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The movie No Country for Old Men (2007) was a neo-Western set in 1980 West Texas near the Rio Grande River. The old man in the script was an aging sheriff, who was often seen reflecting on better times against a background of ruthless murders and drug trafficking. He felt time had passed him by with the evolving mayhem of the country. Old men like himself no longer had a country with which they could identify and in which they could feel at home.
The scripture teaches us the Old Testament patriarchs, Abraham in particular, lived their lives with that same sense of dislocation. Unlike the aforementioned movie script, faithful men like Abraham never felt they were 'stuck' in a country where turning back the clock was impossible. They looked forward to a new country, to a new city, wherein God would turn the clock forward and usher in the things he's prepared for the faithful.
Our text is Hebrews 11:9-10, 14-16:
Sojourned is παροικέω (paroikeō), “to dwell beside” (reside as a foreigner). The word is used twice in the NT. In its other usage, one named Cleopas said to Jesus: “Art thou only a stranger [sojourner] in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days?” (Luke 24:18). In other words: “There is NO way you could be a permanent resident of Jerusalem and NOT know about the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth that shook the city a few days ago!” What we believers share with Abraham is a sense of sojourning in a strange country that is NOT our permanent residence.
The phrases ”as in a strange country” (11:9) and “they seek a country” (11:14) are instructive. The scripture uses two different words for “country.” In the first instance, the word is ἀλλότριος (allotrios), “belonging to another, not of one's own family.” In the second, the word is πατρίς (patris). “a father-land, one's homeland.” The first is temporary; the second is permanent. Our Father Land is where the Father abides. Jesus said: “In my Father's house are many mansions [abodes]” (John 14:2).
One truth made abundantly clear in these verses is the inseparability of “country” and “city.” The writer employs a unique blend of verbs and tenses to teach us the proper mindset for sojourners. That mindset is revealed in four phrases: (1) “for he [Abraham] LOOKED for a city,” (2) “they [Abraham and kin] SEEK a country,” (3) “if they had been MINDFUL,” and (4) “they DESIRE a country.”
Looked is ἐκδέχομαι (ekdechomai), “to look out for, to receive or accept.” In terms we can understand, it means the Patriarchs were 'on the lookout for' a city of God's making, and willing to wait God out for fulfillment of the promise. The verb is imperfect tense. They kept on looking out for the city as a pattern of life. Seek is ἐπιζητέω (epizēteō), “to seek upon, desire, demand.” The prefix ἐπι (upon) intensifies the root ζητέω (seek, to be zealous for). It paints a picture of zeal layered upon zeal for the heavenly Father Land. The verb is present tense. The use of the present tense to describe past events is a unique literary device in scripture. It allows the reader to view the action as if it's happening in real time.
Mindful is μνημονεύω (mnēmoneuō), “to exercise the memory, be mindful of.” The verb is imperfect tense, the same tense used with the verb “looked.” Its dual usage is instructive. Their continual looking for a city prohibited a continual remembrance of the country from whence they came. The one imperfect offset the other. The writer does NOT mean to say Abraham never once thought about his former country. But Abraham did not DWELL on it. If he had, he might have found opportunity (a time, season) to have returned. To get the sense, imagine an avid deer hunter who bags his limit of deer each year and loads up his freezer with venison. Do you believe he only thinks about deer hunting when the season opens? An avid deer hunter is mindful of deer hunting ALL year long, setting up deer stands, salt blocks and corn bins, and surveying potential hunting sites for deer signs. His mindfulness of deer hunting goes unfulfilled all year UNTIL opening day of deer season. That's when the first deer-hunting opportunity presents itself. He'll be in his deer stand before daylight!
Desire is ὀρέγω (oregō), “to crave, to stretch one's self out in order to touch or grasp something.” In two other NT usages, it is used of one who desires the office of a bishop (1 Timothy 3:1) and of some who have coveted after money with resultant sorrows (6:10). The verb is present tense, middle voice. As looked and mindful are both imperfect tenses, seek and desire are both present tenses, as if happening in real time. The middle voice signifies a reflexive benefit for the actor. The believer who sets his affections on things above and craves, as a pattern of life, the Father Land, does himself a great service. A continual craving for the Father Land that lies in our FUTURE has tangible benefits for us in PRESENT time! One benefit is having a God whom you cannot disappoint. That's because you are continually stretching yourself out for that which he's prepared for you. A believer is in a good place when he longs for things that matter to his God!
God is both builder and maker of the city he's prepared for his children. Builder is τεχνίτης (technitēs), “a technician, artisan, craftsman.” In three of its four NT usages, it's translated “craftsman.” We seldom think of God as a technician. Maker is δημιουργός (dēmiourgos), “a workman for the people." This is its only usage in scripture. It depicts God as a public servant. Imagine a land developer who buys 100 acres of land with plans to build 100 houses on one-acre lots. Before the first foundation is poured, a host of public workers and contractors survey the land, place lot markers, install infrastructure (sewer and power lines) and lay down curbs and asphalt for streets. ALL this they do for those who will inhabit the houses.
In the city God has prepared for us, he was the technician, building its infrastructure and doing all the groundwork so we could one day live there forever. ALL the infrastructure and groundwork for that city in the Father Land was accomplished by Jesus when he endured the Cross, shed his redemptive blood for us sinners and broke the chains of death in his resurrection. That's enough for every believer to keep on looking for, seeking and desiring what God has prepared for the faithful.