Father Abraham: Human Custom, Tradition and God’s Promises


Genesis 16

The Christmas Story would never be complete without an examination of the friction between human customs and traditions and the promises and ways of God. In our text, Sarai is getting old, yet she has never conceived a child. She knows that God has promised a son to her husband, but so far, God hasn’t come through with the heir. Custom in those days dictated that if an important person like Abram didn’t have an heir by his wife, then she could conceive a child through her slave girl, and Sarai encouraged Abram to use this option to help God get the job done, one might say. Abram took his wife’s advice, and Hagar, the slave girl, became pregnant.

From this point forward, there would be no end of grief for Abram and Sarai; there are consequences to such things as they had done.

Hagar, realizing that her stock was rising, became unpleasant with her mistress, and Sarai complained of this to her husband who seems to have tried to wash his hands of the entire matter. Sarai sent the pregnant Hagar away into the wilderness… where Hagar had an encounter with the angel of the Lord. It would seem that God was disapproving of such treatment as Hagar had received at the hands of Sarai.

For our purposes in this survey, I will leave the details of this continuing saga for you to read on your own should you choose to do so. I must point out however, that there is a great lesson for us to apply as we celebrate Christmas, for in doing so, we must come face to face with the awesome promises of God, promises that have been fulfilled as well as a few which have yet to be culminated. At the same time, we deal every day with human custom and tradition, especially at this time of year, and sometimes these come into conflict.

I am curious to see if you have any thoughts on this: This Christmas season, when custom, tradition and God come into conflict, which will we choose? I know that in my personal case, I always say that I will choose God’s promises over tradition and custom, and yet I am always under pressure to compromise so that we can have both. There’s always a way to justify doing things, don’t you agree?

Yet this is what Abram and Sarai did, they compromised, and they came to regret that compromise, in fact it nearly tore them apart at one point.

Or… maybe you don’t see any conflicts at all. If so I’m sure we’d be interested to hear about that view as well.


About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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18 Responses to Father Abraham: Human Custom, Tradition and God’s Promises

  1. Questioner says:

    I think that maybe it is best to keep the worship part of Christmas (like Christmas Eve Service) separate from the customs of Christmas (like the decorations, gifts, and big meal). I look at the worship part as a “must” and the customs part as a “nice to have, but can live without.” Maybe the compromise comes when we look at worship as a custom? Very thought provoking post! Thanks.

    • Don Merritt says:

      Maybe, and maybe it just looks a little different to each person… Thanks for the compliment, that’s really the point of all this, that we should think about these things.

  2. Pete says:

    I’m not sure if we really have any conflicts in our family. All of my kids and their significant others know where I stand on Christ being a part of Christmas, and they insist that He be invited in to bless our time together. We certainly don’t go overboard, but at least He’s welcome. We have never pushed the issue, and don’t have a lot of family traditions for the season, so I suppose that makes it easier. Of course, there are times that I wish we had done mor to bring Christ into Christmas when our kids were kids. That’s when tradition and customs clashed!

  3. Tom says:

    I often see the conflict in what movies to really watch or the music to listen to. I like many movies, but many also do not portray the real meaning or purpose of Christmas. It does create some conflict.

  4. In the old Eastern church this was never a problem, gifts were exchanged on St. Nicholas Day, 17 days before Christmas. Christmas was solely a day of worship and thanksgiving for God keeping his promise. These days I’m not sure how it handles in the east, but here in the west the western traditions are hard to ignore.

  5. Mel Wild says:

    I am growing more at ease with any discord between secularized customs, traditional or modern, and my relationship to Jesus. Apparently, Jesus didn’t seem to have a problem with things we would be very uneasy with…like providing wine for a wedding after everyone had probably already had too much to drink. 🙂 Where I tend to draw the line is where customs or traditions cast God in the wrong light, or separate people from His grace and love. Unfortunately, some of those kinds of traditions come from fellow Bible-believing Christians.

  6. BelleUnruh says:

    I was raised in a strict, fundamentalist family. December 25 wasn’t the day of Jesus’ birth, so my family kind of left him out of it. We did have a nativity play every year at church. They didn’t discourage celebrating Christmas, but it was more of a Santa day for me at home. My parents were religious, but not spiritual.

    When raising my own children, I did the same, except I told them Santa wasn’t real. I wish I’d have made Christmas about Christ. I did read them story books about Jesus’ birth all year long and taught them about God. I’ve grown up not respecting traditions, like Easter. It was all about bunnies and chocolate for me as a child. I have no sentimental feelings about any of the “church” days. I think about Christ’s death and resurrection all through the year. I guess that sounds very different from other people.

    Since the Bible says nothing about celebrating Christmas or Easter, I don’t think it matters much what we do on those days.

  7. paulfg says:

    I cheated and read the follow-up to this before arriving here (benefit of going backwards sometimes).

    Isn’t this the age-old “purity” type of dilemma: Are we remaining true to God and how do we judge our success or failure in that (and never asked that I hear – does God really get stressed out about this stuff like we do)?

    “He eats with tax collectors and drunkards” springs to mind. He seeks outs the social lepers and outcasts. He bats around theology with the religious academics. He is on the same wavelength as Roman commanders. He notices the little children. He has compassion for 5000+ hungry stomachs. He welcomes all and is at ease with all. He waits like no other lover waits. He walk willingly to a barbaric and prolonged death. And then we ask: “Are we doing God justice in the way we do Christmas?”

    And with reference to the final thought from “BellUnruh” – I think the bible does say enough for us to know – just not in the quick and easy way we seem to seek so often – a quick copy/paste.

    (is that too much “bah-humbug” at this time of year) 🙂

  8. Pingback: The Father Abraham:Story by Don Merritt | franciscansonthemountains

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