Is anything too difficult for God?

In a recent survey of a very large congregation in North America, the question was asked, “What do you fear the most?” The primary answer from the pew was a bit startling: “intimacy with God.” It’s possible that many Christians might give this same response. Why is this?

 

Let me pose another question: What would happen if God came to Gregg County? What if He came to your front door? How would you feel? What would you do? What would you not do? When God visits, people’s priorities are quickly laid bare. Lives change…for the better!

In Genesis 18:1-15, Abraham experiences intimacy with God and once again discovers that God is a loving and patient God that reaffirms His covenant. We will learn from Abraham and Sarah’s reactions the proper way to react to God. First…

 

1. Respond to God’s intimate care (18:1-8). Our passage begins with the following account: “Now the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre [13:18; 14:13], while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day. When he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men [18:10, 13, 16-17, 33; 19:1] were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth, and said, ‘My lord, if now I have found favor in your sight, please do not pass your servant by”’ (18:1-3). In chapter 17, the Lord had appeared to Abraham for the first time in thirteen years (17:1). Now, just a short time later, God appears again. The Lord is encouraging Abraham with His presence and friendship. The text says that the Lord (Yahweh) appeared to Abraham “in the heat of the day.” It was siesta time in the hot East and Abraham was resting at the door of his tent. Abraham did not see his three guests walking from a distance, they just appeared.

 

Many Bible students don’t believe that Abraham recognized the identity of the three men. Personally, I believe he did recognize the identity of the visitors. Abraham responded by running to meet them and bowing himself to the earth (18:2). Even though the ancient Middle East was known for its hospitality, I’m not sure that the 100-year-old Abraham would have responded with such fervor. The clues intensify. Abraham addresses one of the men as “my lord.” Unfortunately, this translation “my lord” is misleading, since the Hebrew text refers to a title for God (cf. 18:27, 31). The Hebrew reads adonay (“LORD”) not adoni (“lord” or “sir”). The ESV, NKJV, and KJV translate this title correctly. Finally, Abraham says, “if now I have found favor in your sight.” In the Scriptures, this is always spoken to one of a higher rank. These clues all point to the fact that Abraham recognized the Lord (cf. 12:7, 17:1).

 

We can assume that this was God, in the person of Jesus Christ, appearing to Abraham before He took on flesh and was born at Bethlehem. The Bible teaches that no man has ever seen God the Father (John 1:181 Tim 6:16). Therefore, if God appeared to someone in human form in the Old Testament, it makes sense that it was the second person of the Trinity, the God-man that we know as Jesus Christ.

Abraham responds with one of the greatest lines in Scripture: “My lord, if now I have found favor in your sight, please do not pass your servant by” (18:3). He was eager to encounter and experience God. He wanted God to remain with him so he said, “Please do not pass your servant by.” This is precisely how the church should respond when Jesus knocks to be invited in for fellowship (Matt 25:31-46John 6:53-58Rev 3:20; 19:7).

 

We ought to be receptive and responsive to His visitation. God is sovereign. He does visit His people. He fulfills His plan and program. The only question is: Will He pass us by or will He come down and visit us? Typically, God only stays where He is wanted. He is not like a visiting in-law that forces his way into our home and then wears out his welcome. He wants to visit those that seek Him and desire Him. Today, can you honestly say that you long for God’s appearing?

 

In 18:4-8, Abraham responds to the Lord with great zeal. He says, “‘Please let a little water be brought and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree; and I will bring a piece of bread, that you may refresh yourselves; after that you may go on, since you have visited your servant.’ And they said, ‘So do, as you have said.’ So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah, and said, ‘Quickly, prepare three measures of fine flour, knead it and make bread cakes.’ Abraham also ran to the herd, and took a tender and choice calf and gave it to the servant, and he hurried to prepare it. He took curds [yogurt] and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and placed it before them; and he was standing by them under the tree as they ate.” Abraham jumps to provide service and care for his guests. He prepares a basin for them to wash their feet and he promises them that he will bring “a piece of bread” (18:5). The Hebrew word translated “bread” (lehem) can refer either to bread specifically or to food in general. Based on Abraham’s directions to Sarah in 18:6, bread was certainly involved, but 18:7 indicates that Abraham had a more elaborate meal in mind.

 

As this section unfolds, there is a striking emphasis on worship. [These principles are also relevant to hospitality.] Abraham demonstrates worship in three ways: (1) speed, (2) selection, and (3) service. First, we will look at speed. When Abraham saw the men, “he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth” (18:2). The text goes on to say that Abraham “hurried” into the tent to delegate the orders to Sarah (18:6). I love this verse because it is so realistic. Abraham is a lot like most husbands. He makes commitments without talking to his wife. Men, are you guilty of this? At one time or another, I think every one of us has been. In effect, Abraham says, “Come on in, I’ll wash your feet. I’ll feed you a meal. Rest with us. I will take care of you.” But he has nothing prepared for these unexpected guests. So Abraham hurried into the tent and said to Sarah, “Quickly, prepare three measures of fine flour, knead it and make bread cakes.” “Don’t ask me any questions, Sarah,” he might have said. “Don’t give me the old lecture that I always over commit myself. Let’s not have a family discussion. I’m in a bind. Bail me out!” Like a wonderful, loving wife, she does just that. 

 

In the very next verse, Abraham “ran” to his servant to have the best meal possible prepared (18:7). Good old Abraham definitely got his fair share of exercise when company came into town. The man took worship and hospitality seriously.

 

Not only was Abraham a man of speed but also he was a man of selection. Abraham prepared the best available food for his guests (18:6-8). He didn’t hold back his first fruits for his family; rather he gave of his wealth to others. He was a man of great generosity. The feast that Abraham had prepared could have fed a small army. The ingredients for the bread cakes, “three measures of fine flour,” are equivalent to about thirty quarts of flour, which would make a lot of bread. Depending on the breed of cow, the calf butchered for the meal could produce up to 100 pounds or more of tender veal. I call this “Abe’s All You Can Eat Steakhouse.”

 

Lastly, Abraham was willing to provide service. We know Abraham had 318 men in his household who were his servants (14:14), but here he himself becomes personally involved. He does not “pass the buck,”—he hastens to do this himself. Abraham sought the rest and refreshment of his company (18:4-5). He was after their best interests. So much so that Abraham was willing to make himself available to these men as a waiter/busser (“and he was standing by them under the tree as they ate,” 18:8).

 

Throughout their encounter, the Lord treated Abraham as His friend. He shared an intimate occasion with him—a common meal. This was a unique privilege for Abraham. It was the only case before the incarnation in which Jesus ate food set before Him. There were certainly many other occasions on which the Lord appeared to people and they offered Him food. However, on all those occasions He turned the food into a sacrifice. But with Abraham, He enjoyed a special relationship. He sat down at the table and ate with him. God reveals Himself to those who desire Him.

[We are encouraged to respond to God’s intimate care. Additionally, we are encouraged to…]

2. Rely on God’s infinite resources (18:9-15). In the next seven verses, the narrative pans in on Sarah, Abraham’s wife. Moses records: “Then they [the guests] said to him [Abraham], ‘Where is Sarah your wife?’ And he [Abraham] said, ‘There, in the tent.’ He [the LORD] said, ‘I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son’” (18:9-10a). Again the narrative confirms that Abraham’s guests were not ordinary men. They had used the new, divinely given name of his wife (17:15). Furthermore, the Lord affirmed His promise that Sarah would have a child the following year (cf. 17:21). He even promised that He would show up for the birth.

 

In 18:10b, we learn that “Sarah was listening at the tent door,” behind Abraham. It was customary in Abraham’s day, as in some cultures today, for women to be neither seen nor heard while male guests were entertained. Sarah thus prepared the bread out of the sight of the men (cf. 18:6), and now she remains inside the tent as they ate. While she carefully kept out of sight, her curiosity got the best of her. She may have peeped through the folds of the tent. At the least, she had her ear to the door, anxious to hear the conversation outside. I doubt that any of us could have avoided such temptation either.

 

In 18:11-12, the narrator gives us the inside scoop: “Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; Sarah was past childbearing. Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?’” Sarah had been infertile her entire life (cf. 11:30). She was now 90 years old and has been through menopause. So she was doubly dead in respect to childbearing. The promise that she would be a mother next year was absurd. In human terms it was impossible. So “Sarah laughed to herself.” Here, laughter was not the result of stubborn resistance to God’s will, but of hopelessness and years of disappointment.

 

Many of you have read the comic strip Peanuts by Charles Schultz. For many years there has been a recurring story line in which Lucy holds a football for Charlie Brown to kick. Each time she pulls it away at the last second, causing him to fall on his backside. One year Lucy solemnly promised Charlie Brown that this time she wouldn’t pull the ball away. Thus encouraged he took a long run at the ball only to have her pull it way at the last second. As he lay on his back with a dazed look on his face, Lucy peered down at him and said, “Charlie Brown, your faith in human nature is an inspiration to all young people.” Sarah became cynical. She won’t try to kick that football again! God has pulled it away one too many times.

 

Ladies, before we move on, I’d like you to notice something very important. Even in her unbelief, Sarah calls Abraham “my lord” exhibiting respect for her husband (1 Pet 3:6). Is this your response? Not that you need to call your husband “lord,” but do you respect him? This is a challenging example for every wife to respect her husband (Eph 5:22-24). Sarah, however, needs to see beyond her lord (Abraham) and see her Lord. Wives, this word is also applicable to you.

 

In 18:13-14, the Lord turned and said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?’ Is anything too difficult for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” I find it interesting that God confronts Abraham for Sarah’s lack of faith. Had Abraham deliberately kept God’s promise from her? Was his faith so weak that he could not convince his wife? Somehow he must give account for his wife’s response. Abraham was the head of the home and was responsible for the spiritual instruction in the home. Sarah’s response of disbelief had mirrored Abraham’s (17:17). Sarah saw unbelief in Abraham and she responded in kind.

Husbands, are you modeling a life of faith to your wife? Fathers, what are you modeling for your family? When you’re under pressure? Tired? In crisis? Discouraged? Do those that know you best and love you most see you as an exemplary man of faith?

Although the announcement of the birth of a son is made to Abraham, the focus of the narrative is clearly on Sarah’s response. Sarah receives the same promise of a son. It must sound like a broken record. It’s not nice to laugh at God! Laugh at me? I’ll find another couple that will take me seriously. Even when we doubt His Word and laugh at His promises, God remains faithful (2 Tim 2:13). We might think God would say, “I gave you this promise twice and twice you laughed at it. That’s it! No more promise. I’ll take it to someone who will appreciate it.” Instead, God responded by dealing with her sin of unbelief, but not by taking away the promise. Instead, He reaffirms His promises to Abraham and Sarah. This is interesting. The underlying issue is the physical impossibility of the fulfillment of the promise through Sarah. Once the physical impossibility of Sarah’s giving birth was clearly established, the Lord repeated His promise to Abraham.

 

God is sovereign over history. God prepares people by waiting. We want everything to change but we won’t change. God waits so long because He’s in it for His glory. Here is the bedrock issue. The only reason for such unbelief is a failure to comprehend the extent of God’s ability to work in and through us. While it may not be reasonable to believe in resurrection, faith transcends reason.

The Lord had already told Abraham that Sarah would have son “at this time next year” (17:15-21). What, then, was the purpose of returning to repeat the announcement? We need to hear God’s promises over and over again in order to strengthen and develop our faith. This is why we must assemble together for the teaching of God’s Word. We desperately need instruction, whether we realize it or not.

The fact that the Lord knew Sarah had laughed and knew her thoughts demonstrated His supernatural knowledge to Abraham and Sarah (Ps 139:1-2, 4; Heb 4:131 John 3:20). The Lord’s rhetorical question, one of the great statements of Scripture, reminded the elderly couple of His supernatural power and further fortified their faith (cf. Jer 32:17, 27Mark 10:27Luke 1:37).

The words of our Lord speak as loudly to Christians today as they did to Abraham, “Is anything too difficult for the Lord?” (18:14a). What problems are you facing in life? Addictions? God can deliver you! Discouragement over an unbelieving spouse? God is faithful! A wayward child? Nothing is too hard for Him! Despair over debt or marital problems? Nothing is impossible for God. Do you see the importance of this passage for your everyday living? It applies to those with families and those without them. It applies to anyone who feels they are in an impossible situation.

o   Those facing infertility…is your problem too hard for the Lord?

o   Those facing an overwhelming illness…God is able to meet your needs.

o   Those who look at their rebellious children and feel they are “hopeless”…The problem may seem beyond you…it is not too hard for the Lord.

o   Those who face old wounds that seem impossible to overcome…is this beyond God’s power to mend?

o   Those raised in dysfunctional homes…God can unravel the mess and heal the pain.

o   Those who look at the costs of a college education and say, “It is impossible.” Do you really think it is impossible for the God of the Universe?

o   Those who feel that their marriage is hopelessly over…the God who made you one can renew the love.

The list could go on. I suspect I’ve given enough examples to help you see your own need in the light of these words. The simple laughter of Abraham and Sarah reminds us that we often laugh when we should trust. We often throw our hands up in the air when we should be putting them together in prayer. We are too prone to focus on our lack of strength instead of His sufficient strength.

A question arises as to why the Lord is angry with Sarah’s laughter at hearing that she would give birth to a son the following year; but the Lord does not appear to be angry with Abraham who earlier (17:17) also laughed at hearing that he and Sarah would have a child. It is clear that both Abraham and Sarah laughed at the news that they would have a son so late in life. The question, then, is this: Why was Sarah the only one who was rebuked? The fact that Abraham immediately posed the issue of Ishmael and how he would fit into the promised seed if another son were born shows that he too spoke out of unbelief, just as much as did Sarah. The issue was not just Ishmael’s person, but his posterity as well. The promise of another son, Abraham feared, would destroy all hope that he had placed in the one already given. So Abraham was equally guilty of unbelief. So why the rebuke on Sarah?

It is true that Sarah only laughed to herself but so did Abraham. Nevertheless, the Lord saw what transpired in her inner being and openly spoke of His displeasure of the same. And since the principle from which both of their inward laughing sprang was the same (that is, unbelief, and not that one was a laugh of admiration and joy whereas the other was a laugh of disbelief and distrust), the unbelief of both of them was the main basis for the rebuke.

Does this mean that Abraham’s unbelief was without blame, but Sarah’s was? No, for the condemnation of one was equally a condemnation of the other. The text focuses on Sarah’s unbelief because she went on to deny it (thereby making the issue memorable and newsworthy) and because, when the whole matter was ended, it also became the basis for the naming of Isaac, which is associated with the word “he laughs” or “laughter” (21:3, 6).

 

Our passage closes with these words: “Sarah denied it however, saying, ‘I did not laugh’; for she was afraid. And He [the Lord] said, ‘No, but you did laugh’” (18:15). Poor Sarah. When confronted about her laughter, she denies it. I would too. It’s not nice to laugh at God! The Bible does not gloss over the sins of its heroes and heroines of faith (cf. 12:13). This is yet another indication that the Bible is God’s Word. What other book would expose the failures of its heroes?

If this were the entire story, we would be tempted to say that this woman is no example to follow.

 

But over in the New Testament, in the book of Hebrews, we get the rest of the story. There, in that wonderful eleventh chapter, the hall of fame of the heroes of faith, Sarah’s name appears: “By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised (Heb 11:11). Now we begin to see what must have happened. After the guests left, Sarah was still thinking about what she had heard, and the words of the Lord came home to her heart in peculiar power, especially the question God had asked, “Is anything too difficult for the Lord?” (18:14) As Sarah thought about it, she had to face that question. Is there? Is anything too hard for the Lord? As Sarah began to think of the One who had said these words, she looked beyond the contrary facts of her own life and beyond the contrary feelings of her own heart and said, “Of course not. Nothing is too difficult for the Lord. If He has promised, then it shall be done.” Through faith she received power to conceive when she was past age because she counted Him faithful who had promised.

 

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Trust AND Obey

“Jump and I’ll catch you.” Have you ever heard a parent say that to a child perched on some high place? Can you remember one of your parents saying that to you when you were little? Did you do it? Did you jump? In a sense, that is like something that God says to us. God reaches out to us in love. He initiates a relationship with us by making some promises to us. When we believe His promise of eternal life through Christ, we begin a relationship with God. Yet, this is only the beginning. God calls us to trust His promises and dare to live our lives as if we believe He will keep all of His promises. There is some risk involved in doing that. But unless we take that risk, we can never truly live the life of faith that God intends for us. God says, “Jump and I’ll catch you.”

 

Yet, there is a tension in this. While we are commanded to obey, Jesus works in us, through the Holy Spirit, to accomplish obedience. When Mother Teresa was asked about her world-renowned service, she replied, “I am just a little pencil in God’s hands…doing something beautiful for God.” In a mysterious way, we’re not called to work for God, but to let God work through us.

 

In Genesis 17:1-27, we will see a mixture of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. And we will learn how God works to accomplish obedience in Abram’s life and ours. First, we will see…

 

  1. God is a covenant-keeping God(17:1-8). Moses writes, “Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty’” (17:1a). These words break thirteen years of silence between God and Abram. God had not spoken to Abram since he took matters into his own hands by sleeping with Hagar and conceiving a son (16:16). After these silent years, Abram must have been greatly encouraged by this encounter with God. In this revelation, the Lord manifested Himself more fully in terms of His character and attributes. God referred to Himself as “God Almighty” (E1 Shaddai).

 

So far, the primary name by which the Lord has revealed Himself is Elohim, meaning the God who creates and sustains nature. El Shaddai, on the other hand, refers to the God who constrains nature, the One who actually causes nature to do what is against itself. In other words, God is capable of working miracles. He created natural laws; He can violate natural laws.

 

E1 Shaddai is a designation, which emphasizes God’s infinite power (Exod 6:3). Interestingly, the word El means “the strong one,” while the word Shadd refers to the bosom of a nursing mother. This suggests that God is the One from whom Abram was to draw strength and nourishment. By a most tender image, God seems to be saying that we are empowered to live out our responsibilities in the covenant by feeding on Him, just as a child grows by feeding on the milk of its mother.

 

This is a timely word. Abram had spent the last thirteen years living with the strife and turmoil that his sinful decision had produced in Ishmael. Now Abram was about to learn that God’s promises are fulfilled not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit of the Lord Almighty (Zech 4:6). It would be El Shaddai who would accomplish His will in Abram’s life! God is able, whatever the circumstance and whatever the difficulty (Eph 3:20). Do you believe this?

Is there anything too difficult for God to accomplish in your life?

Can He restore your marriage?

Can He transform your wayward child?

Can He redeem your job?

If He truly is a supernatural God, then He can. Will you put your trust in Him to work in your life?

This almighty God says to Abram, “Walk before Me, and be blameless” (17:1b). As Enoch and Noah had walked with God (5:21-24; 6:9) so now Abram is commanded to “walk before God.” He is not commanded to jog, run, or make a mad dash, he is commanded to walk.

 

Many people fail to recognize how simple and straightforward the Christian life is: It requires a slow and steady walk with God; not 30 days to spiritual victory if you read this book or watch these DVD’s. God esteems the patient perseverance of walking before Him.

God also states that Abram is to “be blameless.” The word “blameless” means “complete, whole, having integrity.” Abram was to conduct himself as if always being in God’s presence. What a challenge for Abram and for us. It is easy to be blameless on Sunday morning but it is far more difficult to live a blameless life Monday through Saturday. I love the book title by Bill Hybels, Who You are When No One’s Looking.

 

God wants His disciples to be people of integrity, not duplicity.

The Lord continues in 17:2: “I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and I will multiply you exceedingly.” Two times in this verse, God says, “I will…” The promises of this covenant are from God (cf. 15:18). He takes the initiative. The word translated “establish” means “to set in motion.” At this time, the Lord is going to begin to fulfill His promises to Abram. The word “covenant” (berith) is central to this narrative. The phrase “My covenant” occurs nine times. The word “covenant” appears another four times. The use of the word “everlasting” captures God’s firm resolution to establish a people through Abram.

 

What an encouragement this must have been to Abram. In spite of his rendezvous with Hagar (16:3-4), God was going to honor His covenant with him. Even when we are faithless, God remains faithful (2 Tim 2:13). Regardless of what you have done, God wants to extend His grace to you. Have you sinned against God? Have you failed Him in your marriage vows, in your relationship with your children, in your work performance? Today, He says to you: Return to Me, I want to restore you. I want to bless you.

 

Upon hearing these words, “Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him” (17:3).Abram responds demonstratively. Why? He met with God! In the Bible, when men and women meet with God, there is some form of physical expression. It was not a “ho-hum” yawn of an experience. Typically, our posture reflects the attitude of our heart. It is very difficult to worship God without being expressive. The idea of worshipping God within one’s heart is a western phenomenon that is not practiced by the rest of the world and will not be in the eternal state (Rev 4-5).

 

When you meet with God, I encourage you to express yourself to Him. If you are not comfortable doing so publicly, do so privately.

 

In 17:4-5, the Lord says, “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you will be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I will make you the father of a multitude of nations.” Abram is to be the father of other nations besides Israel. “Nations” is a key word that is repeated three times in 17:4-6. This serves as a reminder that God’s program includes all people: “every tribe, tongue, people, and nation” (Rev 5:9; 7:9).

 

In these verses, God also changes Abram’s name. “Abram” means “exalted father.” Now God changes Abram’s name to “Abraham,” which means “father of a multitude.” How could Abraham ever live this name down? Every time his name is called, it reminds him how hollow the promise sounds.

 

Now he gets his family together and announces his new name. I can hear one of his servants saying, “You’ve got to be kidding. What a joke! You only have one child and that by a slave. Abram is losing his mind. The desert sun is getting to him.”

 

As believers in Jesus Christ, we have also been given a new name and a new identity. Thus, we seek to live according to who we are.

God’s drama continues, and it is for our benefit that He writes the script. He delights us with an age-old theme of just an ordinary man doing the extraordinary—a simple, humble man chosen to become the father of a great nation. Isn’t it wondrous that God takes insignificant people like you and me and uses us beyond our greatest expectations (Ps 113:5-9; Eph 3:20)?

 

Notice the first two words of 17:6: “I will.” These words occur five times in 17:6-8:

  1. “I will make you exceedingly fruitful.” God promises Abraham many descendants. This has been God’s plan from the beginning (e.g., Adam, Noah).
  2. “I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you.” Not only would nations come from Abraham but even kings, eventually culminating in Jesus—“the King of Kings.”
  3. “I will establish my covenant between Me and you and your descendants.” We worship God individually, but we also want to have a legacy of unbroken family members trusting in Christ.
  4. “I will give you and your descendants the land as an everlasting possession.” God will give not only descendants, but land as well.
  5. “I will be their God.”This last phrase is significant. God wants to be our God. He wants our relationship with Him to change our lives! This makes sense when you think about it. After all, you wouldn’t expect to get married without it modifying your life at all. Imagine someone saying, “Oh yes, I’m married, but I don’t let it affect my life. I do what I want with my money and my time. No, I don’t spend time with my wife. Yes, I talk with her occasionally, but only when I really need something from her.” You would think that was a pretty strange way to behave; yet people think that they can behave that way with God.

[God is a covenant-keeping God, but we will also see that…]

  1. God expects our obedience(17:9-27). “God said further to Abraham, ‘Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants. A servant who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be circumcised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.’” Many people wrestle with the nature of this unconditional covenant. The question that is raised is: If this covenant depends upon God, why are conditions placed upon Abram? The answer is simple: Although God’s promises to Abram were unconditional Abram’s enjoyment of the blessings was conditional. In other words, within God’s unconditional promises, God makes demands.

 

He commanded Abram and Sarai to leave their home and their extended family and go to a new land (12:1). He commanded them to be a blessing to others (12:2), to walk before Him and be blameless (17:1), and to circumcise the males in their household as a sign of the covenant (17:10). Although God’s promises were unconditional, Abram’s temporal participation in God’s blessing was conditioned on his faithfulness and obedience to God’s commands.

When God says, “You shall,” He is not saying “My will is dependent upon your action. God does not say, “You must do this, and if you don’t, I won’t do what I’ve promised.” God does not act like that. God is sovereign. God is going to do what He will do. But it is no less true and no less important that we must do something. In the case of Abraham, he was to circumcise himself and every male in his household. The word circumcision means “cutting around.” It refers to a minor operation that removes the foreskin from the male organ. Only males underwent circumcision, of course. In the patriarchal society of the ancient Near East people considered that a girl or woman shared the condition of her father if she was single, or her husband if she was married. Circumcision was a fitting symbol for at least three reasons:

 

  1. It would have been a frequent reminder to every circumcised male of God’s promises involving seed. Circumcision of the male only may have signified the special responsibility, which God had assigned to the father. (This may have had particular significance to Abraham after the incident with Hagar.) God will bring about His seed in His time and in His way.

 

  1. It was a physical reminder of sexual and spiritual fidelity. The male organ of procreation was to be set apart for the Lord’s purposes rather than for sexual immortality. Abram had committed sexual immortality by sleeping with Hagar. Now he was to submit it to God. The male organ of procreation would be the vehicle through which the seed of man would pass, ultimately preparing the way for the Messiah. This sign alerted a member of the covenant never to use the organ bearing this mark in a promiscuous manner. If this part of man’s body is devoted to the Lord, the entire man will be devoted to the Lord. All manners of sexual sin come from this organ. This organ is to be used for sexual pleasure in the context of marriage and godly offspring. Circumcision assured a wife of her husband’s submission to the Lord. It reminded a husband that he belonged to the Lord. No Israelite man could ever engage in sexual relations without being reminded of the fact that he belonged to God.

 

  1. It was an illustration of God’s approach to dealing with the flesh(Col 2:10-12). The circumcised male was one who repudiated “the flesh” (i.e., the simply physical and natural aspects of life) in favor of trust in the Lord and His spiritual promises. Circumcision didn’t save Abram or make him righteous before God (Rom 4:9-12). His righteous standing before God was on the basis of faith (11:30-31). Circumcision, water baptism, confirmation classes, communion, being born into a Christian home, being a part of a certain denomination, or even saying the sinners prayer are outward symbols of an inward faith. But apart from a changed heart and life, these religious symbols have nothing to do with salvation.

In the New Testament, the physical act of circumcision is no longer required for believers. Instead, we are to be circumcised in our hearts, which is the seat of decision-making. This expresses three things:

 

  1. It is an expression of our identification with Christ.
  2. It is an expression of spiritual fidelity to the Lord.
  3. It is an expression of cutting off or putting to death the sinful nature (Phil 3:3). We are to have no reliance upon ourselves, but rely totally upon Him. That is the circumcised life.

 

This paragraph concludes in 17:14 with this warning: “But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.” Here is a classic play-on-words. God is saying, “If you don’t cut yourself, I’ll cut you off.” This is a reference to execution, sometimes by the Israelites but usually by God, in premature death. The person who refused to participate in circumcision demonstrated his lack of faith in God by his refusal. Thus he broke the covenant of circumcision. Only by keeping these conditions can man enjoy the blessings of God as guaranteed in the covenant.

 

In 17:15-16, God transitions in his discussion with Abraham. He says, “‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 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.’” For emphasis Sarah’s name appears three times in these two verses. God is a God of grace. Sarah had been immoral. She asked her husband to commit adultery and polygamy. But God still blesses her. The names are two different forms of a word meaning “princess.” It is as though God is saying, “Now Sarah will really be a princess!” The Lord, possibly testing Abraham’s faith and his reliance on Him for help, did not specifically indicate that Sarah would be the mother.

 

Abram undoubtedly assumed that Ishmael would be the promised heir until God told him that Sarah would bear his heir herself. That revelation is the most important feature of this chapter. God gave the name changes and circumcision to confirm the covenant promise of an heir and to strengthen Abram’s faith.

In 17:17, we read these words: “Then 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?’”

 

In 17:3, Abram “fell facedown” exhibiting respect and reverence for the Lord. Here in 17:17, he again falls on his face but this time it is to hide his laughter. When Abram heard that God would greatly increase his descendants, he responded with respect and submission. But when he heard how God would carry out his plan, his respect contained a tinge of laughter.

 

When you read God’s Word, you must constantly be saying to yourself, ‘It is talking to me, and about me’. So put yourself in Abraham’s sandals for a moment. He began following God at age 75. He is now 99. He has been following God for 24 years. During these years God has repeatedly told him that he will have a son and he will possess the land. After 24 years, what does Abraham have to show for it? Nothing!

He does not have a son nor does he possess the land.

He and Sarah keep getting older. If you were 99 and your wife was 90, and God said you are going to have a son you would burst out laughing too! How would you like to be the mother of a two-year-old at 92 years of age? Just think about that for a moment! A two-year-old! How would you like to be 108 when he got out of high school and 112 when he got out of college? No wonder Abraham laughed! He said, “God, you’ve got to be kidding!” It wasn’t a disrespectful or cynical laugh (see Rom 4:18-21). It was a laugh of shock!

 

Why does God delay in our lives? His opportunity may not even begin until we have exhausted our own resources and all other options. His delay is designed to bring us to the point where we recognize that there is no human hope—our only hope is in God (Rom 4:18-21)!

 

In 17:18, Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before You!” We must feel the agony of this request. All of Abraham’s love, all of his hopes, and all of his dreams have been poured into this boy. Abraham was not expecting another son. He must have thought: “Lord, be reasonable. After all, Sarah is a very ‘iffy’ proposition whereas Ishmael is a certainty. Let’s go with a sure thing.” Abraham is seeking to protect God from the embarrassment of not keeping His promise. Abraham has gotten into the habit of being content with something less than what God intended. Be careful to ever limit God.

 

In 17:19, 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 once again confirms His promise, but this time explicitly states that Sarah shall be the mother. God even says that the boy’s name shall be “Isaac,” which means “laughter.” God thus made an ironic play on Abraham’s response and his son’s name. Every time he heard his son’s name, Abraham would be reminded of the miraculous birth. God always gets the last laugh!

 

However, God is gracious. He responds to Abraham’s request. He says, “As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him, and will make him fruitful and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation” (17:20). God heard the prayers of Abram and He blesses Ishmael. As the Hebrew people would have twelve tribes, so Ishmael’s people would also have twelve families. God blesses both believers and unbelievers (Matt 5:45). He is a gracious God—slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. Nevertheless, while sin can be forgiven, the consequences of sin can linger for a lifetime.

 

In 17:21-22, the Lord says, ‘“But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this season next year.’ When He finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham.” For the first time, God gave a specific date for the birth of the promised son. Within a year, Abraham would know whether or not God had fulfilled His promise.

Our story concludes in 17:23-27. Moses writes, “Then Abraham took Ishmael his son, and all the servants who were born in his house and all who were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s household, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the very same day, as God had said to him. Now Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. In the very same day Abraham was circumcised, and Ishmael his son. All the men of his household, who were born in the house or bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.” Now I want you to imagine this scenario: A 99-year-old father tells his 13-year-old son to go get a flint knife so that all the males in the household can be circumcised. Think about this. Most junior high kids won’t even take out the garbage but somehow Ishmael is willing to be circumcised. Why? I believe that he observed his father’s tendency to obey God and he was willing to follow his father’s example. Fathers, are you that kind of a man? Is your life a model of obedience? Do your children see Christ in you?

 

Verses 23-27 stress three elements of obedience in our Christian lives.

 

  1. Biblical obedience is complete. Abraham circumcised “every” male in his household. The words “all”and “every” are used four times in 17:23 and 27

 

  1. Biblical obedience is prompt. Abraham obeyed God “the very same day” (17:23, 26). Abraham did not say, “All right, God, I hear you. I know what You want. I’ll do it tomorrow, or next month, when I have a little more leisure time. I’ll do it after I do something else I want.” Abraham knew that the time to obey God was now.

 

  1. Biblical obedience can be risky. Circumcision is quite painful and disabling (Gen 34). Abraham’s obedience rendered his family defenseless. He trusted God to protect and provide for his family. In order to be true to what I read in the Scripture, I have to take risks.

 

Again, it is important to note that circumcision was not a condition of the covenant but a sign of participation in it. Likewise, our responses to God are not the conditions of our salvation but are the appropriate and expected signs of our participation in the new covenant.

 

Why does God delay in our lives? Sometimes God’s opportunity does not come until our human extremity is reached. His opportunity to meet our need may not even begin until we have exhausted our own resources and all other options. His delay may be designed to bring us to a point where we recognize that there is no human hope—our only hope is God.

 

When God says, “Jump,” will you trust and obey and take that leap of faith?

 

Be careful of shortcuts

Are you a patient person? One of the best ways I know to determine your level of patience is to ask you to consider your driving habits. Does it kill you to decrease your speed in 25 mph zones? When you are waiting for a parking space in a busy parking lot, does your heart rate increase? When you see the traffic light turn yellow, do you floor it through the intersection? It is easy to think you are a fairly patient person until you ask yourself hard questions about your driving habits.

 

Richard Hendrix said, “Second only to suffering, waiting may be the greatest teacher and trainer in godliness, maturity, and genuine spirituality most of us ever encounter.” If Hendrix is correct, and I believe he is, if we want to grow in godliness, we must grow in patience. We must learn to wait on God. In Genesis 16:1-16, we will discover two principles that will help us to avoid the temptation to “make things happen.” First…

 

  1. Wait on God’s promises(16:1-6). Moses begins our chapter with these words, “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife had borne him no children, and she had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar.” Verse 1 begins by identifying Sarai as “Abram’s wife.” Why is this necessary? The reader knows who Sarai is. We shall quickly see that this point is made for emphasis. God had promised Abram a son (12:2). But in Abram’s impatience, he adopted his servant girl’s son and named him Eliezer, which means, “God of help” (15:2-3). However, God rejected Eliezer and reaffirmed His promise to give Abram a son out of his own body (15:4). But ten years later, Abram is still waiting! Abram is 85 and Sarai is 75 years old.

 

Undoubtedly, they must have been discouraged and disillusioned by the problem of Sarai’s barrenness (cf. 11:30). Sarai is likely feeling like a failure…when all of a sudden she remembers her Egyptian maid, Hagar. It is nearly certain that Sarai has acquired Hagar during their sojourn in Egypt (cf. 12:16).

 

So Sarai says 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.” Sarai’s words are very telling. She acknowledges that the Lord has prevented her from bearing children. Yet she conjures up a solution to help God out. It is important to realize that God had indeed sovereignly prevented her from having children, not to frustrate Abram and Sarai, but to test them and to magnify His glory. But Sarai allowed her feelings to get the best of her and she made a tragic mistake. She suggested a pagan custom be followed and that Abram should get a child through Hagar.

 

Sarai was acting without sense, without foresight, without guidance, and without assurance. She could only say, “…perhaps I will obtain children through her” (16:2). This seems to be an ancient variant on the expression, “God helps those who help themselves!”

 

So what was Sarai’s rationale? First, Sarai likely said, “God made the promise that you, Abram, would have a son. He didn’t specifically say that we would have a son.” Second, “We are old! My biological clock is winding down! If we don’t do something soon, God’s promises won’t be fulfilled!” Finally, “This is a culturally acceptable practice. No one will think any less of us.” Ancient documents reveal that when a woman could not provide her husband with a child, she could give her female slave as a wife and claim the child of this union as her own. But just because something is culturally or even legally acceptable doesn’t make it right for the believer. For example: abortion, adultery, and pornography are all legal but they are not moral or biblical.

 

Sarai asked Abram, her husband, to commit adultery and polygamy. Tragically, Abram was all too happy to oblige. Maybe he said, “Well, honey, if that’s what you think is best, I’ll make the sacrifice for the good of the family. I’ll sleep with this young and attractive Egyptian. It’s a tough job, but I guess I’ll do it.” Now men, what would you have done? In our more fleshly moments, many of us would have followed in Abram’s footsteps. Would you have had the discipline and self-control to refuse your wife’s request? The phrase “listened to the voice” is a Hebrew idiom meaning “obeyed” (cf. 3:17). Abram listens to the voice of his wife and ignores what God has already told him (see Gen 15). For Abram, this was the beginning of failure. The same is true in our lives. When we pay more attention to the voices of human beings than to the voice of God, we are setting the stage for spiritual failure. Ignoring God and working problems out on our own only makes a bad situation worse. The consequences can be devastating (cf. Gal 6:7-8).

Abram and Sarai could have avoided this predicament if they had waited on God. Unfortunately, they took matters into their own hands. Like Abram and Sarai, the first question we usually ask when we face a wall of frustration is, “What can I do?” Not, “What does God want me to do?” There are times when this question cannot be answered quickly. Therefore, we must wait on God.

 

In 16:3, Moses pens these fateful words: “After Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Abram’s wife Sarai took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to her husband Abram as his wife.” There is an ironic reversal here. Down in Egypt, trustless Abram had given Sarai over to the Egyptian Pharaoh (12:10-20). Now in Canaan, untrusting Sarai gave Abram over to her Egyptian servant. It is ironic how the tables have been turned. In Genesis 12, Abram’s unbelief caused him to agonize while Sarai was in Pharaoh’s palace. Now, Sarai is left to ponder what is going on in Hagar’s bedroom. Abram’s fiasco in Egypt was costly indeed. Hagar was given a promotion. While Hagar was not on equal standing with Sarai, she did become a slave wife. If she produced the heir, she would be the primary wife in the eyes of society.

 

The following chart draws several parallels between Genesis 16 and Genesis 3.

 

Sarai spoke to her husband, Abram (16:2a) Eve spoke to her husband, Adam (3:2)
Abram listened to the voice of his wife (16:2b) Adam listened to the voice of his wife (3:17)
Sarai took Hagar to Abram (16:3a) Eve took the fruit (3:6a)
Sarai gave Hagar to her husband (16:3b) Eve gave the fruit to her husband (3:6b)

 

The results of Abram and Sarai’s sin were pride (16:4), jealousy (16:5), misery (16:6), and injustice (16:6). In 16:4, Abram “went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her sight.” If Sarai’s volunteering Hagar as her surrogate scandalizes us, Abram’s passive, compliant conduct is even more offensive. He, not Sarai, had heard the voice of God. He had led them from Ur. Abram had had no divine directive to employ Hagar. Otherwise he would have led the way. And Abram was fresh from the fiery presence of the Lord (15:12-21). But he did not question her idea. He did not object.

 

Abram made at least four mistakes:

  1. Abram failed by doubting the promise of God (Heb 11:5-6). Hudson Taylor, a famous missionary to China, said, “God’s work, done in God’s way, will never lack God’s supply.”
  2. Abram failed by listening to his wife’s ungodly advice. Having said that let me also say that many marriages are in trouble because the husband doesn’t listen to his wife. Your wife is your helpmate and you would be wise to pay attention to her counsel.
  3. Abram failed to test his wife’s advice and counsel against God’s Word. If your wife suggests something that is contrary to clear teachings of Scripture, then you must reject that counsel and follow what the Word teaches (cf. Acts 5:29).
  4. Abram failed to pray for God’s wisdom or guidance. Sometimes the prayer-less decisions we make seem so insignificant and harmless. But often these prayer-less decisions come back to haunt us. If Abram had stopped to think through this situation and consult God, he would have never gone through with it. He would have realized the outcome would be disastrous.

After Hagar conceived, Sarai was “despised in her sight.” In Hagar’s opinion Sarai had been demoted. This began the first martial triangle in biblical history. And it all came about because of impatience and disobedience.

Proverbs 30:21-23 says, “Under three things the earth quakes, and under four, it cannot bear up: Under a slave when he becomes king, and a fool when he is satisfied with food, under an unloved woman when she gets a husband, and a maidservant when she supplants her mistress.”

In 16:5, Sarai became volcanic. The shaking ground erupted in anguished jealousy and bloodcurdling blame. Though Sarai had initially given Abram the green light, she is now flashing raging red. In her anger, Sarai said to Abram, “‘May the wrong done me be upon you. I gave my maid into your arms, but when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her sight. May the LORD judge between you and me.’” [A contemporary rendering of this would be: “God will get you for this.”] Logically, Sarai was wrong to place all the blame on Abram. After all, it was her idea. But actually she was right. He was the patriarch. He was the head of the home. God had spoken to him, not to her. He should never have allowed the situation. Abram was truly responsible for the “wrong” (lit. “violence”) she was suffering.

 

Abram is between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Unfortunately, he chooses the easy way out. In 16:6a, Abram said to Sarai, “‘Behold, your maid is in your power; do to her what is good in your sight.’” Letting Sarai have her way was a dereliction of duty on the part of Abram. He was an accomplice to this sin by refusing to resist it or to rebuke Sarai. Sarai’s stinging rebuke should have been a wake-up call, but it served only to cause Abram to retreat further. Rather than leading his wife out of the mess he had allowed to occur, he dodged his responsibility, preferring to pass the buck to Sarai. I think it can safely be said that, at this point, Sarai was wearing the “tunic” in the family. Abram becomes a passive, sissified male that abandons headship of his home (Eph 5:23).

 

With Abram “washing his hands” of the conflict between his two wives, Sarai began treating Hagar harshly (16:6b). The word translated “harshly” is used later to describe how the Egyptian slave masters would treat Israel. As a result of Sarai’s harsh treatment, Hagar fled from her presence (16:6b). Running away from our problems is never the answer. Barnhouse writes, “If we seek to change our circumstances, we will jump from the frying pan into the fire. We must be triumphant exactly where we are. It is not a change of climate we need, but a change of heart. The flesh wants to run away, but God wants to demonstrate His power exactly where we have known our greatest challenge.”

 

The next time you are tempted to sprint ahead of God’s best for you, run your dilemma through these simple checks:

  1. Walk a little slower. Exercise patience. Don’t rush God’s plans for your life. Learn to practice the arts of biblical meditation, silence, and solitude.
  2. Ask God for patience. My favorite book title is I Prayed for Patience and Other Horror Stories. We laugh at this only because we can relate. But what would happen if you and I seriously prayed that God would grant us greater patience to fulfill His will. Do you think this is a prayer that God will answer (John 14:13-14; 1 John 5:14-15)? Absolutely!
  3. Imagine the worst-case scenario. Think how a poor decision will impact you and others—not only short-term, but long-term as well. Chances are the ramifications of that decision will be far more devastating than you could possibly predict.

[God has called us to wait on His promises. Now we will learn that we are to…]

  1. Watch for God’s intervention(16:7-16). After fleeing from her master, Sarai, Hagar naturally headed west toward Egypt. In 16:7-8, we read, “Now the angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur [a word meaning “wall”]. He said, ‘Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from and where are you going?’ And she said, ‘I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.’”

 

Here in Genesis 16 is the first appearance of “the angel of the Lord” in the Bible. There is debate about who this angel is, but I believe him to be the preincarnate Christ. The text seems to supports this conclusion. First, He speaks authoritatively in the first person (16:10-12). Second, Sarai identifies Him as God (16:13). Later in Genesis, Joseph describes the angel of the Lord as “the angel who has redeemed me from all evil” (48:16). If this is Jesus, this is similar to the time in John 4 when Jesus sat with the woman at the well. Both women were not Jews and both were sexually sinful women. Yet, Jesus met them both with grace and mercy (cf. Ps 34:17-18).

 

The associations between Genesis 16 and Genesis 3 continue in this section of the narrative as well. Just as the Lord sought Adam and Eve in the garden after the fall (3:9), the angel of the Lord came searching for Hagar in the desert. The Lord asked Adam and Eve, “Where are you?” so the angel of the Lord found Hagar in the wilderness and greeted her with the similar question (16:8): “Where have you come from, and where are you going?” The key issue to note is that God actively seeks man out even when man does not want to be found. When man runs away, God chases him down. God is far more interested in man than man could ever be interested in God.

 

Did you notice that God is strangely absent from the first six verses? It is true that God was given the credit (or the blame!) for preventing Sarai from having children (cf. 16:2). But no one had consulted God or sought His will. No one had called to remembrance His promise to provide a son. More distressing is the fact that God has not yet spoken in our text. It would seem that since man had chosen to go his own way, God stepped aside to let him live with the consequences of disobedience. Only to Hagar did God speak. And He sought her while she was running away. God continues to do this in our lives today. He is a faithful God who chases His children down.

In 16:9, the angel of the Lord said to Hagar, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority.” Hagar is instructed not only to submit to Sarai’s authority, but to whatever mistreatment that involves. God calls for Hagar to humble herself. We cannot read this command without recalling Peter’s instructions to Christian slaves in his first epistle: “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God” (1 Pet 2:18-20).

 

When God finds us wandering, this is often what He says, “Return and submit!” It may be a bad marriage, financial debt, or broken relationships. However, one word of caution is necessary here. This verse does not mean that in a marital situation, if you are being physically abused, you ought to stay there and take the abuse. That’s not what this means at all. The underlying principle being taught is that you cannot run to Egypt to avoid your problems. You cannot run away from them.

 

I believe the primary reason that God calls Hagar to return to Sarai is so that Ishmael will have a father during the formative years of his life. God calls Hagar back so that Ishmael can have his dad. God is taking care of the boy. He is thinking about the child. Did you know that 40% of children don’t have a dad? This is a horrifying statistic that is not bound to improve. Yet, God is always concerned about children, especially those that are fatherless. If you are a father, please invest well in your children. If you are not a father, invest in someone else’s children. One of the primary purposes of the church is to ensure that children are being cared for and developed in the Lord. You and I must each do our part.

In 16:10-11, the angel of the Lord said to Hagar, “‘I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count.’ The angel of the LORD said to her further, ‘behold, you are with child, and you will bear a son; and you shall call his name Ishmael, because the LORD has given heed to your affliction.’” It is only in association with her return to Sarai and her submission to Sarai that the Lord offered Hagar a blessing. Abram, Isaac, and Jacob are given a similar promise but Hagar is the only woman that is given a promise like this. She was an honored woman. The name Ishmael means “God hears” or “God has heard.” This name served as a reminder to Hagar. Whenever she murmured or sang it to her baby, she would commemorate this event. Even when he was so difficult that she shouted his name, she recalled God’s intervention.

 

In 16:12, the Lord goes on to say that Ishmael “will be a wild donkey of a man, his hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand will be against him; and he will live to the east of all his brothers.’” The prophecy is not an insult. The wild donkey lived a solitary existence in the desert away from society. Ishmael would be free-roaming, strong, and like a bedouin; he would enjoy the freedom his mother sought. The word “hand” represents strength. His free-roaming lifestyle would put him in conflict with those who follow social conventions. There would not be open warfare, only friction because of his antagonism to their way of life.

In 16:13-14, Hagar called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “‘you are a God who sees’; for she said, ‘Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?’ Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered.” This is the only place in the Bible where a person names God. Hagar names God El Roi—the God who sees. The Hebrew name “Beer-lahai-roi” means “The well of the living One who sees me.” The text suggests that God takes up the cause of those who are oppressed. In the midst of jealousy, cruelty, irresponsibility, impatience, and abundant sinfulness God’s grace stepped into the life of this despised slave girl, and showed her His kindness. From that point on, she would never forget what had happened to her. She now knew that God was the One who had been caring for her all along.

 

God sees you where you are and He cares for you as you are. God sees our mistakes and yet treats them with mercy. He sees our sufferings and in His appointed time has plans to bring them to an end. We may sometimes feel that God is unconcerned about us, but He is faithful and always hears and “sees” (Exod 3:7) the misery of His people.

 

Our chapter closes with these words: “So Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to him” (16:15-16). These verses make it clear that Hagar obeyed the Lord and returned to Sarai. Upon her return, she no doubt told Abram how the Lord had met her in the wilderness by the spring. Abram then accepted Hagar’s testimony and named the boy Ishmael at Hagar’s request. There is no mention of Sarai in these closing verses. Even Abram responds to Hagar. It seems that Sarai’s intervention and Abram’s acquiesce may have delayed the promise for some thirteen years. Shortcuts do not promote God’s purposes.

 

Ishmael became the father of all the Arabic peoples who to this very day are hostile toward the natural born son, Isaac, who would become the father of the nation of Israel. In fact, the current crisis in the Middle East can be traced back to Abram’s decision to “make things happen” by helping God fulfill His promise of a son.

The tragic truth is there are some sins that cannot be undone in this world. Some sins will have lasting consequences. So before you jump the gun…stand back. Take some time. Read God’s Word. Think. Pray. And obey the revealed will of God.

 

After having escaped cruel and harsh punishment, pregnant without any support from the father of her child, Hagar felt helpless and alone. She didn’t have a single earthly friend. Grown up enslaved, she had been owned, ordered about, abused and forced to have sex with a man she didn’t love in order to bear a child for a woman who had contempt for her.

This is about as low as life gets. It might seem a bit strong to call what happened to Hagar “rape,” except for the fact that she had no possibility of refusing her master’s and mistress’s orders.

If you’ve been owned, raped, beaten and abandoned, it’s not surprising that you would come out of that experience not just thinking that the world isn’t fair, but that God isn’t fair. At the very least, you might think he is blind or unfeeling.

So it’s touching and moving and profound when God visits Hagar, assures her of His own protection and blessing, and this simple woman responds by naming God “El-Roi,” the God who sees (Genesis 16:13). 

Just knowing that God saw her gave Hagar the strength to return to her abusive mistress. “God sees me,” she surely said to herself, “So even when I am not treated fairly, I’m not alone.” God essentially told Hagar that while people plotted to make her miserable, He had plans to bless her beyond all belief. She felt powerless and forgotten, but God promised her she would be remembered and the powerful ancestor of a people so numerous “they cannot be counted” (Gen. 16:10).

In the same way, God may not remove all our difficulties. He may ask us to persevere in a deplorable situation or marriage without promising that the evil people in our lives will suddenly change (I’m not suggesting physically or sexually abused women are called by God to stay in their homes—Hagar’s was a different time and a particular situation. When women can get away from evil and toxic treatment, they should get away). His only promise may be, “I see what’s going on and I have chosen to bless you in the midst of their cursing.”

Will we accept God’s promise of blessing even when it must come wrapped with the hatred and mistreatment of others?

Facing the fear factor in our lives

One tribe of Native Americans had a unique practice for training young braves. On the night of a boy’s thirteenth birthday, he was placed in a dense forest to spend the entire night alone. Until then he had never been away from the security of his family and tribe. But on this night he was blindfolded and taken miles away. When he took off the blindfold, he was in the middle of thick woods…by himself…all night long. Every time a twig snapped, he probably visualized a wild animal ready to pounce. Every time an animal howled, he imagined a wolf leaping out of the darkness. Every time the wind blew, he wondered what more sinister sound it masked. No doubt it was a terrifying night for many.

After what seemed like an eternity, the first rays of sunlight entered the interior of the forest. Looking around, the boy saw flowers, trees, and the outline of the path. Then, to his utter astonishment, he beheld the figure of a man standing just a few feet away, armed with a bow and arrow. It was the boy’s father. He had been there all night long.

Can you think of any better way for a child to learn how God allows us to face the tests of life? God is always present with us. While His presence is unseen, it is more real than life itself. In Genesis 15:1-21, we will learn that our Father helps us overcome the fear factor. He helps us, as we trust Him. Two principles stand out in this section: Trust in God’s promises and rest in God’s covenant. First…

 

1. Trust in God’s promises (15:1-6). In 15:1, Moses writes, “After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, ‘Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; your reward shall be very great.’” This is a puzzling verse. Why would Abram be afraid? He had just won a great victory over four powerful eastern kings. The battle was over. He was a war hero. He had saved his nephew Lot from slavery or death (14:13-16).

 

Yet, despite these victories, Abram is fearful for he knows that the four eastern kings won’t take this defeat sitting down. A vicious counterattack is inevitable! These kings had been undefeated champions and they will want to quickly avenge their first and only loss. No doubt, poor old Abe is shaking in his sandals. Later in Scripture, this same type of fear attacks Elijah, another great man of faith. After experiencing a great victory on Mount Carmel and terminating 450 prophets of Baal, Elijah ran scared from one “witchy woman”—Jezebel (1 Kings 18-19).

Fear usually nips at the heels of victory. This means we must always be aware of our vulnerability after victory. We have a natural tendency to let down. Little things and small people worry us that normally would not. Frequently, we can exercise great courage and strength amidst a white-hot crisis, yet succumb to day-to-day fears. Fear can make cowards of us all.

 

According to our nation’s Bureau of Standards, a dense fog covering seven city blocks, to a depth of a hundred feet, contains less than one glass of water. All of that fog, if it could be condensed into water, wouldn’t quite fill a drinking glass. Compare this to the things we often worry about. Like fog our worries can thoroughly block our vision of the light of God’s promises, but the fact is they have little substance to them. When you feel fearful, remind yourself that by tomorrow this fear may not seem as pressing. Most of the things that we fret about are relatively insignificant.

 

It is interesting to note that the most frequent biblical command is, “Do not fear.” The inescapable conclusion is that Abram and every last one of us are fearful creatures. However, we typically hide our fear by frantically pursuing whatever we define as success or significance. This is a reminder for us not to judge people by outward appearance of success. Beneath the homes, titles, success, wealth, and power there is often an aching and broken heart. Abram appeared to have it all but he was still fearful for his security. We are like this too.

 

Nevertheless, in the midst of Abram’s fear, the Lord declares: “I am a shield [a protector or defender] to you.” The Lord’s providential care for Abram is to be seen as preventing the four eastern kings from returning and settling the score. These words undoubtedly provided a great deal of comfort to Abram’s anxious heart (cf. 14:20; Ps 18:2-3). Are you afraid of something or someone today? Are you facing an enemy in your life? God is always the answer! He is your refuge, your strength, and your deliverer! If God is your shield, you have nothing to fear (cf. Heb 13:5-6).

 

Yet, most of us prefer to construct our own shield. We want to feel safe and secure so we turn to comprehensive insurance policies, robust 401K plans, a secure job, a steady income, and a large house. In reality, it amounts to nothing more than tinker toys and construction paper. God watches as we meticulously craft our flimsy defense. It may not be much, but it makes us feel safer; the things of this world used to ease our anxieties. And after observing for a time He says, “You don’t need that. Just come and sit in the palm of My hand.”

 

Abram not only wants the peace of security; he also wants the joy of prosperity. Like all of us, he wants not only to survive, but also to thrive and to experience a life of blessing and satisfaction. God fills that desire for joy and satisfaction by offering Himself. In 15:1, God also says to Abram, “your reward shall be very great.” This phrase is better translated, “[I am] your very great reward” (see NASB marginal reading). God assures Abram that although he has just declined the king of Sodom’s great reward (14:22-24), God Himself will be his reward.

 

We get caught up in a delusion of our own making, convincing ourselves of the value of the treasures we pursue while blind to the treasure that is right before us in God Himself. We demand gifts and quickly forget the Giver. We come to God for His presents, rather than His presence. We set our sights on the fleeting pleasures of this world—a happy family, a prosperous career, a luxury car, a beautiful house, a powerful position, a good reputation, a night on the town, a sexual experience, a good hearty laugh. We fool ourselves into thinking that satisfaction is found apart from God. But in the end we find that all of the things we chase are either elusive or unsatisfying. The truth is: satisfaction is not found apart from God or even through God—it is only found in God. The “reward” is a relationship with God Himself.

 

In 15:2-3, Abram verbally responds to God for the first time, “‘O Lord GOD, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir.’” After ten years of waiting, Abram must have thought to himself, “What good is it that You are my shield and reward if I have no one to pass it on to?” “What good is success, without a successor?” Can you feel Abram’s pain? His family line is facing extinction. The whole genealogy listed in Genesis 11, stretching from Shem to Abraham, is about to be broken. The curtain will be drawn on his family name—unless he produces an heir. Thus, Abram is ready to accept his chief servant, Eliezer, as an adopted son.

God sometimes seems to take a long time to fulfill His promises and we can get discouraged and fearful. When fulfillment of God’s promises is delayed we think of lesser possibilities and are tempted to be content with less than God wants to give us (see Gen 16). But it is precisely at such a time that we must trust in God’s promises.

 

You may be saying, “Fear is a reality in my life. Even though the Bible commands me to shake it, I can’t seem to do so.” All of us can feel the e same way. Fortunately, there is an encouraging clue in 15:2 (cf. 15:8). In his doubt and fear, Abram willingly places himself under the sovereign control of God. He uses a new title for God calling Him “O Lord GOD”: Adonai (“Master”) Yahweh. Abram is casting all of his cares upon God because He knows God cares for him (1 Pet 5:7).

What a powerful reminder that fear, in and of itself, is not sin. It really comes down to what you do with your fear. John Wayne once said, “Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.” How true! Faith is doubt saying its prayers. It is a conscious commitment to give God our fears. Have you given your fears to the Lord today? Will you trust Him with your worries?

 

The suspense has built up to 15:4-5, where Moses records these words: “Then behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, ‘This man [God refuses to even use his name] will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.’ And He took him outside and said, ‘Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’” Instead of rebuking Abram, God assures him that he will have a “natural-born son,” not an adopted heir (cf. 12:7; 13:15-16; 17:15-16). Amidst Abram’s doubt and despair, God encourages him. He not only tells Abram the promise again (12:2; 13:15-16), He confirms it by stating that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars of heaven. God knows just how much we can stand. Abram is almost at the breaking point of fear and despair so God comes to his aid with even more confirmations of His promises.

 

In the middle of this chapter occurs the most important verse in the Old Testament: Genesis 15:6. This is the first verse in the Bible that explicitly speaks of faith, righteousness, and justification. Moses writes, “Then he [Abram] believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” It is important to recognize that this is not the first time that Abram believed in the Lord. The English word “then” in the NASB is misleading, that is why other English translations do not include this word. Clearly, Abram believed in the Lord and was declared righteous when he left Ur (Heb 11:8; 11:31-32). 

 

From that point on, Abram’s normal response to God’s words was to believe them. Abram had believed in the Lord for over a decade, but he evidently had not realized that God would give him an heir from his own body (15:4). Abram’s faith is not mentioned until now in order to emphasize the fact that a biblical faith is one that focuses upon the person and work of Jesus Christ. Here, Abram’s faith is focused upon the promise of a son, through whom blessing will come to the whole world. While it is difficult to determine how complete Abram’s understanding of all this was, we must not overlook Jesus’ words: “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day; and he saw it, and was glad” (John 8:56).

 

This important verse demonstrates that Abraham was “reckoned” with righteousness, not after he made some great sacrifice, or after purifying himself of all sin, or when he got his act together, but at the moment he simply believed in the Lord (cf. Gal 3:6-9). Faith is simply taking God at His Word. The word “reckon” (chashab) means, “credit to an account.” In the business world, when debits are balanced by credits, the account is “paid up.” Similarly, when God received Abram’s trust as credit, He responded by releasing him from any debit of sin. Abram’s faith caused God to write on Abram’s sin ledger, “Paid in full” (see Col 2:14). We can have a relationship with God on the very same basis, simply by taking God at His word and believing in His promised Son, Jesus Christ. Have you done this today? If you have, God has credited the righteousness of Christ to your account.

[We have been challenged to trust in God’s promises. Now we will be encouraged to…]

2. Rest in God’s covenant (15:7-21). In 15:7-8, the pattern continues: God speaks to Abram and Abram asks God a question. What a reminder that God always takes the initiative. Verse 7 tells Abram what God has done for him (“I am the Lord who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans,” cf. Acts 7:2-5) and what the purpose of his salvation is (“to give you this land to possess it,” cf. 12:7). The purpose of salvation is inheritance. God brought us out in order to bring us in. We were brought out of idolatry and sin in order to be brought into our inheritance.

 The Christian life begins when a person places faith in Jesus Christ. But the abundant life begins when the Christian begins to pursue Christ (John 10:10).

In 15:8, Abram says, “O Lord GOD, how may I know that I will possess it?” Abram’s response reveals that he had doubts about God’s promise to give him the land. Even people of great faith experience their moments of doubt. Living the life of faith is not like starting at the bottom of an escalator that always and continually moves upward toward heaven. It’s more like riding a roller coaster with its hills and valleys. In 15:6, Abram was on the mountaintop—he believed; in 15:8, he was down in the valley, doubting. But again, please notice that Abram brought his fears directly to the Lord. God placed within Abram a desire to believe. He does the same within us today. Therefore, we must look to God and rest in Him.

 

Again, instead of rebuking Abram, the Lord gives him some directions. In 15:9, the Lord said to him, “Bring Me a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” These are the same “clean” animals that are used later in the sacrificial system under the law of Moses. The use of five different kinds of sacrificial animals underlines the solemnity of the occasion.

Moses then tells us that Abram “brought all these to Him and cut them in two, and laid each half opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds. The birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, and Abram drove them away” (15:10-11). In Abram’s day, legal and binding agreements were not drafted by attorneys and then signed by the parties involved. Instead, legal agreements were formalized by means of a very graphic covenant ceremony: the dividing of an animal sealed the covenant. The animal was cut in half and the two parties would pass between the halves while repeating the terms of the covenant. By doing so, the two parties were stating, “If I fail to fulfill my commitments to this covenant, may I suffer the same fate as this animal” (cf. Jer 34:18-20).

 

In 15:12-21, we come to one of the most dramatic scenes in Abram’s life. Yet, the Lord puts him down for a “deep sleep” so that he is depicted as a passive, non-participant. During his nap, “terror and great dreadful darkness fell upon him” (15:12; cf. Job 33:14-18). These emotions are common when a man or woman is in the presence of God. Abram’s experience reminds us that God is a fearful being. He is not to be taken lightly (see Isa 6:1-8).

 

In 15:13-16, God makes a seven-fold prophecy concerning the nation of Israel.

1. You will be strangers in another country (Egypt). See Ps 105:11-15.

2. You will be slaves in Egypt.

3. You will be oppressed four hundred years. (The actual period of slavery was 430 years. In this passage it is rounded off to 400.) See Exod 12:40-42.

4. God will judge Egypt. See Acts 7:6-8.

5. Israel will come out with many possessions. See Exod 3:21-22 and 12:35-36.

6. Abram will not live through this period of slavery. See Gen 25:7-8.

7. In the fourth generation (400 years), Israel will return to the land.

 

All of these predictions were perfectly fulfilled to the very letter because God always performs what He promises. But the promises of God to Abram and his descendants were not without pain and struggle. Many of these promises were painful. Often, God takes us through very painful periods. Why? So that we will cling to Him and so that we will have a greater appreciation for the promise of heaven. Another aspect of struggle accompanied with these promises is the time required for their outworking. There is usually a delay in God’s promises (Heb 11:13). God plans it this way for our spiritual well-being. Somehow delays refine us and drive us to have further dealings with God and to seek personal contact with Him. If the promises of God flowed into our lives with ease and without seeking them, we would forget where they come from. God wants us to wait on Him. He wants us to trust Him.

 

In 15:17, “a smoking oven and a flaming torch” passed between the pieces of animals. The smoking oven and flaming torch represent the presence of God. So the Lord Himself passed between these pieces of animals in making a covenant with Abraham (cf. Lev 26:12). In doing so, He obligated Himself to fulfill this covenant (see Heb 6:13-14). God is not saying, “Now, Abram, if you will live up to certain conditions, then you will have a son, and I will give you the land.” He is not saying, “Abram, as long as you obey A, B, C, and D, I’ll keep My end of the bargain.” God is saying to Abram, “I’m going to give you this land, and I am making an unconditional promise that you will receive it. It is not up to you, your effort, your battle strategy, your initiative, or your intelligence. You can get that land because I’m going to make it happen. I am making this agreement. I am passing through the pieces. I am making an agreement that you’ll possess this land.

 

This is the heart and character of God. He loves us unconditionally, no matter what we do, say, or think. God is patient and long-suffering (Exod 34:6). He is the ultimate Father and He often does His greatest work in and through us when we do nothing. This past week, I was overwhelmed by God’s sovereign protection and provision. I often sense that I am simply a spectator in my Christian life. I look at how God has protected me from myself. I look at how He has changed my thought patterns. I experience blessings from Him that I don’t deserve. All of this leads me to say, “It’s not about me; it’s all about You!” I can’t take credit for anything in my life. It can only be attributed to the work of a sovereign and gracious God.

 

In 15:18-21, God gives the geographical boundaries and the nations of the land that He will give to Abram. From the river of Egypt to the Euphrates (see Deut 11:24-25). The borders of this land, promised to Abram’s descendants, appear to coincide with the border of the garden of Eden (2:10-14). The land consists of ten nations of “ites”: Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Gergashites, and Jebusites. God will grant Abram’s descendants victory over these peoples. He will show Himself strong…He will be a “shield” to them (cf. 15:1). After all of these promises and confirmations, what more reassurance could be asked for?

 

Today, you and I must ask these two questions: Can we trust God? Can God be trusted? If we can answer both of these questions with a “yes,” then we must trust in God’s promises and rest in God’s covenant.

 

Stretch and face challenges

Too much comfort is dangerous…literally. Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley did an experiment some time ago that involved introducing an amoeba into a perfectly stress-free environment: ideal temperature, optimal concentration of moisture, and constant food supply. The amoeba had an environment to which it had to make no adjustment whatsoever. So you would guess this was one happy, little amoeba. Whatever it is that gives amoebas ulcers and high blood pressure was gone. Yet, oddly enough, it died.

 

Apparently there is something about all living creatures, even amoebas that demand challenge. We require change, adaptation, and challenge the way we require food and air. Comfort alone will kill us. The reason is simple. God created man something on the order of a rubber band. A rubber band is made to stretch. When it is not being stretched it is small and relaxed, but as long as it remains in that shape it is not doing what it was made to do. When it stretches, it is enlarged; it becomes tense and dynamic, and it does what it was made to do. God created you to stretch as you face challenges.

 

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) once said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” What kind of man or woman are you in the midst of challenge and controversy? Are you dependent upon the Lord or are you consumed with worry and doubt? Today, God is calling you and me to rise up in His strength and be people of courage and conviction. In Genesis 14:1-24, we will learn how Abram demonstrated courage and conviction and we will be challenged to follow his example.

 

The first twelve verses serve as an introduction to this chapter. We are introduced to the first war ever recorded in Scripture—a war between four eastern kings and five southern kings. It is interesting to note that “Shinar” (i.e., Babylon, modern-day Iraq) initiated this first war mentioned in the Bible (14:1-2). Verse 4 tells us that the southern kings had been subjugated for twelve years. In the thirteenth year, they attempted to throw off their shackles and establish independence. On the surface, this war is merely an international power struggle to control a strategic commercial land bridge between Mesopotamia and Egypt. Whoever controlled this land bridge maintained a monopoly on international trade.

 

In response, the eastern kings launched a punishing assault that nipped this rebellion in the bud (14:5-7). The eastern kings defeated everyone who opposed them. They were an enemy that seemed invincible, relentless, unstoppable, striking fear into every heart as they steamrolled over every opposing military force. In 14:8-9, the southern kings drew up battle lines. In spite of the overwhelming odds, the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah, with their allies, decided that possible defeat was better than guaranteed slavery. So they dug in for all-out battle in the valley of Siddim, which was full of tar pits. The five southern kings felt that these pits would be a natural defense. However, the outcome was not what they had hoped—the southern kings were routed and many fell into the tar pits (14:10). Those that didn’t fall into them fled to the hills.

 

In 14:11-12, we come to the point of the suspenseful plot of this narrative. Moses writes, “Then they took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food supply, and departed. They also took Lot, Abram’s nephew, and his possessions and departed, for he was living in Sodom.” What a commentary on the poor decision of Lot in Genesis 13. Lot had chosen to act on the basis of economic self-interest and had disregarded the covenant God had made with Abram (12:1-3). He separated from his uncle and moved into Sodom (14:12).

About the time that he made this move, he and his whole family were taken captive by the four eastern kings. But all that Lot had gained by taking advantage of Abram and rejecting the promises of God was lost in an instant.

What painful irony. Lot had greedily chosen the best part of the land, and his choice had proven disastrous. Lot, and everything he owned, was carried off to who knows where. Turkey? Read between the lines. Lot had seen agonizing deaths and rapes, the traditional wake of ancient victory. Perhaps he had lost children and loved ones. Perhaps a daughter was now the prize of some Hittite. As he trudged across the Transjordan toward Canaan’s border, all hopes were dead.

 

There is very little security in this world, outside of God. There are two ways to learn this lesson: the easy way and the hard way. The easy way is to believe God! God constantly warns us that there is no security in earthly treasures. They can be lost overnight. War may smash our expectations. Everything deteriorates; “moth and rust” can destroy; thieves can break in and steal (Matt 6:19). But if we refuse to listen to God’s warnings, then the Lord will teach us the hard way. Amidst this historical account, we see an important truth that we must not forget: God disciplines His children because He loves them and wants the best for them (Prov 3:11-12; Heb 12:5-11). For Lot, it meant the loss of his family and everything he owned, not to mention his Christian maturity. Yet, even in this, we must remember that God’s discipline is always based upon His love. He longs to give us what we need most and that is fellowship with Him.

[Now we come to the first of two principles that will enable us to be people of courage and conviction.]

  1. Pursue your sinning brother(14:13-16). In 14:13, Moses writes, “Then a fugitive came and told Abram the Hebrew. Now he was living by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and brother of Aner, and these were allies with Abram.” In this section and many others the Bible teaches, “There is no rest for the righteous.” Here we come upon another challenge to God’s faithfulness and Abram’s faith. So far Abram had to contend with several barriers to God’s fulfilling His promises to him. His wife was barren; he had to leave the land; his life was in danger; and his anticipated heir, Lot, showed no interest in the Promised Land. Now he finds himself on the verge of becoming involved in a war with four powerful kings in order to save his nephew Lot.

 

Think about this for a moment. Abram could have chosen to do nothing. He could have given at least four good reasons to ignore Lot’s dilemma:

  1. “Lot got himself into this mess, let him get himself out.”
  2. “Lot took advantage of me! He dishonored me! This is God’s discipline!”
  3. “Even if I wanted to save Lot, it would be a suicide mission against such an army! People would get hurt if I got involved.”
  4. “What if something happens to me?” Lot is expendable but I am the one indispensable man.

Abram could have also used excuses like: “I’m a farmer, not a fighter” or “God has not called me to be a solider but a saint.” In spite of all of these seemingly legitimate responses, Abram chose to take action. In our day and age, this is rare. We live in a culture that hesitates getting involved with others. We complain about the problems of AIDS, pornography, drugs and alcohol, and so on, but we seldom get involved to make a difference. The same is true in the church. We walk away from our own wounded. We ignore those who fail. We let brothers and sisters struggle alone in the darkness.

 

In 14:14-16, Abram shows generosity and grace to a believer that has badly mistreated him. “When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he led out his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. He divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and defeated them, and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus. He brought back all the goods, and also brought back his relative Lot with his possessions, and also the women, and the people.”

 

These three verses demonstrate that Abram didn’t live in a monastery or an ivory tower. He had 318 men that he had trained for war. Abram is anything but a nomadic shepherd who passes time counting sheep and stars. He is a powerful individual with a substantial number of troops on call. And for Lot’s sake, Abram was willing to go to war, but only at the right time and in the right way. There are times when war is sanctioned and blessed by God (cf. 14:19-20).

 

This serves as a great reminder that the Christian life is not a bed of roses. Truly, “there is no rest for the righteous.” Jesus Himself said that a relationship with Him often brings a sword…not the peace and tranquility we would like. We may have peace within, peace with God, but there is no promise of soft or easy living. The Christian life is not a cushy life.

 

Abram faced a vast, unstoppable military force of four kings with only 318 men. But with God, that was all he needed! God is able to give a trusting and obedient minority victory over ungodly forces that are overwhelmingly superior in numbers. Here’s the lesson: Zechariah 4:6, ‘“Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.” It’s a lesson that God taught Moses when God used him to deliver His people from Egypt. It’s a lesson that God taught Joshua and the people of Israel when they advanced into the Promised Land—a land filled with giants! It’s a lesson that God taught Gideon when he faced the armies of the Midianites and Amalakites with only 300 men (Jdg 7:6; 8:10). And David, taking 400 men and chasing the Amalekites who had taken his two wives among their prisoners (1 Sam 30:10). Your problems are always smaller than God! He is able to be victorious in your life over any obstacle you face.

 

In 14:14, Moses writes that Abram “went in pursuit as far as Dan.” Abram is dwelling in the hill country south of Jerusalem. Lot is dwelling in the cities of the plain, south of the Dead Sea. Now remember, Dan is in the distant north of Jerusalem. That means they’ve gone as far north as you can go in Israel today. Remember the expression, “from Dan to Beersheba” (Jdg 20:1; 2 Sam 24:2, 15)? Well that expression tells us how far north and how far south Israel extended in those days. Beersheba is close to where Abram is dwelling. Dan is as distant as it can get, but Abraham is off to the rescue. He traveled over 240 miles, one-way, to rescue Lot. He chases Chedorlaomer and the others all the way to Dan in the north. This is what I call “kicking tail and taking names.”

 

Abram was a man of faith but he was also a prudent man. He divided his men and attacked at night (14:15). The march of Abram and his tiny band is one of the most remarkable forced marches in history. They traveled the whole length of the Jordan River and launched a counter attack as the enemy indulged in a time of carousing and reveling in celebration of their victory. He routed them and pursued them as far as Hobah (250 miles north of Damascus). Amazing!

How did Abram defeat these armies? It was his faith. He believed God’s Word—that the land would go to His descendants—and therefore knew that God was with him. Even if he met defeat, he knew that God would keep His promise. Do you have this kind of faith?

 

In this moment, Abram reflected Christ. Jesus did not sit idly by in heaven waiting for us to deserve redemption. Neither was our redemption painless. Christ left the glories of heaven to come after us.

Abram recovered what had been lost (14:16): Lot and his possessions, the women, and the other people. Everything was recovered: the possessions, the people, and the prodigal Lot. Unfortunately, Lot fails to respond to this spiritual crisis in his life. Instead of turning from the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah and returning to God, he heads home to the city of Sodom. In Genesis 19, we find that Lot, for a second time, will lose everything he has as God judges the wickedness of these sinful cities.

When is it appropriate to rescue foolish relatives like Abram did? Ask yourself three questions:

  1. Will the foolishness my relatives have gotten themselves into permanently damage or destroy them? If the answer is yes, then it is appropriate to bail them out. Nothing of value is ever achieved if people are destroyed.
  2. Will my foolish relatives likely learn from their folly? If the answer is “yes,” as long as the answer is “no” to question one, then perhaps they’re best served by retracing their steps, the steps that led them to their foolishness, and working themselves out of a jam.
  3. Would God rescue me from my foolishness? God responds to us much the same way we should respond to these questions. If Abram had not rescued Lot, Lot would have died. If God had not rescued us, we would have died in our trespasses and sins. So if you are thankful to God today for rescuing you, undeserving as you were, shouldn’t thankful people rescue others, even if they are not deserving?

 

As a result of his victory, Abram became a household name from the Euphrates to the Nile. An authentic hero! But here lay a further testing—the test of success. So often those who have been stellar in adversity are derailed by success. Their behavior changes in order to take advantage of their fame. Faith in God reverts to faith in self. They begin to believe the good press. And so weakened, they succumb to temptation they had easily resisted before. How would Abram fare?

[In 14:17-24, we find a second principle that will enable us to be people of courage and conviction.]

  1. Trust the Lord to meet your needs(14:17-24). Moses writes, “Then after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley).” The king of Sodom came out to meet Abram. Abram had fought his great battle, not on behalf of the king of Sodom, but for the sake of Lot and his family. Nevertheless, his victory also benefited the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. So a special welcoming committee was appointed, headed by the king himself, to confer upon Abram the usual reward for a conquering hero. His reception must have been the ancient version of a New York City ticker tape parade! There are few temptations as powerful, yet subtle, as praise! Proverbs 27:21: “The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but man is tested by the praise he receives.” How do you handle praise from men?

 

At the close of chapter 13, Lot anticipates future prosperity in Sodom, while Abram was content to worship and live in Hebron (13:18). But Lot’s selfish decision gains him a prize soon lost; while Abram’s response places him in a position of honor among the kings of the plain (14:17-24). How the tables can turn! When we are faithful to God, He always finds a way to bless us. It may not seem that you are a recipient for blessing, but God is no man’s debtor.

 

In 14:18, yet another king appears: “And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High.” Who was Melchizedek? “Melchizedek” was probably a title rather than a proper name. It means “King of Righteousness.” Melchizedek was a Canaanite, but he is called a “priest of God Most High.” In addition to his office of priest, he also is described as the king of Salem, apparently a reference to the shortened name for Jerusalem (Ps 76:2), which at that time was occupied by the Canaanites. This Gentile comes forward to pay homage to Abram. He brings with him bread and wine as he goes out to meet Abram on his return from the amazing victory.

 

In 14:19, Melchizedek blessed Abram and said, “‘Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.’” Melchizedek did not credit General Abram with a strategic battle plan. He acknowledges God’s work. He made it clear that we may pursue and we may fight, but God gives the victory (cf. Ps 33:16-19; 44:3). This is a most unexpected turn of events, for out of the grossly pagan world of the Canaanites emerges not only one who shares belief and worship in the same God as the Semitic Abram but one who pronounces the blessing on the patriarch whom God had already blessed. Abram also acknowledges the priestly dignity of this Canaanite priest-king by giving him a tithe.

 

This is a perfect picture of how Jesus comes to our aid and rescue when we need Him. After periods of conflict and testing, Jesus Himself has a habit of coming to visit us. He brings encouragement. Jesus is our sympathetic High Priest in a unique order; there is no one like Him.

 

After Melchizedek spoke these words, Abram gave him a tenth of all his bounty. What made Abram tithe? It was not the Mosaic law. It did not yet exist. The Spirit was leading Abram. When the Spirit leads us we shall fulfill the law even if it does not exist! The Christian will tithe, and more than tithe, if he is led by the Spirit. This is an emphasis upon “firstfruits.” Abram gave his best—first to the Lord. The tithe is not a debt paid to God. Rather, it is a tangible acknowledgment that everything we have belongs to God. In the Old Testament, the tithe was an obligation before God. In the New Testament, the obligation of tithing has been swallowed up in the privilege and joy of being a faithful steward of God’s resources (2 Cor 9:7-8). My understanding of the Bible, when it comes to tithing, is that 10% is the bare bones minimum.

 

The conquering of the four kings and their armies was only the first of two battles Abram would have to fight in this chapter. His next enemy, the king of Sodom, would be much more subtle in his attack on the authority of God. Often, the most dangerous time in the Christian life is right after some great victory of faith. Understanding the potential weakness of Abram’s strength, God arranged for Melchizedek to meet Abram and prepare him for his encounter with the king of Sodom.

 

The story concludes with Abram conversing with the king of Sodom (14:22-24) who insists that Abram take the war spoils. One king already enriched him (12:10-20). He does not want that to happen again. He doesn’t want any man to be able to say, “I made Abram rich.” So he responds with these powerful words: “I have sworn to the LORD God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take a thread or a sandal thong or anything that is yours, for fear you would say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ I will take nothing except what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their share.’” This passage concludes with Abram confessing God before men. He says, “I have sworn to the LORD God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth…” (14:22). This is the first example of what we now see in the sports world today, on national TV. Abe “gives it up” for the Lord in a pubic venue. He believes that God is capable of meeting his needs. He bases this on the fact that God is the “possessor of heaven and earth.”

And since God owns “the cattle on a thousand hills” (Ps 50:10), Abram at that moment was able to trust God for his future needs.

 

Our ultimate source of blessing is God. Confidence that God will preserve and provide for His own, as He has promised, should encourage believers to decline worldly benefits and wait for God’s blessings. That’s easy to say, but difficult to live. I tend to rely on my own abilities as my source. I tend to turn to others for help when life is tough. But living the life of faith is trusting God alone as our source.

 

Although God led Abram to refuse any reward for his efforts, Abram did not force his personal convictions on his allies. They were entitled to the spoil. Do not judge others when it comes to disputable matters (cf. Rom 14:5-6). Abram doesn’t impose morality on his men. Again, he trusts the Lord to work as He sees fit in the lives of these men.

 

The real test of our Christianity isn’t seen in our work or words. It’s found in this: When we have an opportunity to wander away, to disobey, to leave God’s presence, do we choose instead to stay close to Him, to abide in Christ, and to obey? Is your love for Christ seen in your obedience and utter loyalty to Him and to Him alone?