It is surprising to discover from Stephen’s speech in the New Testament that Abraham never received the land promise from God!
“Brothers and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I will show you.’ Then he went out from the land of the Chaldeans… into this land in which you are now living. Yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him as a possession and to his offspring after him, though he had no child.” (ESV)
Did Abraham Expect to Receive the Promise in the Future?
The writer to Hebrews confirms that the promise was not received, adding details that indicate Abraham never expected to inherit the land in his lifetime! The KJV is a little easier to understand for this passage, so we will use it instead of the ESV:
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… 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 have returned. 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.” (KJV)
Notice carefully what we are told: Abraham lived in the promised land in a tent – “tabernacles”, as a stranger. He died without receiving his inheritance, looking for a “city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God”. He was looking for a “heavenly” country.
A “Heavenly” Country?
This can seem confusing. If Abraham didn’t get the promised land in his lifetime, will he get it in the future? Was Abraham really promised land on earth, or was the promise made for an inheritance in heaven – a “heavenly” country? But, if he was promised a place in heaven, then why would God tell him, “I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it”? (Genesis 15:7). And why did God tell him to look at the land in all directions and walk through it, promising, “For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever.” (Genesis 13:14-17)
Did Abraham Expect to Receive the Promise Himself?
Some say that God was only promising to give the land to the Jewish people – Abraham’s offspring. But if you look at the verses above, you will notice that God specifically adds, “to thee will I give it.”
A Little Research with Computer Bible Programs
Sometimes it can be helpful to look at the original Greek words that are used in confusing passages. Our favourite computer Bible program is PowerBible, which makes it really easy to research the meanings and usage of all the original words in the entire Bible. In the box below you can see what the Interlinear version looks like on PowerBible, showing all the Greek words in ‘< >’ as they relate to the English translation of Hebrews 11.
|10 For <gar> he looked for <ekdechomai> a city <polis> which hath <echo> foundations <themelios>, whose <hos> builder <technites> and <kai> maker <demiourgos> is God <theos>… 13 These <houtos> all <pas> died <apothnesko> in <kata> faith <pistes>, not <me> having received <lambano> the promises <epaggelia>, but <alla> having seen <eido> them <autos> afar off <porrhothen>, and <kai> were persuaded of <peitho> them, and <kai> embraced <aspazomai> them, and <kai> confessed <homologeo> that <hoti> they were <eisi> strangers <xenos> and <kai> pilgrims <parepidemos> on <epi> the earth <ge>. 14 For <gar> they that say <lego> such things <toioutos> declare plainly <emphanizo> that <hoti> they seek <epizeteo> a country <patris>.|
Abraham was looking for a city with “foundations <themelios>”. If I click on <themelios> up pops this definition:
|2310. yemeliov themelios, them-el’-ee-os||“2310” – Strong’s concordance number. “themelios” is the Greek word.|
|Search for 2310 in KJV||A click button to search all the ways <themelios> is used in the KJV|
|from a derivative of 5087;||‘themelios’ is based on a root word 5087|
|something put down,||Actual definition of <themelios>.|
|i.e. a substruction (of a building, etc.), (literally or figuratively):||Strong’s ideas about what the word means.|
|–foundation.||Anything after the “–” lists all English words used for ‘themelios’ in the KJV.|
|See Greek 5087 (tithemi)||A place to click on the root word.|
A City with Foundations
One of the amazing passages that comes up in a search for 2310 <themelios> is Revelation 21:14, “And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”
This is the new Jerusalem – the city that God has promised for the future!
Seek a Country
When we do a search for the word “seek” in the phrase,“they seek a country”, we find the same word is used again in Hebrews 13:14, “For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.”
Just like them – we are looking for this heavenly city!
Waiting for Us!
The writer of Hebrews 11 concludes the chapter with this amazing statement about all the faithful believers recorded in Scripture:
“And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”
So, all this begs the question, When and where will everyone receive the promises? Remember Jesus is the primary offspring inheriting the promises. And if we are baptized into Christ – we will inherit them as well (Galatians 3). Where is this “heavenly” city that we are all seeking? Will it be in heaven, since it is termed a “heavenly” city? Or is the Promised land, where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob lived in as strangers – the land of “Israel” today – going to be made a “heavenly” city? Could it be that this city is termed “heavenly” because it will no longer be ruled and fought over by earthly humans?
In our next blog we will consider other passages that refer to the “Kingdom of God” and the time of peace and happiness promised when Jesus reigns as King. We need to determine whether God’s paradise will be in heaven, or on earth. This is a really exciting study, as it frames our hope for the future and gives us a beautiful vision. If you just can’t wait for the answers, print out the Discovery Lesson and see for yourself!