I ended the article, The Story of Abraham and Isaac Revisited: Here I Am, with a promise to come back to the story of Abraham and Isaac one more time. Recall that Abraham had the intuition to tell Isaac “God would provide” when Isaac asked him where the lamb was for the sacrifice.
We do not know whether Abraham really believed what he told Isaac, whether he was simply being hopeful, or whether he was merely dodging Isaac’s question. We learn in Sunday school that Abraham truly believed it. Perhaps, that is the right answer.
I say that, not because of a Sunday lesson, but because of Abraham’s experience and particularly his experience with God in moments of great doubt and angst. One such moment was described in Genesis Chapter 15. The set up is interesting.
Four kings conspired together to attack Sodom and Gomorrah. They attacked and routed the inhabitants, seizing their goods and carrying off Abraham’s nephew, Lot, and his possessions. (Genesis 14:5-12) Abram (as he was still known at the time) responded immediately with “318 trained men in his household”. He pursued them, routed them, pushing them all the way to Damascus, and recovered Lot and all the goods. (Genesis 14:13-16
Melchizedek, “priest of the God Most High”, pronounced Abraham blessed by “God Most High”, and Abram tithed a tenth to him. (Genesis 14:18-20) After this great victory and blessing from Melchizedek, we read that the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:
“Do not be afraid, Abram.Genesis 15:1
I am your shield [sovereign],
your very great reward.”
We might expect Abram to be exalting in the afterglow of his decisive routing of the four kings and blessing by Melchizedek, but he wasn’t. Abram appears to be struggling with the lack of fulfillment of the promises God gave him so many years before.
Abram is human. He has held onto the promise, but his faith is waning. The doubts are rising. Though God had just given him an encouraging word, Abram is focused on the unfulfilled promise:
“But Abram said, ‘Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?'”Genesis 15:2
The text continues with Abram still talking. That means God hasn’t responded, and so Abram continues:
“And Abram said, ‘You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.'”Genesis 15:3
Finally, God breaks in, telling Abraham that his legacy would come from his own flesh and blood, taking Abram outside to look at the sky and telling him his offspring would be like the stars. (Genesis 15:4-5)
We are told that Abram believed in that moment, and God, who sees the hearts of men and knows the thoughts and the intents of mean’s hearts, credited that belief to Abram as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6) God also reminded Abram that He brought Abram out of Ur to the land Abram stood on to give it to him. (Genesis 15:7)
Though Abram believed, and though God had just given him more assurance, Abram kept pressing:
“But Abram said, ‘Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?’”Genesis 15:8
It wasn’t for lack of belief that Abram kept pressing God. We were just told Abram believed. In fact, this was the very moment that God credited Abram with righteousness for his faith!
At the same time, Abram was pressing God for something more than a bare promise. Doubt is not the absence of faith, and pressing God for assurance is not a lack of faith. I hear echoes here of another father who cried out for his son when Jesus promised deliverance, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)
God doesn’t rebuke Abram, and he doesn’t take away the righteousness God had just credited to Abram. In the same vein, Jesus didn’t rebuke the father who asked for help in his believing unbelief. Jesus commended him, and God tells Abram,
“Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”Genesis 15:9
If you are scratching your head right now, that is good! God’s response begs for some understanding and insight. Just as Abram pressed God, we should be pressing right now for understanding.Continue reading “Abraham, Faith, and the Hope Deferred”