If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 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.
The context shows the subjects of the plural pronoun they are Abel, Enoch, Noah and Abraham. Now ponder those facts about those righteous men and how to prevent your own spiritual backsliding. That passage shows that those righteous men would have allowed an opportunity for themselves to backslide, if they had been thinking about their past lives in the country they had left. Instead of their thoughts being on the past, where the devil would certainly try to keep them, those same righteous men were thinking and pondering about something else -- a heavenly country awaiting them.
Again, it says they were longing for a better country -- a heavenly one. That word longing in the Greek can be translated reach out after; long for; covet after; desire. That is where their hearts were and what they truly wanted. They wanted to get into that heavenly country also called New Jerusalem.
It is vital for righteous people today to live like they did. We must guard our thought life, as they did, for that is where the devil will come tempting. Do you remember what happened to the majority of the Israelites, after they had been miraculously delivered by God from cruel Egyptian bondage? They started to think of the so-called good things they had while in Egyptian bondage. Number 11:5 reads:
We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost -- also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.
Many of the Israelites became discontent with God's provisions and wanted to return to Egypt, where their lives were made bitter. Imagine that! The temptation for them was mainly over the fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic that they ate there while in cruel slavery.
Though the Bible isn't clear, certainly it was the devil that reminded the Israelites of these foods and how tasty they can be. Somehow they forgot the misery they had while in Egypt. (The devil didn't remind them of that.) Remember also Lot's wife, who looked back and turned into a pillar of salt (Gen. 19:26). The devil (your enemy) will do the same with you. He will remind you of your past life before you repented and committed your life to Christ.
Folks, the truth is: there is nothing to look back to. If you are truly saved, to look back to your past life is to look back to spiritual death, darkness and slavery to sin while you were on the road to eternal punishment in eternal, unquenchable and raging fire. Only a deceived person would look back and desire such after being delivered and promised a paradise future. The devil wants you in hell with him. He is trying to destroy the glorious future you have prepared by God, for you, beyond the grave. We must walk guarded at all times.
Now, getting back to Hebrews 11:15,16 again. That passage goes on to say because they were longing for a better country, a heavenly one, God was not ashamed to be called their God. We don't usually think that God would be ashamed for anyone to call him his God, but that is not what this is saying. God does seem to be ashamed if people call him his God if they are not longing for the heavenly country now.
The last part of verse 16 is very important. It not only shows that God has prepared a city, namely the holy city New Jerusalem, for the righteous and not himself, but here it describes those who will go there!
Certainly the same had lonely, perplexing and painful trials throughout their life. They wanted to get out of this sin-filled, demon-infested, cursed age and go home to be with their true spiritual family in God's kingdom.
Again, they longed for heaven. Nothing or no one on earth had a grip on their heart. They wanted to go and be with their God. In this life, we could say they were like a fish out of water. They were misfits. Jesus described his disciples in John 17:14 as being hated by the world and not being of this world anymore than he is of this world. Does that describe you? Answer that salvation-related question for yourself.
We also could accurately say, based on Heb. 11:15,16 that the holy city was prepared by the holy God for holy people. Here those holy people are shown to be people who were longing for a much better place to eternally dwell in, which is better by far compared to this life, according to Phil. 1:23. Jesus called it Paradise.
Listen again to Hebrews 11:15,16 with the pronoun they amplified:
If they [Abel, Enoch, Noah and Abraham] had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 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.Isn't that passage filled with precious truths? It would help you to commit those two verses to memory and ponder them regularly. Remember, look ahead and not back. Exciting and wonderful times are awaiting the overcomers - those faithful to God to the end.