In these verses Paul looks at the faith of Abraham. In Genesis 15, God instructs Abraham (at that point still called Abram) to look up to the stars. In response to Abraham's question about God leaving him childless and without an heir, the Lord answered, "'Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.' Then he said to him, 'So shall your offspring be'" (Genesis 15:5, ESV).
Can you imagine that moment! Here's a guy that's 90 years old. He probably creaks and cracks just getting out of bed. He may have felt excess strain in his old leathery neck muscles as he looked to the heavens. He had long ago given up the idea of having children. And think about the impossibility of such a comment from God. Even if he were in Salt Lake City today where one can only see three of four stars, the idea is still ludicrous. If it were me I may have responded with a dumb comment like, "How is an old man like me going to have four kids?" and I'm less than half of Abraham's age. But in Abraham's day, there would have been thousands of starts burning up the dark night. Under such a sky, the flesh whispers, "impossible. . . "
And yet Genesis says, "And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness" (Genesis 15:6). Abraham believed and God counted it to Abraham as righteousness. Abraham had faith that God was telling the truth and it would happen just as God said it would.
Ten years later Abraham's wife, a ninety-year-old woman, gave birth to Isaac. A decade after the promise, holding his boy and looking up at the stars Abraham must have been thinking, "well, here's one." There was no way Abraham would ever see the numerous nation he was promised, yet he knew it was true because the promise was from God. In knowing it was true, he demonstrated the faith that Paul is calling us to emulate.
Are we willing to trust God or do we say, "I'll believe it when I see it?" And how long are we willing to wait? Are we okay to take the faithful first steps in a promise that may never be completed in our lifetime or do will we only believe it if we get to enjoy the fruit of the fulfilled promise? The value, according to Paul, is not in the end results of the promise but in our faithfulness that we believe that God's promise is true. Are we really willing to wait on the Lord? Or do we have to have it now in order for us to believe? If we can't see the end of the journey, will we still take the first steps in faith? We we trust God? And are we willing to see this thing out in God's timing or are we really going to be so arrogant as to place our own demands and expectations upon God's will for our lives?
Now, before you start feeling bad for yourself for trying to force God's promises sooner than God intended, you should know you are in good company. See, Sarah (who was called Sarai at the time) had an idea to speed up God's plan. She had Abraham have a baby with Hagar her servant. The result was a child named Ishmael. Sarah had terrible contempt for her servant even thought it was her idea. Tremendous strife existed between Isaac and Ishmael that still exists to this day. Truly, Abraham should have never gone along with such a plan, but we can probably understand why he did when we look at our own efforts to force God's plan into fruition before God's timing. Let's take a lesson from Abraham and be faithful, knowing God's promises are true because of the One who makes them.
May we faithfully rest in God's promises as well as his timing.
Soli Deo gloria!
*"Abraham Contemplates the Stars' by Ephraim Moses Lilien אפרים משה ליליין originally appeared in The Books of the Bible, German edition, 1908 and is in the public domain.