The next part of our study, beginning with Hebrews 11:8, starts with a very important statement: “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed….” The calling of Abraham goes back to Genesis 12:1-3, which is commonly called “The Abrahamic Covenant.” It was in this passage that seventy-five-year-old Abram, whose wife Sarai was sixty-five years old and barren, was told by God to leave his home and family and go to a place (Canaan) that God would eventually reveal. Once there, God would make a great nation out of them. The implication being that, since they were well beyond childbearing years, this would be a supernatural event orchestrated by God. The response is recorded in Genesis 12:4, “So Abram went forth as the Lord had spoken to him.”
The writer of Hebrews describes the place as the one “which he was to receive for an inheritance.” This was the Promised Land, and by faith, he lived in that Promised Land like a stranger “dwelling in tents” (Hebrews 11:9) as eventually Isaac and Jacob would. The reason he was willing to live like a stranger in the land God had promised him as an inheritance is described in Hebrews 11:10, “For he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” The interesting thing about this statement is that the city itself is never described for us until we come to the end of the book of Revelation, where it is called the heavenly Jerusalem. Ultimately, Abraham’s awareness of a deeper meaning of the Promised Land, not just an earthly city but also a heavenly one, gave him the faith to be able to live like a stranger in that land.
Transitioning to Sarah, the writer of Hebrews states in verse 11, “By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life….” Though she laughed when she heard God say that she would be the one to give birth to the promised seed at the ripe old age of ninety (hence the name of the child was Isaac, meaning laughter), nevertheless, “she considered Him faithful who had promised.” Although never quite understanding how God would bring this promise to fruition, Sarah never doubted that God would cause His promise to come to pass. Because of that faith, the writer concludes by saying in verse 12, “Therefore there was born even of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants as the stars of heaven in number, and innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.” God used the faith of a ninety-year-old woman to help bring to fulfillment an eternally significant promise, the creation of the Hebrew people.
Beginning in 11:13 and summarizing his discussion thus far, the writer of Hebrews points out that people can still be living by faith when they die, even if they don’t receive the things promised by the time of their passing. The reason is that, by faith, these Old Testament believers saw and welcomed the promises “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.” These believers persisted in living as strangers and sojourners in the Promised Land. Looking for a country of their own, they refused to return to the land they left. There is never any thought of returning to Ur of the Chaldeans. The connection to the Jewish believers addressed in the book of Hebrews is that they ought to renounce any opportunity to go back to their old lives and should absolutely persist in longing for a better country, a heavenly one, the New Jerusalem. By doing so, they, like the patriarchs, would be people of whom “God would not be ashamed to be called their God.”