I think most people encounter frustrating seasons at one time or another; times when promises made don’t seem to be being fulfilled. But, what is really frustrating is when it happens to us; especially when we’re Christians! We know we have God on our side, that we’re working with him and we just know that everything will work out alright in the end, in fact, we have a promise to that effect: Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” We have this promise but, at some point in our lives, we get to feeling that our circumstances don’t seem to be coming together for our good, and that can be really frustrating.
That’s just how Abraham was feeling at the beginning of Genesis 15. Here’s some background to what has just happened in Abraham’s life. It seems there had been a war. Four Kings from the north had swept down upon the cities of the South, and (having defeated their enemy) they were returning home with prisoners and other spoils of war. Amongst those prisoners was Abraham’s nephew Lot along with his possessions.
Once Abraham heard of this, he gathered his men (a total force of 317 men) and pursued the army from the north. He attacked them by night and defeated them, rescuing his nephew along with all the other captives and their possessions. On the way home, Abraham stopped at a town we now call Jerusalem and spent time with a priest of God called Melchizedek and gave him a 10th of all the spoils. Right after this, God came to Abraham in the vision we have recorded here in Genesis 15 and said: "Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward." (Genesis 15:1) It’s almost like God is telling Abraham: all things work together for your good, Abraham, because you love me, and you’re called according to my purpose.”
Now Abraham has just returned from a battle he didn’t deserve to win. And Abraham knows that the only reason he won was because God had helped him. That’s why he shared a 10th of the spoils with God. He was thanking God for helping win the victory. But now… once the victory has been won and he has shown his gratitude to God at Jerusalem and now that God has visited him in a vision to confirm His love for Abraham; notice what Abraham says in Genesis 15:2-3 “But Abram said, "O 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." God is telling Abraham… “all things are going to work together for good to you Abraham because I’m your shield and your very great reward” and Abraham comes back sounding a little irritated.
You see, God had made a promise to Abraham about 10 to 15 years before…
We’re told “The LORD appeared to Abram and said, "To YOUR OFFSPRING I will give this land." (Genesis 12:7) That has been a while ago and Abraham and his wife are getting older. The clock is ticking and he’s still got no heir. He may have been beginning to think that he needed to come up with an alternative plan to help God out. In those days, if a man was childless, there were laws that enabled them to “adopt” one of their servants (to make sure the estate did not fall into somebody else’s hands). One “adoption tablet” from Mesopotamia spoke of a servant being adopted as a man’s heir.
It then declared that if the master should have a son of his own, the son would take a double share of the inheritance; the servant would be next in order of inheritance take his proper share. But if the master died childless, the servant became his sole heir. Abraham believes he needs that kind of a plan… a plan “B” in his life. Plan “A” (God’s promise) doesn’t seem to be coming about at the moment so, he makes plans to have his trusted servant Eliezer be his heir. BUT this wasn’t what God had promised to him and Abraham is a little bewildered. So he lets God know that he’s disappointed. "You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir." (Genesis 15:3)
Notice how God responds;he doesn’t rebuke Abraham for being upset and he doesn’t tell him he has no right to question what’s happening. Many times in Scripture, we find great men and women of God complaining. David writes: “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” (Psalm 13:1-2) The prophet Habakkuk writes: “How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, "Violence!" but you do not save?” (Habakkuk 1:2) The Lord doesn’t rebuke any of these prayers. He records them so we can see that other men and women have struggled with their faith as well.
In Abraham’s case… Abraham needs reassurance and so God gives it to him. First, God corrects Abraham’s thinking, "This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir." He took him outside and said, "Look up at the heavens and count the stars— if indeed you can count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be." (Genesis 15:4-5) Then God goes through an elaborate ceremony known as “cutting a covenant.” A covenant was like a contract except it was far more binding and serious.
In the cutting of a covenant, two parties would cut an animal in two (here God orders Abraham to cut up several animals). The parties to the agreement would then pass down between those halves and were declaring to each other and to anyone else who happened to be a witness to the event: “May I be like this animal if I ever break this covenant.”
Now, why would God do this? Why would God not only speak to Abraham as He did, but also engage in an elaborate and bloody ceremony? Because Abraham needed assurance. The promise of a child so late in life was going to be difficult for him to grasp. And… when Abraham would struggle with this question in the future (and he would) God wanted him to have a powerful image in his mind reminding him of this day. You see, that is the major purpose for Covenants – to remind people of promises that are made. So the Lord used the ceremony of “cutting a covenant” to burn into Abraham’s mind the fact that he will be faithful; he will keep his promises
That’s what we’re reassured of by Paul “… no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ. And so through him the "Amen" is spoken by us to the glory of God.” (2 Corinthians 1:20)
So… God didn’t rebuke Abraham for his complaint; instead he reassured him. But why didn’t God give Abraham his child right then instead? After all it was only going to be another few years before this prophecy of a child was fulfilled, and it would be so much easier to give Abraham what he wanted NOW instead of waiting another few years?
You and I struggle with those same questions in our lives. “Why doesn’t God deal with my problem now!” That was what Abraham wanted. That’s why he was adopting Eliezer as his servant. He felt he needed a solution to his problem… and he needed it now.
God wasn’t upset with Abraham trying “plan B.” It’s just that “plan B” wasn’t how God intended to get things done. But God doesn’t always answer our felt needs when we feel we need them met.
Why would God do it that way? It could simply be that the time isn’t right and that God intends to use your situation to accomplish something bigger, and more important than you have in mind. When something is really important, God takes his time to make sure that everything is in place. In Galatians, Paul writes of us as being descendants of Abraham: “…when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5)
It could also be that the people around us aren’t ready. Sarah also needed to be ready to have a child. It’s hard to believe that a woman in her 80’s or 90’s wouldn’t have had time to prepare to have a baby; but as you read about Sarah in the next few chapters you find that she’s not the most mature person you’ve ever met.
And so there are times when God waits for the optimum moment when the change he makes in our lives can have the greatest impact on those about us.
It could also be that we’re not ready. God isn’t in the business of granting wishes and handing out gifts like a kind of Santa Claus, making a list and trying to find out who’s naughty and nice. He isn’t up there trying figure out which one gets this gift or that gift. God is not in the business of granting wishes, but he is in the business of taking people who are not what they should be and building them up to be what he knows they can be. At times, that means that he won’t give us what we believe we need when we think we need it. He will, however, supply for our needs at just the right time, and in just the right way.
In fact, this last reason (we’re not ready) is almost always part of God’s equation and we are impatient people. We almost always want what we want… NOW. But Scripture tells us: “Wait on the LORD; Be of good courage, and he will strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the LORD!” Psalms 27:14
“The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.” Lamentations 3:25-26
“…those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; They shall rise up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31
Or… as it says in the New Testament:
James 1:2-4 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
Remember that we have this promise “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28
That doesn’t mean (necessarily) that all things are from God or that all things are good. But it does mean that in all things God will work for your good because you love him and he’s called you according to his purposes.