Were starting a new series today, Patriarchs: the Faith and Failings of our Fathers. I see a four-fold rationale for why this study will be beneficial to our church.
- Many in our church and culture suffer from “father wounds” - emotional or psychological distress stemming from the failings of parental figures in their lives. It is all too common to point to the past failings of others as being either an excuse for present behaviour, or to be determinative of future destiny, rather than to soberly examine how God has used both the good and wicked actions of our fathers to bring about His plan in our lives. This is a call to faithfulness rather than victimhood.
- Many parents in our congregation suffer from the fear that we will mess up our children’s lives or the guilt that we already have. Although God does not excuse wickedness and calls us to repentance of that which is wicked, we can be encouraged in our repentance that God will even use our failings as parents to bring out his purposes. In short, we can learn from the positive and negative examples in scripture, even while trusting God to bring good out of our failings.
- I have not preached through Old Testament Narrative for some time and thus it is my hope that through this series our congregation will be better equipped to understand how to read, study and teach the Old Testament narrative.
- We will grow in our appreciation of the glorious grace of our God and Saviour, Jesus Christ who is able to “draw straight lines from crooked sticks” through the providential working of His will in us.
Theological Rationale for Sermon Series: The book of Genesis ends with a statement that well sums up the theme of the book: the words of Joseph to his brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” The Book of Genesis is an account not only of the “precious and very great promises” God has made to mankind, but also the providential outworking of those promises through the faith and the failings of the family line of Abraham. Although the sermon series will highlight the faith and failings of our fathers, the theological principle underlying every sermon will be God’s providential outworking of his plan through these imperfect and at time corrupted vessels.
God’s Grace Calls Unlikely People
Gen. 12:1 Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
There is no way for me to express to you how significant these three verses are both in the storyline of the Bible, and indeed world history. While the story of the Bible obviously begins in Genesis 1-11, the call of God to Abraham truly marks the beginning of God’s salvation plan, and indeed in a sense, history as we know it begins with this chapter. Peter, Stephen and Paul, in their sermons in Acts, all trace the story of salvation back to Abraham. In Romans, Galatians, Hebrews, and other part of the New Testament, Abraham’s call and life of faith becomes a model for all others who follow God by faith, even as he is called the father of faith.
Before I get to Abraham, let’s fill in some of that background, in case you haven’t read the first 11 chapters of Genesis for a while. The story of humanity begins with this God who creates everything and works to form and fill all of creation with light and life. He crates mankind in his own image, male and female, to represent him on earth and rule over the created order in perfect peace, and he proclaims all he has created, including the moral order of the universe he has created, very good. And yet the story of this first 11 chapters of Genesis is not one of continual blessing as humankind flourishes under God’s moral order, but of one of continual rebellion against God and his moral order, a continual grasping after the position of authority to call evil evil and good, good. And in our rebellion, the first eleven chapters of Genesis records our human race falling into cycles of violence, oppression, and immorality. It gets so bad that at one point there is only one person left, the only one still called blameless in his generation, and God instructs that man, Noah, to build an ark, to preserve him while God cleanses the earth with water. Yet after the flood, the cycle of rebellion and sin and humanity striving to take God’s place for ourselves continues, and we come to the end of Genesis 11 and again there is no indication that any are still waiting upon the Lord. Abram is like Noah, because it will be through Him that the Lord will bring deliverance, but Abram’s call is completely unlike Noah, in that there is no quality in Abram at all that should suggest why God would choose to extend the grace of his call to salvation to him. Seemingly out of nowhere, Genesis 12 begins, “Now the Lord said to Abram” - not “Abraham found favour in his eyes”, or “Abram was a righteous man” - Just that the Lord determines one day to select Abram as the person to whom He will extend His grace and present with these unimaginable promises.
What do we know of Abram at this point, at the beginning of Genesis 12? We only know two things. One, is that he worshipped the idols of his hometown, Ur of the Chaldeans. Ur was a centre of the worship of Nanna, the god of the moon, and Joshua 24:2 records that Abraham and his father served the gods of the peoples of the land. Unlike Noah, there is nothing at all that distinguishes Abram from anyone else. The other thing we can be pretty confident of regarding Abraham, his wife is barren and past the age of bearing children. He literally represents the end of the line, which is significant because of one other theme that has been introduced in the first 11 chapters of Genesis, which is that God has promised a deliver to come to crush evil and restore peace. This deliverer is described as “the seed of the woman” in Genesis 3:15, and every genealogy in the book of Genesis acts as an arrow pointing to the next candidate as to whom the deliverer may be. Well we are told in Genesis 11:30 that it will not be Abraham’s wife Sarai who will bear the deliverer - it cannot be for she is barren. In other words, Abraham is not presented in the text as a candidate for human flourishing, but as a familial dead-end. In regards to hope for the future, Abraham and Sarai have probably given up on any dreams of passing on a legacy to any children. So that’s Abraham - an blasphemous idol-worshipping man, married to a “dead-end” of a wife. Yet it is to Abram that the Lord speaks and to whom He makes these unbelievable promises.
“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Notice the promise God makes to Abram, and even though, yes, this is probably the most significant passage, regrading the promise of God, I’m only going to mention them today, but will continue to unpack them through this series. Notice all the “I will”s.
- The Promise of Personal Guidance: I will show you
- The Promise of Legacy and Flourishing: I will make of you a great nation
- The Promise of Acclaim: I will make your name great
- The Promise of Influence: I will bless those who bless you
- The Promise of Protection: I will curse those who curse you
- The Promise of Universal Redemption: In you all families of the Earth will be blessed
All are summed up in the simple phrase, I have yet to mention: I will bless you. This is different from the Lord saying to Noah, a righteous man, build me an ark. this is the Lord saying to Abram, a hopeless idolator, I will build you an ark. My promise and my presence will be to you an ark. And I will do this for you. This is why the apostle Paul says about this passage that in this passage the gospel was preached beforehand to Abraham, and why Abraham is called the Father of Faith. This is gospel, not that we are found worthy by God, but that he bestows on us worth by virtue of his grace. Not that we are found righteous, but that being found sinners, he declares us righteous by virtue of his divine authority. Not that we loved him first, but that He loved us first.
God’s Grace Call’s Us to Break From Our Past to Follow His Path
Gen. 12:1 Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.
While God in His grace calls out to Abraham to give him what he does not earn or deserve, His grace does not leave him where he is, but calls him to a clean break from the past, to total separation from all he has known, to set him on a new path, one that is unknown. Notice that God is not bargaining with Abraham, he is not saying if you do this you will get these promises. No, God’s grace makes these promises to Abraham unconditionally. However, while the promise God gives to Abraham is unconditional, the call is non-negotiable. The call is three-fold; Abraham is to leave his country, his kindred, and his father’s house.
There is to be a clean break from his past here. A clean break from the idolatry he has known and the associations he has held, the values he once knew. This is the same call to discipleship that Jesus extends to each of us. Leave your nets, leave your homes, leave your burdens, leave your sins, leave it all and “Follow me”.
And so this call to faith is first a call to total separation from your prior life, values and associations - which is good news in itself, because it means a fresh start. But its scary - its a journey from the known into the unknown - God doesn’t tell Abram where he’ll end up, only that “I will show you”. This is terrifying, because we have to leave the known to trust God in the unknown. Some people say faith is a crutch. Faith isn’t a crutch - its a push. God pushing you out into the unknown. The crutch is staying where you are, staying in your sin, staying in the values and ideas you’ve always known. Staying in the abusive situation, staying in the sins of your fathers, staying in your addictions, staying in your sins that have kept you so comfortable.
This is a high calling and you might say well I don’t want to start this journey with God, not because I don’t know where it will lead, but because I don’t know if I’m strong enough to do it. I don’t know if I’m able to walk by faith in this way. But God gives grace fro the road ahead.
God’s Grace Makes Straight Lines Out of Our Crooked Sticks
See Abram doesn’t start out this man of unsurpassed faith. He begins the life of faith with a little bit of faith a lot of failing sprinkled in. You can see this right in this chapter, which serves as a fitting introduction to the rest of the book.
Gen. 12:4 So Abram went, as the LORD had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5 And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, 6 Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. 8 From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the LORD and called upon the name of the LORD. 9 And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb.
Now Abram does some good things here - some faith-filled things. He gets to the land and pauses, and worships, and hears from the Lord, and builds an alter of remembrance, and he moves through the land and builds another alter, and calls upon the Lord’s name. and here is where he perhaps get’s ahead of himself - because now that he is in the land, perhaps he just expects the blessings to flow - but that’s not the case. He goes toward the Negev, which is a really dry place in the best of seasons, a harsh climate, and perhaps he thinks that because God is with him none of that matters, but then the hard facts of reality hits him and there is a severe famine in the land. So what does he do? Now a mature follower of the Lord might call out to God in the famine, or go back to the place of blessing, back to Bethel or Shechem. Stay in the land God has promised you! Whatever you do - don’t freak out! But Abram freaks out.
Gen. 12:10 Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land.
Now if you’re familiar with the Bible at all, you know that Abram’s already lost this battle. Egypt, in the scripture, is the land of godless, even Satanic strength. Egypt will help you, but she’ll enslave you in the process. So Abram goes down to Egypt and immediately he knows that he has made a mistake, and he is scared to death of what Egypt will do to him.
11 When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, 12 and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” 14 When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. 16 And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels.
Abram’s huge miscalculation: Abram is thinking that if Sarai tells everyone she is Abram’s sister, then the people of Egypt will deal with him honourably and if anyone wants to marry Sarai, they would have to deal with Abram to work out a bride price and all of that. The problem is that once you’re in Egypt, Egypt will take from you first and ask questions later. So Sarai is taken into Pharoah’s house.
And here’s the thing, when God saves us, we still do boneheaded things, because there is a process in which our former ways of thinking become shaped by his word and by his spirit into a new way of thinking. We’d love to think that our life of sanctification and spiritual growth would be like a straight stick, but really it’s more like a crooked stick.
Abraham was thinking like a man of his time - that he was the important one, that he needed to preserve his own life and that the honour and preservation of his wife Sarah were of lesser value. He’s a patriarchal patriarch, he’s lived his life for so long in the ways of the people of Ur, and though God has graciously saved him, his sanctification in incomplete, he’s only just started this life of faith. If his mind would have been more fully transformed, if he were trained in the ways of God, he would have understood that when God gave the promise to him that “I will make of you a great nation” that promise must include Sarai as the partner through whom this nation will come. Sarai is not incidental to the promise made to Abram - she’s his wife. Even more, had Abram been more familiar with God’s story, he would have known that God created woman to be a corresponding helper to the man, for man could not carry out the creation mandate to fill the earth alone. He would have understood that after Adam and Eve fell into sin, God specifically promised that the deliverer would come through the seed of the woman, so he should have been able to put together that when God says to him, from you will come a great nation and in you shall all nations of the earth be blessed, that the blessed one that will deliver the nations will be the seed of the woman, so that if God is making the promise to him, Sarai, is a partner in the deal. But Abram is still thinking like the Patriarchal people around him, doesn’t see his wife as a partner of equal value, and saves his own behind, while she’s taken by another man. And some of you, like Sarai, have been hurt by immature Christians, who are still more formed by the manners of the world, than they are by the ways of Christ. You’re in this place of hurt because someone who claims to be a follower of God has put you there. And it doesn’t matter if they may have thought, like Abraham may have, that they had good intentions, when people act out of worldly values they hurt one another. We get hurt by each other’s crooked sticks.
And now it seems that Abram’s lost every blessing. He wandered from the land God was giving him, and he’s stuck in Egypt. He’ll never become a great nation - his wife has been taken into Pharoah’s house. All of his blessings have become curses. Poor Abraham, he deserves it doesn’t he? Let’s dump on him. But that doesn’t help him, and that doesn’t help Sarai either. What helps? God. God graciously intervenes to protect Sarai even when Abram’s sin leaves her exposed.
Gen. 12:17 But the LORD afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. 18 So Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go.” 20 And Pharaoh gave men orders concerning him, and they sent him away with his wife and all that he had. 13:1 So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb.
Here is the amazing thing. Abram deserves none of this. At the end of the chapter he is back in the land of promise, back with his wife that he should have lost, with more wealth than he started with. This is nothing but grace at every step along the way. And here is the thing we’re going to have to wrestle with every chapter in Genesis, and possible through many hard chapters of our own lives, that “what man intends for evil, God can intend for good.” And you say, but they don’t deserve grace, and guess what, that’s why its called grace. And you say, but doesn’t that excuse evil? No, it recognizes evil, it names evil, it experiences temporary consequences of the evil choices, but it redeems evil and God’s greater purposes are never thwarted. God’s promises are drawn straight through crooked sticks. This is good news, Christian. It means that God is still working out his purposes in you when you do boneheaded things. It means that grace is always waiting to redeem even our messes. Even as he continually calls us to transformation and to a clean break from the life we once knew. We are not yet who we will be, yet that does not make the call to discipleship and holiness any less non-negotiable.