Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and You

For many years, there were two large portraits that hung in my parents’ home—one was of my paternal grandfather and one was of my maternal grandfather. Both of these were godly men—full-time farmers (in order to keep bread on the table) and full-time parish ministers. But this is where their similarities ended.

No two men could have been more dissimilar. Grandpa Wolgemuth was an immaculate, focused, intense man. One of the most prominent rooms in his home was his study. The walls in this familiar room were lined with books—biblical commentaries and reference books, biographies of great missionaries, and other inspirational volumes. His car was never dirty. I can still see him heading toward the barn with a single bucket of water to wash it. Thick, black eyebrows and deeply furrowed crevasses across his forehead displayed that he was on a mission. He embodied hard work and the serious business of life. Not a lot of levity swirled around this man.

Grandpa Dourte, my mother’s daddy, was in love with life. His laughter filled every room of their home. Music from his harmonica cheered us for part of the day; his humming and silly rhymes took care of the rest. The two most memorable places in his home were the parlor with the player piano—he loved music—and his workshop in the shed—he loved building things.

And his blue eyes would fill with tears as he quoted something from the Psalms by memory.

How well I remember these two men. As a young boy, I studied their every move, I listened to their voices, and I believed what they believed. And why shouldn’t I have? In my life, they were what the Bible calls patriarchs. Men who started a whole generation of offspring. Men who set the pace for dozens of others who would follow. Including me.

In Genesis chapter 12, we read that God promised Abram that one day his descendants would be greatly multiplied, that from him would come kings and entire nations. Then God sealed his promise by changing Abram’s name (meaning “exalted father”) to Abraham (meaning “father of nations”). Imagine how God’s stunning news, coupled with His promise, must have affected Abraham.

You and I are dads. Someday our children will have children. Then they will have children who will have children. And every one of these people will know us, either because they remember us or because they hear stories about us from others. In a word, we’re patriarchs to a whole generation.

Who we are, the words we speak, how we treat others, and how we love and serve God will become common knowledge to many, many people. Some of those people will even say that they inherited certain character traits from us. What an awesome, overwhelming thing this is!

Who we are today will become a legacy for others to follow tomorrow. So here’s the question you and I need to ask: “Is my life worth imitating?”

I’m a patriarch. You’re a patriarch. Every father is one too. This is a very big thing.