By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country… for he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
– Hebrews 11:9, 10
A South African proverb says, “A visitor is like a fish: after three days he’s no longer fresh.” To be a visitor is a sort of fish out of water situation. Haven’t you felt it? The most gracious of hosts merely seems to be attempting to make the strange air as moist as possible, but can never achieving quite the wetness of your pelagic existence.
Visitors are not meant to last. If they do, they become merely guests. The autumn of familiarity succeeds the summertime of their novelty, and what was once a shiny new clock on the living room wall to be stared at by every one in the home becomes as innocuous as the furniture.
In ancient times strangers in foreign lands often met no warm reception. Their welcome parties were often well armed. Their first greeting was unfriendly yet familiar, “When do you intend to be gone?” At best they were left alone, but certainly nobody would have kept a warm bed in expectation of their arrival. Perhaps it is not so ancient, if one speaks to modern migrants.
It would appear that when Abraham and his party entered Canaan they should have done so as its new Lords. This was, after all, the land promised him by a God whom he had followed to exacting lengths. Yet on arrival the patriarch built no houses, founded no great city. He lived there – sojourned there – like a stranger. Like a visitor. Why? Paul says it was because of faith.
This was not truly the Promised Land. It seems the chieftain in Abraham suspected quite strongly that a Chief as great as the One who had spoken him in dreams must be able to give more than mere Canaan… more than anything this world could offer in success or possessions. Abraham understood long before the Chief explained 4000 years later, that He Himself was building a city, preparing a place, for us.