The Best of Men, Pt. 1

  • Pete Johnson
Man walking on a dirt road

No one knows exactly from whom the phrase, “The best of men are but men at best,” came from. It was first documented in 1680 in reference to the character of General John Lambert, who had aided Oliver Cromwell to invalidate Charles I and the royalists during the English Civil War. Since then, it has been used many times of highly esteemed men who have fallen publicly, or who were troubled privately by their shortcomings, as well as in Shakespeare’s Othello. 

The phrase has also been used in many a sermon and religious book. In 1856, J.C. Ryle penned the following:

“The best of men are only men at their very best. Patriarchs, prophets, and apostles, – martyrs, fathers, reformers, puritans, – all are sinners, who need a Savior: holy, useful, honorable in their place – but sinners after all.”  J.C. Ryle

The Story of Abram’s call (Abraham) in Genesis chapter 12 gives us insight into this above quote by J.C. Ryle. God made Himself known to a man by the name of Abram. God redeem this man out of a pagan lifestyle in Ur which included idol worship. God will make him “Father Abraham”, one of the most important and beloved men of the Old Testament and the Father of the Jewish Nation. He will become an icon, a great example. This man Abram believes the promises that God had given him and is obedient to God’s direction for his life.

Genesis 12:1 we read: “Now the LORD said to Abram, Go…”

In Genesis 12:4 We read, “So, Abram went, as the LORD had told him.”

As the man Abram traveled through the land, we see that he is building altars and calling on the name of the LORD- He is worshiping. Here we see the great faith of this man Abram playing out. But this is a faith that is not tested. There are no external circumstances weighing upon him. But in the Christian life, it often seems that famine has the tendency to follow faith.

Beginning in verse 10 of Genesis 12 however, we see a different Abram:

In the face of an external weighty circumstance- Abram doesn’t seek God

There was a famine in the land, a severe famine. (Gen 12:10) Famines in that part of the land were common. The land was dependent upon rainfall. Egypt, however, was different- the Nile River provided water for crops and beasts. The yearly flooding of the Nile provided rich earth for crops. Irrigation canals were dug to provide ample water for crops as well.

There is nothing in the text that states God told him to go down to Egypt. But there was this famine- Abram uses his common sense: Go where there is food. Can he be blamed for using his common sense in a time like this? God has given us all common since, well most of us, to navigate life. If he dies of starvation, then the whole plan of God goes belly up! (The promise of God made of him a great nation) One thing to keep in mind: The will of God is not always just following common sense. That was the situation that Eve found herself in!)

Next, we see some steps of unfaith by this man Abram:

It got tough where God had called him to go, and instead of waiting on God- through prayer- he felt the weightiness of his circumstances and reacted. Paul, in writing to the Philippians:

Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:5–7

This man Abram was fearful, and scared, which is not uncommon. Faith is tested, always; Not for God’s sake, but for ours: James 1:2–3

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Why do we look to our own devices, schemes, or plans more than seeking God’s?

Simply put because God takes too long!

Abram’s fear was not unfounded or irrational. Perhaps God would have directed him to Egypt. But like us, Abram needed to remedy this situation ASAP. So, what can we glean from this man, Abram? Why does the Bible let us in on his missteps and the failures of others? For our benefit, to instruct us as to what not to do.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:6
“Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.” and in 1 Corinthians 10:11–12 “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.  Therefore, let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. “

Faith over common sense

In practical trials will we trust God or succumb to our fears and common sense?

Next week we will investigate what it cost Abram to go down to Egypt.