Do we believe God’s promises? Abram had God’s promise that he would become the father of a great nation (Gen 12:2). But questions remained. When? How? There was nothing he could see in his life that indicated that this promise would become a reality. Abram was getting older and time was running out for him to be a father. To him it might have seemed that God’s promise was a dud. But this God who revealed Himself to Abram was the one true God and Abram knew it. He believed it. But he also struggled with it.
The New Testament record of Abram’s life is one of exemplary faith. “He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God (Romans 4:20 KJV). “Yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith.” But in the Book of Genesis we see the human frailties of Abram. His obedience was far from perfect. The God in whom he was putting his trust would be the Savior not only of his sins but of his weak faith! And that is true for us also!
Getting impatient, Abram leaned on his own understanding and suggested that Eliezer of Damascus, his current chief of staff, be adopted as his heir. But the Lord clarified that Abram’s Promised Heir would come from his own body. He need not try to engineer the fulfillment of God’s promises himself. The Lord assured him that his descendants would be as plentiful as the stars that could be seen in the night sky, more than he could count. Indeed, his offspring would become a great nation and inherit the promised land.
Genesis 15:6 6 Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.
Do we believe God? He does not give idle promises. He is Almighty God and able to bring what He has promised to pass, His way and on His schedule.
The good news is that God’s righteousness was credited to Abram. The word ‘righteousness’ means ‘rightness’ or ‘in the right’. Abram is declared to be ‘right with God’. How can we be in a right relationship with God? By believing His Word. We are to believe the Promise. That Promise is centered in the Person and work of His Son, Jesus Christ. In the end all will be made right to those who believe that God is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do. We see this all in Christ. Faith says to the Promise, “I’m in!” Then God says, “All right!”
However, Abram asked for further assurance that he would receive what God has promised. The Lord did not rebuke Abram for his ‘mini-waver’ in faith, instead He confirmed His original promise with an additional covenant commitment. This covenant would be a legal contract witnessed with the sacrifice of animals, a custom that was tantamount to pronouncing upon oneself a curse of death if the promise was not kept. Serious stuff! The covenant would be unconditional and unilateral. Abram did not have to do a thing but bring the animals, sacrifice them, and drive away the birds of prey. Then the Lord put Abram into a deep sleep and gave him a prophetic snapshot of what would happen in the lives of his descendants for the next 400 years. He predicted the future in which his descendants would come out of their slavery in a foreign land (Egypt) and possess the promised land (Canaan-Israel) whose borders will eventually stretch from the great river of Egypt to the Euphrates.
An important lesson in the school of faith is that God’s will must be done in God’s way and in God’s time.
The Genesis account has shown that Abram, although credited as ‘the father of our faith’ (Romans 4:16), was not “Mr. Super Believer”, but a man who had his questions about God’s ways and His timing, and needed extra assurance. Sound familiar? Don’t we also?
And the Lord graciously met his need.
In Genesis 16, it is Sarai’s turn to waver. Abram was 85 and Sarah was unable to conceive. So, Sarai resorted to a custom of her day, a bit shocking to us, to have her slave, Hagar, to have sexual relations with Abram to produce an heir. Socially, Abram and Sarai would no longer be considered childless. Abram agreed and Hagar conceived, but the plan did not go well. Sarai despised Hagar. Sarai treated Hagar harshly and Hagar fled into the wilderness. There the Lord met Hagar and promised that her child Ishmael, “a wild donkey of a man”, would become the father of the Arab nations.
Abram was 86 when Ishmael was born. 13 years later, when Abram is 99, the Lord repeats his promise of his blessed offspring for the third time. He adds the detail that kings shall come from his seed and changes his name from ‘Abram’ ‘exalted father’ (‘father of the year’) to ‘Abraham’ meaning “father of many nations”.
There is some stigma that comes with trusting God for the ‘not yet’. It is especially embarrassing to be named ‘Father of the year’ when you have no children of your own. Abram bore that shame for a lifetime. Now he was 99 and, naturally speaking, his potential for fathering a child is considered ‘dead’ (Romans 4:19).
Abram probably would have welcomed a name change earlier in his life, but after 99 years he was used to the embarrassment. The Lord’s choice of a new name was not what this childless senior was hoping for. The Lord changed the fifth letter of Abram’s name, inserting the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The number 5 often represents ‘grace’ in the Bible. The fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet is ‘hey’. It is an aspirate- a breath letter, like our letter ‘h’. It is a voiceless glottal fricative. It puts living breath into a word. It changes the meaning of Abram (‘Exalted Father’) to Abraham (‘Father of many nations’). At this stage of life, the name could have caused double embarrassment for this childless father of our faith. Grace was breathing life into this all but dead promise that Abraham was carrying in his heart. Abram, now dead in his own capacity, would be brought to life by God doing for him what he could not do for himself. Freely. That is grace!
God sees us and treats us in the light of His Promise (Christ!). His covenant is everlasting and unchanging. The Lord gave Abraham the instruction to bear a sign of the covenant in his own flesh. The blessed seed of Abraham, Christ, would come to and through Abraham and His descendants. The Lord was inviting Abraham, his descendants, his household and those in his company to acknowledge that they are in on the promise. They are people in a covenant relationship with the Living God. Although not made clear at the time, it would all be based on what God had said and what He would do through the Promised Seed, Jesus Christ. A sign of this everlasting covenant would be the circumcision of the reproductive organ of every male. Not only would this be an outward sign of identification with their Covenant-Keeping God and His people, it was an outward reminder that the blessing through which all the nations would be blessed would come through Abraham’s lineage.
Now it was time for Sarai’s name to be changed. The fifth letter of her name would also be replaced with the 5th letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the aspirate letter, hey, which is a picture of God breathing into her and thereby giving her a new name. ‘Sarai’ (princess) becomes ‘Sarah’ (my princess). The Lord was naming her, adopting her into His royal family, as one who belongs to Him and His plan of salvation.
Abraham contemplated the weakness of his body without giving up on the promise. His body was now ‘as good as dead’ and so was Sarah’s (Romans 4:19).
In Chapter 18 the Lord appears to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as one of three mysterious men. One of the three gives the promise that when he returns at the same time in the following year Sarah, at 90 years old, will have given birth to a child.
Sarah laughs, perhaps scoffing at the idea that she should become a mother in her old age. However, God had the last laugh by doing what Sarah thought impossible. Her child would be named ‘Isaac’, meaning ‘laughter’ (Gen 21:1-3).
The Lord knows of our ‘mini-wavers’ in faith. We sometimes may laugh, and even scoff, when first presented with the outlandish promises of God. But God is God. With Him nothing is impossible. Let’s anchor our faith fully in Him. “Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.” (1 Thessalonians 5:24).
TODAY’S READING IN THE NEW TESTAMENT: MATTHEW 6:1-24
In the Sermon on the Mount, we get a better understanding of the ethics of our new life in Christ. Jesus shows us the character of a citizen of heaven. How does a child of God think? Behave? Pray?
Being a Christian does not mean that you put on an act. You are not here on the planet to give people the impression that you are super-pious.
Be genuine. Don’t be a hypocrite. The word ‘hypocrite’ means a play actor. The Greek word implies that an actor is pretending to be someone that he is not by standing behind a large mask. Audiences in ancient theaters did not have corrective lenses, and nearsighted folks got a better grasp of characters being portrayed by actors on the stage because they stood behind large masks with painted faces.
You were created for a genuine relationship with God. He sees what is behind the mask, so don’t bother to wear one.
Jesus shows us that God is relational. He is made objectively knowable to us as the Father through Jesus, and made knowable to us subjectively by the Holy Spirit. Jesus said “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”
Jesus gave us a prayer outline. It is sometimes called “The Lord’s Prayer”, but it is really “The Disciple’s Prayer”. (The Lord’s Prayer can be found in John 17).
Jesus taught that prayer starts with RECOGNITION. “Our Father” – Through faith in Christ we are adopted into His family. “Hallowed be thy Name”. This means that we recognize Him and His self-revealed characteristics. We are to know Him as He has made Himself known in His Word. Our prayer is that we would know Him more and that He would be known by others. Our prayer is that we would hallow His Name and that others would hallow His Name. We can express our recognition of Him with praise, adoration, thanksgiving, and even awestruck silence.
We pray prayers of COOPERATION. “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
We pray prayers of PETITION. “Give us this day our daily bread.” Our Father knows what we need, and He is ready to supply His children when they ask for what they need to be sustained in their calling.
We pray prayers of CONFESSION. “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.” We keep short accounts, acknowledging our own sinfulness and our responsibility to forgive others as we have been forgiven- TOTALLY.
We pray prayers for DELIVERANCE. “Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from the evil (one).
Verse 24 is a good reminder that we cannot serve two masters. God will have no rivals. Humanity belongs to the Creator. We belong to God. All that we are and all that we have is truly His. When we claim exclusive ownership in our self-centered covetousness, we are denying our true Master. When we start to own something in this way (money, possessions etc.) it ends up owning us and becoming our master. Who or what are you living for? Who or what are you serving? Who is Your true Master?
TODAY’S READING IN THE BOOK OF PSALMS- PSALM 7
All of God’s children share sufferings in union with their Savior. This Psalm is an example of the kind of soul-searching that goes on in times of suffering.
This Psalm is a heart-cry for justice while recognizing our own need for mercy. God’s justice is perfect. All wrongdoing is to be recognized. There is a need for repentance and faith- turning (from sin, v.12) and trusting (the One who paid for our sins; v.17).
TODAY’S READING IN THE BOOK OF PROVERBS – PROVERBS 2:1-5
DON’T MISS THIS PROVERBIAL PROMISE! Important advice for gaining wisdom!
Proverbs 2:1-5 1 My son, if you will receive my words and treasure my commandments within you, 2 make your ear attentive to wisdom, incline your heart to understanding; 3 for if you cry for discernment, lift your voice for understanding; 4 if you seek her as silver and search for her as for hidden treasures; 5 then you will discern the fear of the LORD and discover the knowledge of God.
PRAYER: Gracious God and Father, You have given us Your unfailing Word, Your trustworthy promise, and ratified it with a covenant with our Representative, Your Son. You have given us a Savior for our sins, and a Savior for our feeble faith. We believe Your promises. Help us in our instances of unbelief. We confess that we are not the super-believers we would like to be, and so we are grateful for the examples of Your merciful treatment of those who falter from time to time as they walk the path You have set before them. Thank You for the ministry of the Holy Spirit who has brought us to life, sealed us according to Your Promise, adopted us into Your family and leads us into all truth. We thank You for Your Word and the discernment, knowledge and reverence it brings to us. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.