Abraham and the God of Impossibilities, Genesis 17:15-27

The following is a short summary of Genesis 17:1-14, which I broke into my last two posts:

Thirteen years slipped by since Abram last heard from God. Abram had believed God’s promise. But perhaps he misunderstood the piece about many descendants coming from his wife, Sarai.

For Sarai (age 89) and Abraham (age 99) failed to conceive. And their window of opportunity slammed shut, humanly speaking.

But since Abram had followed Sarai’s advice—taking Hagar as his wife—the promise of many descendants would surely come through their thirteen year-old son, Ishmael.

God’s plans, however, rarely line up with ours (humankind).

So God visits Abram again, reminding him of His covenant. After changing Abram’s name to Abraham—meaning “father of a multitude”—He outlines His expectations of Abraham: “Walk blameless before me.” And circumcision will be the sign of the covenant (Genesis 17:1-14).

You may read Genesis 17 here: Bible Gateway.

Change is in the air as the clock counts down to God’s launch of His covenant. For God also changes Sarai’s name to Sarah, (the names are two different forms of a word meaning “princess”).  And He declares that she will bear a son by this time next year.

I will bless her [Sarah] and surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” – Genesis 17:16

God’s covenant would be established through this son.

Abraham’s Response

With this crazy news, Abraham falls facedown again. This time—instead of in worship—he tries to hide his laughter.  For at the age of ninety-nine, Ishmael had been his only son for the past thirteen years!

Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?”

Ironically, God names their promise baby: Isaac, meaning “laughter”.

As the truth soaks in, Abraham implores God for Ishmael’s blessing in an “if only” sort of way.

God hears Abraham’s plea and outlines both sons’ future in verses 19-22: Although Ishmael wouldn’t be the covenant child, God still blessed him. As Isaac’s descendants would stream from 12 tribes, Ishmael would also have 12 sons/rulers who would become a great nation (see Gen. 25:13-15).

"As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead." - James 2:26

“As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” – James 2:26

Chapter 17 ends with Abraham’s obedience in circumcision: a sign of participation in God’s covenant.

Reflect

Abraham, the man God credited righteous due to his faith, struggled to believe the “how” of God’s plan. Yet, he still obeyed.

The NIV Life Application Study Bible challenges us: “When God seems to want the impossible and you begin to doubt his leading, be like Abraham. Focus on God’s commitment to fulfill His promises to you, and then continue to obey.”

I hope you have a blessed week and Thanksgiving! May we take time to reflect on God’s goodness!

God Renews His Promise to Give Abram the Land: Part 1, Genesis 15:7-11

I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.” – Genesis 15:7

This is my third post from Genesis 15 on the Abrahamic Covenant. You may read the first two posts here: The Word of the Lord; God Renews His Promise to Abram.

In summary (Genesis 15:1-6):

  • God’s word came to Abram in a vision. He told Abram to not be afraid, for He would be his shield and very great reward (15:1-2).
  • Abram questioned God: “What can you give me since I remain childless?”
  • As God’s vision to Abram continued, He told Abram that his son would come from his own body. Once again, God renewed His promise to give Abram many descendants. This time He told him to count the stars—if indeed he could count them—“So shall your offspring be,” (15:4-5).
  • Abram believed God, and God credited (imputed) it to him as righteousness (15:6).

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This post covers Genesis 15:7-11. You may read it here: Bible Gateway.

God renews His promise to give Abram the land, (Part 1).

Unlike us, Abram didn’t have access to a Bible for guidance. We know that Abram believed God’s words (Gen. 15:6). So Abram’s questions were more of an inquiry, seeking confirmation of details and assurance, rather than an expression of doubt:

O Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will gain possession of it [the land of Canaan]?” – vs. 8

God’s answer ends in an unforgettable ceremony. But first, God gives Abram specific instructions.

Abram’s Sacrifice

God tells Abram to bring: a heifer, a goat and a ram, (each three years old), along with a dove and a young pigeon.

Animal sacrifices in the Old Testament sound strange. But when Abram practiced God’s instructions, he knew that sin’s curse could only be removed by sacrifice in the shedding of blood.

Layman’s Bible Commentary notes: “The sacrifice that God instructs Abram to make involves the same ceremonially clean animals that are used later in the sacrificial system under the Law of Moses. The use of five different kinds of sacrificial animals underlines the solemnity of the occasion. The text implies that Abram is familiar with the ritual to take place, because God does not explicitly state what to do with the animals; he also sacrifices them and lays them out as an offering (15:9-10).”

God’s Timing

In His perfect timing, God would connect the sacrifice with His promise. When God finally responded, (which we will explore next week), Abram could only observe in an unforgettable, sensory enriched ceremony (vs. 12-21).

But after Abram prepared his sacrifice, God was silent.

Abram waited. . . . And he waited. . . . And he waited.

In the meanwhile, birds of prey swooped down on the carcasses. But Abram held his ground and successfully drove them away.

Why Did God Wait to Respond?

(Picture Source: bklynmed.tumbler.com) Henry Morris suggests: “The delay possibly symbolized the fact that, although God’s covenant would be sure, its accomplishment would take a long time. . . . This experience [having to drive off the birds of prey] no doubt symbolized the attempts of Satan to thwart the plans of God, plus the need for alertness in the believer in order that the enemy not succeed.”

Satan’s tactics include:
  • Doubt – of God and His Word
  • Discouragement – taking our focus off of God and onto our problems
  • Diversion – making the wrong things appear more attractive than the right things
  • Defeat – making you feel like you’ve failed, so why try?
  • Delay – convinces us to procrastinate, so we don’t act on the right choice

When you find yourself waiting on God, keep praying and hold tight to His promises (Eph. 6). Our all-knowing God will act in His perfect timing.

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Stay tuned . . .  Next week we’ll discover how God seals the deal concerning the land (Part 2, Genesis 15:12-21).  Have a great week!