I mentioned in a previous post that God’s promise was not contingent upon Abram’s performance.
Regardless of Abram’s shameful behavior, God still intends to bless Abram so that the nations of the earth can be blessed through him. Abram couldn’t grasp a great nation coming from him if he couldn’t even produce one single child (Gen. 15:2). His hope continued to subside with the prospect of a son diminishing month after childless month.
To leave no room for misunderstanding, God takes Abram on an evening stroll to behold a starry night. The mere thought is breathtaking. The Maker of the stars takes a simple man to gaze upon the brilliant luminaries he made years ago. “He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names” (Ps. 147:4). Pointing to the dazzling constellations, God playfully asks Abram to count them. Awestruck and overwhelmed, Abram is obviously unable to begin such a feat. The sheer impossibility of numbering such a vast ensemble humbles Abram.
In case he wasn’t humbled enough, God then reveals to him that his coming family would be just as immense. “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them…So shall your offspring be” (Gen. 15:5). In this moment, God promises Abram more descendants as the stars in the sky.
“And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). In this passage, a foundational Old Testament principle is established – faith obtains righteousness. Most people would assume that such a concept is reserved for the New Testament but it is actually paramount within the first pages of the Old Testament. People comment that the Old Testament is all about rules without relationships. It was a spiritual checklist of “thou shalt not’s” to obey. In reality, Abram’s faith concerning God’s Word on this matter was what brought about his righteousness. We have seen that Abram’s personal attempts at righteousness are severely lacking. Yet, in the moment when he has faith in what God tells him, he obtains what he could not manufacture.
Abram has changed. His belief is navigating him through such immense odds and unlikely circumstances. In the midst of his newfound optimism, those around him desire to see this result as well. His wife, Sarai, is all for seeing the promise fulfilled as well. So much so that she does something remarkably shocking. Sarai comes up with a plan in order to “help God out” by allowing her husband to have sex with her Egyptian servant, Hagar (Gen. 16:1-2).
“Abram listened to the voice of Sarai” and obeys his wife’s wishes (Gen. 16:2). The language used is curiously similar to the language used in Adam’s curse where Adam “listened to the voice of” his wife (Gen. 3:17). Without any known pressuring, Abram goes along with the plan to have sex with a younger woman. Abram apparently approaches this idea as “OK, dear, if that’s what you want. You know I only want to make you happy.”
Abram begins to have a sexual relationship with Hagar and it turns out her reproductive organs are functioning quicker than Sarai’s. As soon as Sarai realizes that Hagar is pregnant, she regrets her decision and persecutes her until Hagar runs away (Gen. 16:6). In her confused and distressed state, God sends an angel to comfort and provide for Hagar and her son in her womb, Ishmael (Gen. 16:7-16).
Abram finally has a son. The promise can now be fulfilled. While bad blood is festering within Abram’s extended household, at least God’s plan can now go forward. It appears that everyone is accepting the developments except for the one who put the initial plan together.
13 years after Ishmael is born, God reminds Abram of his covenant with him. “When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘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'” (Gen. 17:1-2). God changes Abram’s name to Abraham (Gen. 17:5). This “father” is changed into a “father of a multitude.”
God promises that Abraham will be a father again, but this child will come through Sarai. God changes Sarai’s name to Sarah (Gen. 17:15). Her name changes signifies the change of a “princess” from a local scale to a more global scale.
God names their coming son, “Issac,” due to the laughter at the thought of them getting pregnant at their age (Gen. 17:19).
In this development, God reveals his promise will come through in such a way that only he can get the credit. Sarah will have this child from her very own aged womb, and when others behold it, they will stand in awe of what God has done and not marvel at what man has done. This supernatural birth foreshadows another supernatural birth where man is unable to get the credit. When Jesus, from the line of Abraham (Matt. 1:1-2), is born, his earthly father functions more as an adoptive father as it is reinforced that he is only the “husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ” (Matt. 1:16). The Lord would provide a sign when “the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14).
“The LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him” (Gen. 21:1-2). Issac is born and finally makes “laughter” for a woman who has been longing for years to have her joy restored (Gen. 21:6).
Just a reminder today: God doesn’t need you to help him out. He excels in the impossible. If he has promised it, he will do it. Stand back and watch God at work.
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Just (About) Married.
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