The Root and Branches
Consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you
Since their beginning, the people of God have stressed the importance of understanding their uniqueness, of knowing from whom they have come. Roots were always important, for Israel's faith was deeply
imbedded in history. Thus knowledge of beginnings is central to Biblical thought. The Old Testament opens with the book of Genesis, which in Hebrew is entitled bere'shit, "in the beginning or "by way of beginning." This
foundational source contains many genealogical tables that fix the beginnings of the Jewish people within a specific ancient Near Eastern setting. Likewise, the New Testament begins with the Gospel of Matthew tracing the line
of Jesus. Matthew introduces his account with these words: "A record of the geneology of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham" (1:1). To be cognizant of one's past was essential for establishing confidence
about the future."Look to Abraham Your Father"
God's sovereign plan in history was to establish his covenant through a man called Abraham (of Abram, as He was originally known). Abraham was a Semite, a
descendant of Noah's son Shem (Gen. 11:10-32). The patriarch Abraham was the first person in the Bible to be called a "Hebrew" (Gen. 14:13). All Jews trace their ancestry to Abraham as father of the Hebrew nation. Accordingly,
the Lord proclaimed through his prophet, "Look to the rock from which you were cut...look to Abraham, you father" (Isa. 51:1-2).
Genesis 12 records the call of Abraham. God told him that his offspring would inherit the land
of Canaan (v.7;cf. 13:15;17:8) and that he would have numerous descendants (12:2;cf. 13:16;15:5). God also promised Abraham, "all peoples on earth will be blessed through you" (12:3;cf. 18:18;22:18). In the New Testament,
Peter's speech to his fellow Jews gathered near the Temple indicates that they, as physical descendants of Abraham, are heirs of this promised blessing (Acts 3:25;cf. 3:12). But the New Testament also indicates that gentile
believers-those who are spiritual rather than lineal descendants of Abraham-likewise share in this Abrahamic kinship (cf. Gal. 3:8). Indeed, all Christians find their origin in Abraham the Hebrew, for, as Paul states, "If you
belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed" (Gal. 3:29).
The biblical phrase "our father Abraham" (John 8:53; Acts 7:2) thus expresses the family relationship that every person of faith has with "the man of faith" (Gal.
3:29). The New Testament writers argue that those who display Abraham's faith and deeds are Abraham's true offspring (John 8:31-41). James reminds his readers that Abraham, as father of the the faithful, is called "God's
friend" (Jas. 2:23; cf. 2 Chr. 20:7). Furthermore, James links all Christians to this exemplary patriarch by speaking of him as "our ancestor Abraham" (2:21), a man whose "faith was made complete by what he did" (v. 22).
Indeed, the New Testament emphasizes that before Abraham was circumcised, he believed God and acted upon that belief (Rom. 4:9-12). In sum, according to the book of Hebrews, Abraham's faithful obedience, from the moment God
called him (Heb. 11:8ff.), serves as an inspiring witness to the Church (12:1), that new people of God both rooted in Abraham and numbered among his children.
The question of origins is a question of roots. Since the
American public became absorbed with a moving television documentary called "Roots" a number of years ago, many people have been more conscious about their own roots. Considerable interest in tracing family, ethnic, and
national ties has resulted in a recent flood of literature on this subject.
At the same time, however, many Christians seem to have little knowledge about their biblical roots. They have never really penetrated the
inner world of biblical thought. Christians can converse intelligently about the latest automobiles, fashions, music, and sports, but too few give evidence of a deep understanding of their spiritual heritage. At best, their
grounding in biblical soil is both shallow and shaky. Hence, they usually embrace an uncritical conformity to the prevailing spirit of today's world. As children of Abraham, Christians should be asking, "What does it mean to
claim spiritual kinship with Abraham and the Jewish people?"
God's people are called to be different from the world, through the "renewing of the mind" (Rom. 12:2). Every Christian must seriously heed Paul's warning, "Don't
let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould" (Rom 12:2, Phillips). Thus a Christian mind is one in the process of being renewed according to divinely revealed thought patterns and values.
A Christian's frame of
reference must be constructed of sound building blocks derived from Scripture. But God's people can scarcely be expected to heed Paul's admonition to "work out" their salvation (Phil. 2:12) with that biblical frame of reference
unless they know how that frame is constructed. How does today's Christian learn to think and approach life as Abraham, Moses, David, and the prophets did, and as Jesus, Paul, and the apostles did? This knowledge comes only by
uncovering the overarching mind-set that the writers of Scripture reflect. We must enter their world and become conversant with their culture. We too must "look to Abraham our father.