Greetings in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
“Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!” (Genesis 15:5b)
This is the second covenant made by God.
About 10 years ago, God came to Abram, and God blessed Abram by making the first covenant with Abram:
“Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
“I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12-1b-3)
it was the first encounter with God, but Abram truly believed God and His promise, which made God pleased. Then following the God’s first covenant, He left Haran where he had a good life. He was seventy-five years old. The journey was long and difficult, and he traveled about 1,000 Km (or 600 miles) with his family and belongings. It took many months, and Abram traveled through wilderness. He met many dangers, but Abram faithfully followed God and His promise.
By the way, Abram had a constant fight in his heart since he received and believed God’s promise. Sarai was barren, which directly contradicted with God’s promise of making him into a great nation. Without his own son, how could his descendant become a great nation? Even so, Abram believed God and His promise. When he arrived at Canaan, God appeared to Abram again, and reinforced His promise,
“To your offspring I will give this land, I will give this land.” (Genesis 12:7m)
Abram was greatly comforted by God. Upon hearing God, Abram built an altar there to God. Abram gave thanksgiving to God. Since then, wherever he went, he always built an altar and called God’s name. He lived a truly God-centered life.
Abram was so much faithful, but hardships did not leave him. A server famine came to the land of Canaan, which forced for him to move down to Egypt, where he had another life challenge. By the help of God, he could make a safe return to Canaan. However, as returning back to Canaan, he confronted with another problem. His servants had a conflict with the servants of Lot, his nephew. Lot was the only relative left Haran with him, but he had to send away Lot and his servants. Nothing helped Abram, but he never forgot God. Despite of this continual hardships entering in his life, he always built an alter to God, and worshiped Him. God saw Abram who was always faithful to God appeared again, and said to Abram,
“Do not be afraid, Abram.
I am your shield,
your very great reward.” (Genesis 15: 1b)
What a comforting encouragement from God! It softened his heart, and Abram was greatly comforted. Abram had one thing bothering in his heart. He had no son. Without his own son, the God’s promise could not be realized of being a big nation from his own descendants. Abram said to God.
“Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”
Finally, Abram emptied his heart. This burden had been with him constantly for the last ten years since he first met God. Sometimes, a doubt found him like a cold late-fall rain, and froze his heart on the God’s promise. It was not an easy fight. He frequently spent sleepless nights. Only was a morning sun that rescued him from sleepless nights. He fought with faith, but the big question always undermined him. His brain kept telling that it was impossible to make a big nation without his own son. Finally, he decided to do matter by his own hands for the God’s promise, because his brain kept telling the impossibility. Thus, he devised an idea to make his servant as his heir. Then he told his plan to God.
How many times have we come up with our own plan after a long wait before God because God’s plan is impossible to come true? Initially, we believed God’s promise, but nothing has happened. Even so, we continue believing His promise by making our best effort to trust God, while fighting against all kinds of odds and difficulties coming at us. However, nothing is improving in our eyes, and the world keeps bringing in a harsh reality. Indeed, the world tenaciously attempts to separate us from God and God’s promise. Yes, the fight is not easy, and this is the spiritual fight with which we confront every day. If we have not had faith in God, we would have already giving in the world. In fact, we would have not gotten into such spirutal fights against the world at all. The world keeps throwing at us to motivate to use our own brain instead of our faith by presenting temptations of justifying, rationalizing our own choice in the world, and compromising our faith. Then what should we do? Like Abram, we come to God and lay out our heart before God, Our Ever-Loving Father.
Surely, God knew exactly Abram’s struggle and had really intimate knowledge about what was going on in Abram’s heart. Even so, Abram kept faith in God, which made God pleased. He had never forgotten nor left God. Wherever he went, he built an alter and worshiped God. He continued calling on God’s name in faith and hope. Could God ignore Abram? No. Absolutely not. God carefully watched over Abram, and heard Abram’s heart. Most of all, God was always with Abram. When Abram struggled, God was there. When Abram did not know what to do, God reached out His hand to guide and protect Abram. Wherever Abram went, God was with him.
Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had. So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb. Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. (Genesis 12:20-13:2)
When Abram was forced to move down to Egypt, God was with Abram and protected him, his family, servants and all of possessions. Through the difficult the time, God was with Abram and blessed him who was faithful to God. Abram fled to Egypt to avoid the famine. It was yet another hardship in Abram’s life, which he did not want to have. But he continued trusting God and believed His promise. In the mist of the hardship, God protected Abram and even blessed him. When he returned back, he became rich in livestock, in silver and in gold. Surely, God was always with Abram in those difficult times, and God also did not forget to bless Abram.
Through the difficult journey, Abram had experienced deeply about God. His faith was grown. However, his faith was not perfect before God yet. Like us, he tried to make out God’s plan by his own hands, but God responded,
“This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then He said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (Genesis 15:4b-5)
God with full of mercy intervened Abram and his plan. Instead God showed the countlessly many stars in the clear night by retelling God’s promise. God truly encouraged Abram by giving out His covenant second time. Abram became speechless before God’s mercy and love. Then
Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)
For this time, Abram saw God’s promise. He forgot his doubt, and believed.
What, then, happened next? Abram held the God’s promise back, and he joyfully returned to his life. By the way, the struggle about the God’s promise was not just for Abram. Sarai, his wife, also felt an enormous pressure upon Abram’s belief on a great nation out of his descendants. She knew it was impossible because she was barren. Whenever she looked at her husband’s face, it reminded of her inability of having baby, which was a really heavy burden in her heart. One day, she could not bear the heavy burden anymore. She made her own plan for God’s plan. She brought her servant girl, Hagar. Sarai asked Abram to make a descent out of Hagar because Sarai herself was barren. Hagar then got pregnant, and delivered a son called Ishmael. Sarai’s plan worked, but it also brought an unexpected consequence — a domestic conflict between Sarai and Hagar. Abram was completely occupied by Ishmael while he was thinking Ishmael would be the seed, and God would make a great nation out of Ishmael. But it was not God’s plan.
For the next thirteen years, Abram did not realize what he had done was not aligned with God’s plan. Additionally, God does not bring in a chaos and conflict in our lives. The domestic friction between Sarai and Hagar was with the house of Abram. There was no peace in his family. Even so, Abram did not realize the source of the problem. God, who dearly loved Abram, could not let Abram alone anymore. God full of mercy, grace and love appeared to Abram again to give His promise third time:
“I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” (Genesis 17:1b)
God knew Abram’s weakness. Abram fell face down on the ground out of his fear and reverence. For this time, our loving God made a dramatic measure for Abram.
“This is my covenant with you: I will make you the father of a multitude of nations! What’s more, I am changing your name. It will no longer be Abram. Instead, you will be called Abraham, for you will be the father of many nations. I will make you extremely fruitful. Your descendants will become many nations, and kings will be among them! (Genesis 17:4-6)
First, God changed Abram’s name to Abraham. Abram means “exalted father,” and Abraham “father of many nations.” In other words, God forever changed Abram from a father of one tribe or nation to a father of many nations.
Then God gave a mark of God’s covenant between Him and Abraham and his descendants by telling:
“Your responsibility is to obey the terms of the covenant. You and all your descendants have this continual responsibility. This is the covenant that you and your descendants must keep: Each male among you must be circumcised” (Genesis 17:9b-10)
Lastly, God touched upon the truly bothering thorny point in Abram’s heart — not being able to having Abraham’s own child from Sarai. Thus, Abram agreed Sarai’s human-made solution – Ishmael, but it in turn brought the domestic conflict in his family.
Then God said to Abraham, “Regarding Sarai, your wife—her name will no longer be Sarai. From now on her name will be Sarah. And I will bless her and give you a son from her! Yes, I will bless her richly, and she will become the mother of many nations. Kings of nations will be among her descendants.” (Genesis 17:15-16)
As a sign, God changed Sarai’s name to Sarah. God explicitly made a promise that Sarah would have a child for Abraham, who would become the seed for many nations and kings of the nations.
Out of God’s good will, He made His faithful covenant with Abraham, Sarah and his future descendants. How graceful God was! Here is summary of what God did to Abraham and Sarah out of His love:
1. God changed Abram’s name to Abraham,
2. God gave a mark of God’s covenant of circumcision, and
3. God also changed Sarai’s name to Sarah.
How caring God was! God really loved Abraham and Sarah. To help their faith, God introduced a dramatic measure. It was specially designed for Abraham and Sarah according to His good will. Why? Again, God is love. God was slowly and steadily carving out Abraham from Abram.
Abram became Abraham by just one calling from God. Abram waked with God for twenty-four years before receiving the glorious name of Abraham. Also were the twenty years easy for Abram? No, it was not. Was Abram always successful in faith? No, he failed multiple times. Notably, he chose his own logic before the impossibility of God’s promise. He accepted his wife’s suggestion to modify the impossible God’s plan to a plan possible by the earthly means. Yes, Abraham was not always perfect of not hitting the target squarely. His imperfectness before God (which is a sin) made him pay for the price by suffering from the domestic conflict between Sarah and Hagar. But God was always faithfully loved Abraham. Why? Because of Abram’s faith. Wherever Abraham went, he first built an alter to God, and worshiped Him by calling on His name. Abraham had never forgotten God in all circumstances. He did not stop calling on God’s name and trusted Him in hope. This made God pleased.
What can we learn from Abraham? We fix our eyes on Jesus Christ on cross in all circumstances through our failures. God who sees the deepest part of our heart sympathizes our weakness and pours out His mercy and grace on us. Then what can se say? Come and receive His mercy and love.
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32)