Recently, I have taken an interest in the topic of Biblical Theology. This study has taught me a lot about the meta narrative (overarching story) of Scripture. As a result of this, I have been inclined to read more of the Old Testament, which is something that I have struggled with in the past. In the last few days I have read through the books of Ruth and Esther, and am now working my way through the book of Genesis.
Today I was reading about Abraham (called Abram at this point) in Genesis 12-17. In Verses 2-3 of Genesis 12, God makes a covenant promise with Abraham, and it was as follows:
“And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
That is an incredible promise! Not only that, but God Himself spoke this promise to Abraham! Abraham believed God’s glorious promise, trusted in Him completely, and patiently waited for it’s fulfilment. Okay, so that’s not exactly how the story goes. You see, there was a slight problem with this scenario. Abraham and his wife , Sarah ( Sarai at this point) were aging and they still had no children of their own. As much as Abraham probably wanted to trust in God’s promise, it couldn’t have been easy.
“How can God make a great nation through someone who has no offspring?”, “We aren’t getting any younger and we haven’t had children yet, I doubt we will now”. Abraham must have had questions and doubt flooding his mind at this point. In fact, we encounter the doubtful thoughts of Abraham in Genesis 15:2-3 when he expresses them to God,
“But Abram said, ‘O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.'”
At this point we could be tempted to look down on Abraham and rebuke him for not trusting in God’s promises, especially since he heard it straight from God’s mouth! But aren’t we often guilty of the very same thing? 2 Peter 1:4 tells us that God “has granted to us his precious and very great promises.” And He have us these promises through His Word. So before we pass judgment on Abraham, let’s ask ourselves a question, “Am I doubting the promises of God?” Are you doubting that He will use all of your trials for your good and growth in godliness (Romans 8:28; James 1:2-4), or that His love for you will never end (Romans 8:37-39), or that He will bring to completion what He started in you (Phil. 1:6)? Maybe you are struggling with sin or temptation and you have trouble believing that God will provide a way of escape in every temptation (1 Corinth. 10:13) or that He will not let sin have dominion over you (Romans 6:14).
It is a difficult thing to trust in the future promises of God. We need faith to believe that God will do what He has promised to do, even when we can’t see it. In verses 4-5 of Genesis 15, God confirms His promise to Abraham, and verse 6 tells us that “he (Abraham) believed the LORD.” When we are doubting the promises of God it is a good practise to remind ourselves of His promises in His Word. Read them over and over and pray for faith until you believe them, then wait for God to act.
But Abraham’s story doesn’t end there and neither does ours. Even when we come to the place where we trust and believe in the promises of God, doubt can creep back into our lives in a moment. This temptation to doubt can come from our flesh, the devil, or even from other people. In Abraham’s case, the seed of doubt was planted by his wife, Sarah. In Genesis 16:2 we read, “And Sarai said to Abraham, ‘behold now, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children from her.’ And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.”
It has been approximately eleven years since Abraham had received the promise and once again he gave into the temptation to doubt. He married Sarah’s servant and caused her to become pregnant with a son. The son was named Ishmael.
Sometimes when we can’t see God’s promises being fulfilled we try to fulfill them ourselves, in our own timing, using our own means. The results usually aren’t that great. Sarah and her servant began to have strife in their relationship and the Lord did not allow Ishmael to be the son through whom the promise would be fulfilled. How many times have we grown weary of waiting for God to fulfill His promise and have taken things into our own hands? How has that worked out for you? It has never worked out well for me! So what do we do after we have doubted God’s promises and tried to take matters into our own hands? The same thing that we did the last time we doubted His promises. We remind ourselves of God’s promises in His Word, we trust Him, and we wait!
In chapter 17 God comes to Abraham and once again He reminds him of the covenant that He had made with him. This time, God commands Abraham to have himself, all of the men in his house, and all of his offspring to be circumcised as a sign of the covenant that God had made with Abraham. At this point Abraham was ninety-nine years old. His doubt had become so strong that he fell on his face and laughed when God declared His covenant to him (17:17). Abraham said to God,
“‘Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’And Abraham said to God, ‘Oh that Ishmael might live before you!’ God said, ‘No, but Sarah your wife shall bear a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting Covenant for his offspring after him.”
Abraham must have placed at least some trust in God again for he had himself and all of his household circumcised (17:23-26). You don’t get circumcised at age ninety-nine unless you really trust that God is going to do something great!
Finally in Genesis 21 we see God fulfill His promise to Abraham through the birth of his son, Isaac. Abraham was now one hundred years old and it had been approximately twenty-five years since God had made the covenant with Abraham! God fulfilled His promise, the way He planned it, and at the time that He had ordained. His promise and His plan never changed for a moment. Oh how Abraham must have grieved over his lack of trust in God’s promises and how he must have regretted the decisions that he has made under the influence of doubt.
Thankfully God was gracious toward Abraham, and when He recounts Abraham’s story in Hebrews 11, He leaves out the part about the doubt that Abraham and Sarah struggles with. Instead, the author of Hebrews proclaims the faith that Abraham and Sarah had in God’s promises, even though their faith was inconsistent and weak.
Let this be a lesson to us, that God can be trusted and that He is always faithful to fulfill His promises. But don’t forget that His plan, His ways, and His timing are above ours. We must trust in God and wait patiently for Him to work. We must remind ourselves daily of His promises and ask Him for the faith to believe them. And we can be thankful that God is faithful even when our faith is inconsistent and weak. And we can wait patiently, knowing that we will see the fulfillment of His promises.