The Pilgrimage of the Magi 

“Pilgrimage to the place of the wise is to find escape from the flame of separateness.” 



Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 

Matthew 18:18 NRSV 

 Three Kings

The biblical Magi, also known as the Three Wise Men or Three Kings, were famous foreigners who visited Jesus after his birth, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, according to the Gospel of Matthew and Christian tradition. They appear frequently in traditional narratives of Christmas nativity festivities and are vital to Christian tradition. The Magi are only mentioned in Matthew, one of the four canonical gospels. According to Matthew, they came “from the east” to worship the “king of the Jews.” The number of Magi is never mentioned in the gospel, but most western Christian denominations have generally concluded they were three, based on the assertion that they brought three presents. The Magi are frequently twelve in Eastern Christianity, particularly in Syriac churches. Their recognition as kings in later Christian writings is most likely related to Psalm 72:11, “May all kings fall down before him.”

Traditional nativity scenes show three “Wise Men” visiting the infant Jesus in a manger on the night of his birth, accompanied by shepherds and angels, but this should be interpreted as an artistic convention that allows the two separate scenes of the Adoration of the Shepherds on the birth night and the later Adoration of the Magi to be combined for convenience.

The Three Wise Men

The Magi are popularly referred to as wise men and kings. The word magi is the plural of Latin magus, borrowed from the Greek magos, as used in the original Greek text of the Gospel of Matthew (in the plural: magoi). Greek magos is derived from Old Persian maguŝ from the Avestan magâunô, i.e., the religious caste Zoroaster was born into. The term refers to the Persian priestly caste of Zoroastrianism.

            As part of their faith, these priests paid special attention to the stars and established an international reputation for astrology, considered science at the time. Because of their religious activities and use of astrology, derivatives of the term Magi were used for the occult in general, giving rise to the English term magic, even though Zoroastrianism was firmly opposed to sorcery. Although the Magi are usually referred to as “kings,” there is nothing in Matthew’s story that suggests they were rulers of any kind. Early readers understood Matthew in light of these prophecies, elevating the Magi to the status of kings. By AD 500, all commentators had accepted the widely held belief that the three were monarchs.


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Gathering the Nations 

Bringing the People Together

“I have come to gather nations,” the prophecy begins. While it might be argued that the prophecy primarily refers to gathering the scattered Israelites, it could also refer to the nations themselves, the Gentiles. (The word here is goyim, which translates as “Gentiles” or “nations,” not “Jews.”) The goal of God’s plan of redemption is to bring all peoples together to worship him, to bless “all the families of the earth.” As at a pilgrim feast, the Gentiles are brought to Jerusalem to partake in God’s worship. The Lord declares in the prophecy that he will collect the nations and send “fugitives” to them to broadcast his “glory among the nations.”

These “escapees” or “survivors” have survived national persecution and God’s judgment. They resemble the earliest Christian missionaries, such as Paul, who traveled the world proclaiming the Gospel message. These missionaries’ task is to bring in a “harvest” of Gentiles and bring them to the Lord in Jerusalem. While making an offering to Jerusalem is primarily symbolic of our purposes, St. Paul took it very seriously. When he traveled over the Roman realm preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles, he also collected money from the Gentiles to give to the Christians in Jerusalem.

A River in the Desert 

In Isaiah 41, the prophet likens the pilgrimage to a search for water in the desert: 

“The poor and needy search for water, 

    but there is none; 

    their tongues are parched with thirst. 

But I the Lord will answer them; 

    I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. 

I will make rivers flow on barren heights, 

    and springs within the valleys. 

I will turn the desert into pools of water, 

    and the parched ground into springs. 

I will put in the desert 

    the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive. 

I will set junipers in the wasteland, 

    the fir and the cypress together, 

so that people may see and know, 

    may consider and understand, 

that the hand of the Lord has done this, 

    that the Holy One of Israel has created it. (Isa. 41:17-20)

This imagery is echoed in Psalm 84, written for the director of music: 

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, 

    whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. 

As they pass through the Valley of Baka, 

    they make it a place of springs; 

    the autumn rains also cover it with pools (Psa. 84:5-6)

A Highway in the Wilderness 

Another metaphor that Isaiah uses to show God’s favor toward His pilgrims is that of the highway in the wilderness, a voice of one calling, “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” (Isa. 40:3)

Isaiah is more explicit in Chapter 3: 

And a highway will be there; 

    it will be called the Way of Holiness; 

    it will be for those who walk on that Way. 

The unclean will not journey on it; 

    wicked fools will not go about on it. (Isa. 35:8)

We see these words of the prophet echoed in the Gospels, particularly the Gospel of John, when John replied to the priests and Levites sent by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” (Jn. 1:23)

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Metaphoric Pilgrimages 

“Life is a pilgrimage. The wise man does not rest by the roadside inns. He marches direct to the illimitable domain of eternal bliss, his ultimate destination.” 



Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life but must endure God’s wrath. 

John 3:36 NRSV 

Apart from the literal pilgrimages in the Bible, the theme of pilgrimage comes up repeatedly metaphorically. The prophet Isaiah explicitly uses the metaphor of the Mountain of the Lord: 

In the last days 

the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
    as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
    and all nations will stream to it. 

Many peoples will come and say, 

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
    so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
    the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations
    and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore. 

Come, descendants of Jacob,
    let us walk in the light of the Lord. (Isa. 2:2-5)

Isaiah: Shakespeare of the Prophets

Isaiah is sometimes referred to as the “Shakespeare of the Prophets” due to his verse’s lyrical and poetic nature. In another passage, he describes the final culmination of God’s plan in terms the Jews would understand – using the metaphor of the pilgrimage feasts. 

As discussed in the previous chapter, the ancient Jews celebrated several holidays by pilgrimage to the Jerusalem temple. These feasts, Passover (Pesach), Pentecost (Shavuot), and the Feast of Booths (Sukkot), are related to events in Israel’s history and with agricultural occasions such as harvest.  

During these feasts, Jewish men would come to Jerusalem from around the Holy Land, bringing sacrifices and grain offerings from their farms. They would eat ceremonial meals in the holy city and worship the Lord with special rituals. These feasts would be an excellent time of unity, celebration, and encounter with God. Isaiah uses these pilgrim feasts to portray the end when God will finally gather the redeemed. Here we can see a special connection to the ancient Feast of Booths. Which is also called the Feast of In-Gathering since it is a harvest-time feast, a time when farmers “in-gather” produce (Exo. 23:16). However, the final “in-gathering” that the prophet speaks of is a bringing in of people rather than grain. 

In Isaiah 66, the prophet tells the people: 

“And I, because of what they have planned and done, am about to come and gather the people of all nations and languages, and they will come and see my glory. 

“I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations—to Tarshish, to the Libyans and Lydians (famous as archers), to Tubal and Greece, and to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations. And they will bring all your people, from all the nations, to my holy mountain in Jerusalem as an offering to the Lord—on horses, in chariots and wagons, and on mules and camels,” says the Lord. “They will bring them, as the Israelites bring their grain offerings, to the temple of the Lord in ceremonially clean vessels. And I will select some of them also to be priests and Levites,” says the Lord.” (Isa. 66:18-21)


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Pilgrimages and the Jewish Community 

Reaffirming Commitment

The pilgrimage festivals allowed the Jewish community a chance to reaffirm their devotion to the covenant with God, enhance the nation’s awareness of itself as a religious community, and keep Jerusalem and the Temple site sacred. These occurrences unite people. Some academics think Jerusalem’s “business” community at the time of the Bible supported the obligation to go to Jerusalem and stay there for the whole holiday, which benefited from the regular flow of pilgrims looking for food, accommodation, and animals to sacrifice.

In the Hellenistic and Roman periods, pilgrimage festivals were a major social and religious institution. They transported ancient Mediterranean Jews to Jerusalem. Tens of thousands of Jews made pilgrimages annually. This included raising animals for sacrifices, a lively animal market, a complicated banking system, and hundreds of inns and taverns to lodge pilgrims.

Historical Pilgrimages

King Herod the Great, the Roman-appointed ruler of Judea, erected a vast plaza around the Temple to accommodate travelers. This increased the Temple’s space, allowing thousands more pilgrims to attend religious activities. The Harem esh-Sharif in Jerusalem is built on Herodian Temple ruins. The Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa mosque are here. The Western Wall, sometimes called the “Wailing Wall,” supports the Herodian Temple’s courtyard. An historical rabbinic remembrance of the Temple’s heyday tells that even when hundreds of thousands of pilgrims crowded into the courtyard, no one complained about the crush.

The Romans demolished the Second Temple after the Great Jewish Revolt in 70 C.E. The pilgrimage festivals continued, although largely in synagogues. Since 2,000 years ago, pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem halted, although these holidays are still dubbed “pilgrimage festivals” Historical and agricultural themes have replaced animal sacrifices in Diaspora festivities. Many Israelis make a pilgrimage to the Western Wall, all that’s left of the Temple and one of Judaism’s holiest sites. They do this because they believe it honors our Temple-era forebears.


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Passover – Commemorating the Exodus 

Remembering the Exodus

Passover commemorates God’s deliverance of the Jews from slavery in ancient Egypt and their emancipation as a nation under Moses’ leadership. It commemorates the story of the Exodus as told in the Hebrew Bible, particularly the Book of Exodus, in which the Israelites were delivered from slavery in Egypt. According to traditional biblical chronology, this event occurred around 1300 BCE. Passover is a spring celebration that offers the “first fruits of the barley” during the Temple’s existence in Jerusalem, the first grain to ripen and be harvested in the Land of Israel.

Passover begins on the 15th of the Hebrew month of Nisan. It lasts seven days (in Israel and for Reform Jews and other progressive Jews worldwide who follow the Biblical mandate) or eight days (for Orthodox, Hasidic, and most Conservative Jews) (in the diaspora). In Judaism, a day begins at sundown and ends at nightfall the next day; hence, the first day of Passover begins after dusk on the 14th of Nisan and finishes at dusk on the 15th of Nisan. When the sunset of Nisan arrives, the traditions peculiar to Passover begin with the Passover Seder. Passover is observed in the Northern Hemisphere in spring, as the Torah prescribes: “in the month of [the] spring.” It is one of the most frequently observed Jewish festivals.

What happened then

The Bible says that God assisted the Children of Israel to escape slavery in Egypt by inflicting ten plagues on the ancient Egyptians before the Pharaoh would free his Israelite slaves; the tenth and deadliest of the plagues was the death of the Egyptian firstborn.

The Israelites were ordered to mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a killed spring lamb, and when the spirit of the Lord saw this, he knew to pass over the firstborn in these households, hence the holiday’s English name.

When Pharaoh freed the Israelites, it is said that they were in such a hurry that they could not wait for bread dough to rise (leaven). In commemoration, no leavened bread is eaten during Passover, which is why Passover is called the feast of unleavened bread in the Torah. Thus matzo (flat unleavened bread) is eaten during Passover and is a holiday tradition.

Passover, together with Shavuot and Sukkot, is one of the Three Trip Festivals (Shalosh Regalim), during which the entire kingdom of Judah made a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem.


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The Three Pilgrimages  

The Pilgrimage Festival

The pilgrimage festival is an important type of Jewisessential. In the Hebrew Bible, these three holidays are called “agricultural festivals” and “historical events in the history of the Jewish people.” In biblical times, these three holidays were also when people went to the old Temple in Jerusalem. Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot are the names of these three holidays.

Three holidays

God told the Israelites in the Old Testament, “All your men shall appear three times a year before the Lord your God in the place that God will choose, on the festivals of Pesah (Passover), Shavuot (the Feast of Weeks), and Sukkot.” This place was probably the Temple in Jerusalem (the Festival of Booths). They will show up with nothing. Each person will bring a gift that fits the blessings the Lord your God has given you. In this passage, God says that he wants all male Israelites to go to Jerusalem (which is why these festivals are called “pilgrimages”) and have the priest offer the animal sacrifice required for each of them. In this passage, the Torah only talks about men.

This is because, in the past, women did not have the same legal or religious standing as men. Even though this was left out, women had the same religious and spiritual duties as men when it came to making sacrifices for thanksgiving and making up for their sins. When Israel finally moved into the land, God wanted to constantly remind them that they were passing through this world and that He, not the ground, was their proper inheritance. So, the Lord made Jerusalem the place where he was most present on earth and told them to go there three times a year to worship him at thanksgiving feasts like the Passover. Jesus’ public ministry happens against the backdrop of these frequent journeys. The Holy City was already very holy, but Christ’s blood made it even more sacred for all time.

The Three Jewish Pilgrimage Festivals are: 

  • Passover – Celebrates the Exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt, as well as the beginning of the new planting season after the winter rains in Israel, since it falls in the early spring. 

  • Shavuot – Biblically, this is solely an agricultural celebration. Falling exactly seven weeks after Passover, which places it occurs at the time of the late spring harvest.  [Shavuot as a celebration of the giving of the Torah is a post-biblical development.] 

  • Sukkot – Celebrates the wandering of the Israelites in the desert for 40 years, when they had to rely only upon God for food and protection. This also celebrates the last harvest festival before the onset of the winter rains in the land of Israel. It falls five days after Yom Kippur, usually in mid-autumn. At the conclusion of Sukkot, the holidays of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are celebrated.


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Literal Pilgrimages

 “We are invited to make a pilgrimage – into the heart and life of God.” 

Dallas Willard 


Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” 

John 14:6 NRSV 

As a Literary Theme

The subject of pilgrimage is talked about in many of the writings that make up the Christian Bible. It’s a complex idea that includes things like a journey, being sent away, living as a pilgrim or sojourner, and looking for a home.
The Book of Genesis, which is part of the Old Testament and comes from Judaism, tells the story of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden after they disobeyed God by eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. This story is central to how Christians think about pilgrimage.
It turns out that the Fall of Adam and Eve had a lot of effects. Sin means that they and their descendants must live as exiles on a harsh and unfriendly planet, away from God and each other. Cain, Adam and Eve’s oldest son, kills his younger brother Abel out of jealousy when God says that Abel’s gift to God is better than his own. God sends Cain further away from his home and family as a punishment.

Old Testament Models

Several Old Testament trips had spiritual connotations. Abraham’s trip and the Exodus from Egypt highlight how crucial it is to believe and obey God.
Abraham, a significant figure in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, leaves his house to find a place God will show him. His determination to obey God makes him a “pilgrim” or “sojourner”
Israelites leave Egypt and travel through the wilderness to Canaan. They confront trials and God’s guidance.
The long trip through the desert to the Promised Land is a paradigm for the Christian’s trek from a damaged world to heaven. Over time, Jerusalem became a location to encounter God. All Israelite men had to travel to Jerusalem for Passover, Weeks, and Booths, and their families often accompanied them. Exile made travels to Jerusalem emotionally and spiritually vital.


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The Exodus Pattern 

The Exodus wasn’t the first biblical deliverance. Abram and Sarai traveled to Egypt during a famine, and the Lord plagued Pharaoh and his household for marrying Sarai. Pharaoh ordered Abram to leave when he realized Sarai was his wife, not his sister. This parallels the Ten Plagues God brought to convince Pharaoh to release the Israelites.

This exodus pattern recurs throughout the Bible, from Lot’s flight from Sodom through Jacob’s stay with Laban. God delivers Israel from Egypt in Exodus, following the patriarchs.

Exodus has several connected stages

    • The people of God have to leave their homes because of a threat.
    • The Serpent tries to hurt the Woman and her offspring.
    • Misinformation is used to fool the Serpent.
    • God’s people are enslaved.
    • God helps his people while punishing those who hurt them.
    • God saves his people by stepping in.
    • The Serpent puts the blame on the good and accuses them.
    • God makes the false gods look bad.
    • The people of God leave with what their enemies have given them.
    • God brings his people to the Holy Land.
    • A place of worship is set up.

The Exodus Journey

During the escape, God revealed his covenant identity. God reveals himself via the exodus by revealing his name at the burning bush, sending plagues upon Egypt, revealing the Law at Sinai, and delivering his people. Exodus reveals God’s character and commitment to his people.

It’s as if God stamped his signature on a blank canvas labeled ‘Exodus’ before creating a masterpiece. Exodus proves God’s authority over other gods. God beats all the Egyptian gods in every aspect of creation. God exhibits his strength from the life-giving Nile to the heavenly sun. By the time the people reach Sinai, they’ve seen God’s constancy, compassion, might, infinite reach, and majesty. The Law begins by reminding Israel of God’s exodus labor.

Passover, which commemorates the Exodus, is fundamental to Israel’s identity.

The exodus inspires prophetic hope. The migration memorial is retroactive and foreshadows a future departure. Prophets like Isaiah used the exodus to foretell a future deliverance for God’s people. The exodus was a declaration of God’s good purpose for his people—that they might serve him without fear all their lives—and each celebration of the exodus looked forward to that day.


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The Pilgrimage of Moses to Freedom 

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. 

Nelson Mandela 


For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 

Galatians 5:1 NRSV 


Moses is famous in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, so many of us know his story. For discussion’s sake, though, and especially in the context of Prophetic Pilgrimages, it would be good to review the Exodus in a general way.

The Book of Exodus says that Moses was born at a time when his people, the Israelites, who were a small group of slaves, were growing in number, and the Egyptian Pharaoh was worried that they might join with Egypt’s enemies. No one cared about Joseph’s actions to save Egypt from the great famine. When the Pharaoh told all newborn Hebrew boys to be killed, Moses’ Hebrew mother, Jochebed, hid him. He did this because the Pharaoh wanted to reduce the number of Israelites.

Through the Pharaoh’s daughter, who the Midrash calls Queen Bithia, the child was taken in after being found in the Nile river and raised as part of the Egyptian royal family. She named the baby Moses, which means “drawn out of the water” in Hebrew and “son” in Egyptian. This was the first step in God’s plan to end 400 years of slavery for these people. Moses grew up in the palace of the pharaoh. There, he learned to read and write, which prepared him to write the first five books of the Bible. Even though he was happy in the palace, he longed to see his own people as he got older. When he saw an Egyptian overseer beating a Hebrew slave, he hit the Egyptian and killed him.

The Start of Moses’ Journey

When the pharaoh found out that Moses had killed the man, he ordered to have Moses killed. Moses ran across the Red Sea to the land of Midian. When he got there, he found seven daughters coming to a well to get water for their father’s flock. Shepherds tried to get them to leave, but Moses stood up for them. After his daughters told him what had happened, he invited Moses to dinner and married off his daughter Zipporah. They had a son, and they named him Gershom, which means “stranger in a foreign land.” Moses became a shepherd in Midian.

One day, as he was taking care of his sheep on Mount Horeb, he met the Angel of the Lord, who spoke to him from a burning bush (which he regarded as the Mountain of God). He told Moses to go back to Egypt and lead his people there. Moses asked God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and get the Israelites out of Egypt?” God replied, “I AM what I AM. “I AM has sent me to you,” tell the Israelites.

Going Back to Egypt

God told Moses to return to Egypt and ask for the Israelites to be freed from slavery. Moses said he couldn’t speak well, so God gave Moses’s brother Aaron the job of speaking for him. He returned to Egypt to do what God told him to do, but God made the Pharaoh say no. The Pharaoh finally gave in after God sent ten plagues to Egypt. Moreover, Moses led the Israelites to the border of Egypt, but once they were there, God hardened the Pharaoh’s heart again so that he could destroy the Pharaoh and his army at the Red Sea Crossing as a sign of his power to Israel and the rest of the world.

No one in Pharaoh’s army made it out alive. When the Israelites saw the dead Egyptian soldiers on the beach and saw how powerful the Lord was against Egypt, they feared the Lord. They had faith in God and in Moses, who was his servant.

The Longest Journey

Finally, after Moses led the Israelites to victory over the Amalekites, who were thought to be the descendants of Esau, Jacob’s brother, Moses led the Israelites on the Exodus, a forty-year journey to freedom. This was to be the end of Abraham’s long journey to the Promised Land, which had begun many years before. During the Exodus, the Lord made it clear that He was the God of the Israelites. He said, “I will make you my own people, and I will be your God.” Then you will know that I am your God, the Lord, who saved you from slavery in Egypt.”


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A Prototype for Faith

An Example of Faith

Abraham was told to leave what he knew best and trust that God would show him a different way. Everyone who comes to God in faith is called to turn away from old ways of living and follow God. God calls us to a commitment to leave sin behind and not return.

Abraham knew where he came from because he was a pilgrim. He left the Chaldean city of Ur with his father, nephew, wife, children, and whatever else he could carry. Furthermore, he left a place where people worshipped things that were not gods. Astrology, superstitions, and honoring a moon goddess have done every day. Even though it would make sense for Abraham to feel sad about leaving his home country, however, he was leaving a spiritual wasteland.

As he walked around Canaan, he would be a stranger in a strange land. His religion was not the same as the native Canaanites’ religion. He didn’t have the same morals as those in Canaan. The people of Canaan didn’t understand why he lived. He lived in tents and never tried to build a house or live in a city. Even though he got along well with the Canaanites, did honest and fair business with them, and was known for his hospitality, he didn’t try to be like them and become one of them. He was happy to be a nomad who moved around and lived in tents and small booths. His family did this for about a hundred years.

Pilgrims move around from one place to the next.

His faith in what God had promised kept him going and helped him be happy. He looked past this life to a city in heaven. He didn’t have to be tied down to this life because of the vision. With his mind on the city in heaven, he was happy to live as a stranger in a tent. He knew God would give him a better inheritance than anything in this sinful world.  The Bible says that Abraham and other men and women of faith were “seeking a country of their own… a better country, that is, a heavenly one.”

Despite not receiving the promise during their lifetimes, they all remained faithful until death. The security of God made them willing to walk around for the rest of their lives. Eventually, they could always go back home because they had their sights set on a better country than the one they were in or had left.

Pilgrims move around from one place to the next. What do we do? We are strangers and travelers on this earth when we become God’s children and citizens of his heavenly kingdom. Like Abraham was said to “dwell in tents,” we understand that even our physical bodies are temporary dwelling places for our spirits.

God is proud of people who keep their faith even when they don’t get what they were promised.

Pilgrims have a place they want to go. Abraham first went to Canaan. Later, when he got there, he kept going to keep looking for the city in heaven. Our pilgrimage today calls us to a life of purity and holiness. Like the English pilgrims who helped settle our country, our language, dress, manner of living, and purpose should be different from that of the world. Following live and act by faith so that, like Abraham, God will one day be happy to acknowledge us in the same way that He did Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

On their way, pilgrims sometimes end up in places where people are hostile. As believers, we now live in a land that doesn’t respect our faith and doesn’t want what our hearts desire. We long for the peace and comfort of our Father’s home. The saints are going to a beautiful city in the sky. Abraham was happy to think about where he was going. It was everything to him and helped him get through the trip. We are headed for the same city Abraham sought, built by the hand of God, eternal, in the heavens, reserved for us.

God is proud of people who keep their faith even when they don’t get what they were promised. Moreover, This is because God has something better planned for all of us so that only with us would they be perfect.

As Abraham traveled worldwide, the Lord was his best travel companion. He was with him every step of the way. He liked being close to God and sharing with him. Abraham is an excellent example of a man who lived his whole life based on his faith.



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A Pilgrimage Requires Sacrifice

A Sacrifice

Stepping out in faith carried its risks. Abraham had to leave everything safe and comfortable about his home in Haran. At 75 years old, he had to travel thousands of miles to a land where he would be known only as a foreigner—being a pilgrim required of Abraham a sacrifice: a sacrifice of time, safety, comfort, identity, and control.  Abraham was no longer dictating his life; he surrendered power to God by choosing the pilgrim’s life. 

Action and Pilgrimage

Abraham’s faith is impressive.  It was more than just mental agreement or sentiment. He obeyed God. The intensity and level of Abraham’s faith are described in the manner of his obedience.  

First, Abraham obeyed immediately:  He responded to God’s call to leave his home in Ur, of the Chaldees.  His instant obedience stands out against those who rationalize and procrastinate out of doing what God clearly demands. 

Second, he obeyed, not knowing where he was going: He believed God would give him what was best for him. He had confidence in Jehovah’s words, which were enough for him. 

The Destination

Although he left with the firm promise of an inheritance of land, he did not immediately receive it. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob never owned the land God promised. Similarly, they all died before the promise was fulfilled. More so, the Bible indicates that the only property in Canaan that Abraham ever owned was the small parcel of land he used to bury Sarah, his wife.

Abraham seemed to have a keen sense of what made a sacred place. In an era where there were no shrines, Abraham set up his own: 

“The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring, I will give this land.” So he [Abram] built an altar there to the Lord who had appeared to him. From there, he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.”

In any place where Abraham sought or had a profound experience of God, he set up a shrine and an altar. Moreover, the pilgrimage was not for him just about the destination, but he was constantly paying attention to where he experienced God on the journey. Sometimes when we travel, we forget that every moment and every place has the potential to be holy.  And so, we get so caught up in our expectations of what we will experience at our goal that we do not recognize or mark the places along the way that are equally holy. It is not popularity that makes a place holy – only the presence of God can do that. 

Throughout the rest of his life, Abraham was a wanderer. Because there was nothing else constant in his life, Abraham had to cling to his faith in God. Moreover, he was a resident alien: the world was not his home. Also, he lived detached from his permanent residence in anticipation of a better place. Just as Abraham’s faith is a prototype of what God expects of us, we are called to live as sojourners. 



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The Pilgrimage of Abraham to the Promised Land

“I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the promised land! I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land.” 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 


“Remember the word that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, saying, ‘The Lord your God is providing you a place of rest, and will give you this land.’ 

Joshua 1:13 NRSV 

Abraham, formerly Abram, is the common patriarch of the Abrahamic religions. In Judaism, he is regarded as the founding father of the covenant of the pieces, the special relationship between the Jewish people and God; in Christianity, he is regarded as the prototype of all believers, Jewish or Gentile; and in Islam, he is viewed as a link in the chain of prophets that begins with Adam and ends with Muhammad.

Abraham’s Pilgrimage

In the book of Genesis, we find the story of how the Lord told Abram to make a pilgrimage to the Promised Land: 

 The Lord told Abram, “Leave your country, your people, and your father’s household, and go to the land I will show you. 

I will make you into a great nation 

and I will bless you 

I will make your name great, 

and you will be a blessing, 

I will bless those who bless you, 

and whoever curses you, I will curse, 

and all peoples on earth 

will be blessed through you.” 

            So Abram left, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him.  Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran.  He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated, and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan and arrived there. 

The Foreigner

The term “pilgrimage” derives from the Latin word peregrinus, which means “resident alien” or “foreigner” and can also indicate “to journey over a long distance.” When we think about pilgrimage in the Bible, the first person that comes to mind is Abraham. His pilgrimage was uncommon in modern terms. Most of the holy locations had not yet earned their holy reputations. He lived before most of the world’s main religions were created and was the founder of Judaism. There were no prominent shrines to visit or saints to revere.

Abraham also brought his entire family and everything he owned. He did this because, unlike the modern pilgrim, he had no intention of returning from his journey.



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