Abram’s story continues. And today we see him being very human. Abram knows fear but God reassures him that He is far greater than any of Abram’s fears. His fear was that the kings might return and there would be retaliation. Our lives are only as big as our faith and our faith is only as big as our God. And if we spend all our time looking at ourselves, we will know discouragement. If we look to God by faith, we will be encouraged. This does not guarantee smooth sailing for us. But it does guarantee we will never walk alone. We also see here that God will keep His promises. In Genesis 12:1-3 God promised Abram’s descendants will bring blessings to the whole world. In Genesis 13:16 God promised descendants as numerous as the dust of the earth. But Abram laments he still has no descendants. He is now 99 years old and his only heir is Eliezer of Damascus.
Ancient law permitted a childless man to adopt one of his own male servants to be the heir and guardian of his estate. Eliezer is most likely Abram’s most trusted servant. God restates His promise to Abram, that he will indeed have a biological son. Abram’s questions of God are not asked out of unbelief. He is just seeking assurance. Especially the promise of land. At that time, the land we call the promised land was owned by 10 different kings.
Verses 9-17 describe what is known as the cutting a covenant. It was a solemn ritual that involved the death of animals and the binding of people to a covenant promise. The persons making the covenant would sacrifice several animals and divide the bodies, placing the halves on the ground opposite each other. Then the parties would walk between the pieces of the sacrifices showing that if they failed to keep their end of the covenant, they deserved the same fate as the animals. But Abram’s experience was different. He killed the animals and laid the pieces on the ground. He fell into a deep sleep and God appeared to him in a dream and spoke to him. BUT, God alone passed through the halves of the sacrificed animals. While God made promises to Abram, he did not make promises to God. There were no conditions attached to this covenant. This was a covenant of grace that came from the generous heart of God.
Again, in chapter 17 we see God speak to Abram and reaffirm the covenant promise. There is again the promise of Abram being the Father of many nations. Abram’s name is changed to Abraham, meaning the father of many nations. People must have laughed. He had one son, Ishmael, and Sari whose name was changed to Sarah, was still barren. Now, just like with Noah, God gives a physical sign of His covenant promise; every male must be circumcised, both those born in the household and those acquired from without. Nine times in chapter 17 God speaks of ‘my covenant’ and this defines Abraham’s relationship with God. Circumcision was not another covenant. It was a reaffirmation of the covenant God made with him with the addition of an important sign and seal.
When God reveals to Abraham his wife Sarah will have a baby within the next year, he laughs, not so much out of doubt but out of wonder. They are as good as dead in terms of childbearing. And that is why God waits. This child would be His doing, not theirs. Notice too Abraham is concerned with what happens to Ishmael. God promises to make him a great nation as well, but it is clear the covenant promise will come through the child Sarah will bear.
What we see in chapter 16 is the result of God’s people being impatient in waiting for God to act. As they got older, and older, Sarah decided to take matters into her own hands. They weren’t getting any younger and she had been barren her whole life. It was the cause of much shame and no doubt taunting. In that day, a woman’s worth was measured in large part by how many children they had given their husband. Sarah knew scorn and she was tired of waiting on God. It was common practice for a barren woman to give a servant to her husband to produce children for them. Sarah would have then adopted her maid’s child as her own. While Abraham did father a child with Sarah’s maid, this was not the plan God had in mind. And many scholars and historians look to this place in scripture as the point where the Arab-Israeli conflict began…between the descendants of Ishmael and Isaac.
One of the things we see here in the Sarah/Hagar story is the issue of submission. No one was willing to submit to anyone. We see the appearance of the angel of the Lord whom many believe to be a pre- incarnate Jesus. He promised to do what only God could do, and we see in 16:13 Hagar calls the angel, God. The pre incarnate visits to earth by Jesus were to meet special needs and accomplish special tasks. That the Son of God would leave heaven temporarily and come to earth to help a rejected servant girl shows the depth of His mercy and love. He told Hagar to return to Sarah and submit to her. She would have to swallow her contempt and pride, but the angel also told her that her son would enjoy blessings because he was Abraham’s son. He would be the father of the Arab peoples. The angel also said he would be a hated man and he would live in hostility toward all his brothers.
Not only did Hagar have to submit to Sarah. Sarah had to submit to God. God had plans for Sarah that would fulfill the promises He had made to Abraham, but Sarah would have to trust that God would act in His time, not hers. Abraham also had to submit to God. While Ishmael was Abraham’s son, he did little to help either Sarah or Hagar as they fought with one another. He too failed to trust God. Ishmael did not give Abraham any trouble until Isaac came along and then the trouble started.
Abraham and Sarah took a detour from God’s plans for them and they had to own up to the sin they had committed. But God in His mercy and grace kept His covenant promise to Abraham. They had to confess their wrongdoing and accept God’s cleansing and their consequences. The evil one wants us to think our detours…and we have all taken them…must become the norm for the rest of our lives. But as with everything connected to the evil one, this is a lie. Just like Abraham and Sarah, we too confess our sins, accept God’s cleansing, and then learn to live with the consequences. There may be pain, regret, even angst but the grace of God will overcome all of that.
That was good news for Abraham and Sarah. It is good news for us as well.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W