Sometimes I take Genesis for granted. I read the stories of the patriarchs of Israel knowing full well that Israel receives every promise. That every test is passed. That the ram is waiting patiently in the bush at the top of the mountain. I know the end of the story, I know the promise fulfilled (Jesus) and I project that reassuring knowledge onto the patriarchs. Like they have it easy and they knew all along everything I know.
But they didn’t know. Some scholars believe Abraham was a priest of Baal in Ur with a life of wealth and privilege. In other words, Abraham was somebody. He probably had a really nice family estate with rooms for everyone. It could even have been on a prominent street for all to see. I don’t know. What I do know is that Abraham heard the call of the one true God and left it all. He willingly gave up everything we’re spending all our lives trying to acquire for a whisper in his heart.
Abraham, this somebody from Ur, moved his household out of the city and into tents in a strange land. Hebrews frames it like this, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. […] By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents […] for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” (Hebrews 11:8-10 NKJV) Abraham didn’t know if God would come through on His promise, he just went out in faith. He wasn’t somebody anymore, now he was a foreigner, but he lived in tents in faith. Abraham knew he couldn’t make the promises materialize, only God could make it happen so he waited on God in faith.
Abraham was on the ground that was his by inheritance, but he hadn’t inherited it yet. He was living in obedience, but it didn’t look like the promise yet, it looked like squatting in the vacant corners of the promise. Abraham somehow knew that everything he had given up couldn’t compare to that which was promised.
Isn’t that like the kingdom of God? It often looks nothing like what we thought it would look like. As Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 1, it often looks foolish to those around us who haven’t taken hold of the promise of God. On top of which the kingdom of God exists within the tension of the paradox of now and not yet.
We’re living in the land of promise, but we’re still in tents. We’re in the kingdom of God, but we don’t yet fully possess it. Like Abraham we have to trust in God’s character and rest in that trust. We must, “Rest in the LORD and wait patiently for Him; do not fret because of him who prospers in his way […] do not fret – it only causes harm.” (Psalm 37:7-8 NKJV)
We can’t dwell in the land of promise comparing our tents to other’s houses. We can’t walk in obedience worrying and fretting over every step we take. Well we can, but it’s a miserable way to go. Spiteful obedience is joyless obedience.
Rather, let us, “Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.” (Psalm 37:3 NKJV) Let us dwell in the land of promise, the paradoxical kingdom of God that is now and not yet; all the while trusting in God to make our tents firmer than the stone houses surrounding us. All the while trusting that when we have belonging in Christ we belong more as a foreigner for Christ than if we were foreigner to Christ. All the while feeding on His faithfulness to grow our faith so that we in return may be faithful.
If Hebrews 11 were the Stanley Cup of the bible, I want to live my life in such a way that my name would be engraved on a silver plaque and screwed on next Abraham’s and the rest. For all of heaven to see that I was one who lived by faith and was faithful.