Now we get to my favorite chunk of Genesis–Abraham. There’s something about this guy that just calls for me to come sit in his story for a while. Every time I read it, I walk away learning something new…
Abraham–or Abram as he’s called when he first enters the story–is called away on an unexpected journey. Kind of like Bilbo Baggins when Gandalf shows up on his front stoop and that whole “Good morning” conversation ensues. (One of the best exchanges in literature, if I have my vote.) Abraham was invited to take a journey, to leave his home and his family, and enter a land God would show him. Abraham was promised God’s blessing and that all the families of the world would be blessed through him.
So Abe goes. He takes his wife Sarai with him to begin a journey that will last a couple of decades. He wanders a little, takes a detour down to Egypt, parts ways with his nephew Lot, then fights to rescue him later. And along the way, God meets with him. He reminds Abram of his promise to bless him, and each time God seems to expand on His promise.
“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” (Genesis 12:2-3).
“Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are…for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust, your offspring also can be counted. ” (Genesis 13:14-16).
And this all sounded well and good. Abram probably kept waiting for God to provide that child so that he could begin that large family God kept promising. But still Sarai remained barren. And he argued with God about that. He wasn’t all too pleased with the idea of one of his servants inheriting everything. But the Lord spoke up and added a new detail to the promise: “your very own son shall be your heir…” (Genesis 15:4).
Life goes on and Sarai realizes she isn’t getting any younger. She gives her servant to be Abe’s other wife and drama ensues when the servant-wife Hagar discovers that she’s expecting.
Hagar runs away, then the Lord sends her back, and things get comfortable for old Abe. He has a child of his own now, even if his barren first wife is still bitter about the whole situation. He probably thought this whole blessing thing was pretty great. Ishmael, his son, would inherit, and he would be the seed of this great nation.
But God speaks up again and big changes happen. A covenant is made, He reminds Abe of His promises, changes his name to Abraham (father 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…” (Genesis 17:6-8) And if that doesn’t already sound like the pinnacle of all promises, God continues, pulling Sarai into the mix.
“As for Sarai, your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah (princess) shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her” (Genesis 17:6-7).
Old Abe is exactly that–old. Ninety-nine to be exact. And his wife isn’t exactly a spring chicken either. So what other proper response does one have to God Almighty making such a ridiculous promise other than laughter and disbelief. God’s really pulling his leg this time. “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old?” Abraham asks. “Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?…Oh that Ishmael might life before you!” (Genesis 17:17-18).
It’s just too good. Too crazy.
So he laughs.
I know the feeling Abe…
God is a God of crazy promises and incredible dreams, ones we can’t always fathom or accept. They just seem too good.
And if I can be honest for a second…I’ve actually been afraid of God’s goodness lately. I know…crazy thing to fear. With all the death and war and shootings and terrorist attacks and hatred, I’m afraid of God’s blessings? But I am.
I think it boils down to this season of my life where God has declared this year a year of harvest–a word that in my mind depicts fields heavy with fruit, more fruit than one might feel capable of bringing in before it all rots on the vine. Dreams seem to be on the brink of being realized, and I can’t help but think, “What if I can’t handle all of this goodness?”
It sounds crazy writing it all out, and I’m not sure I know exactly how to explain it, except that I’ve grown so accustomed to things just not working out; so the idea of them actually becoming something more than a distant dream is way outside of my comfort zone. And in truth, I probably idealize this harvest too. Just because good blessings are coming doesn’t mean there won’t be some struggle in the reaping or some pain in the upkeep. But still I feel like God’s been having to prove to me all over again that He is good, and I need to stop feeling unworthy of His love.
I bet that’s how Abraham felt. Unworthy. Old. Worn out. Too old for stale, worn out, forgotten, painful dreams to come true. So he argued for what he knew. He argued for what he already had and said, “God, let it be good enough.”
“Oh that Ishmael might live before you!”
Praise that Lord that He didn’t honor Abraham’s request because his story would have lost a lot of the faith-punch.
“No,” God replies, “but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac…I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year” (Genesis 17:19-21).
Now Abraham had more than a crazy promise. He had a name and a date to expect the promise would be fulfilled.
Is God speaking blessing and dreams over you that you’re shying away from? Are you offering up your own Ishmael–whether that be a job or relationship or way of life–that you want God to accept instead?
I know it can be scary stepping into God’s blessings. He does far more abundantly than we could ever ask or think, and sometimes the good things looks scary against all the darkness we’ve grown used to. But don’t give into fear. The last thing we need to worry about is God’s goodness.
And truthfully, if I end up in a puddle, sobbing and snotting because God has poured out His blessings so richly that I don’t know how else to respond (my legitimate fear) well…I can’t think of any better way to thank Him than to sit and cry gratefully on His lap, then wipe my eyes and ask Him how I can use all of this blessing to bless others.
Because that’s the point. Abraham’s blessing of land and a child, and whatever blessings God gives, they aren’t meant to horde. We enjoy them for a while, then we take them and let God use us and those given blessings to bless others.
“I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.”
Photo by Debbie Riley