Explain the custom of restoring the land at the Jubilee to its original owner or his representative. We might wonder to find the Israelites described as “strangers and sojourners,” after they had ended the long wilderness journey, and had entered on the possession of Canaan.
I. The promised land was the divinely appointed rest and portion of the people; but the Old Testament never fails to indicate that even its best things are types and shadows, and the Israelites had to learn that even in Canaan they had no continuing city. No man was to feel himself in absolute possession of his portion. It was entrusted to his control for a time, but a superior power appointed that time and brought it to a close. Canaan, therefore, from one point of view, represents to us the heavenly rest, from another the portion which God has given to His people in this world. That provision is good—let nobody despise it—but it is not the best. We must not take it as our promised inheritance. Our inheritance is coming, and meanwhile an earnest of it is sealed by the Holy Spirit on our hearts. Temporal blessings come to us by covenant, as well as eternal blessings, but we must use them as strangers and sojourners.
II. Sojourning is the condition of God’s children in this world.—It is, indeed, the condition of all men in one sense, but this is one of the obvious truths which are most likely to be overlooked. I don’t know many sadder things than to see men trying to make their portion here, to hear them saying, ‘Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years,’ to watch them toiling on, though the house is crumbling as they build. They are all beings who need a true portion, an immortal home. Every man among them is so constituted that he cannot do without it. How will it be when the light of eternity looks in through the broken roof and the tottering walls, and the man goes out homeless and desolate!
What is a ‘stranger’? He is one who belongs to a different country from that in which he lives, and carries with him something of the land from which he comes. His speech, his manner, a thousand little traits, reveal it. The believer comes from no land foreign to this earth of ours, but something has come to him, something ‘that has elsewhere its rising and its setting, and cometh from afar.’ A new relation to Christ has been formed in his soul, which has given a new turn to his life, and has brought him into relationship with another world. Desires and hopes are near his heart which cannot find satisfaction here. He is in that sense a stranger beyond all other men.
What is a ‘sojourner’? He is the man who means to move. He dare not take rest as one who means to dwell here in permanence. There might be something depressing in the conjunction of these two words, ‘stranger and sojourner,’ but there are other words in the list which brighten the gloom—‘The land is Mine,’ ‘Strangers and sojourners with Me.’ The experiences of life may be desperately trying, but they need never separate us from God’s providence and love. This is one of the great commonplaces of Scripture. It hardly needs to be illustrated, but it very much requires to be believed.
(1) ‘In the text are the lessons of God’s proprietorship and our stewardship, the transiency of our stay and the need of whole-hearted trust.’
(2) ‘Seek to cultivate as a joy and strength the consciousness that the Lord of the land is ever with you. Whoever goes, He abides. Whoever and whatever change, He changes never. Where thou goest He will go. So since we are ever ‘with Him’ we have companionship even when most solitary, and even in a strange land shall not be lonely.’