As we begin reading the story of Abraham and the early history of his chosen people, we must always keep in mind the real hero of the stories that follow. None of the individuals we are about to read about are included because they were great people. They were included because they are part of the story of our great God.
We need to be reminded of this because it goes against our human nature
We humans have such high opinions of ourselves. Not only of do we think highly of ourselves, as when we silently affirm: “Oh, I’m not really all that bad” or “At least not nearly as bad as…..”, but we are also fond of constructing celebrities. We like to put people on a pedestal, whether they are movie or music superstars or heroes of the faith.
As we move back into Genesis, we find the story of one of the first heroes of our faith Abraham. We know he was the father of the Jewish nation from whom came the Messiah. We know that “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness (Gal. 3:6).”
But now we get to read his story and that of his immediate family, and if we read it without preconceptions, it isn’t a pretty one.
Here is a man who was willing to let his wife be taken into the harem of a Egyptian despot to save his skin, (and this wasn’t the only time he did it). Stop and think for a minute about the horror, the fear, the betrayal that Sarah experienced when treated like this. While Abraham was collecting wealth in Egypt, it was only the intervention of God that got Sarah out of this nightmare situation.
He allows his nephew the “best of the land” and he intervenes when he is captured, but he doesn’t seem to mind that he lived in a totally immoral city, nor do we hear of him coming to his aid when Sodom was destroyed—even though he knew it would happen. He ignores God’s promise by having a child by his servant and the world is still paying the price for this child who “ live in hostility toward all his brothers, (Gen.16:12).”
In the midst of all this he did trust God for his son and was willing to give up his son. God accepted and honored that.
His story continues through his son, Issac who doesn’t seem to do much, who later allows his wife to be taken when he was fearful in the same way his father allowed his wife to be taken (and again, she is rescued only by the mercy of God). He ignores God’s plan as to which son should be his heir and then after explosive family fights sees his sons live in animosity against each other, with Jacob leaving to eventually start his own contentious, troubled family. And the story continues with brothers fighting, betrayal, trials, and God working his plan of protection for a nation in spite of the squabbling of its founders.
In light of these things, what we need to think about as we read
One, the previous listing of the faults of the patriarchs wasn’t an opportunity to bash Bible characters, but that we need to be reminded that the real hero of the story of Abraham, indeed the entire Bible, is never a human. It is always God.
As was said at the start of this article, none of individuals we are about to read about are included because they were great people. They were included because they are part of the story of our great God.
Our great and glorious God is also a long-suffering, kind, and ever merciful God. Grace is not a new concept that suddenly appears in the New Testament. God’s grace is shown from the minutes following man’s sin throughout the entire Old Testament.
By grace God chose Abraham. Why, we don’t know, but it was all God’s gracious choice, not because Abraham earned or deserved it. Having chosen him, God continued though his and his children’s failures, lapses, sins, and tiny moments faith to work out his (God’s) plans and promises. Neither Abraham, Issac, Jacob, or Joseph were great men in and of themselves. Any greatness we attribute to them was because they had a great God.
Two, we all have sins, regrets, and sadness for what we did that we knew we shouldn’t have and didn’t do what we know God wanted us to do. Yet, somehow, some way because of his infinite grace, patience and love, God does not give up on us either.
Because of this, we can trust that no matter how old, weak, or sinful we are, God can use us. No matter how long it takes, no matter how old we are or feel we are, God can still use us for HIS great and glorious plans.
Three, we need to remember God’s grace and mercy in how we treat each other.
Jesus made the application for us as we read not only the coming story of Abraham, but for the rest of the Bible and for our we live our lives daily, when he reminded us that because we have been forgiven, we must forgive others.
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Matt. 6:14-15
How desperately we need God’s forgiveness and accepting love. As just as we know we need it, we must always grant it to the people around us. Not because they deserve it (and none of us do), not because it makes us great or good when we do it, but because we’ve been given mercy by the only true hero in our story, our loving God.
These Old Testament stories also remind us to be patient with each other. It took a long time, (a lifetime in truth) many trials and challenges for the obnoxious, bragging little brother we see in Joseph for him to become the forgiving brother who could say:
But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. Gen. 50:19-21
If our friends, children, or spouses aren’t growing in their Christian lives at the pace we’d like to see—reread some of the Old Testament stories and ponder the patience of God.
Our final response
When you read the stories in the remainder of Genesis, take time to humbly thank God for his grace, mercy, and love to his people then and to us now.
Pray we may all walk worthy of it.