Greetings in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Praying for you, your family, your community, and the rest of the world. Right now, the whole world is suffering because of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). Let’s pray together to God, Our Ever-Loving Father, His mercy and protection on all, and God’s healing on those who are infected by the Coronavirus. We all believe God’s grace and love rest on all who look upon Him every moment with faith in Him.
But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” (Galatians 4:30)
Abraham followed God without knowing where he went. Why? Abraham met God, and He trusted in God. He completely relied on God’s covenant that God gave him. He courageously left his relatives and his native country. The destination was unknown except the God’s promise. Those who went with Abraham were his wife, Sarah, and his nephew, Lot.
His journey was not easy. He went through wilderness and valleys. The danger of wild animals and strangers was always lingering around him. But he had never hesitated and walked as God directed him. Abraham built an altar wherever he went and worshiped God by calling His name until he arrived at the Promised Land.
Abraham thought that his journey was over, but it was just beginning his faith journey with God. Abraham was still of the world, although he courageously followed God in faith. He faithfully tried to follow God, but he failed also.
On the other hand, God was always faithful. He was with Abraham when Abraham failed. God patiently watched over Abraham when Abraham fell. God encouraged Abraham to stand up in faith again and return to Him. Why did Abraham fall? Abraham waited for God’s promise, but God did not deliver to him for so many years.
God promised Abraham to make him a great nation. Thus he waited for his son, who would be the seed of the great nation. However, his wife was barren, and he could not see any sign that he would get his son. Even so, Abraham trusted in God and believed His promise repeatedly, which is a rare faith that we cannot easily find. He waited and waited for his son, but God did not provide his son. His wife remained barren.
Abraham struggled. One day he talked to God,
“O Sovereign LORD, what good are all your blessings when I don’t even have a son? Since you’ve given me no children, Eliezer of Damascus, a servant in my household, will inherit all my wealth. You have given me no descendants of my own, so one of my servants will be my heir.” (Genesis 15:2b-3)
Abraham suggested Eliezer, his servant, as his heir. Why? God gave him no child. Yes, it was God’s fault, not his. God promised, but God did not deliver. Abraham could not wait any longer. Abraham brought a logically workable solution to resolve God’s undelivered promise.
How do you think? Did God accept Abraham’s proposal? No. God rejected. Let’s ask; did God have no ability to give a son to Abraham? No. God could. Then what’s the problem? Indeed, the problem was with Abraham, not with God.
Abraham’s faith was not fully mature enough to wait for his son from his barren wife no longer because Abraham concluded that it was impossible. It was a truly logical conclusion, but in reality, Abraham lost his spiritual battle. The earthly reality overruled Abraham’s faith. Abraham did not know how he was ignorant about God — who God was and what God could do. Especially, he did not understand what God truly wanted from him — Abraham’s absolute faith that could not be shaken even before the cold reality, more precisely, the reality where he lived in.
How many times have we lost our spiritual battle against our earthly reality? Only after we failed, we looked back. Then we realized our immature faith was the major culprit of our defeat. We thought the reality that we thought was not the reality after all, which was just a projection of our imagination, and only made us fearful. Even so, at that time, we blamed God and demanded God to deliver His promise to fit God into our reality projected in our mind. It was not the true reality, but it was so much more real than God.
Then what’s the real issue here? Again, our lack of faith is the culprit, which makes us believe the reality that we created in our mind, not the true reality in God. Then what’s the solution in this case? We need a true faith in God to overcome the reality that we manufacture in our minds.
Then, the next question becomes, “How can we get to such a true faith?” Can we achieve it by our effort alone? No. We have already failed because of our immature faith. Unless we get rid of this immaturity in faith, we cannot get to a mature faith. It is logically a chicken and egg problem. With a failed immature faith, because of our immature faith. Our immature faith cannot get to our desire to be fully mature in faith. Then how can we mature in faith? Logically impossible. Sadly, we are trapped in the chicken and egg problem. Then how can we break this vicious cycle?
The answer is God, who is greater and bigger than all our problems, including our chicken and egg immaturity in faith. Our God is not just omnipotent, but He also dearly loves us. Let’s see how God responded to Abraham, who brought his logical conclusion out of his immature faith.
Then God said to Abraham,
“No, your servant will not be your heir, for you will have a son of your own who will be your heir.” (Genesis 15:4b)
God said no, and God reaffirmed His promise. Then God took Abram outside and said to him,
“Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!” (Genesis 15:5b)
God showed His promise to Abraham so that he could see and believe. Abraham was digging deep into his doubt while losing his spiritual battle against his perceived reality that he manufactured in his mind. As a result, God was getting smaller and smaller in his eyes, and his perceived reality was getting bigger and bigger. No more. Now, God showed God’s promise to Abraham so that he could see and believe again God’s promise rather than doubting and questioning God.
God, who was infinitely patient, did not blame Abraham. Instead, God lovingly saw Abraham, who was just a baby in faith in God’s eye. Have we, as parents, blame our baby who is crying for mommy and daddy because he/she cannot spot either mommy and daddy with own eyes? Yes, for the baby, mommy and daddy were no longer with him/her because the baby could not spot them. We all know it is not true. The baby’s mommy and daddy dearly love their baby and never leave the baby alone. Just because the baby cannot see mommy and daddy, either mommy and daddy disappeared. In reality, mommy went to the next room to get the baby’s delicious food, and daddy stepped out for the room to get the baby’s favorite toy.
After the baby sees mommy again bringing in his delicious food, the baby stops crying because it saw the mommy. The same is true with the daddy coming with the baby’s favorite toy. Abraham had gone through the wilderness and the valleys to follow God while fighting against dangers in the wilderness and the valleys, but his faith was not mature enough to see through the cold reality. Specifically, he could not overcome his wife’s barrenness, which was so much truth to him than God, who was invisible. Thus, he had to make up his solution that he could lean on.
Even so, God did not blame Abraham, but God lovingly held him by hand, took him outside, and showed the stars to see God’s promise. Surely, what God did to Abraham touches our hearts too, who often struggle with Abraham’s same doubting faith. Yes, God made Abraham see God’s promise. Abraham lifted up his eyes and sawed the sparkling stars against the deep night sky. Each of the stars was so sparklingly beautiful that nobody could make them with any materials on earth. It was not all. Then God told Abraham to count the stars one by one. He started counting stars, but he soon realized that he could not count because they were too many. Each sparkling star was his descendent that God promised.
Have you seen sparkling stars in the deep night sky, which cover the entire sky by touching the horizon to the top of the sky? It is a real wonder, which is enough to make us transcend out of this world. We immediately realize how small we are. Of course, any attempt to count the stars is plain stupid. So many to count. God made Abraham see so many stars that night, and he saw God’s promise with his heart. Abraham threw away his doubt, and he believed again.
I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes. (Job 42:5)
The above is the famous confession made by Job to God, who had an admirable faith in God. Satan admired. Satan was zealous and got permission to test Job’s faith. Satan hit Job hard, but Job did not lose his faith. Satan could not nullify Job’s faith. Yes, Satan took away all of his children and all of his wealth. Eventually, he lost his health too. His wife, who silently watched and finally screamed at Job,
“Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die.” (Job 2:9b)
But Job calmly replied,
“You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” (Job 2:10b)
So in all this, Job said nothing wrong against God.
Soon his friends also came and made various accusations about Job, but Job stood firm on his faith. He endured all. In the end, God appeared to Job. Then Job made the above confession. Even Job, who was impossibly faithful, did not know fully about God. Rather Job was refined like solid gold by the trials, and he could make such a confession in faith.
At that moment, Abraham had not reached the maturity of Job’s faith. However, God loved Abraham, and God made Abraham one step closer to God. He, then, believed again. That night, Abraham could overcome the earthly impossibility of receiving a son from his barren wife.
And Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD counted him as righteous because of his faith. (Genesis 15:6)
And Abram believed God again. Yes, Abraham believed again, which is the greatness of Abraham. He believed in God’s promise against the impossibility of the reality, in which he lived. Then God counted Abraham as righteous.
It is more like baby’s father gives his baby a toy, and then praises his baby because his baby just holds the toy with the baby’s hand. God’s praise to Abraham was not much different from the baby’s father’s praise to his baby. God dearly loved Abraham, who followed God in faith. The faith was so precious to God. The size of faith is not so important to God. Having faith in God really matters to God. Having faith alone pleases God, and it makes us His children.
Abraham’s journey in faith continued. From time to time, Abraham wanted to see his child. Then he remembered the night sky filled with so many stars. He endured in faith. But it was not easy for Abraham. He had to fight and fight. Some nights, he woke up and could not go back to sleep as the reality swamped over Abraham. How could his descendants be numerous like the stars in the deep night sky as God showed to him without his son? Of course, it was impossible. The reality hunted Abraham, and Abraham could not go back to sleep. Abraham struggled throughout the night, and his wife, Sarah, silently saw Abraham’s struggle.
Sarah’s heart was also breaking while watching Abraham’s struggle, especially during the night. Sarah truly wanted to help Abraham. Out of love for Abraham, one day, Sarah suggested,
“The LORD has prevented me from having children. Go and sleep with my servant. Perhaps I can have children through her.” (Genesis 16:2b)
Sarah blamed God first. It was not Sarah’s fault, but God’s fault. Then Sarah brought her own solution. Abraham should have refused to accept Sarah’s earthly solution, but Abraham didn’t.
Abraham agreed with Sarah’s proposal. So Sarah, Abram’s wife, took Hagar, the Egyptian servant, and gave her to Abraham as a wife. Hagar bore Ishmael, and Abraham was 85 years old. It was the 15th year since he left his family, relatives, and native land to follow God. However, Ishmael quickly became the source of the domestic problem. Hagar looked down upon her mistress, and Sarah treated Hagar harshly. Hagar ran away from home with her son, Ishmael. But God brought Hagar and Ishmael back.
It was the 24th year since Abraham followed God. Finally, God’s set time came. God appeared to Abraham and said,
“I am El-Shaddai—‘God Almighty.’ Serve me faithfully and live a blameless life. I will make a covenant with you, by which I will guarantee to give you countless descendants.” (Genesis 17:1b)
Then there was a long conversation between God and Abraham. Toward the end of the conversation, God gave the names that we commonly know, “Abraham” and “Sarah.” Up to that point, their real names were “Abram” and “Sarai,” which mean father and mother of one nation. The new names mean father and mother of many nations. God told again that Abraham had a son from his barren wife. Abraham bowed down to the ground, but he laughed to himself in disbelief.
“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?” (Genesis 17:17b)
By that time, Abraham had Ishmael, growing stronger every day, a teenager who pleased Abraham. Abraham started believing that Ishmael would be my heir because he is my son. He slowly forgot God’s promise that his son would come from Sarah. Without knowing, Abraham locked into his earthly solution that was visible instead of God’s invisible promise.
So Abraham said to God,
“May Ishmael live under your special blessing!” (Genesis 17:18b)
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 clarified His promise again for Abraham. God even gave the name of his future son from Sarah, Isaac, which means laughter. Yes, Abraham had suffered long 24 years while fighting against his doubt of being the father of a great nation without his own son. Now God promised to give him the true laughter — his own son, Isaac. Sarah was still barren, but Abraham believed. Yes, he believed!
Compassionate God consoled Abraham’s heart for Ishmael. God promised His blessings on Ishmael and Ishmael’s descendants. God had finished speaking, and God left Abraham. But it was not long before coming back with angels to help Abraham and Sarah’s faith.
Abraham was a good man. Abraham saw the angels, and without knowing, Abraham treated the angels very well. One of the angels blessed Sarah while prophesizing that Sarah would have a son by the next year. Sarah could not believe what she heard, and she laughed. However, God was faithful to Sarah and Abraham.
God kept his word and did for Sarah exactly what he had promised. She became pregnant, and she gave birth to a son for Abraham in his old age. This happened at just the time God had said it would. And Abraham named their son Isaac. 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!” (Genesis 21:6b-7)
However, the domestic problem persisted due to Ishmael. Ishmael kept making fun of much younger Isaac. There was no peace in the household. Abraham had to remove the thorny child from his family. Abraham, per God’s direction, expelled Ishmael, and peace came. Abraham now was poised to fully received God’s promise with his wife, Sarah, and his son, Isaac.
Ishmael was the manifestation of the unbelief of Abraham and Sarah. They had to expell Ishmael before receiving the fullness of God’s promise. Why, then, did not God ask to remove Ishmael long before getting into the problems with Isaac? God’s mercy and compassion were the answer. God knew Abraham could not sustain his journey without a tangible clutch of Ishmael. If Ishmael were not there with Abraham, could Abraham sustain his journey with God till 99 years old?
God knows our weakness. Some of our children need a safety blanket, God knows our wanting heart of our safety blanket, and God let us have our own safety blanket, but the safety blanket cannot be with us forever. When the time comes, we had to grow out of our safety blanket life. Ishmael was Abraham’s safety blanket, and Abraham had to grow out of the safety blanket by expelling Ishmael from his life.
God, who was merciful to Abraham, is merciful to us. When we need our safety blanket, God provides, but it cannot be with us forever. When the time comes, we should graduate from the safety blanket. Yes, God’s mercy and His love are unfathomable, which is the reason why we can trust in Him unconditionally under all circumstances.
And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. (Philippians 1:6)