We’re back to our Abram story. It’s an old tale of at least 4000 years, but still his faith journey impacts our lives. Let’s continue…
After coming to Lot’s rescue successfully, God came again to Abram in a vision. God reassured Abram by confirming the promise of a great nation that He had made previously. Abram must have seen how he prospered over time, even though he was in a land that was not his own. He was a stranger, but God was with him. Yet, there was one little problem. In order to be a father of a nation you at least need to have one…child. And Abram didn’t have any. To make matters worse, Abram was even older now.
It is in this time that human reasoning starts to kick in. Abram started to reason with God saying that not his child (after all he was too old by now) but the offspring of Eliezer could fulfil the promise. Eliezer probably was a slave, a servant of Abram. You need to understand that in those days the cultural norms were different. A servant could take on a prominent place in family life. Still God had other plans with Abram.
So, to make things more visual here, God took Abram on a night stroll in the desert to enlarge his vision a bit. My younger brother Alexander served for a few months as a soldier in Afghanistan and he told me how impressive it is to see the stars out at night. No light pollution at all. You can actually see the Milky Way. An amazing view!
God showed the stars in the sky and used it as a reference point for Abram.
‘Abram, you are going to multiply beyond your wildest dreams and all nations will be blessed through you!’
Again, time passed by and we are now 11 years since Abram left his family in Haran for a promise that still had not materialized. Without ever consulting God, Sarai and Abram got the brilliant idea to help God out a bit. Sarai’s womb was pretty much done for, but Abram could still do the job. So, why wouldn’t he become the father with a slave? Hagar was the object of their little project called ‘help God and yourself a bit’. Polygamy in those days – having several wives – was not an uncommon practice in that culture. So, why not?
Hagar conceived and gave birth to Ismael. Now Abram had a son, but one little detail; not with Sarai, but with Hagar.
Hagar saw Sarai’s shame of being childless and threw that in her face every now and then. The family situation got worse and Sarai, who actually was the instigator of the whole story, now wanted to send Hagar and Ismael away…
That’s what happens when you try to help God out a bit with something he never asks for. When human reasoning gets the better of us we end up with problems. That’s why Hebrews 11:6 says this: ‘But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him’. Faith is really key…
Now fast forward 13 years. Abram and Sarai are really old now. There is no way that in their own efforts they could ever become pregnant.
But God can…Before God miraculously intervened, He first made this incredible statement in Genesis 17:1
When was 99 years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am Almighty God, walk before Me and be blameless…”
Walk with Him? Be blameless? What did Abram do in his life? Let’s revisit his past a bit
- He receives a promise with a blessing, but he needs to leave Haran – he obeyed – check!
- He got hit by a famine, fled to Egypt, lied to the Pharaoh about his so-called sister – oops!
- He gave Lot the first option which revealed a heart of sacrifice – check!
- He came to the rescue of Lot when he was captured – courage and faith – check!
- He helped God a bit by having a son of his flesh with Hagar – big oops!!
- He even had the audacity to send Hagar and Ismael away even though he created the family problem in the first place – oops!
And now God revisited Abram saying that he needed to walk with Him and be blameless?
I wonder how God saw Abram. I mean, if you look at the list of blunders Abram made, calling Abram to walk blameless in His sight sounds like a fairy tale, doesn’t it?
God reaffirmed the promise of a great nation again and now He gave Abram a new identity by changing his name into Abraham. Abram means ‘exalted father’. Abraham means ‘Father of many’. This was an important twist in the story. As a visual reminder of the promise of God, Abraham was commanded to circumcise his flesh. Circumcision – the cutting of the foreskin – was the visible sign of the promise that was given long before that. It was not circumcision itself, but faith in the promise that God could deliver what He promised to Abraham.
We human beings have more of these symbolical signs that remind us of where we stand or what we promise to God and each other. Two important ones are marriage and baptism. We have the ring which symbolizes our fidelity to each other. Faithfulness is not in the ring itself, but it is a powerful symbol that communicates to the world that ‘this man belongs to this woman’. Baptism is also a powerful statement to the world where everyone can see that a person has identified himself with Christ through death and resurrection.
I will come to that in my next blog.