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What the Bible says about Pilgrim in a Foreign Land
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Joshua 24:2-3

This demonstrates a problem Abraham appears to have had at the beginning of his conversion, showing that he was not perfect in his obedience. It also reveals God's patience in dealing with us, as well as how little control we sometimes exercise over some circumstances. In such times, we must continue trusting God and fighting to overcome as He leads us through them and teaches us aspects of His character.

Abraham's family members were outright pagans, as was Abraham before his conversion. We need to add Genesis 11:27-32 to the mix:

This is the genealogy of Terah: Terah begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Haran begot Lot. And Haran died before his father Terah in his native land, Ur of the Chaldeans. Then Abram and Nahor took wives: the name of Abram's wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor's wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and the father of Iscah. But Sarai was barren; she had no child. And Terah took his son Abram, and his grandson Lot, the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram's wife, and they went out with them from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan; and they came to Haran and dwelt there. So the days of Terah were two hundred and five years, and Terah died in Haran.

Barnes Notes contains a fairly complex study of these verses, showing that Abraham actually received his initial calling when he was 70 while living in Ur of the Chaldeans. Why "initial"? Verse 31 says they left Ur and then came to Haran, adding that Abraham's family dwelt there. "Dwelt" indicates that they remained there for an extended period—it was no mere overnight stop by a group of pilgrims at a motel.

Stephen's speech in Acts 7:2-4 helps us to understand:

Brethren and fathers, listen: The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, and said to him, "Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you." Then he came out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Haran. And from there, when his father was dead, He moved him to this land in which you now dwell.

Stephen clearly states that God called Abraham before he dwelt in Haran, but Genesis 12:1 shows God then moved him from Haran after his father died. Apparently, Abraham's account to his father and others in the family—but most especially his father—of the things he was learning and believing in his calling persuaded them, despite being pagan to the core, that they, too, should emigrate to wherever God was leading Abraham.

Recall, however, from Isaiah 51:2 that God says that He called Abraham alone. Genesis 11:31 clearly shows Terah, the pagan patriarch of the family, leading the expedition, not Abraham. Abraham no doubt deferred to his father in this decision, but this was not God's will.

God knew that, because of Abraham's attitude, he would continue to defer to Terah. God did not want Terah's direct influence in what He was establishing through Abraham. Under Terah's pagan, patriarchal leadership, they got only as far as Haran from Ur, by itself an arduous 700-mile journey on foot!

Researchers speculate that the trip from Ur to Haran plus the sojourn there may have taken as long as five years before the party resumed the journey to Canaan. Perhaps Terah had a lengthy, lingering illness before dying. However, when the last leg of the journey was made, it was under Abraham's leadership.

God intends us to understand that the distance to the Promised Land—1,200 miles on foot from Ur to Canaan—plus the time spent getting there, illustrate the difficulty of breaking away from what we were to what God wants us to be. Unfortunately, some people never seem to accomplish the break.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Seven)

Hebrews 11:9-10

Abraham left Ur by faith, and it was also by faith that Abraham left Haran. He sojourned in the Promised Land by faith as well. Nowhere does it say how Abraham knew that Canaan was where he was to remain or even that it was indeed the Land of Promise. We will pursue how he knew in a later article.

We are told that despite becoming quite wealthy, and with the exception of a burial place for Sarah and himself, never owning a piece of land, he lived the entire time in tents and that the Canaanites lived in the land with him (Genesis 13:2; 23:1-20). This establishes another general pattern for his faithful children. In every sense of the word, he was a pilgrim. No matter where he lived or what were his economic circumstances, he purchased no land—he never even built a house!

Beyond this, the Bible reveals little social interaction with others outside of his family. Except for a league made with his nearest neighbors, Abraham made no alliances, nor took any part in the politics or the religions of the people of the land. He lived this way for one hundred years. Isaac and Jacob shared the same pattern of life.

God shows us all of this so we might see that virtually Abraham's entire post-calling life was engaged in living by faith, focused on maintaining his relationship with God. He truly was in the world but not of it. He did not cultivate its friendship but used it as necessity required, though in a guarded way, lest he should in some way abuse his privileges with God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Seven)

1 Peter 1:1-2

It is the life that is obedient to God and separated from the world that provides the proof of one's conversion. If the Christian is legally cleared of guilt before God and obedient to Him, he no longer "belongs" to the world; the Bible no longer perceives such a person as being "in the flesh."

Philippians 3:20 offers understanding of another separation from the world: "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ." His spiritual separation produces for the Christian a legal transfer of citizenship that he must recognize.

Colossians 1:12-13 confirms this: "Giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love." As a result of these separations, the Christian must live his life as a stranger and pilgrim as if in a foreign land, obeying the laws of his new nation by placing higher priority in his activities as a citizen of the Kingdom of God.

This opens the door to another line of practical thought, conduct, and attitude: "Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself the enemy of God" (James 4:4). We normally do whatever we can to avoid our enemies, even to the point of fleeing from them if necessary. This reality should help us to understand why God commands us:

Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? . . . Therefore "Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you." (II Corinthians 6:14, 17)

It is by means of conduct motivated by the Holy Spirit that we are to come out from among unbelievers and be separate. We cannot—we must not—straddle the fence; we cannot serve two masters. Once we are called, we must serve God, or we will have received God's grace in vain (II Corinthians 6:1).

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Seven)


 




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