Greetings in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
“Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!” (Genesis 15:5b)
One day God appeared to Abram, and told, “Leave your country to the land that I will show you, and will make you into a great nation.” Abram believed God, and His promise. He left his country and his people. Although he did not know where he was going, he faithfully followed God. Abram was 75 years old.
He made a long journey about 1,000 km (or 600 miles), and arrived at Canaan, the promised land. His life in Canaan was not easy either. He had to constantly move around. Due to the severe famine, he had to move down to Egypt, where he met another danger. But God protected Abram and Sarah, his wife, and Abram and his wife safely returned to Canaan. One thing that Abram had never forgotten was building an alter to God and calling His name, wherever he went. He was a man of faith, and lived a God-Centered life. This pleased God, and God blessed him spiritually, and gradually increased his possessions also.
Throughout his life journey, Abraham met many challenges and overcame them by faith, but there was one thing that he could not overcome by his faith. He had no child of his own because his wife was barren. Without his own child, Abram knew it was impossible that his decedents became a great nation. Although he was a man of faith, it was always a troubling stumbling block of the impossibility.
Didn’t God know Abram’s struggle? Yes, God saw Abram’s troubling heart, and knew his struggle that he could not reconcile between the impossibility and God’s promise. In fact, God had let Abram struggle because his struggle was a process of growing faith in Him.
Then God lovingly appeared for Abram, when he was at the highest point of his struggle. Abram, as soon as he met God, poured out his struggle to God. God carefully heard him. God truly loved Abram who was struggling because of his faith. (If Abram had not had faith in God, he would have not been struggled.) Then God took him outside into the deep night sky, and showed the sparking stars that nobody could count. Abram saw God’s promise with his own eyes. God made His 2nd covenant with Abram that his descendants would be as many as the stars. Abram believed.
However, Sarah, Abram’s wife, had her own humanly plan, which Abram fell in. Sarai’s plan was really logical to Abram’s own eyes. It did not require any more struggle in faith. He accepted Sarah’s plan, which, as expected, resulted in a birth of Ishmael. Ishmael was not a part of God’s plan. Ishmael’s birth made pleased Abram and Sarah, but Ishmael soon led to constant domestic conflicts between Sarah and Hagar, Ishmael’s mother. Abram could not anything between Sarah and Hagar. Abram suffered a lot.
God waited thirteen years, and came back again. God made the 3rd convent which was even bigger than Abram received before. God promised Abram that he would be a father of many nations, not just one nation. As the sign of the God’s bigger promise, God changed the name of Abram (a father of a nation) to Abraham (a father of many nations). God also made Sarai’s name change to Sarah. Of course, the name changed alone did not immediately transform Abraham’s faith. God introduced an additional measure -- sending angels to help Abram, who still could not completely take off his doubt caused by the impossibility. The angels confirmed God’s covenant, and promised that Sarah, his barren wife would have a baby.
God was faithful. God did for Sarah exactly what He had promised. She miraculously became pregnant, and she gave birth to a son for Abraham in his old age. And Abraham named their son Isaac as God commanded. Eight days after Isaac was born, Abraham circumcised him again as God had commanded. Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born.
And Sarah declared, “God has brought me laughter. All who hear about this will laugh with me. Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse a baby? Yet I have given Abraham a son in his old age!”
When Isaac grew up and was about to be weaned, Abraham prepared a huge feast to celebrate the occasion. But Sarah saw Ishmael—the son of Abraham and her Egyptian servant Hagar—making fun of her son, Isaac. So she turned to Abraham and demanded, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son. He is not going to share the inheritance with my son, Isaac. I won’t have it!” The humanly made solution did not leave Abraham, which remained as a thorn.
Abraham was stung by the thorn of Ismael. The Sarah’s demand gave a deep pain in his heart because Ishmael was also his son. Abraham had to struggle again before the cold reality caused by his own wrongdoing before God (i.e., sin). God saw Abraham who was deeply troubled in his heart. God in His love appeared and told Abraham,
“Do not be upset over the boy and your servant. Do whatever Sarah tells you, for Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted. But I will also make a nation of the descendants of Hagar’s son because he is your son, too.” (Genesis 21:11-13)
God, first, said not to upset over the problem caused by Abraham himself. Yes, we should not upset about the problem caused by ourselves. Instead, we should directly see what we have done and admit our own sin. “Sin” means missing a target. We miss the target set by God, then it is sin because we have missed what God wants for us to do. Thus, there is nothing for us to upset about the problem caused by us. Rather we come to God and listen to Him with opening our heart. Then God reveals His plan lovingly prepared for us although we are sinful. Let’s back to Abraham. What did God tell Abraham? Isaac was the son that God prepared, not Ishmael. We cannot hide our sin before God, and God’s plan never change. We need to be calm before God, and carefully hear His voice.
At the moment, Abraham’s biggest fear was sending away Ishmael from his life because Abram also loved Ishmael as his son. God knew Abraham’s troubling heart, and his pain. God, who loved Abraham, gave a great comfort to Abraham. God promised to give His blessings on Ishmael also, although Ishmael could not be Abraham’s heir, which God had set aside according to His good will.
When hearing God’s comforting voice, Abraham became calm. Abraham clearly heard that Isaac, the true heir, alone needed to be at home. Abraham followed what was told by God, and God’s peace came to Abraham and Sarah. They together enjoyed God’s blessings.
God carefully watched over Abraham years, but Abraham’s faith did not reach the faith that God wanted. God wanted for Abraham to be the father of faith for all believers. His faith still needed to be deeper and greater. In fact, greater than any faiths in future.
God’s timing had come. God came to Abraham, and tested Abraham’s faith. “Abraham!” God called.
“Yes,” he replied. “Here I am.”
“Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.” (Genesis 22:2)
God asked to sacrifice Isaac whom he loved most in the entire world. Heavens were collapsing on Abraham. He struggled and struggled throughout the night. As dawning, he bowed down to God and worshipped Him as he always did.
Then Abraham got out his tent early in the morning. He saddled his donkey and took two of his servants with him, along with his son, Isaac. He also chopped wood for a fire for a burnt offering and set out for the place God had told him about. He did not tell anybody including Sarah, his wife. He quietly followed God’s command while trusting God. What was commanded by God was not logical, but he believed.
He remembered his long struggle before the impossibility, and his failure of making Ishmael before God. The failure caused constant conflicts and pains associated. Throughout the troubling period of his life, he found one precious lesson – he was not alone, but God was always with him. Whenever he cried out to God after being completely exhausted from the fight against the impossibility, God lovingly heard him and comforted Abraham by retelling His promise again and again. In fact, God’s love made him going and he knew this fact. Abraham held on tight his faith in God for this time. Abraham did not say a word, and quietly followed God as Jesus did.
He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7)
His journey with Isaac, his beloved son, and his servants was not easy. He had to constantly fight against his doubt oozing up from the deepest part of his heart, and he constantly heard his own voice that it was completely absurd. But he refused to hear the voice of doubt. On the third day of their journey, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. “Stay here with the donkey,” Abraham told the servants. “The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back.” Then Abraham went alone with Isaac, who was a teenager.
So Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them walked on together, Isaac turned to Abraham and said, “Father?”
“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“We have the fire and the wood,” the boy said, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”
“God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. And they both walked on together. (Genesis 22:8)
When they arrived at the place where God had told him to go, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it. Then he tied his son, Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. And Abraham picked up the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice. At that moment the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven,
“Abraham! Abraham!” (Genesis 22:11m)
“Yes,” Abraham replied. “Here I am!”
“Don’t lay a hand on the boy!” the angel said. “Do not hurt him in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld from me even your son, your only son.” (Genesis 22:12)
Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son. Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the LORD will provide”). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.”
This was the moment that Abraham truly became the Abraham -- the father of all faithful believers. God truly pleased with Abraham and his faith, and Abraham proved his own faith to himself also. Abraham finally saw his own faith with his own eyes!
To make this true Abraham, God appeared to Abraham three times to repeatably tell His promise. God even gave a new name, Abraham, but it was not enough either. The new name alone could not transform the old Abram to the new Abraham. God, then, gave the greatest opportunity to prove his faith, and Abraham took the challenge faithfully. For this time, Abraham did not fail. Indeed, he came out triumphantly by faith in God, which made God truly pleased. Abraham had received the great name of being the father of all believers.
In retrospect, God was truly patient with Abraham, and Abraham was faithful to God. Although he failed again and again, he had never forgotten to build an alter to God and calling on His name. Abraham always placed God at the center of his life no matter what happened in his life, which was the key to make him victorious in his faith. How about us? Do we really trust God, and live out a God-centered life by worshipping God no matter what happens in our lives?
And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)