The Hope of the Patriarchs – Part 4 of ‘The Hope of Israel’

(This is an edited version of chapter 4 of Mauro’s book.)

‘Faith is the substance of things hoped for’
(Hebrews 11:1)

We now return to the Old Testament Scriptures for the purpose of ascertaining what they predict concerning the children of Israel, and particularly whether they foretell the restoration of their national greatness in a future time.

We begin in the era of the patriarchs, to learn what the fathers of Israel were taught of the Lord to anticipate for themselves and their posterity. We recall that when Paul was arraigned before King Herod Agrippa, he declared that he was ‘judged for the hope of the promise made of God to our fathers.’ And he went on to say that God’s promise to the fathers was the true hope of all Israel – ‘our twelve tribes (Acts 26:6-7).

It is written that ‘faith is the substance of things hoped for.’ Therefore, we know a man’s beliefs by his hopes. ‘The faith of Jesus Christ’ is founded on ‘the hope of the gospel’ (Col. 1:23); and there is just the ‘one hope’ for all men (Eph. 4:4); because there is but one gospel (and never was, or will be, ‘another gospel’ Gal. 1:6-9). The hope of the gospel has always been the coming of the One who should bruise the serpent’s head, and who should Himself be ‘bruised’ in the deadly conflict; the One who by death should destroy him, that had the power of death, namely the Devil.

It is fitting that the faith of Abraham should have a large space in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews; for Abraham is ‘the father of all who believe’ (Rom. 4:11). That chapter does not describe the gospel that ‘God preached to Abraham’ (Gal. 3:8), but it tells the effect of that gospel upon his life and conduct, and also what Abraham’s hope was, that is, what he was looking for:

‘By faith he sojourned in the land of promise as in a strange (or foreign) country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise’ (Heb. 11:9)

And verse 10 gives the explanation:

‘For he looked (lit. was waiting for) the city which has foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God.’

Sarah’s faith is also mentioned in the same chapter, being important for the accomplishment of God’s purposes, and Sarah is elsewhere spoken of as a type of that heavenly city upon which Abraham’s hope was fixed … the ‘Jerusalem which is above, which is the mother of all’ (Gal. 4:26). And further, it is expressly declared that Isaac and Jacob were co-heirs with Abraham of ‘the same promise’ (Heb. 11:9). And then, concerning those four – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Sarah, to whom ‘the promises’ were directly given, we have this illuminating testimony:

‘These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off; and were persuaded [fully convinced] of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they seek a better country, that is, a heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He hath prepared for them a city’ (verses 13-16).

By this we understand firstly that ‘the promises’ exerted a mighty influence over those to whom they were first given, (proving by their response that their faith in what God had spoken was real and unwavering); and secondly, that the nature of the promises were such as to turn their thoughts entirely away from the earth, and to raise in their hearts the expectation of a country ‘better’ than the very best of those obtainable in the mortal existence. For those promises had the effect of making even ‘the land of promise’ itself to be to them as a foreign country. For while the land of Canaan was indeed promised to Abraham and his seed, the temporal possession of that land never was ‘the hope of Israel.’ The hope of the gospel which God preached to Abraham was of such a nature that it caused him, and those who were ‘the heirs with him of the same promise,’ to declare themselves ‘strangers and pilgrims on the earth.’

It will be fully explained later, that God’s promise that He would bring Abraham’s descendants into that land was punctually fulfilled. For it is recorded in the Book of Joshua that ‘the Lord gave unto Israel all the land which he swore unto their fathers to give them, and they possessed it, and dwelt in it …’. ‘There failed not ought of any good thing which the Lord hath spoken unto the house of Israel’ (Josh. 21:43-45).

But the possession of that land by later generations was forfeited through disobedience, apostasy, and idolatry, even as Moses and Joshua foretold; and, in consequence of their complete repudiation of Jehovah their God, they were ‘plucked off the land’ (Deut. 28:63,64; Joshua 12:13). And thus was fulfilled the prophetic ‘allegory’ of Abraham’s family history, according to which the bondwoman and her son, representing Israel after the flesh, were to be ‘cast out’ (Gal. 4:30).

It was not until centuries of time had passed, not until faith had vanished from among the children of Israel, not until the true spiritual and eternal character of the promises had faded out of sight, and fleshly lusts had taken the place of heavenly hopes and longings, that there arose among the natural seed of Abraham the ruinous doctrine that ‘the hope of Israel’ was an earthly thing. That doctrine was the product of degenerate times. It was tenaciously held and zealously propagated by the scribes, Pharisees, rabbis and lawyers of first century Judaism – that generation of vipers; and it wrought in them such satanic zeal that they eagerly carried out the will of their ‘father, the devil’ (Mat 23:33; John 8:44) in compassing the crucifixion of the Lord of glory. Should we not therefore regard that odious doctrine with abhorrence and fear? And should it not be a matter of anxious inquiry as to how it has arisen and spread itself among the true followers of Christ in these perilous times?

The grand climax of the passage we are examining, Hebrews 11:16, announces that the fathers of Israel desired ‘a better country, that is a heavenly one. Wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared for them a city.’ And we learn from Revelation 21, verses 2 and 3, that He will dwell with them in that city forever.

It then says in verse 40, that only ‘together with us would they be made perfect.’

There could be no more emphatic assertion of the oneness of God’s elect, the true ‘seed of Abraham’ (Gal. 3:7,29), and of the truly fundamental truth that there is just ‘one hope,’ one ‘common salvation’ for them all, whether by nature they be Jews or Gentiles.

And there could not be a more impressive refutation of the erroneous doctrine – now current amongst certain groups of Christians – that the biblical ‘hope of Israel’ is a thing of earthly place and dominion. This is surely ‘another gospel,’ very different indeed from that on which Abraham put his hope.

The next part deals with possession of the Land in terms of the covenants God made Israel after the Exodus.