“One father is more than a hundred schoolmasters.” George Herbert
(3 April 1593 – 1 March 1633) was an English poet, orator, and priest of the Church of England. His poetry is associated with the writings of the metaphysical poets, and he is recognised as "one of the foremost British devotional lyricists.”
For lots of us fathers, our problem was not becoming a father or getting our wife or non wife pregnant. Rather it was more how to be a God pleasing and effective father to the child/children we helped bring into the world. But for Abraham, whom God gave repeated promises over many years that he would be the father of many descendants, getting Sarah pregnant was an increasingly seeming impossibility. They were aging by the day and try as they might, praying as I’m sure they did repeatedly, nothing was working and their window was quickly closing.
As God is continuing to reveal Himself to Abraham, He speaks to him in a variety of ways. He is strategically building a relationship with Abraham, and He doesn’t want him to get in ruts or put his faith in a certain mode of communication, but rather in the Lord Himself. God seems to like variety in His communication to us. In Genesis ch. 13:14, He spoke to him directly. In Gen. 14:19, He spoke to him through Melchizedek (vs. 19, 20). In Genesis chapter 15:1 and in 15:4 we are told “the word of the Lord came to Abram/him”, and in vs. 1 the word of the Lord came to him “….in a vision, saying, “Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great.”
When I first read Gen. 15:1 I was unclear what “reward” God was speaking of. But Abram immediately took it as a reinforcement of these promises (recorded in chps. 12-13) that God would build a people through his direct descendants. And thus his very frustrated and desperate plea bargain to God in vs. 2 “Abram said, “O Lord God, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And perhaps a little bit of blaming in vs. 3, “And Abram said, “Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir.”
I wasn’t going to comment on Abram & Sarah’s unable to get pregnant crisis since again most of us don’t have this problem. But the fact is most of us probably know someone for whom it is a growing problem – that is - getting pregnant. And since that was never our struggle, it is very easy for us to not adequately emphasize with them and feel their pain. Their pain is often very deep and hopelessness easily sets in. Especially with Father’s Day tomorrow (in America) this can be a very painful day/time for those unable to get pregnant. I wasn’t going to make much of this, but when I walked upstairs (after starting this paragraph) to do something, I sensed the Lord wanted us to stop and pray for those you and I know who are in a great struggle to get pregnant. So please stop reading now and pray for God, who alone opens and closes wombs (see Abraham’s prayer over Abimilech in 20:17,18), to comfort and minister to these people. And if He so leads you – pray for Him to open their wombs and do whatever needs to be done in one or both of them to bring about a solid healthy pregnancy. Thank you for taking the time to do this. And if you are reading this and you are one of those struggling to get pregnant – may the Lord give you your heart’s desire (Psalm 20:4) in Jesus’s name. Amen!
God was not put off by Abram’s seeming complaining and bargaining and even blaming. He responds very clearly and calmly - re-assuring him that nothing has changed from His original plan – “Then behold the word of the Lord came to him saying, “This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.” (Gen. 15:4). Then God graciously gave him a sign by taking him outside and having him gaze at and try to count the stars, “…Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants (literally “seed”) be.” (Gen. 15:5). Abram’s faith was greatly strengthened by this, and thus the Scripture records, “Then he believed in the Lord; and He (God) reckoned it to him as righteousness.” (Gen. 15:6). Nothing pleases God more than our growing and unwavering confidence in His word and promises.
Abraham’s call to father a nation later to be called Israel was about far more than just birthing babies, who would birth more babies, etc. He was to model for them how to grow in faith, how to know God to the extent that God calls you his “friend”, (see Isaiah 41:8, II Chronicles 20:7, & James 2:23) , and he was to model for them how to not just sire a child, but truly father him/her. In all these realms, a growing faith and confidence in God would be crucial, as we can’t pull off any of these things on our own.
This journey of faith sadly is sometimes marred or affected by our sins, self efforts and self righteousness. And the next setback for Abraham and Sarah in waiting on God to come through for them was when Sarai talked Abraham into having sex with her maid Hagar. Sarai’s reasoning was partially correct, “Now behold, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children…” (16:2). She knew God closes wombs. But she was weak in her faith on God’s ability to open a womb (especially hers) against all odds. And she was desperate. Abraham ideally would have sympathized with her agony, but resisted her fleshly solution, but sadly he lowered himself to her scheme and they both suffered greatly as a result.
In chapter 17 God establishes two things for Abram. First He changes Abram’s name to Abraham, which means “father of a multitude” (vs. 5) and then establishes the covenant of circumcision (vs. 1-14). Then He changes Sarai’s name (vs. 15) to Sarah, which means “princess” and then establishes that Sarah will indeed bear a son for Abraham (vs. 16-19). By this time Abraham is 99 and she is 90, she has not gotten pregnant and is certainly not feeling like a Princess, and Abram literally fell on his face and laughed at the very slim chances of this pregnancy taking place. God graciously re-assures him that Sarah will get pregnant and will bear him a son and even gives him the son’s name – Isaac, which means “he laughs” – perhaps to be a forever reminder to Abraham and Sarah of God’s power and faithfulness and their slowness to believe Him and His promises.
Abraham was not perfect by any means, but he is developing a track record of being correctable, which is huge in the sight of God, and is an example sorely needed by children to see in their father.
In chapter 18 Abraham is visited by three unusual men, two who appear to be angels, one who appears to have been God Himself. God seemed to have several objectives in this encounter. First He wanted to deepen Abraham & Sarah’s faith and expectation in God’s intention to give them a son and to expose and cleanse Sarah’s unbelief (vs. 1-15). Second, God seemed to want to inform Abraham of the coming judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah and help him work through the righteousness of it all (vs. 16-33) since his calling was to impact all nations. And third, God wanted Abraham to know what God expected of him in his fathering of Isaac (vs. 19).
This is a crucial passage for us to see and understand in our quest to know the fullness of God’s revelation for fathering in the Scriptures, for it is the first passage in the Bible wherein we learn that God had much more in mind for fathers than just contributing to their child’s conception, providing for his physical/material needs, taking the family to synagogue or church and meting out discipline when behavior gets out of hand. God speaking, “For I have chosen (lit. “known him”) him (Abraham), so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.” (Gen. 18:19). Abraham clearly was meant and called by God to be the spiritual leader of his home – intentionally discipling (not just disciplining) his children and the rest of those in his household or those who live under his roof. This will be reinforced many times throughout scripture, but it is important that we see how early on God revealed His will and way for fathers in the home. This calling only has a chance of being fulfilled when the said father is “known” by God. Relationship with God always comes first. Fathering is to flow out of that. And that relationship is always founded on God’s initiative and God’s sustaining of it.
God loves we fathers as an individual and wants us to know and enjoy Him for who He is. But He is a generational God – always looking and working towards the coming generations – knowing that either righteousness and justice will increase with every generation as fathers father as God daily instructs them; or that sin and unrighteousness will increase with every generation as fathers neglect to walk with God and fail to father out of their daily relationship with Him. This is one of the reasons why He will soon reveal Himself repeatedly as the “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”.
Only as Abraham’s children and their future wives and children learn to “keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice” will the Lord be able to fulfill all of His wonderful covenant promises for them. Abraham was to do everything in his power, depending of course upon God’s power, to help his children live this way. “Command” denotes the God given authority Abraham has to fulfill this responsibility. Which again is why I say the importance of fathers in God’s plan for the ages cannot be overstated. It is a unique to fathers authority that is not to be usurped by any other entity. Obviously fathers today must learn to exert it with the gentleness and meekness of Christ. But it must be exerted!
As to “…by doing righteousness and justice”, contextually (Gen. 18, 19) God is about to destroy two whole cities for their extreme wickedness. Some generations back He destroyed the whole earth except for Noah and his family. He has always hated sin, evil and wickedness, idolatry, etc., and always will. Fathers must help children know God as the righteous holy God that He is. And their children must be taught by them to pursue righteousness and holiness so they can be like Him. To be used by God to fulfill His purposes for their generation and for the nations, they must feel the same way He feels about righteousness and justice, refusing to be conformed to the world’s perversion and corruption of both.
But please hear me on this, this all starts with seeing how desperate our need was when God sent Jesus to satisfy God’s wrath and justice towards us. We must first see how all we truly deserve is hell for our own sins and rebellion and indifference towards God. Only those who never lose sight of this, can be used by God to do righteousness and justice in a way that is pleasing to Him and bears real lasting fruit in this sin sick world He has placed us in and saved us out of. Without this we will pervert justice and righteousness out of our own self righteousness and arrogance.
Fathers, grandfathers, and aspiring fathers, may you have an amazing Father’s Day tomorrow (if you honor this holiday in your nation). And may all of us be ever more “known” by God; may we know Him increasingly as a God who “exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth” (see Jer. 9:23,24); and may we by His grace and power help our children and grandchildren do the same, in Jesus’s name!