‘By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God’ (Hebrews 11:8-10).
One issue for the Jewish Christians the letter was sent to was their reward for following Christ. After all they had given up so much to follow him. Their Jewish neighbours now shunned them and they would have been excluded from the synagogue! What’s more the Jews as a race were exempted from Emperor Worship in the Roman Empire and now they had lost their exemption, so they now faced persecution on two fronts! So where was their reward – when would that be? So it is easy to see, why the writer now chooses Abraham as an example, because he was one of God’s chosen people who did not see the complete fulfilment of the promises made by the Lord!
Verses 8-9 are the gist of Abraham’s story (Genesis 11:27-25:11). In Genesis 12:1-3, Abraham receives the promise that if he goes to the land which the Lord will show him, he will be blessed by becoming the father of a great nation, and that through him: “all the families of the Earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). Now that is some promise, but there are two things are worth noting. Firstly, Abraham had no idea where he is going (v8)! Secondly, he was an unlikely candidate for God’s blessing. Joshua makes it clear, in his last speech to the Israelites that Abraham’s father, Terah: “served other gods.” (Joshua 24:2). He was a polytheist – one who worships many gods. This raises the question: was Abraham originally a polytheist too? The answer is we do not know, but it is a possibility as it is inferred Terah’s family was with the use of the word: “they”. What we do know is that Abraham’s introduction in scripture is very abrupt. In Joshua the use of the phase: “Then I took your father Abraham” also gives the impression of sudden dramatic change (Joshua 24:3). Dale Ralph Davis writes: ‘Abraham rose out of the desolate pit and miry bog of paganism only because Yahweh touched him.’ He continues that it was God who: ‘for no apparent reason, took hold of our father Abraham, the sinner.’ So, whichever way we look at it, Abraham was a product of God’s grace. After this, he is off to his over-extended camping trip! But why did he do it? Verse 9 tells us he believed the Lord and showed complete dependence on him to fulfil his promises. So he lived in a tent like a refugee: ‘in the land of promise’.
But we might be tempted to say: “hold on, that sounds downright weird! It’s not very settled living in a tent”. Did Abraham ever see the complete fulfilment of God’s promises? The answer is no; verse 10 makes it clear that Abraham realised that these promises had an element which would be fulfilled in the future. The verse highlights everything that Abraham did not have in his earthly life living in a tent. A: ‘city that has foundations’ denotes permanence, a much greater blessing than Abraham could ever have imagined! At the end of his life Abraham owned a tiny piece of the land (Genesis 23 and 25:9-10). Therefore, in his earthly life the promise was only ever partially fulfilled. And so, Abraham is an example of someone who never saw the full extent of the Lord’s promise. We even see this in his change of name from Abram, ‘father of many’, to Abraham, ‘father of a people’ (Genesis 17:5), as during his life Abraham could not live up to either of those names! The point is real faith endures regardless of whether the Lord’s promises are visibly fulfilled in a person’s life time or later!
The writer clearly sees Abraham as a believer for other Christians to model themselves on. Andrew Reid makes these helpful comments: ‘The true believer is like him – a sojourner, a traveller, a wanderer, a pilgrim. ‘The true believer has no fixed focus for his or her security, except in God and his word and purpose.’ That is an encouragement for believers in every day and age!
Want to listen to the sermon on this passage? What’s so Special about a Guy who Permanently Lived in a Tent? Part 1.
 Dale Ralph Davis, Joshua, No Falling Words (Fearn, Christian Focus Publications, 2000), 189.
 David. J. A. Clines argues that that: ‘the theme of the Pentateuch is partial fulfilment-which implies also a partial nonfulfillment-of the promised to all blessing of the patriarchs.’ David. J. A. Clines, The Theme of the Pentateuch (Sheffield Academic Press, second edition, 1997), 30.
 Andrew Reid, Salvation Begins, Reading Genesis Today (Sydney, Aquila Press, 2000), 95.