Abraham is regarded by almost all Bible-believers (Jewish and Christian) to be a great hero of faith. He sure looks heroic in this picture, doesn't he? Here he is, preparing to sacrifice his own son Isaac in obedience to the Lord's command.
This month I've been reading Genesis, and while Abraham certainly is a notable man of faith, I've been noticing that he is not exactly your prototypical hero. The first we really hear of him is in the beginning of Genesis 12, when God comes to him and promises to make a great nation out of his offspring. Indeed, through him, all the nations of the earth would be blessed. What a promise!
And initially Abraham plays the part of hero, leaving his homeland to follow the Lord's call to go to a land that He would show him. But Abraham's courage doesn't last long. Shortly after this extraordinary promise, he basically hands his wife over to be sexually abused by the Egyptians, in order to save his own neck. This is an utterly despicable act, which Abraham repeats just a few chapters later. Hardly the great father of faith!
It seems to me that the dominant point of Abraham's life is not for us to say, 'Here is a great man of faith; imitate his example.' Rather it's to say, 'Though Abraham was so full of sin and cowardice, God's promise comes because of grace, not as a response to human merit.' In other words, Abraham is not the true hero of this story. Jesus Christ is.
Abraham's faithlessness is a pointer to the supreme faithfulness of Christ. Abraham abandoned his bride in order to save himself from danger. Jesus descended from Heaven to Earth and gave Himself up to the brutal agony of Calvary in order to save His bride from sin, death and hell.
Jesus, not Abraham, is the true hero of Abraham's story. In fact, I'm pretty sure that Jesus is the true hero of every story. Let's not use the Bible simply as an instruction manual. Surely there are instructions, but the main purpose of the Bible is to show us what Christ is like. Only then can we begin to truly follow His instructions.