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).
Abraham’s father, Terah, was an idol worshipper from Ur of the Chaldeans. After the death of his son (Abraham’s brother), Haran, Terah moved his family West, stopping short of Canaan, the land that God would soon promise to Abraham and his seed. Terah’s migrating family included a mere four people: Terah, Abraham, Lot (Haran’s son), and Sarai (Abraham’s wife). The family of Terah’s only other living son, Nahor, stayed back in Ur for reasons that the Bible does not share. Nahor’s family consisted of his wife, Milcah, and his sister-in-law, Iscah. Sidenote: Milcah and Iscah were Lot’s sisters and therefore Nahor’s (and Abraham’s) first cousins (Genesis 11:27-32).
When Terah died at the age of 205, his family consisted of three floundering members living far from home in tents. More to the point, in the harsh conditions of 2000 B.C.E., these three (two childless senior citizens, Abraham and Sarai, and one bachelor, Lot) were not a promising bunch. This was not the kind of family that was likely to make it to the next generation, which is whyGenesis 12:1-3 is so striking:
Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
God’s first words to Abraham suggest that he, as the new patriarch of the smallest possible clan, was probably thinking of returning to Ur to see if he could make a life for himself and his family with his brother Nahor. But God shut this down and said, “Keep moving West.” Second Sidenote: Adam and Eve were exiled from Eden to the East (Genesis 3:24). God’s command is, therefore, highly symbolic. God was promising Abraham that he and his family would take humanity back to Eden.
The writer of Hebrews makes much of Abraham’s response. Instead of returning to the security of Ur, Abraham obeyed the LORD. He took his ragtag trio West into an unknown land with an unknown future. Why did he go?
The writer of Hebrews tells us that “he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10). I understand this to mean that, by faith, Abraham believed that God was graciously taking him back to Eden. Abraham never did make it back to Eden. He died and was buried “in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, east of Mamre, the field that Abraham purchased from the Hittites” (Genesis 25:7-11).
But, Abraham was not wrong. God was taking him, and with him a remnant of all humanity (Genesis 12:3), back to Eden. The land that God had promised to Abraham and his seed is but a picture of the new heaven and the new earth (Revelation 21:1-22:5). And, in this new heaven and new earth, we will find Eden, for Eden is there. And the Tree of Life is there (Revelation 22:1-2). And Abraham is there (Hebrews 11:13-16). Salvation History begins with a promise land (Genesis 12) and ends with the ultimate fulfillment to this promise (Revelation 21-22).
God promised a land to Abraham. In the historical, that land was Canaan. In the eternal, that Land was the new heaven and the new earth. By faith, Abraham travelled West. By faith, he travelled all the way West and was welcomed into the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.
Jesus alone opens the gates to this heavenly city. Jesus alone grants citizenship to His Glorified Creation. By faith Abraham was granted entrance. By faith Abraham was given citizenship. By faith Abraham’s sins were taken forward in time to the Cross, and by the blood of his seed, Abraham’s sins were atoned for (Romans 3:25). This was all accomplished by faith and by the amazing grace of God.
Therefore, let us also go West, all the way West, seeking, along with Abraham, the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.