As I make my way, daily, through the book of Genesis, I am struck once again by how the Bible’s heroes have feet of clay.
Noah “walked with God” and was “blameless in his time” … but after the great mountaintop experience of the ark and the flood, we find him drunk and naked inside his tent. A most embarrassing predicament for a man of God, don’t you think?
And then there is Abraham, who “believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness”; Abraham, whom the New Testament rightly hails as a great “man of faith” (Galatians 3.9, ESV). But this same Abraham heeded his wife Sarah’s running-ahead-of-God plan for using her servant-woman to bring a child into their family. And then he was ambivalent about Sarah’s cruel treatment of that child’s baby-mama. And he twice (in order to save his own neck) passed Sarah off as merely his sister, so that she ended up being taken in by other men’s homes as a kind of concubine. A man of faith, no doubt … but with clay feet.
And what about Abraham’s nephew, Lot? The apostle Peter called him “righteous Lot” – because he was genuinely disturbed by the ungodliness of his neighbors in Sodom. And yet he continued to live among them … and had to be pulled, by force, out from their midst when God came to destroy the city.
And on the story goes … not only in the book of Genesis, but throughout the Bible. Even the men and women who walked most closely with God still had feet of clay; they still sometimes fell – sometimes grievously. And the same is true today, isn’t it? “We all stumble in many ways,” says James. And that goes for Christian leaders, too. We all – even if we walk with God like such a one as Enoch himself – find that we are not nearly what we ought to be. Indeed, we are ashamed of ourselves many times, like Noah lying on the floor smashed and naked.
So yes, the Bible does teach us to look up to those men and women who walk with God … and to “imitate their faith.” But we are also reminded, by their foibles and falls (and by our own), not to put our ultimate hope in mere men … but in the one Man “who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth” – Jesus, the God-man. His is an example that will never fail. And His is a faithfulness that will never miscarry. And He, wholly without the flaws common to even the best mere men, was able not only to live as our exemplar, but to die as our substitute!
And there is where we find our ultimate hope – not by following in the footsteps of even the noblest feet of clay, but by clinging in faith to the blood-stained feet of Jesus.