by John Calvin
For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.—Genesis 18:19
Let us…note that we are told here that God knows Abraham will instruct his children to walk in his way after him. First, there is instruction, and then what kind [of instruction] is noted. In other words, we are told the nature of that instruction and then how it extends beyond death. So in the person of Abraham, we see what the responsibility of all believers is, principally the responsibility of the fathers of family whom God set up as heads of household and to whom He gave life, children, and servants so they would be diligent in teaching them. For when a father has children, his responsibility is not only to feed and clothe them, but his principal responsibility is to guide them so that their lives will be well regulated, and he will dedicate his full attention to that…
God values His servant Abraham’s piety. which is shown in the effort he will make to serve and honor Him and to guide his family and those entrusted to his charge, for it is particularly stated that he will teach them to walk in the way of the Lord. Consequently, we see the nature of the right kind of instruction. For someone could be rather careful to give many rules and many laws without providing stability. There can be no foundation to build on unless God dominates and people obey Him and conform to His Word. That, then, is what we have to remember.
When fathers of family and those of some preeminence get ready to teach, they must not be presumptuous and say, “This seems good tome,” and then try to subject everybody to their opinion and their concepts. “What? Shall I teach what I learned from God in His school?” What we have to remember from this passage is, briefly, that no one will ever be a good teacher unless he is God’s pupil. So let there be no teaching authority that advances what we invent and what our minds come up with, but let us learn from God so that He will dominate and alone have all preeminence; and may great and small bring themselves into conformity with Him and obey Him. That much for that instruction.
At that time, there was no written law and even less gospel; but Abraham still knew God’s will to the extent necessary. So Abraham is without Scripture, but even so, he does not presume to or attempt to set up laws to his own liking. But he asks God alone to govern and show the way to everybody else and lead them, for he does not wish to say, “Let us go the way I say,” but, “I am teaching you what I have learned from God. And may He alone have all mastery, and may I be a teacher only if I speak as by His mouth.” That is the second point we have to remember here.
So what is to be noted here is that heads of family must go to the trouble of being instructed in God’s Word if they are to do their duty. If they are stupid, if they do not know the basic principles of religion or of their faith and do not know God’s commandments or how prayer is to be offered to Him or what the road to salvation is, how will they instruct their families? All the more, then, must those who are husbands and have a family, a household to govern, think, “I must establish my lesson in His Word so that I will not only try to govern myself in accordance with His will, but that I will also bring to it at the same time those who are under my authority and guidance.”
Now in the third place, Abraham will teach his family to walk in the fear of the Lord after his death, just as if it were said that the faithful man is not only to get honor for God and live tomorrow, but that he leaves good seed after his death. For God’s Word is the incorruptible seed of life: it endures forever. And even though heaven and earth tend to corruption and will pass away, the Word of God must always retain its power (cf. Mat 25:3; Isa 40:8; 55:11). Therefore, it is not without reason that it dies with us, is extinguished when God withdraws us from this world, and we carry everything off with us. But let us work, though we are weak and mortal and must depart this world, to leave
the Word of God with a root here. And when we are dead and have turned to dust, may God be honored and may His memory endure forever. That, then, is what we have to remember…
Now since God spoke that way, He is saying that Abraham’s children, whom he will teach, will do justice and judgment. With those two words, Scripture comprises what concerns the second table of the Law. Moses says they will do justice and judgment. That shows us what the way of God is and how we will show we are obeying Him. For those two words…involve uprightness and equity so that we may be kind, give ourselves to charity, help one another, protect everyone’s right and not defraud, abstain from doing wrong and violence to one another, and even help those who need our help.
Now, it is certain that in God’s Law there is nothing but justice and judgment. In the first table, we see how we are to worship God, how we are to revere His name, and how we are to practice calling upon Him and trusting in Him so that we will devote ourselves this way to His service and dedicate ourselves to it. All of that is properly called justice and judgment.
Now as I said, that commonly involves our neighbors and the rule of living right with men in uprightness and equity; but that is an ordinary way of speaking in Scripture, and the prophets are filled with it (cf. Isa 1:27; 5:16; 28:17). When they deal with God’s Law, they sometimes depart from the first table and speak of uprightness and equity. They cry out against fraud, violence, robbery, and such like. Those things, in brief, mention a part while signifying the whole. In this way, although there is here only a type and a portion of God’s way, God, in general, nonetheless wanted to declare that Abraham would teach his family to govern itself in all equity and uprightness so that no one would rise up against his neighbor, that no one would commit fraud or do any wrong. That is what we have to remember.
From Sermons on Genesis, Vol. 1, The Banner of Truth Trust