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).
At this point the writer is probably thinking: “I’ll return to Abraham in a minute, but let’s draw together everything we can from these examples of faith we have had so far, to see how it helps us in our earthly pilgrimage.” So now, he draws three conclusions.
Firstly, the writer focuses on the major subject matter, relevant to Jewish Christians – the recipients of his letter. He points out that the aforementioned ancestors had ‘all died in faith, not having received the things promised’. The results of their faith were not fully seen in this life; nonetheless, the second part of verse 13 makes it clear they did not doubt that they would see the results of God’s promises. It was as if they had had glimpsed them: ‘from afar’ which confirmed their reality!
Secondly, these believers acknowledged the world was not their home. They were in fact: ‘strangers and exiles on the earth.’ Abraham was a supreme example of this, never putting down roots anywhere, instead, living a nomadic existence in a tent, moving to wherever the Lord directed him! Lastly, the behaviour of these examples of faith highlights they were looking for a home of God’s provision, not their own. Abraham could have thought to himself: “well this isn’t working out! I’m fed up of this over-extended camping trip, I’m going home!” but he never did… John Brown observes: ‘From the call of Abraham to the death of Jacob was a space of 200 years. During this period they might have easily returned to Chaldea. The distance was no obstacle. There does not seem to have been any external obstruction. But they gave clear evidence that they were not disposed to return.’
Verse 16 focuses on a major theme of the letter: everything God provides is better! These people of faith did not take pleasure in material things. No, their focus was on: ‘a better country, that is, a heavenly one.’ What is interesting is that when people take that attitude God delights in them! The phrase: ‘Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God’ shows that God takes pleasure in being identified with such people, despite their past failings. The thought of putting down roots must have been very attractive to Abraham, but God has so much more prepared for those who love him. Philip Arthur makes this observation concerning the nature of faith presented in the letters of Paul. ‘If Paul emphasise faith in what God in Christ has done in the past, the author to the Hebrews compliments this by reminding us of another dimension of faith that launches out into an unknown future confident that God will provide.’ What a challenge for us in an age where people are consumed with the acquisition of wealth and materialism. The writer of the letter has introduced us to people who were heavenly minded because they kept their focus on God. It is as if he is saying “they kept going – and I’d like you to make it your motto to keep going, and see the wonderful rewards they did!”
Want to hear listen to a sermon on this passage? No Turning Back!
 John Brown, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews (London, Banner of Truth Trust, 1964), 518.
 J. Philip Arthur, No Turning Back, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, (London, Grace Publications Trust, 2002), 12.