God’s promise often times initially seems like something that will arrive immediately. When we first get that word from Him – that spiritual breath of fresh air opening up the heart to new wonders and inspiration. We believe, due to the experience, that it is something that comes quickly, and endures…perhaps unto perpetuity. Although the latter is true, the former is not necessarily so; and hard to resist internalizing the moment we receive such glorious spiritual (and sometimes emotional) splendor. This type of experience, and its’ fulfillment is not at odds with the reality some of the biblical characters faced, by which the first was Abraham. Just as Adam received the promise of consequence in God’s prohibition of the fruit, Abraham received the promise of pursuit God has for all of mankind – in a seed called Isaac. However, Abraham endured much, both from his own actions and outside forces, before he received this promise. And he waited a long….long time. And Still, there was one last test after waiting, then finally receiving.
At 70 years old, God approached Abraham, when he was still called Abram, and invited him to receive a promise. With much suspense, God kept Abram (and the reader) much guessing as to how and when that promise would be fulfilled. God allowed Abram to endure various obstacles that jeopardized the promise until its’ fulfillment; some the consequences of Abraham and his wife’s own actions.
The promised is commenced in Genesis chapter 12, where God promises Abram that he will be “a great nation”, underscoring the idea that he will have an heir. At 70, Abram must have assumed that the only way this could be possible is through his nephew Lot since the text adds that “Lot went with him.” (Gen 12:4 ESV) This is even more evident when we consider that God told Abram to leave his entire household. So what is Lot doing, hanging around? Later on we see Lot and Abram separate jeopardizing what to Abram, seemed like God’s promise that he would have an heir. The reader, and Abram, are left to conclude that Lot is not the heir, only to be surprised when Lot re-enters the scene after Abram risks his life (further jeopardizing God’s promise) to save Lot who resided in Sodom after the separation. At this point we see God’s promise in jeopardy and a possible heir to fulfill God’s promise.
Before Abram risks his life (and jeopardizes God’s promise) to save Lot, the first threat to God’s promise occurs in Egypt where, due to fear, Abram risks losing his wife to Pharoah, jeopardizing God’s promise to him, that he will have an heir from his own loins. But who could blame Abram? If we go by the initial promise, there was no explicit reference to heir coming from his own loins. We find that out later. In this we learn, that God gives us glimpses of His divine plan for us, and His Divine promise to us.
After these two incidences, God makes a covenant with Abram to ensure him of the guarantee of his promise. In this covenant, God elaborates on the promise and conveys it in more detail in the beginning of Genesis 15. This was intended to give Abram more confidence, but then he replies that he is “childless”, thinking that Eliezer would be his heir. This is when God specifies for the first time that the heir will be from his own loins. At this time the promise was jeopardized twice and two possible candidates (Lot and Eliezer) seemed to have been the possible fulfillment of God’s promise.
We finally meet the third candidate as to who will fulfill God’s promise in Genesis 16, when Sarai runs out of patience and contrives a plan to force the fulfillment by having Abram produce children through her concubine. At this point, Sarai is in her mid 70’s, well passed the vigor and beauty mentioned about her in Genesis 12:11. Again, just as Abram’s decision to bring Lot caused eventual conflict between their workers and more trouble risking Abram’s life during the war of Genesis 14, Sarai’s decision to force God’s plan caused tension between her and her handmaid Hagar. Sarai, at this point must have settled with that being the possible promise made to Abram. Yet, God had bigger, more impossible plans for them.
We arrive at Genesis 17 where God makes a covenant of circumcision to Abram, and changes his and his wife’s name to Abraham and Sarah. At this point Abraham is 99 and his wife is 90, and God specifies that the fulfillment of the promise will be in one year from that moment. At this point we figure we can breathe and rest in that promise since it’s so close, but yet again, it is jeopardized. After the following chapters show Lot being rescued once again – this time by God, (Another problem caused by Abraham’s decision to bring him with him from out of Ur.) Abraham re-lives the Egyptian event of chapter 12 with Abimelech, further placing in jeopardy the promise once again since losing his wife means losing the promise of a seed – and this time within a year of its’ fulfillment!! After Abimelech is restrained by God, he returns Sarah to Abraham. After this, Abraham finally receives the promise, as his son, Isaac, is born in Genesis chapter 21.
After receiving the promise, Abram thinks he can finally breathe until he is presented with a final test by God in what Jews today call the “Akedah”. He is told to sacrifice his son. Abraham with much faith, considering all the potential threats to the promise that lead him to that point says “God will provide.” This is a confidence in God, that only stems from seeing God’s protective hand throughout the entire journey – the protection of not only the promise, but of everyone involved. Throughout this entire journey of promise we see God’s protection not only for Abraham and his wife, but also for those whom Abraham mistakenly brought either with him, or into this world – Lot and Ishmael – as well as Hagar. Abraham’s confidence in God stems not only from reflection of all the potential threats to the promise, but the preservation of life through it all.
And of course, God did not allow Abraham to sacrifice his son, the seed of the promise and part of the promise itself. We can, therefore, have confidence in God’s promises. No matter what life throws at us, we can stand on His promises; Even when we ourselves jeopardize it, making things a bit messy countless of times, God is there to ensure its’ fulfillment, and through the process we can have hope in a God who protects us not only for His name sake….but for our highest well-being.