“as it is written, ‘I have made you (Abraham) the father of many nations’ –in the presence of the God in whom (Abraham) believed, Who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope (Abraham) believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was ass good as dead(since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what He had promised.” –Romans 4:17-21, ESV
In a time when people question every nuance of every belief, I longed for an overarching perspective from which to draw conclusions. I wanted to understand the bigger picture, the larger purpose. This ultimately led me to seeking to understand the God Who is above all of the human interpretations and discourses.
Before the law was given to the people of Israel, there was still faith that would save. Before any interpretation could be made about any of the commandments, God blessed and called a people already. The passage in Romans summarizes the faith of Abraham in the God of all. If Abraham, who would become the father of God’s people, found he could trust this God Who made unfathomable promises, then that period of time might be instructive for us as well. In clearing away the thousands of years of people and our interpretations, we may just get to see the simple faith of a single man. We just might see the God our souls long for, the God Who quenches the thirsts of our hearts.
Let’s take a look at what Abraham experienced with God.
God Promised a Nation
God doesn’t expect us to follow Him without the promise of something as a result of that obedience. Yes, obedience comes more easily as we love Him more. Just as love has a promise, so does God. God promised to make Abraham the father of nations. Not just a nation, a multitude of nations. Genesis 17 walks us through the situation where the 99-year-old and still childless Abram encounters God in a mighty way. God’s words to Abram were no small thing:
“I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make My covenant between Me and you, and may multiply you greatly…Behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between Me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojourning, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God…” –Genesis 17:1-2, 4-8, ESV
Go’d promise continues in this passage, but you can easily see God’s repeated statements to Abraham. Maybe Abraham would have been as confused as you and I would be in his situation. Maybe he needed a little repetition of the promise as reassurance of God’s seriousness. Or maybe after the first time it was said, Abraham’s shock rattled him enough that he tuned in again in the third or fourth time the promise was made. Whatever the reason, God knew Abraham would need that reassurance.
And God delivered miraculously in providing a 99-year-old Abraham with his barren wife Sarah the promised son in Isaac.
God Provided Deliverance
Isaac, as the only son of Abraham and Sarah, the promised heir that would build multiple nations, was not the end of the story. With just the birth of Isaac, we would still marvel at the miraculous grace of God to give this couple a son. We could walk away from the story and assume that Isaac would grow, marry, and produce his own family. We could assume that the nations would come without ever checking back in on the progress.
But God is not a God of ordinary. He does not settle of a story we can walk away from. The life of Isaac would come with its own set of struggles and questions. We fast-forward in the life of Abraham a number of years into Genesis 22. Scholars believe that when Genesis 22 took place, Isaac would have been about 16 years old. Do that math: if Abraham was 99 when the promise of Isaac was given, he was well over 100 when Genesis 22 took place.
In Genesis 22, we learn that Abraham must give us his son. With no indication that Abraham knew more than what he was told, he took Isaac up a hill, prepared to give him away to the Father. I imagine a holy, silent scene as the boy and his very old father walk up the hill. Isaac knows a sacrifice is to be given, but he does not know that sacrifice is him. His curiosity getting the better of him, he asks, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (Genesis 22:7, ESV). Abraham responds with only, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (vs. 8).
And God did provide a sacrifice. A ram stuck in the thistles took the place of Isaac. Abraham trusted the command of God even when it seemed strange to him. Abraham trusted that God would provide–in one way or another. And so Abraham followed the God that he trusted.
But where did this trust develop? How could Abraham know? Aside from the miraculous birth of Isaac, Abraham experienced more with his God that cemented his belief in God’s provision.
God Provisioned the Journey
Abram, as a descendant of Noah, had to have heard the account of the flood. He had to know his family history, and how God delivered his Great Grandfather Noah through the worldwide flood. There was history to know and believe in the power of this God his family served. But God’s call on Abraham’s life came in Genesis 12.
“Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘God from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ So Abram went, as the Lord had told him…” –Genesis 12: 1-4, ESV
It is commonly understood that Abram was 75 at this point. 75 years old. He was 75 when God promised to make him a great nation and to richly bless him along the way. It would be 24 years later that the nation would be specified as coming from a son. We often focus on the 24 years as being a long time to wait for the promised son to arrive. Yet let’s not miss the full blessing God spoke over Abram. The nations were not the only promised. God also promised to bless him and make his name great. God promised to make Abram’s name great, and to bless those who blessed Abram.
The 24 intervening years were not sitting around thumb-twiddling. They were rich years of journey and blessing at along the way. Abrams name did grow, as did his material wealth. He and Sarai (who would later be renamed Sarah by the Lord) were honored where they went.
God’s blessing was not a one trick pony of one-and-done. God’s blessing and promise held rich depth, breadth, and established His chosen man. Abraham lived through these decades of blessing. He knew that God had already delivered on the promised to save Noah and family in the flood. Abram was one of the products of that rescue–and he had to know the part of the story where Noah built an ark in a desert for many years prior to that ark being practically useful. Abrams knew things sometimes came over the course of years. Abrams also knew the breadth of the promise–that making nations didn’t come overnight. He lived the blessing along the journey. He knew the Lord’s favor as the Lord continued to deliver not the promise. So when the day came to believe God in the promise of a son, the 99-year-old man without the physical means to make that happen could trust that God would provide that, too.
Who is This God to You?
Abraham’s God was not a one-and-done God. He didn’t speak words and then bail to let the chips fall. God intervened in Abraham’s life again and again. And He does the same with you. Think back on your life’s journey. Where had God delivered on His promises? And which promises are yet to see their fulfillment? When we feel frustrated that part of a promise has yet to be made a reality, we must remember all that God has done before. He has been faithful int he past, and He will be faithful in this as well.
Where has He delivered you? From a situation, a person, a job, a destructive way of thinking? Deliverance comes in many forms. How has He delivered you from your sin?
Where has God provided?
Just as Abraham could trust God, so can you. If there is anything standing in your way to trusting, pray about it. Your prayer need not be lengthy or wordy. Pray honestly about this roadblock, and He will take delight in responding to a sincere heart.