Posted by: Billy Marsh | September 10, 2007

IV. Sojourners: Hebrews 11:16 (C) The God Of Sojourners: “Called their God”

Shepherd of faith

“But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” ~ Hebrews 11:16

In the previous post we looked at the fact that God is not ashamed of his people in the sense that he allows himself to be called their God. Here, the author of Hebrews links the unshamedness of God towards his people to the outspoken nature of the confession of our identity in him. We herald him as our King, and he testifies that we are his citizens. However, not all are able to claim this pleasure and privilege.  The ability to have God called your God is something that he alone can permit and none other. Either God is ashamed or you or he isn’t. The choice is his alone to make. Karl Barth put it well in his work, The Epistle to the Romans, when he declared, “God does not need us. Indeed, if He were not God, He would be ashamed of us. We, at any rate, cannot be ashamed of Him.”

However, another significant aspect of this verse we need to understand is the direct OT link which the author is obviously drawing from when he states, “Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God . . . (v 16)” In light of the contextual clues given in vv  4-11 and immediately subsequent in vv 17-28, here the author of Hebrews recalls a familiar theme from the Patriarchal period in the OT. This designation is reminiscent of verses such as Exodus 3:6 when Yahweh spoke out of the Burning Bush to Moses saying, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” One of the magisterial Reformers, John Calvin, wrote in his commentary on Hebrews, “It is a singular honour when God makes men illustrious, by attaching his name to them; and designs thus to have himself distinguished from idols.” The renowned late NT scholar, F. F. Bruce likewise agrees in his commentary on Hebrews by claiming, “What higher honor than this could be paid to any mortal?” The God of creation, heaven and earth, ruler of the universe, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and the Incarnate Son, Jesus Christ, is not ashamed to have his name associated with and attached to his people of faith!

God giving his name to his people is a common theme in the Bible. Without a doubt, God claimed Abraham, the great OT Partriarch as his own. In Gen 26:24, God referenced himself as “the God of Abraham your father” to Isaac as the same promise was given to the heir of the Abrahamic covenant. Lest we also forget the NT witness of James in Jam 2:23 when he testifies of Abraham that, “he was called the friend of God.” Later, during Jacob’s dream in Gen 28:13, God once more confirmed the covenant he had made with Abraham and Isaac to Jacob, this time referencing himself in the same manner stating, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac.” Then again, God reaffirms his promise and that he is the God of his people when he speaks to Moses in Ex 3:6 which we already mentioned above.

The phrase “Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God . . .” also carries covenantal overtones. Undoubtedly, the “Hebrew” readers would have picked up on this allusion. For instance in Jeremiah 31:33, God foretells the new covenant and says, “and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Or, elsewhere in Revelation 21:3, when speaking of the New Jerusalem, John records the words proclaimed from the voice from the thone, “Behold the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”

pilgrims.jpg

Sojourners are a people who are citizens of a better country, a heavenly one, whose true home consists of a city which has been personally and lovingly prepared by God, who is not ashamed to be called their God (the late William Lane, author of the Hebrews commentary in the WBC series says that the Greek word translated “to be called” is a present passive infinitive which if translated as a middle verb would be rendered as such: “Therefore God is not ashamed to call himself their God“). Make no mistake, this divine designation is only aquired through a life of faith, one that is timeless and universal. Notice that the following verses in Hebrews 11:17ff retell the redemptive story of Abraham attempting to sacrifice Isaac and then the author of Hebrews inserts this phrase, “He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead.” Only by faith can one receive this great honor, and only by faith can one truly live as a Sojouner on the earth, longing for that city which is to come, whose designer and builder is God, our God.

I will leave you with a final word from John Calvin concerning his comments on this verse and theme, who has a much better way with words and theology than I do. I thought his explanation was short, but very powerful:

We are hence to conclude, that there is no place for us among God’s children, except we renounce the world, and that there will be for us no inheritance in heaven, except we become pilgrims on earth. Moreover, the Apostle justly concludes from these words, – “I am the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob,” that they were heirs of heaven, since he who thus speaks is not the God of the dead, but of the living.

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Responses

  1. […] Billy Marsh continues his excellent doxo-theological study on Hebrews 11 and sojourners.  The God of Sojourners: “Called of God” […]

  2. I don’t normally pay much attention to church signs but I saw one the other day that made me think of this blog. It simply said, “If you don’t live it, you don’t believe it”.

  3. http://www.everythingchristian.in/church/82-denominational-provocation.html


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