After reading this chapter, you can’t help but wonder whether God was going about this nation-building business in entirely the wrong way. Consider:
- Asking a successful, prosperous and God-fearing 75-year-old man to leave his homeland, pack up his family, servants, livestock and possessions and move to an unfamiliar land filled with pagans and unbelievers.
- Promising him that his descendants would be as numerous as the dust of the earth and the stars of the sky – even though he and his wife were well past child-bearing age.
- Making him and his wife wait for 25 years after this promise before their baby boy was finally born.
- And then, testing the old man by ordering him to kill the boy as a sacrifice to God.
I mean, really? Is this any way to build a nation through whom “all the peoples of the earth will be blessed”? God could not have stacked the odds against the success of this nation-building enterprise any more than this. He took a big risk by placing an incredible amount of faith and trust in one man, Abram (later re-named Abraham), to kick off this important project.
Abraham believed God through faith. In the New Testament book of Hebrews, the author defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” This was the faith that was “credited to (Abraham) as righteousness,” which simply means that he was in right standing with God. To me, that’s a pretty good place to be.
Abraham’s faith was not without its flaws, however. In his impatience with God’s apparently slow timing, he decided (with the consent of his wife, Sarah) to have a child with Sarah’s servant, Hagar. It may have been an accepted custom in that day, but this was not God’s plan. Nonetheless, God still showed grace and favor to Hagar and her son, Ishmael. But note the consequences: Sarah became jealous of Hagar and eventually insisted that she and her child, Ishmael, be banished from the family.
And God also showed grace and mercy to Abraham throughout the remainder of his life. It reminds me of the wonderful description of God found in Psalm 108: “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. He will not always strive with us, nor will he keep his anger forever…For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward those who fear him.”
For me, the story of Abraham is another timely reminder of the concept of “asah shamah,” which means, “We will do, then we will understand.” It’s how we show God that we love and trust him, even and especially when things happen in life, both good and bad, that we just cannot comprehend.
As we will read in later chapters, this story is just one of several instances in which God takes a seemingly confusing, confounding, impossible and surprising path toward eventually fulfilling the covenant he made with Abraham.
And the good news is, you and I are part of this same amazing story.
In brotherly love,