WHY GOD CHOSE ABRAHAM, An Appeal to Fathers
By: Frank Tunstall, D. Min.
Why did God choose Abraham and his loyal wife, Sarah? The answer to that question frames a powerful challenge to fathers as we come to Father’s Day, 2018.
In ancient culture, the father in the home carried the primary duty to instruct his children. It also meant each dad in each succeeding generation was responsible to pass the torch.
Three kinds of parenting are presented in Abraham’s story. The first is the account of Abraham’s son, Ishmael. Abraham’s wife, Sarah, agreed for Hagar, her servant girl, to mother the child with Abraham, because Sarah was barren. It was a surrogate motherhood relationship, and the baby was to become Sarah’s son. But it quickly became apparent the plan was falling apart.
Ishmael grew up in a dysfunctional family, split right down the middle regarding matters of inheritance and religion. The record seems clear that Hagar, who was an Egyptian woman, never forsook her Egyptian gods or bonded in faith to God’s covenant with Abraham, that pointed straight to the birth of Messiah (Genesis 12:1-3; 15:18-19; Galatians 3:16-19). Hagar was a strong woman who, after she gave birth, despised Sarah and refused to submit to her. Instead, she wanted to replace Sarah (Genesis 16:4-5).
Abraham loved his firstborn son, but his efforts to train him in the covenant were a cold failure amid that kind of family strife.
When baby Isaac was miraculously born to Sarah and Abraham, division in the home became even more apparent. Then, when Isaac was weaned, and Ishmael was caught poking fun at the child at the weaning party, Sarah had taken enough. She confronted Abraham with a stiff demand: “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac” (Genesis 21:10).
Sarah’s ultimatum “destressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. But that same night God said to Abraham, ‘Do not be so distressed about the boy and your maidservant. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of the maidservant into a nation also, because he is your offspring’” (Genesis 21: 11-13).
The bottom line was that God’s promises to Abraham looked forward about 1,800 years to the birth of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. Messiah would have never been born to Abraham’s descendants if Ishmael had received the inheritance and the covenant blessing.
To Abraham’s eternal credit, he awoke the next morning and obeyed the revelation of God to him by sending Hagar and Ishmael away in a permanent disinheritance. To some this act seems harsh, but Abraham had to make the clean break, put an end to the severe division in the family, and recommit to the covenant that ultimately included the incarnation of God’s only Son almost two millennia later.
God was fair to Hagar and revealed Himself to her twice. In contrast, Sarah never did get a direct word from God (Genesis 16:7; 21:17-19). Sarah received all of her revelation from her husband. When Abraham told her what God said, she took what he reported at face value, as if she had heard it from God herself. This kind of faith in God, and trust in her husband, helps to explain how Sarah earned the name, “mother of nations” (Genesis 21:16).
The second model of parenting is the account of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac’s father and mother, after unity came into their home. It was a new day; the family was living in a totally new atmosphere. The sharp tension was gone.
Now for the question, why did God choose Abraham. Surely there were other God-fearing people in Abraham’s day. One of them is even named. Melchizedek, king of Salem (Jerusalem) was Abraham’s contemporary. Abraham even paid tithes to Melchizedek; but God chose Abraham (Genesis 14:18-20; Hebrews 7:5-9).
I pondered why for a long time. Then, 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. It restates the covenant and answers the “WHY” question:
“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).
“I have chosen him…” God said. But why? Because he will live out the faith in his own life and 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.”
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 (Galatians 3:16-19).
We readily affirm 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. The verse also summarizes the New Testament plan of salvation “by grace through faith,” making it the gospel in the Old Testament.
Abraham was a man great in faith, He was also 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. Abraham heard God when he said the torch would have to passed down “to generations after him.” Only then could God fulfill everything He had promised.
Abraham’s primary method of teaching was memorization. Abraham told Isaac what God said to him, and then retold it, and retold it, and retold it, and retold it, until Isaac could repeat it word for word. Abraham also lived about fifty years longer than Sarah and probably 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. It also included future generations.
Abraham’s success certainly included repeating the often-told story. But in addition, the Holy Spirit actively backed the covenant through the centuries, regularly revealing God to Abraham’s descendants. For only two examples: Jacob met God in a dream with a rock for his pillow as he ran for his life from Esau, his brother. Moses met God on the back side of the desert and actually heard God speaking to him out of a bush on fire that was not consumed. And the list goes on.
Dads, think about it. Your children have not caught it until they also accept responsibility to pass the torch to their children, in an unbroken chain.
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. In every one of those forty-two generations a remnant always remained that had memorized it. These survivors kept teaching the covenant to their children and grandchildren until they memorized it. Even in the darkest days of Israel’s history, 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” (Galatians 4:4-7).
Simply put, the spiritual gift of teacher 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 for God’s covenant promises to Abraham.
When the time came for Baby Jesus to come into the world, 1800 long years later, Mary no doubt had memorized the story too, and believed it as passionately as did Abraham and Sarah. Mary was not at all taken aback at what Gabriel announced to her, that God had selected her as Messiah’s earthly mother. Her only question was how? “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34).
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 and pass the torch. Hitler tried in World War II to gas the Jews into extinction, but the Third Reich died with the surrender of Nazi Germany in 1945. As for Israel, the nation is thriving as a seventy-year-old Jewish state.
I am convinced that multiple thousands of God-fearing dads, in America and around the world, are trying their best to pass the torch of faith. In addition, many other fathers want to teach their children, but they did not themselves have good role models, and need training. It is also true that many granddads have found it necessary to step into the gap and do their best to finish rearing grandchildren. None of us are perfect at parenting. King David certainly walked through some painful seasons with his sons, no doubt because of his own sin with Bathsheba.
Abraham himself, encouraged by his wife, made a very poor decision when he tried to get an heir by Sarah’s Egyptian maidservant. But Abraham and Sarah did get a second chance, and that time they got it right, with Isaac. Their story hasn’t ended. Abraham’s faith ultimately gave us Jesus the Messiah, and the gospel light continues to burn brightly around the world. Yes, four thousand years of history have come and gone since Abraham, and the dream lives on.
Abraham’s nephew, Lot, is a classic example of a third model of parenting. I characterize it as a one-generation faith. The Apostle Peter described Lot as a “righteous man’ who was “distressed” by Sodom’s sins (2 Peter 2:7-8 NIV). But Lot showed no ability to pass the torch to his two daughters. Lot’s trust in God died with him.
Fellow dads, do you know any homes that are one-generation-in-the-faith families?
Please, beloved fathers, I appeal to you. Begin now if you haven’t already; step up to the plate and begin to pass the torch. As you do, make sure your children know they must pass the torch to their children too, in an unbroken chain of faith, generation after generation, until the Lord comes back for us all (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18).