A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit the village of Marshfield, England, where my great-grandfather grew up. Sam, my great-grandfather, lived in England until his father died in 1911. In 1912, Sam, only fifteen-years-old at the time, bought a ticket to travel to America on the Titanic.
Visiting Marshfield opened up a whole new world for me. One of my relatives has done a great deal of work finding the names and dates of birth, marriage, and death of those in our family tree. He has found members of our family who lived as far back as 1498! It was mind-boggling to see the house my great-grandfather grew up in, the gravesite of my great-great-grandparents, and the church where my great-great-great-great-grandparents (yes, four greats) were married.
This was the first time I saw a genealogy, like one of the ones we read and are confused by in Genesis, where my own name was at the bottom.
I wonder if the Israelites felt the same way the first time they heard Genesis read. I wonder if they felt similarly to how I felt when seeing my name at the bottom of my family genealogy: unfamiliar with the names at the top, but much more familiar with the names and stories closer to the bottom.
Genesis (along with Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy) was written by Moses during the forty years the Israelites wandered in the desert. The Israelites were wandering because of one generation’s disobedience and lack of faith. The generation that entered, conquered, and settled in the Promised Land was given these writings, including the genealogies, as instructions of how to live as God’s chosen people, set apart to show His love to the world.
The account of Terah we find in Genesis 11 was the beginning of the account of Abraham, the patriarch of the Israelite people. Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob (renamed Israel) was the father of twelve sons whose descendants became the twelve tribes of Israel. The Israelites would have recognized God’s faithfulness to them as a people as they heard the stories of how God was faithful to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But when the Israelites stopped teaching their children about God’s faithfulness to them, they rebelled and turned from Him.
When we don’t know our history we miss the history of God’s faithfulness. The reason to preserve our history is not to preserve our own names, but God’s. It matters not whether we are remembered, but it is crucial that the next generation knows of and remembers God’s faithfulness.
God’s faithfulness is what we stake our lives on. Without His faithfulness, in our personal lives, in our families, in our nations, we have no hope of redemption. Without God’s faithfulness, we have no guarantee He will keep His promises. But our God is unwaveringly faithful.
When I saw the homes and churches of my ancestors I was overwhelmed with God’s faithfulness. It overwhelmed me to think about how even when they were going about their lives in Marshfield, England in the 17, 18, and early 1900s, God knew I would one day be walking this earth.
God even knew all the days of my life when my great-grandfather bought his ticket for the Titanic. Thankfully, Sam changed his plans, traveling to America on the Olympic, which left England and arrived in New York shortly before the Titanic sank. Talk about God’s sovereignty and faithfulness to our family! He was faithful then and He is indeed faithful now.
My favorite seminary professor always says: “God’s faithfulness in the past is a model and a promise of His faithfulness in the future. But He’s too creative to do the same thing the same way twice.”
He was faithful in the past. He is faithful today. And we can wait with expectation at the unique ways He will display His faithfulness and creativity in the future. He knows all your days. Even today. You can trust and rest in His faithfulness.
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