Passing the Torch in 2016; Why God Chose Abraham
By: Frank Tunstall
It is a striking fact of ancient history that at the very time God was destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, He was also birthing a new nation from the seed of Abraham and Sarah. Baby Isaac was born the same year Sodom perished in the flames of brimstone from heaven (see Genesis 18 and 19).
For many years I pondered the question, “Why did God choose Abraham?” Surely he wasn’t the only man in his world who feared God. The Bible names one such person. Melchizedek was actually the scriptures’ best type of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah and Great High Priest who was to come. Melchizedek, according to the writer of Hebrews, was a far better type of Christ than was Aaron, for example (See Hebrews 7:1-10).
So why did God pick Abraham and his loyal wife, Sarah?
For a long time I answered my question by saying God knew Abraham would be a man of faith who would become the Father of all people of faith. That was a right answer, but I never felt fully satisfied with it. My discontent continued because I understood there were 1800 years between Abraham and the birth of Jesus as the promised Messiah.
Abraham believed God, no question about that (Genesis 15:6). But how do you pass the torch for almost two millennia and keep it as pure and holy and pristine in its eighteenth century, as it was when Abraham first received those covenant promises from God?
In ancient culture, each father in the home carried the primary duty to raise up and instruct his children. So each dad in each generation was responsible to pass the torch.
One day the Holy Spirit blessed me to discover a marvelous passage in the Genesis story. I had read it many times but it had never clicked. That special day it did. The passage is Genesis 18:18-19:
“Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord, by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him” (Genesis 18:18-19 NIV).
The Message Bible paraphrases this statement as follows:
“Abraham is going to become a large and strong nation; all the nations of the world are going to find themselves blessed through him. Yes, I’ve settled on him as the one to train his children and future family to observe God’s way of life, live kindly and generously and fairly, so that God can complete in Abraham what he promised him” (Genesis 18:18-19, MSG).
“I have chosen him…” God said. But why?
Because he will live out the faith in his own life and he will successfully pass the torch.: “He will direct his children and his household after him.”
And what will he direct them to do? “To keep the way of the Lord, by doing what is right and just.”
And what will be the results of that walk of faith? “…the Lord will be able to bring about for Abraham what he has promised him” – ultimately, Mary’s baby, the Messiah.
We readily say Abraham is the father of the faithful. In fact, the statement in Genesis 15:6, “Abraham believed God and he credited it to him as righteousness,” is the “John 3:16” of the Old Testament. Genesis 15:6 capsules the theology of Paul’s letters to the churches in Galatia and Rome. It also summarizes the New Testament plan of salvation, making it the gospel in the Old Testament.
We could just as readily say Abraham is one of the greatest teachers in all history. He not only believed those covenant promises himself, he deeply and passionately wanted his children to believe them too. He fully understood that generations of time would be required to fulfill all of the promises. God would not be able to do everything He had promised if the torch was not successfully passed to the succeeding generations.
THINK ABOUT IT: Abraham’s nephew, Lot, is a classic example of a home with a one-generation faith. The Apostle Peter described Lot as a “righteous man’ (2 Peter 2:7-8), but Lot showed no ability to pass the torch to his two daughters.
Are their families in your church that are one-generation-in-the-faith families?
Abraham and Sarah understood what Lot never fully appreciated – the requirement of multiple generations of faith. So Abraham and Sarah taught Isaac everything they knew about God’s covenant with Abraham. Abraham also lived about fifty years longer than Sarah and had some time to help Isaac begin to pass the torch to his grandchildren.
Abraham understood, and taught Isaac that walking in faith embraced much more than solely his own relationship with God. Faith also meant communicating the vision so successfully, passing the torch so wisely, telling the story so passionately over and over and over, and over and over again, until the children embrace it too.
THINK ABOUT IT: Children have not caught it until they also accept the responsibility to pass the torch to their children, in an unbroken chain.
But how long do you keep that up? To five generations? Abraham would answer, “I know God made special promises to me, and we must keep passing the torch until the promises are fulfilled.”
Do you mean 20 generations? “I mean as long as it takes.”
Do you mean 30 generations? “I mean as long as it takes.”
How many times was it necessary to pass the torch?
Matthew wrote “there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ” (Matthew 1:17).
It took forty-two generations of waiting and teaching before Mary conceived in her virgin womb God’s ultimate promise to Abraham – God’s one and only Son, our Savior and Messiah.
Please think about it another way. The sons of Abraham, the Israelites, should have been wiped off the face of the earth millennia ago.
Four hundred years of cruel bondage in Egypt didn’t wipe them out; instead they actually became stronger. Why? As you ponder the why, consider this example – the powerful instruction in Joseph-the-teacher’s last words to his family:
24 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” 25 And Joseph made the sons of Israel swear an oath and said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place” (Genesis 50:24-25). [See Exodus 13:19, that shows how Moses, some 400 long, long years later, remembered that oath and did exactly what Joseph had asked!]
The Philistines had Israel on her knees when King Saul died in battle, but couldn’t deliver the death blow (See 1 Samuel 31). Why?
Nebuchadnezzar invaded Jerusalem and dragged the people off to Babylon in a cruel, ancient Trail of Tears. Jews fell out like flies along the way, dying on that 500-mile death march. Only the strongest made it to Babylon. But the dream lived on. Why?
After they arrived they hung their harps on the willow trees and wept when they remembered Zion (Psalm 137:1-2). So why did Babylon fail to wipe them out?
Haman the Amalekite in the story of Esther aimed for the genocide of the Jewish race under Persian rule and failed. Why?
Rome never broke the Jewish spirit. Her legions could not successfully motivate the Israelites to forsake their deeply seated faith in the covenant promises of God to Abraham. Why?
The Israelite people themselves failed God and backslid many times over the centuries, but their apostasy did not wipe out the dream. Why?
The answer is simple: a remnant always remained that believed God’s covenant promises to Abraham. Those survivors kept teaching the covenant to their children and grandchildren. The light never fully went out.
Instead, the Apostle Paul wrote, “In the fullness of the time, God sent forth his son, made of a woman, made under the law, that he might redeem those under the law.”
The gift of teacher just seems to be in the genes of the Jewish people. Their dads and moms, led by the dads, will pour into their children, generation after generation after generation, a deep and profound sense of appreciation of God’s covenant promises to Abraham. This faith in the promises of God ultimately brought the Messiah into the world.
THINK ABOUT IT: Joseph and Mary believed those covenant promises as passionately as Abraham and Sarah in that first generation of faith 2,000 years earlier. When Gabriel made the announcement to Mary, she wasn’t at all taken aback by what he said; she had a deep conviction that Messiah was coming. Her concern was “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34). Amazing faith!
The story hasn’t ended. Abraham’s faith gave us Jesus the Messiah, and the gospel light continues to burn brightly around the world.
Regarding Abraham’s blood descendants, the Apostle Paul said God has not finished with Abraham’s seed. Instead, one day “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26).
It is one of the great lessons of history that the Jewish people are alive today because in every generation they always seem to get one thing right. Their dads and moms, combined with their rabbinic schools, will teach their children the covenant promises; they will pass the torch.
Hitler tried in World War II to wipe the Jews out too. But the Nazi Third Reich died with Hitler’s suicide. As for the Jews, the nation of Israel is thriving as an almost seventy-year-old Jewish state!
Yes, four thousand years of history have come and gone and the dream lives on.
THINK ABOUT IT: Your children, dear reader, and grandchildren, and great grandchildren: you have the opportunity to bequeath to them a wonderful heritage. The same Jesus Christ who saved you is the Son of God who died on the cross to save them, and the whole world.
At the start of this New Year, dads and moms, I ask you, are you a parent like Lot? He was a one-generation believer because he did not rear his children to pass the torch.
Or does what God said to Abraham – can it also be said about your parenting? “I have chosen him so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord, by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
Will you teach it so effectively that your children will keep on teaching it, in an unbroken chain of faith, generation after generation after generation, until one day. . .
“The Lord will himself come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore, comfort one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18).