The quest for an identity begins early on in a man’s life. It begins with things like action figures, big wheels, and Tonka trucks (and for the younger readers they used to be made of metal and were way cooler). Overnight it changed to girls, sports equipment, legos, video games, and bikes. High school brought girls, cars, sports feats, buckles, and video games. With college came girls (have you noticed a pattern), cars, video games, buckles, saddles, and money. Then after college, when the real world starts, identity shifts to wives, career, house, money, kids (and their accomplishments), trucks, trailers, buckles and saddles.
We are pretty convincing about the good intentions of our pursuit of identity. Rationalization comes pretty easily. Like the old cowboy proverb says: “The biggest liar you will ever have to face, watches you shave your face in the mirror every morning.” If you’re like me, my pursuit of identity is still just action figures, big wheels, and tonka trucks. It’s just that they cost more now.
Identity is rooted in a fear of irrelevancy and a fear of being a nobody. We pursue things because if we don’t we think we will be relegated to an also ran, an extra, another face in the crowd. I will never forget the time I showed up to fight bulls for the first time with a guy I had never met. After he pointed out my store bought belt buckle, he informed me that I didn’t belong there. I was another face in the crowd.
Abram was another face in the crowd at one time. He grew up in Ur [Gen 11.31], one of the oldest cities on Earth as part of the oldest civilization on Earth. Ur had been around for centuries by the time Abram had arrived on the scene. Their civilization was advanced, their worship was organized (and extremely polytheistic [Joshua 24.2]), and their society was growing. In the center of town was a huge ziggurat that rose high above the surrounding city and surrounding lands. The title of the architect of this great structure, Ur-Nammu, stamped his title and his name on the bricks, as a testament of the great building feat. It rose 70’ high in its day with a base 200’ by 150’.** In front of the monumental artificial mountain where worship would take place was the market where people would gather and mill around exchanging goods and food. Worship, community, and society were foundational to city life in Ur. Abram was just a face in the crowded streets.
But God took him, a man in the crowd, and made him the “father of nations” (Abraham means ‘father of many’).
Abrams story beings in Genesis 11. He, alongside his father and family took off from Ur to the north and west, to Haran. Stephen, in Acts 7.2-3, indicates that the call of the first few verses of Genesis 12 took place while Abram was still in Ur. Moses apparently felt it best to wrap up Terah’s story with his death in Haran before moving on to Abram’s, but that is beside the point. God has chosen Abram to do His work. Just take a look at some of the verbs in the first few verses of chapter 12:
- “the Lord had said [to Abram]…” [hb. ‘amar]
- “I [the Lord] will show you [Abram]…” [hb. ra’a]
- “I [the Lord] will make you [Abram]…” [hb. ‘asa]
- “I [the Lord] will bless you [Abram]…” [hb. barak] – 2 times
- “I [the Lord] will curse those who curse you [Abram]…” [hb. ‘arar]
- “So Abram left…” [hb. halak]
The first five were the actions of God and the last one of Abram. Abram was taken on the ride of his life. Going to an unknown place, with a brand new [to him] God. He grew up in a polytheistic nation (meaning many gods were worshipped), when the Lord called him out to follow where He is leading. Abram has one job…to follow. A face in the crowd in Ur, Abram is asked to go where God is leading.
With this single act, Abram will be forever remembered.
“Abraham believed the Lrod, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15.6)
This verse summed up the way he lived his life. He garnered more mention in the New Testament than any other person aside from Moses. It was his faith that gave him his identity and made him what he was known for. He would be renamed Abraham, which means “the father of many”, in Genesis 17.5, but his identity would forever be cemented long before that.
“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going…” (Heb. 11.8)
The author of Hebrews (Heb 11), Paul (Rom 4, Gal. 3), James (2.21-23). and Stephen (Acts 7) all understood Abram as a man of faith; a faith that leads to righteousness. When it comes down to it, Abram could have remained in Ur and lived his life as another face in the crowd. But God, who made the move and took the initiative, took Abram from the crowd of Ur, into the land that he chose. Abraham needed faith.
All too often we attempt to make and manufacture our own identity instead of letting God do what he does. It’s interesting that the people who amazed Jesus were not the intellectuals, the super-religious, or the most successful. Jesus’ amazement was directly correlated to a person’s faith. The centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant, not by attending to him, but by a word, he amazed Jesus with his faith (Mat 8.10; Luke 7.9). It’s also clear that he was taken by the faith of the Canaanite woman, who begged Jesus to heal her daughter. His answer to that request: “Woman, you have great faith!” (Matt 15.28) It is fitting that Jesus was also amazed at the absence of faith. When he spoke to the people of his hometown and they took offense to him, he was “amazed at their lack of faith.” (Mark 6.6) A Roman Centurion and a Canaanite woman, forever remembered in God’s word because of their faith, just like an ancient face-in-the-crowd. That’s what I want to be known for, not buckles or awards, things or titles, but faith.
We can get so bogged down in trying to make a name for ourselves here on this earth, but Abraham shows us that if we are faithful, God provides us with an identity. It reminds me of one of my favorite poems growing up by Walt Huntley that reads:
Your name may not appear down here
In this world’s Hall of Fame.
In fact, you may be so unknown
That no one knows your name;
The Oscars and the Praise of men
may never come your way
but rest assured God has rewards
the He’ll hand out someday.
This Hall of Fame is only good
As long as time shall be;
But keep in mind, God’s Hall of Fame
Is for eternity.
This crowd on earth they soon forget
The heroes of the past.
They cheer like mad until you fail
and that’s how long you last.
But in God’s Hall of Fame
By just believing
on His Son
Inscribed you’ll find your name.
I tell you, friend, I wouldn’t trade
My name, however small,
That’s written there beyond the stars
In that Celestial Hall,
For any famous name on earth,
Or glory that they share;
I’d rather be an unknown here
And have my name up there.
**Unger, Merrill F. Archaeology and the Old Tesatament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954) 107-112