Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Testing of Abraham Part 2

by Robert Fraire

In this post I will continue to set the stage for God's testing of Abraham that we find in Genesis chapter 22. In the first post on this topic we looked at God's covenant that he made with Abraham. In that post I stressed that God unilaterally put himself in a position of having to keep his promises to Abraham. Abraham didn't earn or deserve the promises, but God for his own purposes made them to Abraham. He had already promised that Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the dust of the earth:

Genesis 13:16"I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth, so that if anyone can number the dust of the earth, then your descendants can also be numbered."

So Abraham has this promise, but from his human perspective his reality isn't matching God's promises. He is already nearly 80 and has no children. When God speaks in promise to him again in chapter 15 the Bible records the following:

Genesis 15:2-4
Abram said, "O Lord GOD, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?"
3And Abram said, "Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir."

4Then behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, "This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir."

I have bolded God's response to Abraham as this is the main point of this post. Abraham knows that he is getting older and without heirs, which would seemingly call into question God's promise. And here God tells Abraham that the son of promise will be his physical son. So what happens next? Incredibly many more years go by without an heir for Abraham. He is now 85 years old and Sarah is 75. It seems that her time to bear children is past, so she designates her maid Hagar as her surrogate, and pleads with Abraham to bear children through Hagar.

Genesis 16:2
So Sarai said to Abram, "Now behold, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I will obtain children through her." And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.

As a side point I want to say that God's truth on marriage has always been one man and one woman for life. As seen when God made Eve for Adam and said that the two would become one flesh, marriage would always be defined that way. Therefore Abraham sinned in having relations with Hagar, and the earthly consequences of this sin were many.

But in God's providence a son was born and named Ishmael. So Abraham now had a physical son to be his descendant. It had taken a sinful act, but now it seemed that God's promises could be fulfilled through Ishmael. But this was not to be!

Thirteen long years pass, Abraham is 99 years old, Sarah 89 and Ishmael is 13. At this time God speaks to Abraham again and gives him the covenant of circumcision, then God says an amazing thing concerning Sarah:

Genesis 17:16
"I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her."

This seemed absolutely absurd to Abraham. His response to God called for God to use Ishmael, since it seemed impossible for Sarah to have a child.

17Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, "Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?"

18And Abraham said to God, "Oh that Ishmael might live before You!"

These responses by Abraham were reasonable. I will paraphrase Abraham's words like this: Since it is impossible for Sarah and I to conceive children, I believe you can bring about your promises through Ishmael. And even though reasonable, Abraham's words didn't take into account a miracle working God!

19But God said, "No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.

God declared that the humanly impossible would be his will for them. And just as God had declared; Isaac was born when Abraham was 100 and Sarah 90. All the conniving and rationalization that Abraham and Sarah had undertaken was for not. God made laughter of all their concerns. The name Isaac means laughter, and it is a timely reminder for us not to put the miraculous past God. Since he brought a child to parents after they were physically too old, what will God bring about in your life?

So now Abraham, the friend of God, has the son through his beloved wife Sarah as a testimony of God's faithfulness. He sees that son Isaac grow stronger and get older, and Abraham may have thought that God was done working in his life and that he would live out his years just watching his children and grandchildren grow.

But God had a big test set for Abraham. And in my next post we will look at this test of Abraham's faith.

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