“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. 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.
And he journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the LORD … So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the LORD“ (Genesis 12:7, 8; 13:3-4, 18).
Several applications come to mind as I read over these verses. First, Abraham obviously knew God intimately. We can presume that he was taught the ways of God from his childhood – from his father Terah and his grandfather Nahor. We could conjecture that these truths were faithfully taught all the way from Noah, through his son Shem, and through every single generation up to Abraham. That’s a lot of generations, and a lot of time (since people lived longer back then). But the truth must have been passed down faithfully, in order for Abraham to have such a strong faith in the one true God. There was a lot of apostasy already going on; many false gods and idols were being worshiped, many people were rebelling against God (remember the Tower of Babel?). But that one family, at least, stayed faithful to the truth. What does that teach us about our need to teach others? Any one of those generations could have turned away from God and towards idols. It would have been easy, for they were certainly surrounded by it, even as we are today. But they stood firm. They held fast to what God had commanded their ancestors, and what He had promised them. And they taught their children, and lived out their faith in such a way that their descendants continued to follow in it. And the descendants, too, were faithful to follow. Each one of them could have turned aside from his father’s instruction, but none of them did. Each of them remained faithful to God, and their lineage culminated in an incomparable honor, as the Messiah was eventually born of their descendants.
Even those of us who have no children (yet) are constantly being watched by others around us, being observed as we respond to life’s circumstances, and being followed at least in part by those under our influence. Every one of influences someone, and teaches them by our examples if not by our very words. We may not have children in the physical sense, but as we grow older and more mature, we always have the opportunity for children in a spiritual sense, children in the faith. And, though we may not have a physical family to pass on our ancestral heritage, we certainly all have a spiritual family to whom we can pass our spiritual heritage. We can determine to remain faithful to our ancestors in the faith (those of Scripture, even if not our immediate families). We can follow the truths that are set forth for us in the Word of God. We can teach others those truths, and live out our faith so that they will follow in our footsteps, even as Paul wrote in his epistles to be “imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
I say that Abraham’s ancestors must have remained faithful to God, because he had to learn obedience to God’s commands from someone. He had to learn God’s requirements for worship, and His consequences for disobedience, from someone. We know that he did, for we read so many times that Abraham responded to God’s promises, blessings, and mercy in worship that was according to God’s requirements (unlike Cain, who offered sacrifice according to his own preferences). Time after time, as God promised land to Abraham’s descendants, as He guided him to Canaan (the “promised land”), as He led him out of Egypt and back to Canaan, as He reaffirmed His promise of blessing to Abraham- he responded to God by building altars, offering sacrifices, and communing with Him. He remained faithful to the God of his ancestors. And as he continued to bless the name of God, he himself was blessed by God.
But what do we do? I suspect too many of us are too often like the nine lepers healed by Christ; who, when they were healed, went on their way to do their own business, never turning back to offer gratitude and praise to the One who healed them, the One who gave them back their lives and livelihoods. I suspect that too often, we notice the blessing of God, and essentially shrug our shoulders and go on our merry way. We count our spiritual heritage as insignificant. Moreover, we expect Him to bless us, so we take it as our “wages” for being “good Christians.” And yet, it is not of ourselves that He blesses us: remember, Scripture tells us that He sends rain on the just and the unjust, and that “it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Matthew 5:45; Romans 9:16). Certainly, the wicked have no reason to expect His outpouring of mercy. And yet they receive it, just as the righteous receive it. How much more ought we, the righteous, to pour out our gratitude before Him and praise and worship Him for all that He is and all that He does? We have been given so much; we have a rich spiritual heritage stretching back over 4000 years, all the way back to Abraham (as Paul says in Romans 4, all who are in Christ are considered the children of Abraham). We have the freedom to approach a holy God through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. We have a future to hope for, a covenant sealed with His blood that promises us an eternity of abundant life with Him.
And we dare to shrug our shoulders at His blessings. We dare to disregard His promises, to forget how undeserving we are of His amazing mercy and overwhelming love.
We ought rather to follow Abraham’s example, the “father of us all” in the faith (Romans 4:16), to respond in worship to every outpouring of the Lord, to acclaim His greatness and acknowledge His worthiness (and our utter un-worthiness).