Dear Church Family,
As I was wrapping up my studies last week through the first half of Genesis for our recently-concluded series, In the Beginning … Grace, I came across this gem by Old Testament scholar Gordon Wenham:
“There is no disguising the failures of the chosen line. Noah stumbles. Abraham goes astray more than once. Isaac and Rebekah are partisan. Jacob is at times positively obnoxious, and the author of Genesis does not disguise his disapproval of such conduct. Yet, despite all their sinfulness, God’s chosen are preserved and blessed. God’s saving purpose is not thwarted by human weakness … God chooses the patriarchs not because they are particularly loveable characters but because of his declared intention that in them all the families of the earth should find blessing. So the patriarchs emerge from Scripture not as lily-white heroes but as real men of flesh and blood, red in tooth and claw. And with them and their failings everyone can identify.”
“Red in tooth and claw.” I love that phrase. It’s a reference to the crimson colored fangs and feet of predatory animals as they devour their newly caught prey. It’s an expression that means aggressive, disruptive, even violently self-preserving.
These are words that aptly describe the patriarchs of the Old Testament. The more closely we look at the lives of these people we’re so often told to “be like,” the more clearly we see what they truly were, namely, scoundrels, con artists, polygamists, liars, and cheaters.
And yet, there is something that they are commended for: their faith.
“By faith, Noah … constructed an ark,” we’re told in Hebrews 11. “By faith” Abraham was reconciled to God, the Apostle Paul informs us in Romans 4. It was “by faith” that Jacob bowed in worship to God (Hebrews 11:21). If there’s something to be emulated in these fickle followers of Yahweh, it’s their persevering faith.
J.C. Ryle once wrote: “In walking with God, a man will go just as far as he believes, and no further. His life will always be proportioned to his faith. His peace, his patience, his courage, his zeal, his works—will all be according to his faith.”
But that begs a very important question: how do we nurture such faith ourselves?
The answer is: the same way that our forefathers did:
1) By carefully reflecting on the character of God.
When Noah was commanded to build a sea-going vessel on dry land—a ridiculous notion in the minds of his countrymen—he reflected back on the times he “walked with God” and what he learned about the character of his Creator. And he was consequently overcome with awe, which fueled his faith to obey.
When Abraham was searching for a wife for his son—a past-his-prime bachelor in a marry-early culture—he looked back on God’s faithfulness. “The Lord, the God of heaven,” he concluded, “who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my kindred, and who spoke to me and swore to me, ‘To your offspring I will give this land,’ he will send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there.” Just like Noah, Abraham’s confidence in God’s future plan was buoyed by his reflection on God’s past provision.
2) Through prayers of desperation.
When Isaac and Rebekah found it impossible to conceive, even after twenty years of trying, Isaac prayed to the Lord and the Lord granted his prayer, increasing Isaac’s faith, as he would serve as father of many nations.
Fast-forward to the New Testament: faced with temptations from without and from within, the apostles pleaded with Jesus, “Lord, increase our faith (Luke 17:5).” And He would, enabling them to launch a disciple-making mission that would change the world.
Nothing is more important to us than faith. It is what saves us and keeps us. It is what motivates us to obey, and sustains us through the uneven blows of this broken world. It is faith alone that will make us pleasing to God and productive in His kingdom. It is faith alone that will insure our access into heaven.
And we can rest assured that God will not deny faith to those who sincerely ask for it. The one who seeks, Jesus said, will truly find (Mt. 7:8).
Are you longing for a deeper and stronger faith? Consider the character of the God who saved you. And ask Him to give you the faith you desire. He will surely answer.