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In Hebrews 11:10, what city was Abraham looking forward to?:

ESV
Heb 11:10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.

ISV
Heb 11:10 because he was waiting for the city with permanent foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

Darby
Heb 11:10 for he waited for the city which has foundations, of which God is the artificer and constructor.

Was he anticipating the descent of the New Jerusalem from the sky to the dry land per Revelation 21:2-3?

Rev 21:2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. Rev 21:3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "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.

If so, where did he get the idea of a descending city?

If not, what was he looking for? Was he looking for it to appear in the sky or was he looking for it in the land he was sent to from Ur?

Might the author of "To the Hebrews" have had Sophia's house in mind?

ESV Pro 9:1 Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars.

All of the references to a city of God's building appear to be much later than anything Abraham might have been influenced by. Is there anything in any other texts, such as the scrolls of Enoch that connect Abraham to a city?

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A city is an instance of an environment for people to live, specifically the instance suitable for a large number of people. It can also mean the environment plus the people who inhabit it, or even just the people.

God had promised Abraham that God Himself would build out of him a people who will be blessed and made great ("I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great"). That promise implies that God Himself would provide an environment for the descendants of Abraham in which that promise would be fulfilled, or in the alternate meaning of "city", that God Himself would build the people (*).

Thus, the teaching of Hebrews ch. 11 is that Abraham was looking forward to an environment that God Himself would provide for his people, not the details of such an environment, i.e. whether it is a city or a country, and much less whether it is a city that would descend from the sky or be found on the ground. "City" is just a designation for that environment, and not the only one, as it later says:

For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. (Heb 11:14)

But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. (Heb 11:16)

(*) This enables us to understand why Abraham's obedience to God's command to offer Isaac as a burnt offering (Gen 22:2) was compatible with the commandment ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (which had not yet been positively stated by God but is engraved in human nature). Because God knows infinitely better than we do the optimal course of action that we can follow to procure someone's good. Therefore, if God tells Abraham «Do X to Isaac», Abraham knows with absolute certainty that doing X is the best he can do FOR Isaac, and by doing X he is optimally fulfilling the commandment ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

Noting that God did not ask Abraham to just "kill Isaac" but to "offer him there as a burnt offering" (Gen 22:2), even from a purely human viewpoint it is wholly plausible that Abraham reasoned that God, being infinitely powerful and good, when offered at his request an innocent son as a burnt offering, would bring that person back to life in a better, higher, more exalted way. Which is precisely what Hebrews says of the event:

"having reasoned (logisamenos) that God was able even to raise him out from the dead, from where he received him also in a figure." (Heb 11:19)

Therefore, Abraham was willing to live in tents because he believed that God Himself would build the environment for his descendants, and was willing to offer his only descendant as a burnt offering because he believed that God Himself was going to re-build that descendant, that is to raise him out from the dead.

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  • (+1) because it is a fresh way to look at it and it is possibly correct. – user10231 Jul 15 '16 at 23:11
  • Actually, he was looking for a city with foundation walls. The walls are what make a city. So clearly he was looking for a city. I think the "Jerusalem above" imagery is very ancient. – Ruminator Oct 21 '18 at 11:02
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I think that your relating this verse to Revelation 21:2-3 is correct and is supported in what is written further in the Epistle:

Hebrews 13:14 (KJV 1900)

For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.

The late Orthodox Archbishop Dmitry Royster comments:

The Apostle now gives us the key to Abraham's understanding of the deeper nature of the Promise. There was something much greater in God's plan for the Hebrew people than a whimsical preference for them to occupy some new, perhaps more favorable, land, because He liked them more than those who already inhabited it.

The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary (p. 181)

It seems, though, that you are questioning the validity of what the Epistle says, since there seems to be no ancient evidence that Abraham was seeking a heavenly rather than earthly city.

It seems to me, however, that he never sought any kind of earthly city. He acted not on a promise from God to give him physical land, but rather an instruction to go to a land that I will show you (Genesis 12:1). What seems to have been important to Abraham was not the expectation of receiving territory, but rather in following God's will. He is even told that not only his progeny will be blessed, but that all the tribes of the earth will be blessed (Genesis 12:3). Although the Lord told Abraham that his seed would receive the land of Canaan, Abraham himself never received any land for himself. He passes through and spends the rest of his life pitching his tent and moving it from one place to another. It will be several hundred years - following the move of Jacob's family to Egypt, the Hebrew Exodus, and the death of Moses - before any of Abraham's descendants actually get to settle in the land he was promised.

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  • So are you saying that Abraham was not consciously looking for a city? – user10231 Jul 15 '16 at 11:10
  • Yes. Is there anything to the contrary in Genesis? – user15733 Jul 15 '16 at 20:57
  • No, not that I'm aware of. In fact, I've been considering the same approach. It seems a bit weak though. In fact, I think I must rule it out because "by faith..." seems to indicate a conscious effort. – user10231 Jul 15 '16 at 21:02
  • I would not argue that he lived by faith. In fact, to me it seems that he trusted God without any great expectation of an earthly reward is even stronger proof of his faith. – user15733 Jul 15 '16 at 21:08
  • I'm thinking out loud. Still thinking about it. – user10231 Jul 15 '16 at 21:10
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Actually, Abraham didn’t know what “city” he was looking for. He was simply following his faith and following what God told him to do. He did not have a specific destination he was looking forward to.

Possibly the most outstanding example of faith in the Old Testament can be seem in the New Testament’s Hebrew 11:8-19. (Hebrew 11:10 being within it).

The beginning of that has Abraham following his faith and God’s directions. Then Abraham’s wife, Sarah, began living by her faith in God (e.g. accepting she’d conceive and give birth at 90 years old). Then Isaac and the rest of their descendants following their faith in God. “…God…has prepared for them a “city”.” However, that was not the type of “city” we have on earth. That was heaven. Abraham and his family were acting in accordance with their faith; God was preparing heaven for them. They just didn’t understand that.

Hebrews 11:8-19 (ESV)

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he 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. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. 11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. 13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 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. 17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.

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Abraham actually received that City. This is Paradise (Abraham’s bossom: A City whose foundation and builder is God) God named Paradise after Abraham. This is an ETERNAL city.

Luke 16:22-24 [KJV]

(22) And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; (23) And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. (24) And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.

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The city which has foundations whose builder and architect is God which Abraham was looking to was the hope of resurrection.

Hebrews 6:13-20

"... we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us... "

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The Problem

Man is an entity created by God with a conscience, aka knowledge of good and evil. However, he lives in an environment that requires him to set aside this facility. The conscience states that it is right to live selflessly, but the environment requires him to live selfishly in order to survive.

Abraham refused to accept the situation, make a permanent adaptation to it, build a house. He treated it as unacceptable, and decided to be a sojourner, a temporary inhabitant, in it, until God provided a better alternative.

Hebrews 11:13All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. 15And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.

The Solution

Because Abraham was uneasy with selfish living, groped around for God, he was rewarded for his efforts. God was not ashamed to accept him as a follower, and a candidate for the destination, city, Rest, which He was preparing for all His followers, in the New Man, in Christ.

Hebrews 11:6But 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 a city for them.

All Scripture verses from the NASB

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Abraham was promised the Jebusites, who lived in Jerusalem, and who David later conquered. In a sense then, the earthly Jerusalem is the city, but also a symbol of the Jerusalem to come. Abraham, then living in tents, looked for the established place. First in the earthly sense of Jerusalem, but finally in the eschatological sense of the New Jerusalem.

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In Hebrews 11:10, what city was Abraham looking forward to?:

ESV Heb 11:10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.

The Bible says of Abraham : "He was waiting for the city with permanent foundations, whose architect and builder is God." Heb 11:10 ISV. Abraham believed that one day he would see that city, the Kingdom of God, ruling over this earth​. Like many others such as Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham believed in th resurrection of the dead and looked forward to life under God's Kingdom. Paul was inspired to explain that Abraham believed that God was able to raise Isaac from the dead. Abraham could not know when his son would be raised to life again. But he trusted that God would resurrect Isaac.

Hebrews 11:17-19 (NASB)

17 "By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; 18 it was he to whom it was said, “In Isaac, your [a]descendants shall be called.” 19 [b]He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back [c]as a type.

What city was Abraham looking forward to?

This was not a literal city but a symbolic one. Abraham was looking forward to life under the rule of God’s Kingdom. Jesus teachings shed light on this Kingdom, He taught his followers to look forward to the coming of God’s Kingdom. So Christians since the days of the apostles have been praying for it to come.

Matthew 6:10 (NASB) 10 ‘Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.

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Whatever city it is, it is not an earthly city, as there is and was never and earthly city whose builder and maker is God. This is confirmed a few verses later (v.16):

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.

As one modern Eastern Orthodox commentator wrote, "There was something much greater in God's plan for the Hebrew people than a whimsical preference for them to occupy some new, perhaps more favorable, land, because He liked them more than those who already inhabited it."1

It might also be noted that the word translated as country is πατρίς (patris) - understood here, explicit in v. 14 - could just have well have been rendered fatherland.


The city in question is heaven, the dwelling place of God and of the saints, referred to elsewhere:

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering (12:22)

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come (13:14)

It is, in fact, the city referred to in the Book of Revelation:

And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them (20:9)

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (21:2)


With regards to the apparent anachronism of the building reference, I don't think there is any inconsistency. The same commentator explained:

Neither Abraham, nor his son Isaac, nor his grandson Jacob, seem to have been much concerned about the earthly or material benefits which the land of promise might have brought them. The city which they sought was one which had particular foundations (in Greek tous themelious, "the foundations", which is explained as the city of which God is both the designer and maker. No Canaanite city had these foundations. That city, as subsequent passages of the Epistle will make clear, is the heavenly city, the heavenly Jerusalem.2


A pastoral postscript was added to the above by the author:

The Christian, then, must understand that he too is a sojourner in a strange country, that there is no permanent ("continuing", menousan in Greek) city for him here on earth, and that his citizenship, because of his faith in God's promises, is the eternal city, which is the kingdom of God (13:14).3


1. D. Royster, The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary, p.181.
2. Ibid., p.181-82<\sup>
3. Ibid., p.182

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