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)
God came to Abram and told Abram, “Leave your country to the land that I will show you, and will make you into a great nation.” God did not tell anything about the destination, but just leaving where he used to live. Per God’s command, Abram left his country, where he and his family had a good life. He was seventy-five years old when he was courageously leaving his country and following God while completely trusting Him and His promise without knowing where he was going.
His journey was not easy. He traveled about 1,000 km (about 600 miles), and arrived at the Canaan, the promised land. However, his life in Canaan was not easy either. He had to move around in the land of Canaan as a stranger, but Abram was faithful to God. Abram built an alter to God wherever he went, and he worshiped God while calling on His name, and giving thanksgivings to God. He truly trusted God and believed His promise without ceasing. Even so, the world did not cooperate. A server famine came, and he had to move down to Egypt. If God did not protected Abram, he could have had lost his wife in Egypt. By God’s help, he and his family could safely return to Canaan. Abram was faithful to God in all circumstances, and God, who is merciful and gracious, blessed Abram. God blessed Abram spiritually and materially also. However, there was one thorny thing with Abram, which he could not reconcile with his faith in God — he did not have a son who would be a seed making the great nation. He struggled with this irreconcilable issue in his faith, but it had never left him. It was always with him.
God appeared again to Abram. Abram could not hide any more. He poured out his struggle on not having a child. Abram also told his own plan to make Eliezer of Damascus, his servant, be his heir. God did not accept the Abram’s proposal. Instead, God reconfirmed His promise by telling, “you will have a son of your own who will be your heir.” Then to help Abram’s struggle, God took Abram out under the clear night sky. Abram saw the countlessly many stars. God pointed the stars and told that Abram’s descendants would be as many as the stars in the clear night sky. (Imagine what Abram had really saw on that night. At the time of Abram, there was no air pollution and light contamination at all, Abram should have seen a crystal-clear night sky and sparkling stars that were so many that nobody would even attempt counting all. I still remember the magnificent scene that the crystal clear night sky packed with countlessly many stars from horizon to the top and the other side of horizon, and each of them was shining like a clear crystal reflecting a pure light. I was awestruck by the sheer size of the vast space of the night sky and the stars filling the vast expanse of the sky.) Abram was comforted and regain his trust on God, and he firmly believed again God’s promise. Joyfully Abram returned to his home where Sarai, his wife, but Sarai had a difficult plan. Sarai had already given up having a baby, and made her own rational plan to have a baby with her servant, Hagar. Sarai convinced Abram, and as planned, Ishmael was born. Sarai along with Abram rejoiced over Ishmael, but Ishmael brought never-ceasing domestic conflicts between Sarai and Hagar. Ishmael was not a part of the God plan, but he became the source of conflicts in the household of Abram and Sarai.
Then God patiently waited for 13 year, but Abram had never realized what he did was not God’s will. God, who was full of love, appeared third time to Abram, and confirmed His covenant with Abram. For this time, God made a dramatic measure for Abram not to forget or deviate from the God’s promise and His plan:
1. God hanged Abram’s name from Abram to Abraham
2. God gave a mark of God’s covenant of circumcision, and
3. God also changed Sarai’s name to Sarah.
Why did God do all of the above for Abram (Father of one nation), who was renamed to Abraham (Father of many nations)? Because God loved Abraham. God was also pleased with Abraham who faithfully built an alter and called on God’s name wherever he went. Abraham lived a God-centered life.
Was Abraham perfect before God? Of course, he was not. Ishmael was the perfect example that manifested the human Abraham’s struggle of faith before the impossibility. Then he gave in and resolved the irreconcilable issue with Ishmael. However, Ishmael brought constant domestic conflicts and problems for the last thirteen years. Even so, Abraham did not come to God for his wrongdoing. The faithful Abraham failed before God. God, who was truly patient, found Abram, and told that Ishmael would not be his heir, but the son from Sarah. Then God blessed Abraham again in His unfathomable love,
“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 17:16)
“She” means Sarah, his wife, not Hagar. Abraham bowed down to the ground, but he laughed to himself, “How could I become a father at the age of 100?” he thought. “And how can Sarah have a baby when she is ninety years old?” So Abraham said to God, “May Ishmael live under your special blessing!”
Abraham could not get out of his own rational thinking, because the promise of God of making him into many nations without even one single son was utterly impossible in Abraham’s eyes. We cannot blame Abraham because it was a cold fact that Abraham and his barren wife had to overcome. This was the largest impediment for both Abraham and Sarah.
Didn’t God know Abraham could not believe the God’s promise because it was absolutely impossible to the eyes of Abraham? Yes, God knew and Abraham’s struggle. This was the reason why God appeared three times to Abraham.
But God replied, “No—Sarah, your wife, will give birth to a son for you. You will name him Isaac, and I will confirm my covenant with him and his descendants as an everlasting covenant. As for Ishmael, I will bless him also, just as you have asked. I will make him extremely fruitful and multiply his descendants. He will become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But my covenant will be confirmed with Isaac, who will be born to you and Sarah about this time next year.” (Genesis 17:19-21)
God exactly knew Abraham and his heart for Ishmael, who was born with Hagar. God, who knew Abraham’s struggle, comforted Abraham. God, first, reconfirmed His covenant with Abram and his descendants as an “everlasting covenant.” (Yes, God’s covenant never changes and lasts forever. That’s why we have our assurance in Him. No matter what happens, His faithful covenant will be with us forever.) Second, God also promised to bless Ishmael.
Then God left Abraham. Abraham was extremely comforted. On that very day, Abraham took his son, Ishmael, and every male in his household, including those born there and those he had bought. Then he circumcised them along with the rest of the household as God commanded. Again, this is the greatness of Abraham, who could return to God and continued God-centered life, while overcoming his doubt and struggle before the impossibility.
God did not forget Sarah, who had been struggling since she married. She knew the God’s promise was impossible because she was barren. Indeed, she was the person who brought Hagar to Abraham, and Ishmael was born. Since then, in her house, domestic conflicts had never left. She had been paying the price for the last thirteen years since Ishmael’s birth. Surely, she wanted to help Abraham with humanly means by introducing Hagar, which was a successful plan because Ishmael was born. Sarah through that the struggle of Abraham and herself was over. In fact, it had introduced a bigger problem, which made her life even more miserable. God exactly knew Sarah and her heart, and saw what she was going through. God, full of mercy and love, stretched His hand for Sarah.
One day Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent during the hottest part of the day. He looked up and noticed three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran to meet them and welcomed them, bowing low to the ground.
Abraham was kind and generous to all including strangers. Abraham actually welcomed angels without knowing.
“My lord,” he said, “if it pleases you, stop here for a while. Rest in the shade of this tree while water is brought to wash your feet. And since you’ve honored your servant with this visit, let me prepare some food to refresh you before you continue on your journey.”
Before the Abraham’s hospitality, they (actually the angels) could not walk by, and they answered to Abraham.
“All right,” they said. “Do as you have said.”
As soon as Abraham heard the answers of the angels, Abraham ran back to the tent and said to Sarah, “Hurry! Get three large measures of your best flour, knead it into dough, and bake some bread.” Then Abraham ran out to the herd and chose a tender calf and gave it to his servant, who quickly prepared it. Abraham and Sarah worked hard while preparing the food for the angels.
When the food was ready, Abraham took some yogurt and milk and the roasted meat, and he served it to the men. As they ate, Abraham waited on them in the shade of the trees. Again, Abraham served the angels without realizing it!
“Where is Sarah, your wife?” one of the angles asked.
“She’s inside the tent,” Abraham replied.
Then one of the angels said, “I will return to you about this time next year, and your wife, Sarah, will have a son!”
Sarah was listening to this conversation from the tent. Abraham and Sarah were both very old by this time, and Sarah was long past the age of having children. So she laughed silently to herself and said, “How could a worn-out woman like me enjoy such pleasure, especially when my master—my husband—is also so old?”
She could not stop laughing. Why? She knew having a baby was impossible. She was barren and she was too told to have a baby. She also knew Abraham was too old to have a baby. The silent smile was, in fact, her pain in her heart and her struggle to believe God’s promise. Sarah had been always confronting against the cold reality of having a baby. God knew her heartbreaking every day. God could not leave her alone anymore. God moved His merciful and loving hand to Sarah, and gently told to Abraham about Sarah through one of the angels:
“Why did Sarah laugh? Why did she say, ‘Can an old woman like me have a baby?’ Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return about this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” (Genesis 18:13b, 14)
God reconfirmed His promise to Sarah. For this time, God declared Him as Omnipotent God. Yes, before Him, there is nothing impossible. How many times have we say nothing is impossible before God? Then our heart was filled with doubts because our brain says God’s promise is ridiculously impossible. In other word, do we really believe Our God’s truly omnipotence? Sadly, we all admit our frequent failures before God. What does God really want? He wants for us to have an absolute faith while completely trusting Him. God wanted for Sarah to trust God and believe His promise even if it was utter impossible. Of course, like us, Sarah failed. Sarah silently laughed before God, as Abraham did before.
Then in fear, Sarah denied, “I didn’t laugh.” But God said, “No, you did laugh.” Then God left.
Did God punish Sarah’s disbelief at the spot? No, God did not. Instead, God just remind her of her disbelief. Why? God really cared for Sarah. God kindly pointed out her disbelief, while implicitly asking her to keep her trust on His promise. Yes, then Sarah regained her faith in Him and believed the impossible promise of God. As a result, Abraham and Sarah together trusted God and believed His promise. For this time, they did not have to devise their own plan to make God’s impossible plan come true because together they believed. What a beautiful scene before God!
God faithfully kept His word. God did for Sarah exactly what He had promised. She miraculously became pregnant, and she gave birth to a son for Abraham in his old age. And Abraham named their son Isaac as God commanded. Eight days after Isaac was born, Abraham circumcised him again as God had commanded. Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born.
And Sarah declared, “God has brought me laughter. All who hear about this will laugh with me. Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse a baby? Yet I have given Abraham a son in his old age!”
Sarah was in extreme joy. God kept His promise. Sarah and Abraham experienced God who was faithful.
Who is our God? He is always faithful and keeps His word. Although we cannot see anything with our own eyes, we should walk with Him by calling on the name of our God. This is our faith and hope. Our God, who is faithful and full of love and mercy, always hears us and answers according to His infinitely goodness. Praise Him because His mercy endures forever!
Down in the valley where the mists of doubt arise,
I by faith can walk with God’s victorious band.
Though so-called “real proofs” elude my ears and eyes
On the promises of God I firmly stand.
Walk we onward; walk in faith, believing!
Press we on, bravely on! Cast off doubt and fear!
Press we heaven-ward, through our faith receiving
Proofs more sure than any known to eye or ear!
(from “Down in the valley where the mists of doubt arise” Hymn)
For we live by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthian 5:7)