The Man God Started With: Abraham – The Greatest Patriarch
Apart from Jesus Christ, Abraham is probably the most important person in the Bible. Abraham is a giant in Scripture – his stature is far greater than that of Moses, David, or Paul. These latter three were great men, and God used them in great ways, even giving portions of the Scriptures to us through them. But each of them would have agreed without qualification that Abraham was his father in faith.
In the early chapters of Genesis, we read of God’s promise to Abraham that he would be the father of many nations (Genesis 17:4). This was fulfilled physically and spiritually. On the physical side, Abraham became the father of the Jewish people, through whom the Messiah was born; he became the father of the many Arab tribes through his son Ishmael. On the spiritual side, Abraham has become the father of a great host of believers whose numbers are now swelled by Christians of countless tongues and nations.
No one can understand the Old Testament without understanding Abraham, for in many ways the story of redemption begins with God’s call to this patriarch. Abraham was the first man chosen by God for a role in the plan of redemption. The story of Abraham contains the first mention in the Bible of God’s righteousness imputed to man as the sole means of salvation (Genesis 15:6). Matthew includes the genealogy of Jesus in his Gospel in order to trace the beginnings of salvation back to Abraham (Matthew 1:1). Luke declares that the birth of Jesus occurred in response to God’s promise to Abraham (Luke 1:68-73).
Great sections of the New Testament explain the spiritual significance of Abraham. An entire chapter in Romans refers to God’s dealings with Abraham to support the doctrine of justification by grace through faith (Romans 4). Two chapters in Galatians refer to the life of Abraham to prove that salvation is apart from works (Romans 3 and Romans 4). One of the longest paragraphs on faith in the Book of Hebrews is devoted to the life of faith lived by this Hebrew patriarch (Hebrews 11:8-19). Faith stands preeminent in the life of Abraham.
No Good in Abraham
It is impossible to understand Abraham’s faith without realizing that there was nothing in Abraham that commended him to God. God does not look down from heaven to find a person who has a bit of divine righteousness or a bit of faith and then say, “Oh, isn’t it wonderful! I’ve found somebody with a bit of faith. I think I’ll save him.” When God looks down from heaven He sees that all men are without faith, and He passes a universal judgment: “They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Romans 3:12). That included Abraham.
This truth is reinforced by another. Abraham came from a family of idol worshipers, and was undoubtedly an idol worshiper himself. This truth is clearly stated in at least three places in the Bible.
In the last chapter of the Book of Joshua, the aging leader delivers a final spiritual charge to the people of Israel. Joshua begins by reminding them of their pagan past.
Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the river [the River Euphrates] of old, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nahor; and they served other gods. And I took your father, Abraham, from the other side of the river, and led him throughout all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his seed, and gave him Isaac…Now, therefore, fear the Lord, and serve Him in sincerity and in truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the river, and in Egypt (Joshua 24:2-14).
The passage is a black-and-white statement of the fact that Abraham was chosen by God from the midst of a pagan ancestry and that he and Terah had once worshiped false gods.
The same thing is said by Isaiah: “Hearken to Me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the Lord; look unto the rock from which ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit from which ye are digged. Look unto Abraham, your father, and unto Sarah, who bore you” (Isaiah 5:1-2). The whole thrust of these verses is that there was nothing in the ancestry of the Jewish people that could commend them to God.
The third passage that reveals the truth about Abraham’s ancestry is a story from the life of Abraham’s grandson, Jacob. Jacob was a schemer – even his name means “supplanter” – and his underhandedness made his brother angry enough to want to kill him. Jacob was forced to flee for his life. Where was he to go? Jacob did what many people do when they are cast adrift by life – he went back to his roots. For Jacob, that was in Mesopotamia, the place from which his grandfather Abraham had come. There Jacob associated himself with his uncle Laban. In time, he married both of Laban’s daughters, Leah and Rachel, and came to own a large share of the family’s sheep and cattle.
As time passed, bad feelings arose between Jacob and Laban, Jacob decided to return to the land of Canaan, choosing a moment when Laban was away on business. When Laban returned, his nephew, his daughters, and much of the property were gone.
The household gods also were missing. Laban set out in pursuit. When he overtook the band that Jacob was leading, he chided Jacob for this action and accused him of having stolen the idols. A search was made but the idols were not found. Jacob’s wife, Rachel, who had stolen them, had hidden them in her camel’s saddle. This story in Genesis 31 shows that Abraham’s relatives still owned and cherished idols at least three generations after God had called Abraham out of Mesopotamia.
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SOURCE: Crosswalk, James Montgomery Boice