“By faith [Abraham] 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 11:9-10).
Some Biblical translations (such as the King James Version, among others) use the word “sojourned” to describe Abraham’s experience in the land of Canaan. This word identifies someone who lives as a temporary resident in a foreign location.
Today, we might use the term “resident alien” or “foreign national” to describe Abraham’s status in Canaan; he lived in the land of Canaan, but he was not a citizen of that land. In light of this, we might say that Abraham was “from” Canaan, but he was not “of” Canaan. In other words, his real citizenship was held elsewhere.
Abraham’s experience as a sojourner in Canaan is rich in applications that are worthy of our consideration. For instance…
- God placed Abraham in Canaan according to His sovereign will (Genesis 12:1-3).
- Abraham accepted and believed God’s promise of a permanent, future home (Genesis 13:14-15, Hebrews 11:10).
- Abraham conducted himself as a God-honoring citizen as he made legal arrangements with governmental leaders and working to resolve local issues during his temporary residence in Canaan (Genesis 21:22-34).
- The resident people groups of Canaan recognized Abraham and held him in high regard (Genesis 23:1-6).
- Abraham was forthright in his economic dealings with the people of that area (Genesis 23:7-20).
- However, Abraham had no illusions regarding the moral deficiencies of his Canaanite neighbors (Genesis 24:1-4).
The first two points highlight Abraham’s vertical relationship with God. The remaining points apply to the horizontal relationships that Abraham developed with others during his residence in that area. Thus, we can say that Abraham’s vertical relationship with God influenced his horizontal relationships as he sojourned in the land of Canaan.
So, God placed Abraham in Canaan and Abraham responded by living a God-honoring (albeit imperfect) life. Much like Abraham’s experience in Canaan, God has also placed His people as sojourners in a place that is not their permanent home (Philippians 3:20). And like Abraham, we also have the promise of a permanent, future home (John 14:1-3).
Therefore, we should follow Abraham’s good example as we live and work as representatives of Christ during our earthly sojourn. We should seek to maintain good relationships among others as much as possible, and seek to honor God in our economic activities and governmental interactions. Finally, we should recognize the secular moral and spiritual climate that pervades every generation, and thus live in a way that accurately and effectively communicates the Good News of salvation in Christ.