Dwelling in Tents
When you read Hebrews 11, it is easy to focus on what you might consider the “great” acts of faith. Noah prepared an ark. Moses led the Israelites through the Red Sea on dry land. But there is also a three-word phrase in that chapter that describes the lifestyle of Abraham, the father of the faithful: “dwelling in tents” (11:9).
A tent back then, just like we think of it today, was a temporary shelter. They were made of leather or animal skins or cloth. The KJV uses the word “tabernacles.” The tabernacle was designed to be portable; it could be dissembled, packed up, and then moved during the 40 years of wilderness wandering. That’s why it is also referred to as the “tent of meeting.” The fact that Abraham was “dwelling in tents” was an indication that he was not a permanent resident.
He “lived as an alien” as in “a foreign land” (11:9). That word, also translated “sojourned” (KJV), is the same word used by Clopas when he asked Jesus, “are you the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in the last few days” (Luke 24:18)? Do you know what Abraham’s approach to life was? “I’m just a visitor.” And he lived accordingly. The object of his faith was his tent.
We are children of Abraham by faith. Like our father, let us be intent on dwelling in tents. This will help us to be more...
AtTENTive. “Abraham, when he was called, obeyed” (Heb. 11:8). Have you ever thought about how much easier it was for him to be obedient to the Lord’s call because he had the attitude, “I’m just a visitor here?” When God called him to go forth from his country, his relative, and his father’s house, “Abram went forth as the Lord had spoken to him” (Gen. 12:4). What did he do when he got there? “He pitched his tent” and built an altar (Gen. 12:7-8).
Do your things keep you from being attentive to the things of God? Abram was a wealthy man who prospered. He and his family “took all their possessions which they had accumulated” (12:5). But he did not allow his possessions to overshadow what was most important. Don’t be so distracted by your things that you can’t even hear the voice of the Lord. Keep your attention on what is permanent, not on what is temporary.
ConsisTENT. Abraham “lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land” (Heb. 11:8). Not only did God uproot him from his home and surroundings, when he got to where he was going, he found out that the deed to the land belonged to his descendants. What did Abram do? He went back to the altar “which he had made there formerly” (Gen. 13:1-4). When he and Lot divided, Abram “moved his tent and came and dwelt by the oaks of Mamre, which are in Hebron, and there he built an altar to the Lord” (13:18). He did exactly as he had been doing.
Satan is after us to just make small concessions. “You don’t have to abandon the Lord completely, just do enough to get by. You can do this just once, what is that going to hurt?” But “dwelling in tents” reminds us is that this world is not our home. We shouldn’t get too comfortable or grow roots here. Consistency is needed to keep the world at a distance. Otherwise, we move our tents closer and closer to Sodom.
ConTENTed. “For he was looking for the city which has foundations” (Heb. 11:10). By Genesis 18, nearly 25 years have passed. Guess where Abraham was sitting? “At the tent door” (18:1). From that perspective, he saw an opportunity to serve three visitors, including giving them “a choice and tender calf.” In so doing, he is mentioned again in Hebrews: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Heb. 13:2).
We will be more contented when we admit that our possessions are “just stuff.” These are things “on loan from God.” They belong to Him and are going back to Him. He blesses us with our jobs “in order that he may have something to share with him who has need” (Eph. 4:28). Those in need are our fellow visitors, aliens and strangers in a foreign land. We can be content in our tents for we also are looking for a permanent city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
I hope to tour the hall of faith one day. I want to see Noah’s ark and Jacob’s staff. But I especially want to see Abraham’s tent. Until then, let’s be intent on dwelling in tents.