E100 – July 23, 2017

“An Impossible Promise… Come True” – Genesis 15

Pentecost 7 – July 23, 2017



As we continue in our series of messages on the essential Old Testament Bible stories, we’re in the middle of three messages that focus on one of the really important characters in the Book of Genesis. We were introduced to Abraham last week in Genesis 12. Actually, his original name was Abram, which means “exalted father,” but we know him best as Abraham, which means “father of many.” His story spans 15 chapters of the book of Genesis – 30% of the chapters in a book that includes some other big-name people like Adam, Noah, Jacob and Joseph.


Last week we heard about God’s call to Abraham, who lived in Ur of the Chaldeans, in present-day Iraq. He was an insignificant and unknown guy to whom God made three significant promises: God would lead him to, and give him a land; God would make a great name and a great nation out of Abraham; God would bless all the peoples on earth through him.


Next week we’re going to wrap up his story and witness God keeping the “great nation” promise in quite a miraculous way, one that points ahead to God’s keeping of the “blessing” promise, too.


But today we’re going to hear about the pain Abraham experienced in the meantime – between the making and the keeping of those last two promises. God had already led Abraham to the land He had promised. In Genesis 13, God said to him, “Lift up your eyes… and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you… Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.” But while Abraham was appreciating the prosperity of that land he was on the verge of receiving, he was impatient with the waiting for a descendant and the great nation promise. Let’s tune in…


  1. An “Impossible” Pain
  2. Childlessness

When Abraham left Ur, he was already 75 years old, and Sarah was ten years younger. So, here you have these seniors trekking across the countryside and beginning a new chapter in their lives. It was a few years later that Genesis 15 begins God’s conversation with Abraham in a vision. Soon, Abraham brought his concern and lament before God: “God, Sarah and I are still childless. How will you keep your promise? My servant Eliezer of Damascus stands to inherit all my estate. How will you be faithful?” You can feel the pain in Abraham’s words.


In the Bible times, especially in the Old Testament, childlessness was a sensitive issue, just as it still is today. There was a special term used for a woman who wasn’t having children – barren… like she was a desert, with no life in her. Barrenness carried with it the stigma of the woman being cursed by God for not being able to bear a child. Perhaps that disgrace was understood in the context of God’s “creation-account blessing” of Adam and Eve: “Be fruitful and increase in number.” If a woman wasn’t fruitful, that is, if she couldn’t become pregnant, then obviously she was not blessed by God. And “not blessed” would be the equivalent of being cursed.


Childless couples in our time need to hear clearly that we no longer believe that to be a stigma or curse from God. First of all, we know that sometimes the man, rather than the woman, is the cause for the childlessness. Second, sometimes couples – for their own reasons – choose not to have children. Third, a woman’s or a man’s value and status in the sight of God is not determined by whether or not they have children. Hear this… You are all precious, holy, righteous, redeemed and loved by God, for Christ’s sake. Period!


But in Abraham’s time and culture, being childless was an emotional pain. And of course for Abraham that was a real conundrum because of God’s promise that they would have many descendants. Sarah was the first of seven childless women mentioned in the Bible. The others are:

Rebekah, Sarah’s son’s wife,

Rachel, Sarah’s grandson’s wife,

Samson’s unnamed mother,

Samuel’s mother, Hannah,

King David’s first wife, Michal, and finally,

Elizabeth, the only New Testament woman.

Of these seven women, only Michal did not eventually give birth to a child.


By the time Abraham was 86, their patience for a child was running out. In Genesis 16, Sarah advises and even encourages Abraham to lie with Hagar, her servant girl, and have a child on Sarah’s behalf, thus “manually” keeping God’s promise when He didn’t seem to be doing it for Himself. Abraham didn’t argue, and so it was that Ishmael was born. It would be another 13 years before the Lord would personally visit Abraham and Sarah and say that it was time for her to have a son, a statement at which Sarah laughed in unbelief. (We’ll pick up that story next Sunday.)


  1. “ites” in the way

A second pain that stood in the way of God’s promises – at least in Abraham’s mind – is explained at the end of Genesis 15. God had promised Abraham the land, and He restates the promise here: “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.”


That’s a lot of “ites” in the way of God giving Abraham and his (not-yet evident) descendants the Promised Land. Abraham may have looked over the land and seen these various people groups scattered throughout the land and wondered how he, without any descendants of his own, could conquer all those people groups in order to live in that land of God’s promise. It would have been a daunting task, maybe an impossible one, for a man in his 80’s… kind of like having a child when you’re in your 80’s or 90’s. Picture a man in his mid-80’s wielding a sword and chasing after young men, maybe even soldiers, from some enemy peoples. It’s probably not going to happen! And if it did, it certainly wouldn’t strike fear in their hearts.


Do you have some “ites” in your life? Things that stand in the way of what you believe God truly wants you to have? If so, the first thing you need to do is to make sure that it is something that God truly wants you to have. God doesn’t promise EVERYONE descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. God doesn’t promise His people financial wealth and prosperity. But if there are some things that, Biblically, you are certain that God wants you to have, there may also be “ites” in the way, things that seem impossible to overcome. Maybe it’s your personal insecurity or doubts about your own skills and abilities. Maybe it’s fear, worry, discouragement or depression. Maybe it’s making your “enemies” out to be bigger than they actually are. We all have things that prevent us from experiencing the full and abundant life that God does promise us. Sometimes the only way to deal with our fear and pain is to honestly say, “God, I hate what I am going through right now, and I need You to show me what You are trying to teach me.”


How does God deal with the “ites” in our lives?

Jesus says, “Do not worry… God knows what you need.”

Jesus says, “My peace I give you… Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Paul writes, “Hope does not disappoint us.”

Paul writes again, “In all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”

John writes, “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”

Those are all strong words – from God – that conquer the “ites” in our lives.


  1. An “Impossible” Promise

God knows about and feels Abraham’s pain in all this. But He reassures Abraham of the promise that He made years before, and confirms that it is still valid. “Eliezer will not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” Even after Hagar gave birth to Ishmael a couple of chapters further on in Genesis, Abraham wondered if and even believed that Ishmael would be the child of promise. But God said again, “No, Sarah your wife will bear you a son… I will establish my covenant with him.” It seemed unreasonable, impossible, but God wasn’t giving up on what He had promised Abraham in the first place.


Back in Genesis 15, God took Abraham outside, so we know it was a waking vision rather than a vision in a dream. God said, “Look at the stars… count them if you can. So shall your offspring be.”

Have you ever looked up at the nighttime stars and marveled that you see the same stars as Abraham did, and then marveled even more at God’s faithfulness?


So shall your offspring be. And then it says, “Abraham believed the Lord and God credited it to him as righteousness.” The New Testament says that Abraham is the father of all who believe. This verse teaches that God graciously responds to a man’s faith by crediting righteousness to him. Martin Luther wrote that “Righteousness is nothing else than believing God when He makes a promise.” God made a descendant promise to Abraham. It seemed impossible at Abraham’s age, but Abraham believed it. God considered him righteous, in a just and right relationship. In the same way, we are considered right with God by our faith… more about that in a minute.


  1. An “Impossible” Plan
  2. For Abraham

From the “impossible” pain that Abraham and Sarah experienced to the “impossible” promise that God made and was still intending to keep, we discover that God had in mind an “impossible” plan.


Whenever we follow God’s will, there comes a time when things look bleak. Abraham found the land filled with all those “ites.” “Now what? I don’t have any kids, and all these hostile people stand in the way of me living in this land.” God knew that Abraham needed some encouragement, so He gave him a peek at the master plan. This is what God said…


“I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess. Your descendants will be settlers in another land, and they will become servants and live there for 400 years. They will plunder that land before returning here to the land I have promised, and they will drive out all those ‘ites’ that you’re worried about.”


God revealed His will and His plan to Abraham to encourage and build his faith. But the greatest thing God did was to let Abraham experience His presence. The vision had started with these words of God: “Fear not, I am your shield.” The middle of the vision included these comforting words, “I am the Lord…” And the vision and the chapter ends with the restatement of the land promise: “To your offspring I give this land.” In fact, when the Israelites came back to the promised land after those 400 years in Egypt and those 40 years in the wilderness, the theme and the common refrain of the book of Joshua was, “I am giving you this land.” In many cases they really didn’t even have to fight for it. The enemies left, or they fought against each other, or God fought for His people. God truly did give Abraham’s descendants the land. God’s “impossible” plan for Abraham came true.


  1. For us

A lot of people say that God has a plan for our lives. As part of that plan, people have in mind things like: where you’re going to live, who you’re going to marry, what job you’re going to have.  They will quote Jeremiah 29:11 where God says: “I know the plans I have for you… plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Besides that verse, though, there is not much else in the Bible to indicate that God has a specific plan for our every day and every action. We do have Christian freedom to make choices that do not contravene God’s overall will.


But sometimes it would be nice if God would give us, like Abraham, a sneak peek at His master plan. “God, if you’d just e-mail some details of your plan in advance, that would really help.”


Actually, there is a sense in which God has revealed His master plan to us. We get the clearest picture by reflecting on what God has done in the past – in the Bible and in our lives – and then trusting, believing (like Abraham) that He will keep His promises and be faithful in the future. That’s the best thing to do when we have “impossible” pains, or when we face seemingly “impossible” tasks, or when His promises seem “impossible.” Trust God!


God’s promises for us all became possible in Jesus. We do have a hope and a future in Jesus. Like Abraham, we become right with God by faith… faith in Jesus. We have forgiveness because Jesus died in our place. We have victory and life in Him because He rose from the dead. We have the promised land of heaven… waiting for us.  Jesus is the true heir of Abraham through whom all the world is blessed, truly blessed, eternally blessed. We receive that blessing, we receive that righteousness as we believe. An ‘impossible’ promise… come true… in Jesus! Amen.

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