he called the name of it Rehoboth; and he said, For now the Lord hath made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.” Genesis 26.18-22
“And the Lord appeared to him the same night, and said, I am the God of Abraham thy father; fear not for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed for My servant Abraham’s sake. And he builded an altar there, and called upon the name of the Lord, and pitched his tent there.” Genesis 26.24,25
Isaac had the promise of a better country, that is, a heavenly, and therefore he would not strive for the possession of a few square miles of land on this sin-cursed earth. Why should he? It was not the inheritance that the Lord had promised him; and why should he fight for a part in the land wherein he was only a sojourner? True, he had to live, but he allowed the Lord to manage that for him. When driven from one place, he went to another, until at last he found quiet, and then he said, “The Lord hath made room for us.” In this he showed the true spirit of Christ, “who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself (His cause) to Him that judgeth righteously.” 1 Peter 2.23
In this we have an example. If we are Christ’s, then are we Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Therefore we shall follow the precepts of Christ. Here is one: “I say unto you, that ye resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right check, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, 6 and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also” (Matthew 5.39,40), are thought by many professed Christians to be fanciful, and altogether impractical. But they are designed for daily use. Christ practiced them, and we have an example in the case of Isaac.
“But we should lose everything that we have in the world, if we should do as the text says,” we hear it said. Well, even then we should be in no worse circumstances than Christ the Lord was here on earth. But we are to remember, “your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.” He, who cares for the sparrows, is able to care for those who commit their case to Him. We see that Isaac was prospered even though he did not “fight for his rights.” The promise, which was made to the fathers, is also made to us, by very same God. “When they were but a few men in number; yea, very few, and strangers” in the land; “when they went from one nation to another, and from one kingdom to another people, He suffered no man to do them wrong; yea, He reproved kings for their sakes; saying, Touch not Mine anointed and do My prophets no harm.” Psalm 105.12-15. That same God still cares for those who put their trust in Him.
6 The thoughtful reader will see in this an exhortation to avoid lawsuits. If one would sue you for your coat, it is better to settle it by giving him both your coat and your cloak than to go to law. This is practical wisdom. Lawsuits are like lotteries; a great deal of money is spent on them, and very little gained. Of course it will be said, “If we don’t defend our rights people will take away everything we have.” And so it would be if God had no care for His people. But defending one’s rights does not by any means always preserve them, as many a man has proved to his cost.
The inheritance, which the Lord has promised to His people, the seed of Abraham, is not to be obtained by fighting, except with spiritual weapons—the armor of Christ—against the hosts of Satan. They who seek the country, which God has promised, declare that they are strangers and pilgrims on this earth. They cannot use the sword, even in self-defense, much less for conquest. The Lord is their defender. He says: “Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord. For he shall be like the heath in the desert, and shall not see when good cometh; but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land and not inhabited. Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green.” Jeremiah 27.5-8. He has not promised that all our wrongs shall be righted at once, or even in this life; but He doth not forget the cry of the poor, and He has said, “Vengeance is Mine; I will repay.” Romans 7.19. “Therefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to Him in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creator.” 1 Peter 4.19. We may do this in full confidence that “the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and the right of the poor.” Psalm 140.12
The case of Esau furnishes another incidental proof that the inheritance promised to Abraham and his seed was not a temporal one, to be enjoyed in this life, but eternal, to be shared in the life to come. The story is told in these words: —
“And Jacob sod pottage; and Esau came from the field, and he was faint: and Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint; therefore was his name called Edom. And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright. And Esau said, Behold I am at the point to die; and what profit shall this birthright do me? And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he swear unto him; and he sold his birthright unto Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentils; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way; thus Esau despised his birthright.” Genesis 25.29-34
In the Epistle to the Hebrews Esau is called a “profane person,” because he sold his birthright. This shows that there was something besides mere foolishness in the transaction. One would say that it was childish to sell a birthright for a meal of victuals; but it was worse than childish; it was wicked. It showed that he was an infidel, feeling nothing but contempt for the promise of God to his father.
Notice these words of Esau’s, when Jacob asked him to sell his birthright: “Behold, I am at the point to die; and what profit shall this birthright do me?” He had no hope beyond this present life, and looked no further. He did not feel sure of anything that he did not actually possess in this present time. No doubt he was very hungry. It is probable that he felt as if he were really at the point of death; but even the prospect of death made no difference with Abraham and many others. They died in faith, not having received the promises, but were persuaded of them, and embraced them. Esau, however, had no such faith. He had no belief in an inheritance beyond the grave. Whatever he was to have he wanted now. Thus it was that he sold his birthright.
The course of Jacob is not by any means to be commended. He acted the part of a supplanter, which was his natural disposition. His case is an illustration of a crude unintelligent faith. He believed that there was something to the promise of God, and he respected his father’s faith, although as yet he really possessed none of it. He believed that the inheritance promised to the fathers would be bestowed, but he had so little spiritual knowledge that he supposed the gift of God might be purchased with money. We know that even Abraham thought at one time that he himself must fulfill the promise of God. So Jacob doubtless thought, as many do still, that “God helps those who help themselves.” Afterwards he learned better, and was truly converted, and exercised as sincere faith as Abraham and Isaac. His case should be an encouragement to us, in that it shows what God can do with one who has a very unlovely disposition, provided he yields to Him.
The case of Esau is set thus forth before us as a warning: —
“Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord; looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected; for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.” Hebrews 12.14-17
Esau was not the only foolish and profane person there has been in the world. Thousands have done the same thing that he did, even while blaming him for his folly. The Lord has called us all to share the glory of the inheritance, which he promised to Abraham. By the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead He has begotten us again to a living hope, “to an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” 1 Peter 1.3-5. This inheritance of righteousness we are to have through the obedience of faith—obedience to God’s holy law, the Ten Commandments. But when men learn that it requires the observance of the seventh day, the Sabbath kept by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all Israel, they shake their heads. “No,” say they, “I cannot do that; I should like to, and I see that it is a duty; but if I should keep it I could not make a living. I should be thrown out of employment, and should starve together with my family.”
That is just the way Esau reasoned. He was about to starve, or, at least, he thought that he was, and so he deliberately parted with his birthright for something to eat. But most men do not even wait until they are apparently at the point of death, before they sell their right to the inheritance for something to eat. They imagine dangers that do not exist. Men do not starve to death for serving the Lord. We are entirely dependent upon Him for our life under all circumstances, and if He keeps us when we are trampling on His law, He surely is as able to keep us when we are serving Him. The Saviour says that to worry over the future, fearing lest we should starve, is a characteristic of heathenism, and gives us this positive assurance, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” Matthew 6.21-23. The Psalmist says, “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken nor his seed begging bread.” Even though we should lose our lives for the sake of the truth of God, we should be in good company. See Hebrews 11.32-38. Let us beware of so lightly esteeming the rich promises of God that we shall part with an eternal inheritance for a morsel of bread, and when it is too late find that there is no place for repentance.
He holds the wealth of the world in His hands;
Of rubies and diamonds, of silver and gold,
His coffers are full—He has riches untold.
“I’m the child of a King, the child of a King;
With Jesus, my Saviour, I’m the child of a King.
“My Father’s own Son, the Saviour of men,
Once wandered o’er earth as the poorest of them;
But now He is reigning forever on high,
And will give me a home in heaven by and by.
“I once was an outcast stranger on earth,
A sinner by choice, and an alien by birth;
But I’ve been adopted, my name’s written down—
An heir to a mansion, robe, and a crown
“A tent or a cottage, why should I care?
They’re building a palace for me over there!
Though exiled from home, yet still I may sing,
All glory to God, I’m the child of a King!”