The Patriarchs Were People Like Us

How often have we looked at the patriarchs of the Old Testament with great reverence and maybe even wished we had just a modicum of the faith that they had? The Bible describes the great faith these men and women had and the great accomplishments they achieved because of it. The “Hall of Faith” passage of Hebrews points us to these men and women as examples of what true faith in God looks looks like. If you are anything like me, it is not uncommon to wish we were more like them when we see the struggles we deal with in our own walks. But, are the patriarchs really that special? Were they so much holier than you or I? Or do they have more in common with ourselves than we think? I’d like for us to look at a few of those patriarchs to answer this question. In fact, one family in particular, the one through which the Messiah would one day come. I believe we will learn a lot from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the God whom the served.

Abraham is considered the father of the Jews. He was so esteemed by the Jews in Jesus’ day that they often cited their lineage from him in their debates with Jesus. But what was it about him they were so proud of? True, he had great faith when he believed the promise of God that he and Sarah would one day have a child through which the nations would be blessed. But as time went by, Abraham and Sarah apparently figured God had forgotten his promise, because Sarah offers her handmaiden to her husband through which to conceive the child. Abraham doesn’t even feign an objection, he just does it. This is also the same Abraham that, not once, but twice, failed to believe God’s promise to keep him around long enough to produce this nation that he convinces his wife to say “I’m his sister” to keep from getting killed. Is he really so faithful and holy after all?

Next we get Isaac, the child of promise. Truly a faithful son who, when bound up to be sacrificed, did not fight or argue with his father. Such total faith is something we should all aspire to. Yet, this is the same Isaac that, when Rebekah had twin sons, who knew that the younger, Jacob, was to rule over the older, Esau. Yet, we see his preference for Esau because of his manly hunting skills. Jacob, being more of a mother’s boy, stayed around the tents and cooked. How could he give the blessing to such a son? And Isaac had little positive influence over his family. Jacob tricked Esau out of his birthright for a bowl of stew. Esau purposely married pagan women to irritate his parents. Rebekah orchestrated the deception in which Jacob tricked blind Isaac into believing he was Esau. Then she lied to him later to get Jacob out of town before Esau killed him. Rather than admit she was part of the scheme and was trying to save Jacob, she told him she only wanted Jacob to marry from her family and not the local pagan women. There are reality TV shows that don’t have this much drama going on, and Isaac is one our patriarchs in the faith.

Finally we get to Jacob, from whom the twelve tribes of Israel were born. The father of Judah, the line through which the Messiah was born. The man who saw the ladder coming from Heaven, which was a vision of the coming Christ. The one who wrestled with the Lord and, because of his persistence, had his name changed from Jacob (which loosely means “dirty, sneaky thief”) to Israel (“He strives with God”). Yet Jacob’s life had so many twists and turns, that he lived up more to the name Jacob than Israel. We already discussed his cheating his brother and that he lied to his father in order to get the blessing. After fleeing to his uncle Laban, he falls in love with Rachel, but gets tricked into marrying both Rachel and her sister, Leah. Leah and Rachel start the “baby-making wars” and even start bringing in their personal servant girls to add to the growing list of children. All the while, not a peep comes from Jacob in objection. When he and Laban come to an agreement on payment (an agreement Laban tries to weasel out of), Jacob goes into the process of selective breeding to ensure he obtains a healthy flock. Finally, he decides to flee his uncle without telling him (a time in which Rachel manages to steal Laban’s household “gods” – there’s a discussion for another time!). This results in Laban and Jacob agreeing at Mizpah to never to cross over into each other’s territory and pray God would keep an eye on the other. Gives new meaning to those wonderful little Mizpah medallions that we give to each other doesn’t it? Then after wrestling with the Lord and being blessed with a new name, Jacob still doubts God’s promise to deliver him. He splits his family into multiple groups, sends everyone ahead first, and brings up the rear, testing his brother’s actions. Then, when Esau reveals no animosity toward him and asks Jacob to go home with him, Jacob comes up with a lame excuse that his animals are too tired and weak. He tells Esau to go ahead and he would meet up later. Then he promptly goes and sets up camp in another city. What a character we look to!

Now, there are literally hundreds of similar incidents throughout scripture. We can literally look at every person throughout the Bible and see where they routinely failed to obey or even trust the word of God. So how on earth are we supposed to look to them for guidance and inspiration? The truth is, we don’t! We look to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, just as they did. See, the patriarchs of old received faith just as we in the church today do, as a gift from God. We have no ability within ourselves to be pleasing to God. The patriarchs are living proof of that. If the men God chose to start the nation of Israel and to become the line through which we would receive the messiah couldn’t do it, we don’t have a chance! In fact, because God chose such hopeless cases should be a reason for us to rejoice! It proves that God does not pour out His grace on the basis of what we have to offer. I have to come to realize that when God goes fishing, he doesn’t look for the biggest, best, and most colorful fish. He looks at the rejects, the worthless, the nastiest fish he can find. In fact, he looks for the ones that are belly up, rotting and smell terrible! He looks for the ones that have no value whatsoever because then it is clear that His grace is His alone to give. We can add nothing to it, we can take none of it away. Like those patriarchs who were such a mess, God calls us, cleans us up, makes us fit for His use and brings glory to His name through all of it.

So what is the point of this article? Only this, when you are depressed or bummed out, thinking that you have not nearly done enough for the Lord, know this, you’re right! In the eyes of God, you are a bottom dwelling, scum eating, worthless fish, four days dead, with no value whatsoever! Yet, in His mercy, He has bought you, redeemed you, given you new life, cleaned you up and made you fit for His use. He is glorified because it is His sovereign work in us, and the patriarchs prove it! No one could have looked at this first family of Israel and believed that they had anything to offer God. They were rebellious, lying, backstabbing misfits who would have fit better on the stage of a Jerry Springer episode than in the holy book of a world religion. Yet, because they received faith from God, trusted in His promises and, through that faith, did many wondrous works, we can know that we serve an amazing God who will work an amazing change in our lives as well. We can know that the works we accomplish in faith will be used by God for His glory, and the works we accomplish in the flesh will prove that it was God who did the former. Praise be to our amazing and merciful God, and thanks to Him for using such people and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to do His work.

12 thoughts on “The Patriarchs Were People Like Us

  1. While I agree 100% with your post and am encouraged knowing God finds favor with and uses imperfect people like The Patriarchs……… the title is a little too driscolly for me. For a second I thought my browser was hi-jacked:)


  2. Well, since I really have never listened to Driscoll, I did not know he uses titles of that nature. My apologies for any confusion. I only wish to convey how God uses the bottom of the barrel because it shows His absolute majesty when He bestows His grace upon us.


  3. Ahhhhh yes….the righteous for the unrighteous, Christ died for the ungodly, while we were yet sinners, pardoning our iniquity, blot out our transgressions, justifies the ungodly, bore our sins upon the tree…..

    Take your pick.
    They’re all wonderful words.



  4. Our elders pressed the same theme on us while they were preaching through that part of Genesis. God, in His mercy, elected a few – in spite of their sin – to show forth His grace upon His chosen people. Giving us bits of hope for the promised seed of a woman Who would crush the head of the serpent. Praise to be unto our God!


  5. Chris,

    Brother, I agree wholeheartedly with your main point: that it is God, and only God, and His work alone in us, that makes us of any value to Him and His purposes. Does God use the lowly and unesteemed to show forth His power? Absolutely! Is every man ever born (except Jesus) altogether corrupt and unacceptable to God apart from His tranforming power? Absolutely! But I think how we say things, even though we are making a valid, Biblically sound point in the end, can have an undertone that can actually distort what we see in the Scriptures if we are not careful. And I will be first to say I have unknowingly failed in this area at times, and the Lord has rebuked me for “speaking of Him (of the things in His word) the thing that is not right”, well intentioned that I was.

    Let me explain. Families highlighted on the Jerry Springer (or any other such show) are brought forth to be intentionally singled out as worse than the rest of society. They are held up to ridicule, mocked, jeered, laughed at as losers. Essentially the modern day equivalent to a circus side show (like the proverbial dog-faced boy, the horned man, etc.). Such is the cruel nature of mankind: paying to see something disgusting or extra-ordinary for amusement.

    I do not see the Patriarchs held up to such ridicule in the Scriptures. Were they imperfect? Absolutely! Did they have normal human weaknesses? Absolutely! But they are nevertheless given as examples for us, to follow in their faith. Did Jacob cheat his brother? Sure. But was his motive merely selfish gain over the family bank account? Or was it that he valued God’s promises to Abraham, and the gravity of that importance more than his brother who seemed to have no care about such things? Similarly, we can view the accounts of Abraham and Isaac a bit differently than seeing them as mere “misfits”.

    To be clear, I am not saying that God chose them for their “strengths”. But we need to be careful not to fall into the current extremes;

    i) raising people up to such inherent “greatness” (even sinlessness) that God couldn’t help but to use, or
    ii) saying God chose to use nothing but the very worst dregs of mankind, and mocking them accordingly,

    What I see in the Scriptures, is that God raised up all kinds to accomplish His will: the educated, (Paul) and uneducated (Peter). The utter heathen (Nebuchadnezzar) and the faithful worshiper (Daniel). Blameless men (Noah, Job), a harlot (Rahab), a donkey, etc. And we must be careful to have respect for the vessels He uses. Not that they are inherently worthy of respect in and of themselves, but because they are vessels used by the all-holy God.


  6. My intent was never to malign scripture. If I have given that impression, forgive me. It is my desire to show that God used those people despite their grievous sinfulness as a testimony to His gracious mercy.


  7. I have considered the concerns expressed here and realized my title for this article sends a bad message, which is never I something I intended. Thank you guys for bringing this to my attention. I hope the new title is more reflective of what I am trying to say. Thanks again.


  8. Chris,

    No sweat brother! Original title didn’t bother me a bit. It’s only by God’s grace I’m not “one of those people” on TV shows like Jerry Springer, or a homeless man on the street, or a drug-addict, or a pimp, or a homosexual, or a murderer, or x, y, or z, but rather, here I sit, clothed in my right mind, a child of the King of Kings, a sinner saved by His unspeakable love and mercy.



  9. Chris,

    I appreciate your posts, and your intent to give God all the glory was never in question. In fact, this particular post hits upon a basic error of man: his propensity to engage in imbalanced values, inappropriate reverence.

    Was it not the Apostle John himself who, during the Revelation he was receiving, bowed to the angel (who told him “see thou do it not…worship God” in Rev. 22:9)? Was it not Peter, when seeing Moses and Elijah appear at the Transfiguration, who wanted to build three tabernacles (placing Moses and Elijah on the same level as Jesus), and the Father Himself spoke to redirect his focus on Jesus only? Likewise, when we are in the presence of the likes of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Daniel, Paul, Peter, and so many others in the Kingdom of Heaven, what will be our reaction? Will we consider them as mere men just like us? We should. And today, are we awed when we are in the presence of the likes of John MacArthur? Or do we think of him as our fellow brother in Christ, equal to the brother sitting next to us? And that no part of His body, the Church, is to be looked up to as more important, or looked down upon as less important. For we are all equally loved in His sight. And all just as equally dependent upon Him for every breath we take, every heartbeat we have, every moment of conscious awareness we are given.


  10. New title works better anyway, if you consider the growing number of readers here who are either not living within the American cultural context, or have thrown out their TV a long time ago, or both… like me. No idea who Jerry Springer is, but the patriarchs, yes ;o)


  11. Considering the frailty of the patriachs, we observe that they are men like us. I conclude that: if God used them to achieve great and wondrous things. He will use us better if we yield to his will. We can be an answer to our deteroriating world.


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