13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
Verses 13–16 are an interlude or summary of people who walk by faith. They did not receive the complete fulfillment of their promises on earth. They looked for a better and heavenly country.
13 These all died in [according to] faith,
“These all” refer to Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob. They went to their graves trusting God’s promises. They lived according to the principle of faith. These people lived their lives according to or consistent with a life of faith.
not having received the promises,
The “promises” is where they placed their faith. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob never possessed the promised land. They died without seeing the promises fulfilled. It took 500 years for Israel to possess the land.
but having seen them afar off were assured of them,
They claimed the promises of God without seeing them fulfilled during their lifetimes. Throughout their lives, they were sure that God would keep His promises. They did not doubt it because they believed in the veracity of God’s word.
embraced [welcomed] them
The word “embraced’” or welcomed usually conveyed the idea of greeting. Abraham was glad to see the day of the Messiah coming (Jn 8:56), and Moses as well (He 11:26). The prophets searched the Old Testament for that day (1 Pe 1:10-12).
and confessed that they were strangers [foreigners] and pilgrims [sojourners] on the earth.
These people were temporary residents on earth but permanent residents of heaven.
Often God does not give us the final outcome of His will for us.
God does not always tell us why we go through what we do. Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob never possessed the land of Canaan. That occurred 500 years later. Neither does God tell us why He allows suffering to hit us like a brick. We must accept it by faith.
Our relationship with God is primarily one of faith. God’s promise is real; He will be true to it. We have no inside information about what happens to us except that God is true in His dealings with us. Since God is infinite and we are finite, He cannot cram His infinite plan into our craniums. The patriarchs were content to accept God’s promises and will for them. They accepted their status as “strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” That was enough for them. They were refugees in the land that God’s promised them.
“Pilgrims” never feel at home in this world because they know their real home is yet future. However, one day we will be forever with the Lord.
Confidence in God and His Word is the same as claiming His promises for us.