God led Abraham to the land of Canaan and promised that his descendants would live there (Genesis 12:5-7). Because of a famine, Abraham temporarily “went down into Egypt to sojourn there” (Genesis 12:10), presaging a much longer relocation to Egypt which his descendants would later experience. When he returned to Canaan, Abraham put down roots and made it his home for the rest of his life. But decades later, when his wife Sarah died, Abraham described himself to his neighbors as “a stranger and a sojourner with you” (Genesis 23:4). Moreover, Abraham’s son Isaac blessed his son Jacob, “that thou mayest inherit the land wherein thou art a stranger, which God gave unto Abraham” (Genesis 28:4). After living with his uncle Laban for about 20 years, Jacob returned home and “dwelt in the land wherein his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan” (Genesis 37:1).
Canaan may have been their promised land, but it doesn’t sound like they felt at home there. Two generations after arriving, they still described themselves as strangers and sojourners.
After Jacob subsequently relocated to Egypt, his descendants “sojourned” there for 430 years (Exodus 12:40). But God told Moses he wanted to bring them back to the land of Canaan, the land which He had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, “the land of their pilgrimage, wherein they were strangers” (Exodus 6:4).
To sojourn is to stay somewhere temporarily. It is not your permanent home, and it doesn’t feel like home.
After Lehi and his family traveled from Jerusalem to their promised land, his son Nephi led some of his descendants in building a city where they lived “after the manner of happiness” (2 Nephi 5:27). But Nephi’s brother Jacob described their situation in less rosy terms:
Our lives passed away like as it were unto us a dream, we being a lonesome and a solemn people, wanderers, cast out from Jerusalem, born in tribulation, in a wilderness, and hated of our brethren, which caused wars and contentions; wherefore, we did mourn out our days.Jacob 7:26
Are we meant to feel like sojourners? If the promised lands of Abraham’s family and Lehi’s family both felt incomplete and imperfect, is it possible that our promised lands will also feel like they aren’t entirely ours, like we don’t entirely belong? Is there a “secret something” whispering to each of us, as it whispered to Eliza R. Snow, “you’re a stranger here?” (“O My Father,” Hymns, 292).
The apostle Paul explained why Abraham might have still felt like a foreigner, years after arriving in Canaan:
By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise:
For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.Hebrews 11:9-10
As I’ve written before, it is important for us to treat our current situation as if it were permanent, in order to focus appropriately on the tasks at hand. But perhaps there will always be an underlying sense of impermanence in everything we do, reflecting an awareness that we aren’t finished yet, that we haven’t “arrived,” that there are still better things to come.
Today, I will be grateful for all of the opportunities God has given to me and to my family. I will strive to be a good “sojourner,” to work hard and take good care of the things I’m responsible for, while looking ahead to greater blessings and opportunities in the future.