Don’t Look Back

Early in February, I read through Hebrews in The One Year Bible. I am not reading it on the book’s schedule, but I always seem to be on God’s schedule. I enjoyed reading Hebrews 11, so I decided to try to memorize it. It is a great way to meditate on Scripture. As I commit the verses to memory, the words are taken in by my eyes, spoken by my mouth, and heard with my ears. They soak into my mind. I notice phrases that never stood out before. I think on the words used, as I try to learn them verbatim. There are no coincidences with God, and I thanked Him for placing the encouragement of Hebrews 11 in my mind when Russia invaded Ukraine. One of my tasks at work is processing international wire transfers. One day, I spent most of my time trying to sort out issues with three different wires to Ukraine. It was no wonder that when I went home that evening, the war was on my mind. But Hebrews 11 was there, too.

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 a city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.

Hebrews 11:8-10

The writer of Hebrews didn’t just give us a list of people who lived by faith; he explained how they lived out their faith. About a third of the way through the chapter, the author stops to summarize what he has thus far written, and he tells us something important about the faithful who came before us: “[They] acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” (v. 13b) I can’t help but think about all of the people who have left Ukraine or are trying to leave. They are living as exiles in a new place, and it is full of hardships. This is a picture of how God wants believers to live on earth; we aren’t supposed to settle in and get comfortable. The author made a point to say that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all lived in tents. It is a small detail, but it leads us back to the history of God’s people. Living in tents was such an important part of Israel’s history that God appointed the annual Feast of Booths, Succoth, during which the people were to live in booths for seven days to remember how God had brought them out of Egypt and caused them to live in temporary, moveable dwellings. (Lev. 23:39-43)

By faith, we are sons and daughters of Abraham, and we are also called to be tent-dwellers. The earth, as it is today, is meant to be our temporary home. During our lives here, we, like Abraham, should be “looking forward to a city that has foundations whose designer and builder is God.” (v. 10) Hebrews 11:15 warns, “If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.” This verse always makes me think of Lot’s wife. We know that Lot and Abraham parted ways because of their abundance of livestock and the need to separate their herds and herdsmen. So, we know that Lot had plenty, which is a dangerous situation. He probably lived in a nice house, and Lot and his wife perhaps had a good status in the community. But Peter tells us that Lot “was tormenting his righteous soul” by living in Sodom. (2 Peter 2:7)

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 11:15-16

I can’t help but wonder if his wife was the reason they lived in Sodom. Did she want to be near the marketplace to shop and be able participate in the society the city had to offer? She was the only one who could not resist looking back, though they had been strictly charged, “Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley.” (Genesis 19:17) Our lesson is to not get too attached to the things we have in this world. Certainly, the greatest danger is that our home and lifestyle become more important to us than God. If we live by faith, we live here as campers, ready to pull up stakes and move when God calls us to. We may love our country, and that is natural, but we should “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.”

We are right to be grieved by the darkness and brokenness in the world. We should shine the light of Christ and work to bring healing whenever we can. But we cling to a faith that looks forward to the promise: “a city that has foundations whose designer and builder is God.” Here, we live as strangers and exiles, seeking a homeland. Just as the author of Hebrews took pains to point out that the Tabernacle and the vessels used in worship were “a copy and shadow of the heavenly things,” (Heb. 8:5) so our lives here are a shadow of what they will be. I can only imagine the sense of belonging we will feel when we have settled down in our eternal home. The author of Hebrews writes of this as “entering [God’s] rest.” We will lay down our packs for good and move into our eternal dwelling.

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