We continue to learn about a major figure of the Old Testament this week as we study Genesis and Abraham. This particular message is about promises. Not the promises that people make, but the promises that God makes. There’s His part in making the promises and then there’s ours in walking them out.
So, it is election season. And we hear all kinds of promises from politicians who are running for office. Do you believe that they will keep their promises when they get to office? The answer is that they may keep some of them, usually the ones you don’t want them to keep, and don’t keep others. In their defense, fulfilling those promises isn’t all up to them. So Politico says that President Obama, who has make approximately 500 promises at various points in his political career, has kept about 45% of them.
Today we’re going to contrast those human promises to God’s promises.
Last week Pastor Mark introduced us to a man who is called the Father of Faith by many, Abraham. Or maybe at this point I should call him Abram, because that was the name he grew up with. We catch up with him after he had a successful run in with the armies of 5 kings…
1 After these things, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” 2 But Abram said, “Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!” 4 And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” 5 Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.
God contacts Abram and assures him that God will protect and bless him, but Abram brings up a problem. Ever had someone come up to you and want to talk and you blurted out the thing that wasn’t what they asked but was on your mind?
I have a problem. Sarai and I aren’t able to have children, so all the material and other blessings you’ve given me will end up in a servant’s hands.
So God makes Abram a promise: You will have a child and that child will lead to other generations and a huge nation will come from that child.
This is huge. Not that there would be an heir and descendants, that was awesome enough. But the fact was that God did something here that is so unexpected that we sort of might be tempted to breeze over it. God instituted righteousness by another means than by being perfect.
Here it is in the New Testament…
16 …Abraham, who is the father of us all 17 (as it is written, “I have made you a father of many nations”) in the presence of Him whom he believed—God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; 18 who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, “So shall your descendants be.” 19 And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. 20 He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. 22 And therefore “it was accounted to him for righteousness.”
The promise was given and faith was the response.
God gave Abram a promise and Abram believed God and relied on Him to fulfill it.
And then time went by. After a while, when there was still no pregnancy, that Sarai suggested a surrogate. Abram could take Sarai’s servant as a second wife and if she had a child, their culture accepted that the child could be as if it were Sarai’s. So, they thought, maybe God wants to fulfill the promise this way. No record of them seeking God for the method, they just did it. And it backfired. Yes, the maidservant Hagar had a son, Ishmael, when Abram was 86. But that only caused relational problems in their family. That son grew up and became the father of the generations that produced the Arab peoples and nations. And interestingly enough, they are the biggest antagonists for Israel, Abraham’s physical descendants, today.
But then God confirms His original promise. Thirteen years after Ishmael was born, God spoke to Abram again. Abram, now 99 years old, had God appear to him.
1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless.2 And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.” 3 Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him…
And when God talked with him, He gave Abram some more permanent reminders of the promise. For one, God changed Abram’s name and Sarai’s name to Abraham and Sarah. Abram means “exalted father”, but Abraham means “father of nations.” Sarai means “princess” as in her standing in a single family, but Sarah means “a noble lady with authority.” Their new names were now reflective of their supernatural calling.
God also, besides giving them a personal visit, instituted circumcision of the males, Abraham included. Now without a lot of detail, it became a permanent sign that they were different and called aside to a special life. But they had to actually do that, at some, well, personal cost. But Abraham believed, so he did this to himself and to every other male in the wider family/servant structure. Including Ishmael, now 13.
So God spoke and gave promises. A descendent between Abraham and Sarah, a land to those descendants that would follow. Abram believed God and it was counted as righteousness, he had faith. And we saw that his faith was tested by time, yet, even though Abraham was human, went down some wrong roads, the call, the promise of God, prevailed.
Finally, when it was very unlikely, Sarah became pregnant and she delivered a son, Isaac, at the age of 90, Abraham being 100.
1 And the Lord visited Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had spoken. 2 For Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. 3 And Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him—whom Sarah bore to him—Isaac. 4 Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. 5 Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. 6 And Sarah said, “God has made me laugh, and all who hear will laugh with me.”
God fulfilled the promise to that point. Miraculously.
Isaac’s name means “He laughs.” And Sarah got it, because when God fulfilled this portion of the promise, it was extraordinarily happy. She laughed. And Abraham laughed and everyone else laughed too, out of sheer joy.
Yes, in the years to come there were other opportunities to believe God’s promises. But the pattern is something that we need to observe.
Because if we are people of faith or are becoming people of faith, we are the descendants of Abraham or are becoming the descendants of Abraham. That’s what the New Testament teaches us.
Here’s our challenge then.
We acknowledge that God has spoken to us.
Through His Word, the Bible, and in personal ways too, through creation, through other people’s changed lives, through the gifts of the Spirit in prophecy, for example, and in moments you can’t deny.
We believe Him.
Even when we can’t see how it could possibly happen with our physical senses, yet we believe and rely on Him to fulfill His word.
We endure, persist.
We endure the testing of time, discouragement and the suggestions of those who only see what they can see, and hang on for God’s timing.
We embrace being different.
We embrace the signs, the change of identity and name, no matter how different we seem.
When the fulfillment comes, we point to God who did it all.
We embrace further testing.
We see testing as a strengthening experience, not a discouragement or a sign that we were wrong to go this direction.
Has God spoken to you.
Will you believe Him? Will you embrace testing, endurance on the way to and after fulfillment?