The Expository Files


Just Passing Through
"Here we are but straying pilgrims..."

Hebrews 11:8-10

Here we are but straying pilgrims,
Here our path is often dim;
But to cheer us on our journey,
Still we sing this wayside hymn.

On September 20, 1620, 102 English Separatists left Plymouth England on a difficult and dangerous 65 day sea voyage to Cape Cod. These pilgrims were fleeing religious persecution, social intolerance and economic depression inflicted due to discrimination. It took great courage and faith for them to commit life and future to God and to each other. They were content to be pilgrims journeying to a strange land in order to secure a better life. Imagine how odd they must have looked to the natives of North America when they departed the "Mayflower". Imagine how odd the North American natives looked to them (clothes, habits, food, language, faith...) Abraham endured a similar journey and left us a worthy example to follow. The life of a disciple of Jesus is in many ways parallel to a pilgrim journey.

By Faith Abraham Lived as in a Foreign Land
"By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God." (Hebrews 11:8-10)

Just as the pilgrims who first made their way to this continent, Abraham did not always know where he was going, but he did know that wherever he happened to be on this earth that it was not a permanent residence. As a pilgrim he knew where he came from. He had left the city of Ur in Chaldea with his father, nephew, wife and children along with those possessions he could transport. He left a land which was known for its pagan worship. Astrology, superstition and the worship of a moon goddess. While it would be understandable if Abraham had left his homeland with some sadness, he nonetheless was leaving a spiritual waste land.

He was to be a stranger in a strange land as he wandered in Canaan. His faith was not the faith of the native Canaanites. He did not share a standard conduct and morality with the natives of Canaan. His purpose for living was foreign to the people of Canaan. He dwelt in tents and never attempted to build a permanent house or dwell in a city. While he maintained pleasant relationships with the Canaanites, did business with them honestly and fairly, and was known for his hospitality, he did not seek to assimilate with them and become as one of them. He was content to live as a nomad always on the move living in tents and fragile booths. He and his family did so for some 100 years.

His faith in the promise of God motivated him and helped bring contentment. He looked beyond this life to a celestial city. This vision kept him from being tied down to this life. With eyes focused on heavenly city, he was content to dwell as a stranger in a tent. He knew that God had a better inheritance in store for him than any found in a sin stained world.

The Bible says that Abraham and other men and women of faith were "seeking a country of their own... a better country, that is, a heavenly one" (Hebrews 11:13-16). In spite of not receiving the promise in actuality these remained faithful until death. They were willing to wander all their lives motivated by the promise of God. Returning home was always a possibility, but there eyes and heart were on a better country than the one they were in or had left.

It is interesting that Abraham would not even allow Isaac to go back to Ur to look for a wife. Instead, he made his servant swear with a solemn oath to go for Isaac. They kept in mind that their focus was not on where they had come from, but on where they were going. The focus was not so much on "I am from Ur" as it was "I am going to heaven."

As a result God was not ashamed of them. In fact, to future generations He would often proclaim, "I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?"

Pilgrims Still Journey Today
Pilgrims leave something behind as they begin their journey. What have we left? Abraham was called out of Ur. The pilgrims left England. We are called out of sin, ruin, godlessness, and from a meaningless life leading to eternal death. It is to be called from darkness to light (Colossians 1:13).

Pilgrims change their location from one place to another. Where are we? By becoming the children of God, citizens of a heavenly kingdom, we become strangers and pilgrims on this earth. Like Abraham was said to "dwell in tents", we understand that even our physical bodies are but temporary dwelling places for our spirits (2 Corinthians 4:16-5:1).

Pilgrims are heading somewhere. First, Abraham headed for Canaan. When he arrived there, he still continued to search for the heavenly city. Our pilgrimage today calls us to a life of purity and holiness (1 Peter 2:11; 2 Peter 3:10-11, 13-14). Like the English pilgrims who helped settle our country, our language, dress, manner of living and purpose of living should be different from that of the world. Live and walk by faith so that like Abraham, God can with joy acknowledge us one day in the same way as He did Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Pilgrims find themselves in a sometimes hostile land during their journey. We live now in a land that is hostile to our faith and heart's desire. How we should long for the peace and comfort of our Father's home. We are bound for a beautiful celestial city. Abraham was excited to think about his ultimate destination. It meant everything to him and helped him complete the journey successfully. We are headed for the same city as Abraham sought, built by the hand of God, eternal, in the heavens, reserved for us.

But to cheer us on our journey,
Still we sing this wayside hymn:

Yonder over the rolling river,
Where the shining mansions rise,
Soon will be our home forever,
And the smile of the blessed Giver
Gladdens all our longing eyes.


By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 15.10; October 2008