What does Hebrews 11:16 mean?
ESV: 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.
NIV: Instead, they were longing for a better country--a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
NASB: 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 a city for them.
CSB: But they now desire a better place--a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
NLT: But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
KJV: But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.
NKJV: But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.
Verse Commentary:
Old Testament figures such as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob remained faithful to God, even though His promises did not come true in their earthly lifetimes. According to the writer of Hebrews, this is evidence of their understanding that God's plans for us are ultimately eternal, not material (Hebrews 11:10). If these men had merely been looking for some earthly benefit, they could have gone back where they came from. The fact that they did not proves that they saw themselves as citizens of heaven—"strangers and exiles on this earth" (Hebrews 11:13)—and were willing to trust God's ability to bring about His promises out of things unseen (Hebrews 11:1–3).

Earlier verses referred to Abraham looking forward to "a city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God" (Hebrews 11:10). Old Testament prophets such as Isaiah and Ezekiel recorded visions of a heavenly city. The book of Revelation also mentions the city of New Jerusalem, in particular its amazing foundations (Revelation 21:9–14). This is the real goal, and the real purpose, of the faith held by men like Abraham. They realize that God's promises are not necessarily tied to some physical, earthly benefit. Instead, God is working all things for good from a heavenly, eternal plan (Romans 8:28).

The writer sums up his point using the word "therefore." Mere obedience is not enough; a person must have faith in God in order to please Him. Since these listed figures held that kind of trust in God, God was not ashamed of them. It was their faith, leading to obedience, not the actions themselves, which made them acceptable to God.
Verse Context:
Hebrews 11:4–16 gives examples of figures from the Old Testament who demonstrated faith in God and were blessed as a result. Persons such as Abel, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah are commended for their trust in God's promises. In particular, this segment of the book of Hebrews focuses on those who heard from God, obeyed, and were blessed. While their actions are important, the common theme of these early references is obedience to God when fulfillment of His promises seems distant. The following passage will explore a similar idea, but in the context of those who demonstrated faith in the face of more immediate hardship.
Chapter Summary:
True, godly faith is defined as trust, relying on God when looking to the future, and obeying even when we don't fully understand all details. The great figures of the Old Testament, such as Abraham, Moses, and David, all lived according to this type of faith. Ultimately, that means trusting God's intent to make good on His promises from an eternal perspective. The model of faith presented by those people, in light of the struggles they faced, ought to inspire Christians towards a more confident, purposeful faith.
Chapter Context:
Up to this point, the book of Hebrews has given extensive evidence proving that Jesus Christ, and the new covenant He brought about, is God's ultimate plan for mankind's salvation. Chapter 10 provided an additional warning about the danger of falling away from this truth. Chapter 11 begins by clarifying the meaning of the word ''faith,'' primarily by listing examples of Old Testament figures who exemplify it. The ultimate application of this knowledge should be a motivation to ''hold fast'' to the gospel, despite hardships. That encouragement is a major theme of chapter 12.
Book Summary:
The book of Hebrews is meant to challenge, encourage, and empower Christian believers. According to this letter, Jesus Christ is superior to all other prophets and all other claims to truth. Since God has given us Christ, we ought to listen to what He says and not move backwards. The consequences of ignoring God are dire. Hebrews is important for drawing on many portions of the Old Testament in making a case that Christ is the ultimate and perfect expression of God's plan for mankind. This book presents some tough ideas about the Christian faith, a fact the author makes specific note of.
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