The Preacher gives us a perspective on the Old Testament saints in this passage that we might not have considered without his wisdom. Oh, we admire the faith of those saints: Abraham setting out on a journey not knowing where he was going, living in tents when he got there, always considered a stranger by the inhabitants of the land God had promised to him and his descendants; and then barren Sarah giving birth at the age of ninety. Who would believe, let alone embrace, such challenges at their advanced years? And they, themselves, would never even live to see the fulfillment of the promise which was to their heirs and to the nation after them. But he believed God, and God “counted to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).
So they died never having received the things promised. But the Preacher tells us something even more remarkable about their faith—that even though they were not to see the ultimate fulfillment of all God’s bounty to them, yet, “having seen them [they] greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland…a better country, that is, a heavenly one.”
In a real way, Abraham’s life is a picture of ours from 4000 years ago. He was an alien in a strange land and so are we; he sojourned among the pagan inhabitants of the land and so do we; he looked forward to a promise and so do we (the second coming); he ever longed for a better land and so do we; and he was blessed above the inhabitants of the land and so are we. Abraham could have returned to Haran in Syria or even Ur in the land of the Chaldeans, but he was looking for that better country. And I suppose we could return as well—to that former life of sin and misery. But then again we really can’t. God has set His seal upon us otherwise called his Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 1:22). We can’t turn back, and we don’t want to. We know there’s a better land ahead which makes even this life worth living.
And so we, like those Old Testament saints, are also pilgrims, living in tents (our bodies), and waiting for our entrance into the heavenly homeland which is God’s promise to us. And it is living by this forward-looking faith that makes God desire to embrace us, who is “not ashamed to be called [our] God, for He has prepared for [us] a city,” right along with Abraham, Sarah, and all those saints who walked by faith, desiring a better country.