How often have we looked at the patriarchs of the Old Testament with great reverence and maybe even wished we had just a modicum of the faith that they had? The Bible describes the great faith these men and women had and the great accomplishments they achieved because of it. The “Hall of Faith” passage of Hebrews points us to these men and women as examples of what true faith in God looks looks like. If you are anything like me, it is not uncommon to wish we were more like them when we see the struggles we deal with in our own walks. But, are the patriarchs really that special? Were they so much holier than you or I? Or do they have more in common with ourselves than we think? I’d like for us to look at a few of those patriarchs to answer this question. In fact, one family in particular, the one through which the Messiah would one day come. I believe we will learn a lot from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the God whom the served.
Abraham is considered the father of the Jews. He was so esteemed by the Jews in Jesus’ day that they often cited their lineage from him in their debates with Jesus. But what was it about him they were so proud of? True, he had great faith when he believed the promise of God that he and Sarah would one day have a child through which the nations would be blessed. But as time went by, Abraham and Sarah apparently figured God had forgotten his promise, because Sarah offers her handmaiden to her husband through which to conceive the child. Abraham doesn’t even feign an objection, he just does it. This is also the same Abraham that, not once, but twice, failed to believe God’s promise to keep him around long enough to produce this nation that he convinces his wife to say “I’m his sister” to keep from getting killed. Is he really so faithful and holy after all?
Next we get Isaac, the child of promise. Truly a faithful son who, when bound up to be sacrificed, did not fight or argue with his father. Such total faith is something we should all aspire to. Yet, this is the same Isaac that, when Rebekah had twin sons, who knew that the younger, Jacob, was to rule over the older, Esau. Yet, we see his preference for Esau because of his manly hunting skills. Jacob, being more of a mother’s boy, stayed around the tents and cooked. How could he give the blessing to such a son? And Isaac had little positive influence over his family. Jacob tricked Esau out of his birthright for a bowl of stew. Esau purposely married pagan women to irritate his parents. Rebekah orchestrated the deception in which Jacob tricked blind Isaac into believing he was Esau. Then she lied to him later to get Jacob out of town before Esau killed him. Rather than admit she was part of the scheme and was trying to save Jacob, she told him she only wanted Jacob to marry from her family and not the local pagan women. There are reality TV shows that don’t have this much drama going on, and Isaac is one our patriarchs in the faith.
Finally we get to Jacob, from whom the twelve tribes of Israel were born. The father of Judah, the line through which the Messiah was born. The man who saw the ladder coming from Heaven, which was a vision of the coming Christ. The one who wrestled with the Lord and, because of his persistence, had his name changed from Jacob (which loosely means “dirty, sneaky thief”) to Israel (“He strives with God”). Yet Jacob’s life had so many twists and turns, that he lived up more to the name Jacob than Israel. We already discussed his cheating his brother and that he lied to his father in order to get the blessing. After fleeing to his uncle Laban, he falls in love with Rachel, but gets tricked into marrying both Rachel and her sister, Leah. Leah and Rachel start the “baby-making wars” and even start bringing in their personal servant girls to add to the growing list of children. All the while, not a peep comes from Jacob in objection. When he and Laban come to an agreement on payment (an agreement Laban tries to weasel out of), Jacob goes into the process of selective breeding to ensure he obtains a healthy flock. Finally, he decides to flee his uncle without telling him (a time in which Rachel manages to steal Laban’s household “gods” – there’s a discussion for another time!). This results in Laban and Jacob agreeing at Mizpah to never to cross over into each other’s territory and pray God would keep an eye on the other. Gives new meaning to those wonderful little Mizpah medallions that we give to each other doesn’t it? Then after wrestling with the Lord and being blessed with a new name, Jacob still doubts God’s promise to deliver him. He splits his family into multiple groups, sends everyone ahead first, and brings up the rear, testing his brother’s actions. Then, when Esau reveals no animosity toward him and asks Jacob to go home with him, Jacob comes up with a lame excuse that his animals are too tired and weak. He tells Esau to go ahead and he would meet up later. Then he promptly goes and sets up camp in another city. What a character we look to!
Now, there are literally hundreds of similar incidents throughout scripture. We can literally look at every person throughout the Bible and see where they routinely failed to obey or even trust the word of God. So how on earth are we supposed to look to them for guidance and inspiration? The truth is, we don’t! We look to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, just as they did. See, the patriarchs of old received faith just as we in the church today do, as a gift from God. We have no ability within ourselves to be pleasing to God. The patriarchs are living proof of that. If the men God chose to start the nation of Israel and to become the line through which we would receive the messiah couldn’t do it, we don’t have a chance! In fact, because God chose such hopeless cases should be a reason for us to rejoice! It proves that God does not pour out His grace on the basis of what we have to offer. I have to come to realize that when God goes fishing, he doesn’t look for the biggest, best, and most colorful fish. He looks at the rejects, the worthless, the nastiest fish he can find. In fact, he looks for the ones that are belly up, rotting and smell terrible! He looks for the ones that have no value whatsoever because then it is clear that His grace is His alone to give. We can add nothing to it, we can take none of it away. Like those patriarchs who were such a mess, God calls us, cleans us up, makes us fit for His use and brings glory to His name through all of it.
So what is the point of this article? Only this, when you are depressed or bummed out, thinking that you have not nearly done enough for the Lord, know this, you’re right! In the eyes of God, you are a bottom dwelling, scum eating, worthless fish, four days dead, with no value whatsoever! Yet, in His mercy, He has bought you, redeemed you, given you new life, cleaned you up and made you fit for His use. He is glorified because it is His sovereign work in us, and the patriarchs prove it! No one could have looked at this first family of Israel and believed that they had anything to offer God. They were rebellious, lying, backstabbing misfits who would have fit better on the stage of a Jerry Springer episode than in the holy book of a world religion. Yet, because they received faith from God, trusted in His promises and, through that faith, did many wondrous works, we can know that we serve an amazing God who will work an amazing change in our lives as well. We can know that the works we accomplish in faith will be used by God for His glory, and the works we accomplish in the flesh will prove that it was God who did the former. Praise be to our amazing and merciful God, and thanks to Him for using such people and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to do His work.