Is Anything Too Hard for God?

Is anything too hard for God? The answer – without any hesitation – is…no. There is nothing too hard for God. But ask this question when facing terminal cancer; the death of a spouse; the death of a child. Ask this question when marriage is crumbling; when a child loves sin more than the Savior; when the church is struggling; when a disheartening, discouraging, disappointing season of life will seemingly not end. Is anything too hard for God? The answer is… Now there might be a hint of hesitation. I know the answer is no; I know I need to say the answer is no, but…

We are asking this question because this question is asked in Genesis 18:1-15. And it is asked right toward the end of the text. But we are asking this very question at the beginning for just one reason: it is the big question.

And the Lord Appeared to Abraham

Genesis 18 is rather similar to Genesis 17. Listen to Genesis 17:1 “When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram.” Now listen to Genesis 18:1. “And the Lord appeared to him [Abraham].” In Genesis 17 we learn that the Lord appeared to Abraham when he was ninety-nine. And as you read Genesis 18 you learn that when the Lord appeared to Abraham again, he was still ninety-nine (cf. 18:10). This gives the impression that not much time (how much time is unknown) has passed since Genesis 17.

However, what was significant about the Lord’s appearance to Abraham in Genesis 17? This was when Abraham learned at ninety-nine years old that God is the God who makes things happen by his majestic power and might – I am God Almighty. Since both chapters begin in an identical manner and there was something significant about the appearance in Genesis 17, might there be something significant about this appearance too? Then comes an unexpected question. For whom would this appearance be significant?

Notice when the Lord appeared to Abraham. It was as Abraham “sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day.” Abraham was sitting, perhaps resting, and it was in the heat of the day, noontime, or when it was light outside. Why does the time matter? Genesis 18 is similar to Genesis 17, but is also rather important to Genesis 19. Look at how Genesis 19 begins. “The two angels came to Sodom in the evening.” Notice that in Genesis 19 it was dark outside. In Genesis 18 and Genesis 19 there is an interesting contrast of light and darkness.

An Out of the Ordinary Day

This will turn out to be an out of the ordinary kind of day. As Abraham was resting, to his amazement he saw three out of the ordinary men making their way toward his home. Watch what Abraham does. This ninety-nine-year-old man ran to meet them. And when he meets these three out of the ordinary men, he greets them. How do we know that these three men were out of the ordinary? Abraham bowed himself before them. Genesis 18:2 emphasized twice that Abraham saw these three men. Something about these men prompted Abraham to not just meet them, but to run to meet and greet them. It would not be unusual in this culture that when strangers approached your home, that you meet and greet them, but it could be kind of unusual to run. Abraham would then insist that these strangers rest and refresh themselves in his home. Again, this was not unusual in this culture. But that Abraham bowed himself before them, that was unusual. So far, there is nothing in the text to indicate that Abraham knows the identity of these three men. However, there was something about their appearance that told Abraham that this was unusual. And so, he humbled himself before them.

The Extraordinary Manner of Abraham

An out of ordinary day was marked by three out of the ordinary men. And Genesis 18:4-8 is about the extraordinary manner of Abraham. I love verse four. Abraham offers these three men “a little water” and “a morsel of bread.” This was all with the intention that these three men rest and get refreshed with a little water and a morsel of bread. Just watch Abraham carefully in verse six. “And Abraham went quickly.” He finds Sarah and says, “Quick!” And listen to the instructions he gives Sarah his wife. “Three seahs of flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” One seah of flour is about seven liters and Sarah was told to get three seahs of flour, or twenty-one liters. This was about fifty pounds of flour. This would be enough to feed one hundred people. Sarah was eighty-nine-years old and was to knead and make cakes (pita bread) out of fifty pounds of flour without the aid of a Kitchen Aide mixer. And Abraham told her to be quick!

Now notice verse seven. “And Abraham ran to the herd.” Abraham runs to the herd, finds a “tender and good” calf, and gives it to a servant “who prepared it quickly” (18:7). The haste in which things were being done and prepared and the amount of food – a whole calf for three people – all emphasize the extraordinary manner in which Abraham was treating his guests. He sensed that there was something unusual about these three men and so he lavished a feast upon them – yogurt and milk and a calf and cakes (18:8). Notice the end of verse eight. “And he stood by them under the tree while they ate.” Abraham was there as their servant.

The Significance of this Appearance

Listen to Genesis 18:9. “They said to him, ‘Where is Sarah your wife?’” Why the sudden interest in Sarah? This is what Genesis 18:1-15 is all about. It is all about Sarah. And it answers the question, for whom would this appearance be significant? Hebrews 11:11 reinforces that these fifteen verses are for Sarah. “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.” How did this eighty-nine-year old woman consider God faithful who had promised?

But, how do they know Abraham’s wife’s name? They do not call her Sarai, but Sarah. Sarah got a new name in the previous chapter and when she did only two people knew it: Abraham and God Almighty, the God who makes things happen by his majestic power and might. How do these men know this name? This has to be going through Abraham’s mind, clarifying at least a little bit who these three men could be.

Abraham answers that Sarah is in the tent. But then there is verse ten. In the Hebrew construction verse nine reads, “They said,” but verse ten reads, “he said.” There is a sudden shift in who is speaking. Who is it? Listen to what he says. “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” In Genesis 17:15-22, Abraham was told by God who makes things happen by his majestic power and might that Sarah his wife will have a son. And God concluded that conversation with these words: Sarah shall bear to you [a son] this time next year.” Who is speaking in verse ten? God who makes things happen by his majestic power and might. And now Abraham knows it. But there is Sarah.

Sarah Listened and Laughed

Remember, this passage is about Sarah. She will consider God faithful who promised. As this conversation is happening, Sarah was listening and when she heard this stranger say that at this time next year, when she is ninety, she will have a son, she laughed to herself. Why did she laugh? When she met Abraham, she was barren. When she married Abraham, she was barren. When God gave Abraham the promise of offspring twenty-four years ago, she was barren. And twenty-four years later, she was not only barren, but way past child-bearing age. It would be humanly impossible to bear a son at ninety-years old (cf. 18:11-12).

Then comes verse thirteen. In case we are still unsure who spoke in verse ten, Moses explicitly states, “The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’” (We are specifically told that the other two men are angels in Genesis 19:1). Remember, Sarah was listening. What must she now be thinking?! In verse fifteen Sarah denied having laughed, out of fear. But this whole scene ends with God having the last laugh. “No, but you did laugh.”

This is a critical moment. It makes you wonder about Sarah. Could it be that for twenty-four years Sarah just continued and persisted in unbelief until the day she laughed? I will remind you of Hebrews 11:11. It was when Sarah was way past child-bearing age that she by faith considered God faithful who promised. Whereas Hagar in Genesis 16 learned that God sees her, Sarah in Genesis 18 learned that God sees within her.[1] (See Ps. 139:1-6).

Is Anything Too Hard for God?

Sarah’s laughter drew forth a most crucial question. It is a question that God who makes things happen by his majestic power and might asked. He asked not so much for the benefit of Abraham, but for the benefit of the woman who was listening in the other room. Is anything too hard for God? It is a crucial question. It is a question to ask when facing terminal cancer; the death of a spouse; the death of a child. Ask this question when marriage is crumbling; when a child loves sin more than the Savior; when the church is struggling; when a disheartening, discouraging, disappointing season of life will seemingly not end. Ask this question because those that really believe the answer will really live life differently.

What is the answer? The answer is no. But. But the answer will not keep cancer away. It will not keep death away. It will not keep disheartening, discouraging and disappointing seasons away. The reason is that this is not just any ordinary question. It is a question about God’s ability. It is a question about God’s ability to do what he has promised. It is a question about God’s ability to do what he has promised in the face of impossible human odds. Contextually, this was a question about God’s promise of a son. It was the promise of a son through whom God would create for himself a covenanted people through whom God would bless the world and through whom would come the Savior, Jesus the Christ.

Is anything too hard for God? This question could be translated, is any word too hard for God? What does this question do for us? I read a pastor write that this question is for the mission. And that mission involves disciples being made and disciples being discipled and ultimately, God being glorified by disciples enjoying him forever. So, when the marriage crumbles and the terminal cancer comes and disheartening, discouraging, disappointing seasons last longer than usual; this question forces us, no matter the odds, to look to God’s promises and ask, “Is any word too hard for God?”

Is any word too hard for God? Romans 8 seems to be echoing this very question. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” Listen to the answer. “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us form the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:35, 37-39).

Is anything too hard for God? The answer causes me to pray differently by holding to his promises. The answer causes me to pastor differently by holding to his promises. The answer causes me to live differently by holding to his promises.

[1] R. Kent Hughes, Genesis: Beginning and Blessing, page 256.

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And Kings Shall Come From You

A woman and her husband made absolutely no difference this past week. Recently, this couple felt led to meet a need in their church. This couple felt led to spend the school year ministering to teenagers. So, they planned a weekly Bible study, periodical service projects and outreach activities. And it is all – the Bible study, the service projects and the outreach – centered around a mystery. It is Colossians 1:27. “…how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” The first Bible study was this past Wednesday. When it was over this couple discovered that they had made absolutely no difference; none whatsoever. It is because at the conclusion a fourteen-year-old girl told the couple, “I am really excited.” The next day, the wife would share what her and her husband were feeling. “For the first time, in a really long time, I am greatly encouraged.” This woman is sixty-four years old. Her husband is sixty-two years old.

When Abram Was Ninety-Nine

Pay close attention to Genesis 17:1. “When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty.” Pay close attention to Abram’s age. As Genesis 17 begins, he is ninety-nine years old. As Genesis 17 concludes we are again reminded of Abram’s age. He is still ninety-nine years old (17:24). This means that Genesis 17 has something to do with Abram being ninety-nine years old!

What is significant about Abram being ninety-nine years old? Well, at ninety-nine he got a new name. “No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham” (17:5). And at ninety-nine his wife got a new name too. “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name” (17:15). Now when Sarah got this new name Abraham fell on his face and laughed. He was not laughing at her name. He laughed instead at the thought that Sarah would be a first-time mom at ninety – a sweet symbol of faith’s struggle. So, God says, “Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac” (17:19). Isaac means “he laughs.”

What is significant about Abraham being ninety-nine years old? I am pretty sure that this qualifies as a year to remember. But it is not the new names Abraham or Sarah that are significant. Nor is it the promise of their son Isaac. Pay close attention to Genesis 17:1. “When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty.’”

Last Wednesday a couple made absolutely no difference. But something did make the difference…in the life of a fourteen-year old…and in the life of a sixty-four-year old…and in the life of a sixty-two-year old. What absolutely makes the difference? It is what made the difference in the life of a ninety-nine-year old. “I am God Almighty.”

God Almighty is the Hebrew name El Shaddai. And it is the first time that this name appears in the Old Testament. In Exodus 6:3, God said that he was very intentional in telling this name to Abraham and not just to Abraham, but to his son Isaac and not just to Isaac, but to his grandson Jacob.

Does it help to know that this name appears thirty-one times in the book of Job – a book about suffering? What then does this name mean and how does it make the difference?

Walk Before Me and Be Blameless

Listen carefully to Genesis 17:1. “When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty, walk before me, and be blameless.’” What does God intend in revealing this name to Abraham at ninety-nine years old? Pay attention to the next few words – walk before me and be blameless. This is actually two commands. Walk is another way of saying, “live out your life.” But notice the word blameless. It is the same word that was used to describe the way Noah lived out his life (Genesis 6:9). And it does mean to be perfect or sound or complete. However, it is used here the same way it was used of Noah. Be unimpaired. Do not be made weaker. Put together, the two commands are: live out your life unimpaired. This last command, be blameless or be unimpaired is in connection to living out your life. Do not get weak in living out your life. What is it that will strengthen Abraham to not get weak in living out his life? First, how is Abram to live out his life? Walk before me. Live out your life before me or live out your life in my presence. Whose presence exactly? God Almighty. Live out your life in light of who I am. Who is he? I am God Almighty. And do this unimpaired. So, what is it that will strengthen Abraham to be unimpaired? It is the fact that God is God Almighty. This makes the difference.

This is the first time that this name appears in the Old Testament. God is very intentional in revealing this name to Abraham. It appears thirty-one times in a book about suffering. So, what does it mean? This name means that God is the God who makes things happen by means of his majestic power and might.[1]

Listen to verse three. “Then Abram fell on his face.” When Abraham heard this, he fell to the ground in awe. The question before us is, what difference does this make for me?

I Will Be Their God

This chapter is about Abraham knowing that God is God Almighty. Listen to verse two. “…that I may make my covenant between me and you.” We need to highlight the word covenant. What does this covenant have to do with who God is? Notice that God calls it “my covenant.” All throughout Genesis 17 God refers to this covenant as “my covenant.” God made a covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15. This is the same covenant. There are two distinct aspects of God’s covenant with Abraham. The first is a particular land called Canaan (Genesis 15:18-21; 17:8). And the second is offspring. Offspring is what concerns the covenant in Genesis 17. The English word make is worth noting. The word make here just means to put or set. God is setting not just the covenant, but a particular aspect – offspring – before Abraham at ninety-nine years old. It is for Abraham to see that God makes things happen by means of his majestic power and might.

God has much to say regarding this offspring. Regarding this offspring, God calls Abraham a father of a multitude of nations. He does so three times (17:4, 5, 6)! Regarding this offspring, God says that he will make Abraham exceedingly fruitful (17:6). Regarding this offspring, God says that kings shall come from Abraham (17:6). It will all happen by means of God’s majestic power and might. But most importantly, regarding this offspring, God says that he will be their God (17:7-8). This too will happen by means of God’s majestic power and might.

The Sign of God’s Covenant

In Genesis, when God has given a covenant he has also given a sign of the covenant that does serve as a reminder. In the flood account, God made a covenant with Noah and set the rainbow as the sign of the covenant. The same is true here, minus the rainbow. Instead, circumcision is the sign of this particular covenant. “Every male among you shall be circumcised” (17:10). Why circumcision?

Abraham believed that God would give him a son. Sarah believed it too. In Genesis 16, these two sought to help God by means of their own power and might. In so doing, Abraham treated Hagar as his wife and she bore him a son. This is not the son of promise. So, part of the point of circumcision is to serve as a reminder that God accomplishes his promises by means of his majestic power and might. Couple this with the ages of both Abraham and Sarah and it is to be seen that God alone possesses the power to realize his promises even when the order of nature presents no prospect of fulfillment and the powers of nature are insufficient to secure it.

Circumcision was also about being in fellowship with God. Even those who were not Abraham’s offspring could be brought into fellowship with God in this covenant (17:8, 12-14). It gets even better.

What About Ishmael?

Remember, Abraham has a son at this time, a teenage son. His name means “God hears,” Ishmael. When Abraham hears that in his old age that he will be a father again, this time with his wife Sarah in her old age, he laughs. Then God tells Abraham what his soon-to-be son’s name will be: he laughs or Isaac. Isaac is the son of promise. Isaac is the son through whom the covenant, the kings, the nation, the abundant offspring will be realized. And all of sudden, Abraham brings up Ishmael. He is very concerned about Ishmael. Will Ishmael be just cast aside (v.18)? Then God says something awesome. “As for Ishmael, I have heard you” (17:20). God will abundantly provide for Ishmael. Then Abraham does something awesome.

Listen to verse twenty-two. “When he had finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham.” After talking, God left and Abraham obeyed. He gathered his entire household including the foreigners and had them circumcised. He did not just gather his entire household or the foreigners. He gathered his son. And together, father and son, joined in fellowship with God in his covenant. I love this. Even though Ishmael was not the son of promise, he was not the son through whom the promise would be realized, he could still come and enjoy the God of the covenant…with his dad.

And Kings Shall Come From You

There is something about this covenant that I cannot ignore. It is when God says that kings shall come from Abraham; kings! I want us to quickly notice something from the New Testament in the Gospel of Matthew. It is Matthew 1:1. These are the first words of this gospel account. “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” David was a king. And then there is Jesus. He, too, is called the son of Abraham. Genesis 17:6 says that from Abraham will come kings. The one who makes things happen by means of his majestic power and might said Genesis 17:6. On the day Jesus was crucified, it was ordered that a sign be put on his cross which read: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:20). And by his majestic power and might at the cross where a sign which read “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews,” all who share the faith of Abraham were made alive. All who share the faith of Abraham were made alive when God Almighty “having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14). He nailed it all by his majestic power and might.

The Bible speaks of those who share the faith of Abraham as those who belong to Jesus Christ (cf. Romans 4:16; 1:6). And that this is how it could be said in Genesis 17 that Abraham would be the father of a multitude of nations (Romans 4:17)! It is all rooted here, in Genesis 17, in the difference made in the life of a man who was ninety-nine! The difference was for this old man to see that all his life, all his future lies in this: I am God Almighty! The difference was to live this life in the light of who God is and to be strengthened by the fact that God accomplishes all he does by means of his majestic power and might.

This makes the difference when you are 99 or 64 or 62 or 14. I heard an old man say last Wednesday, “God, it is such a comfort to know that you are all-powerful.” That is an old man who is being strengthened by who God is. So, what difference does it make? What difference does it make of what I think of God; that he is able and mighty and sufficient?

1. It makes the difference for obedience.

2. It makes the difference when the bank account looks too low.

3. It makes the difference when the pressure seems too much.

4. It makes the difference when the disappointments keep mounting.

5. It makes the difference when I think, again, it all depends on me.

6. It makes the difference for faithfulness.

7. It makes the difference for year after year after year when there seems like there is nothing to show for faithfulness.

[1] R. Kent Hughes, Genesis: Beginning and Blessing, page 246.

You Are the God Who Sees Me

One of the pervasive marks of our times is emotional fragility. I feel it as though it hung in the air we breathe. We are easily hurt. We pout and mope easily. We break easily. Our marriages break easily. Our faith breaks easily. Our happiness breaks easily. And our commitment to the church breaks easily. We are easily disheartened, and it seems we have little capacity for surviving and thriving.[1] The resolving thought is this: we need help.

These words were not spoken last week or last year or even in the last decade. These words were spoken in the last century! That might be a little misleading. These words were said twenty-eight years ago. It made me wonder, though, if much at all has changed in the last twenty-eight years. It may help to know that these words were spoken to a group of peculiar people – pastors. The “we” was referring to pastors! It made me wonder, again, that perhaps every local church needs a pastor, a pastor who would cry out, “I need help!” And perhaps the best question to ask is, what would help?

A Woman Named Hagar

A woman named Hagar is the help. She is not only the answer to the previous question, but literally, she is the help. We first meet her in Genesis 16:1. “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar.” Genesis 16 surrounds the lives of two women. It surrounds Sarai, Abram’s wife, who has no children and her help, her servant Hagar, who, too, in verse one has no children. But something changes following verse one. Sarai, Abram’s wife, has no children. Her help named Hagar is now expecting a child. Abram, Sarai’s husband, is the reason that Hagar is now expecting a child.

So, what happens? In short, verse six happens. “Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her.” Make note of the word harshly. The most basic meaning is “to humble.” Sarai humbled Hagar. I like how the King James translates this verse: Sarai dealt hardly with her. Once Hagar conceived, “she looked with contempt” on Sarai. In other words, Hagar thought herself to be important, more important than Sarai. Hagar had accomplished what Sarai never did as the woman of the house. In response, Sarai humbles her. It is a very negative use of this word. How might have Sarai humbled Hagar? Perhaps it is as simple as reminding Hagar continually of who she really is. She is just the help. This word harshly or hardly is rather important to the rest of the chapter. Another word for harshly is not just to humble, but the word misery. In humbling Hagar, Sarai made life miserable for Hagar.

So, just remember that Genesis 16 surrounds the lives of two women – Sarai and Hagar. Sarai made life miserable for Hagar. And Hagar fled; she ran away as fast as she could from Sarai.

Found: A Woman Named Hagar

Genesis 16:7 has to be the most unexpected verse in the whole chapter. The last thing we read was about Hagar running, running as fast as she could away from Sarai. Where does Hagar think she is going? This is rather interesting. Moses tells us where Hagar was headed. In verse seven, he writes that Hagar was by a spring of water in the wilderness, on the way to Shur. Shur is really close to Egypt. So, where is Hagar, an Egyptian, going? It seems that she is going home to Egypt. But it is interesting that Moses is the one that gives us this information and not Hagar. The reason being is that it is not that important to the big idea of the text. And in verse seven, where Hagar is going is not what we are told first. Listen to it. It is most unexpected. “The angel of the Lord found her.”

Make note of the words “the angel of the Lord.” Now these words, this particular angel, are recorded some fifty times in the Old Testament. But this is the first recorded appearance of this particular angel. And he is mentioned specifically four times in Genesis 16 – all with Hagar. Again, this is a very particular angel, he is the angel. And he is the angel of the Lord. Notice that Lord is in all capital letters. This is the name Yahweh – the self-existent, eternal, never changing, unchangeable and faithful God. This is the angel of the self-existent, eternal, never changing, unchangeable and faithful God. And the first time that the angel of the Lord appears is to a woman who is just the help.

And there is a precious word to pay attention to. This particular angel does not appear to Hagar. This particular angel found Hagar. She was found. Does this mean that she was lost? When Jesus met Zacchaeus, “the wee little man,” he says to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:9-10; see too Luke 15:24). The angel of the Lord found Hagar.

Where Have You Come From? Where Are You Going?

Notice what this particular angel says to her. “Hagar, servant of Sarai.” He finds her and says her name. Why is that important? In the previous verses, Sarai and Abram never uttered her name. She is just the help. Not only that, but the angel knows who Sarai is and he knows that Hagar works for Sarai. And he has a question for her. Where have you come from and where are you going? Seems like two questions. Remember, Moses hinted for us as to where Sarai is going – Egypt. But listen to Hagar. “I am fleeing from my mistress Sarai.” This is her answer and it does not seem to be much of an answer. But remember, why did Hagar run as fast as she could from Sarai? Sarai was making life miserable for Hagar. So, where has Hagar come from and where is she going? She fled misery and is going anywhere where there is no misery.

Return to the Misery

And now verse nine. This is the second time that we are reminded who it is that is speaking to Hagar. It is the angel of the Lord. He tells her, “Return to your mistress and submit to her.” The words return and submit are both imperatives. This is a command, two commands actually. This particular angel is commanding Hagar to go back to Sarai and submit to her. Think about how remarkable this really is. Sarai makes life miserable. Hagar is fleeing misery to go wherever there is no misery. And this particular angel is telling her to return to Sarai.

Make note of the word submit. It means to humble. Hagar is to humble herself to Sarai. The word submit is the same word for harshly in verse six. Put it all together. This particular angel is commanding Hagar to return to the misery, to put herself back under the misery. This causes so many questions like, what?! Why?! How?!

A Sure and Steadfast Promise

And now verse ten. This is the third time that we are reminded who it is that is speaking to Hagar. It is the angel of the Lord. After he tells her to return to the misery, he gives her a promise. It is not just any promise. It is a sure and steadfast promise. “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” Hagar, you will have lots of kids. This promise seems really similar to the promise given to Abram. Abram too was promised that he would have lots of kids and like this promise they will be beyond numbering (cf. Genesis 15:5). This promise to Hagar though is different. The promise to Abram regarding his son and offspring is connected to the promise of land. In this promise to Hagar and her son (also Abram’s son) there is no promise of land. In fact, this son and his offspring are described as wanderers. Hagar’s son and offspring will be strong, free roaming, not tied down to one place. But this kind of lifestyle will be in conflict with society, most importantly his relatives (kinsman; vv. 11-12).

I do want to point out how this promise is given. This particular angel says, “I will multiply your offspring.” Who will do the multiplying? It sure seems like it must be the one who is speaking. Who is he?

And make note of verse eleven. It is the fourth time that we are reminded who it is that is speaking to Hagar. It is the angel of the Lord. And when he speaks he gives Hagar a sure and steadfast promise. A promise that is more precious than land. And she is being told to go back to the misery. How can she do that? God’s comfort for her affliction was bracing rather than soothing, drawing her mind to things ahead, away from past injuries.[2]

I like the word bracing. It signifies something strong that supports a structure. What is in God’s comfort for Hagar that would brace her for more misery and would keep her mind on things ahead?

The Lord Has Heard Your Misery

This particular angel tells Hagar what she is to name her son. His name will be Ishmael. Ishmael means, “God hears.” She is to go back to misery, probably to endure more misery with a son named “God hears.” And every time that she would say her son’s name she would be saying, “God hears!” Every time that she tucked her son in bed at night she would say, “Goodnight, God hears.” Every time she would tell her son “I love you Ishmael,” she would be saying, “I love you. God hears.” But there is something greater here. Why would she name her son Ishmael? Look at the end of verse twelve. “Because the Lord has listened to your affliction.” Make note of the word affliction. It is a word that means misery. It is the same word as submit and the same word as harshly. As she goes back to misery probably to endure more misery, she is to name her son Ishmael, not merely because “God hears,” but because God hears my misery.

You Are the God Who Sees Me

Now get ready for verse thirteen. Who has been speaking to Hagar? We were reminded four times that it was the angel of the Lord.  This is just all so amazing. Hagar has been commanded to go back to the misery, probably to endure more misery. And listen to what Hagar discovers. Listen to Genesis 16:13. “So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her…” The angel of the Lord is now disclosed to have been the Lord himself.[3] And she calls him, “You are a God of seeing.” The word seeing here is a noun. You are a God of sight. The theme of Genesis 16 is sight. The first six verses were about Sarai. Sarai was to see that God would do for Sarai what she could never do on her own. Here with Hagar it is still about sight. Hagar was in misery. Hagar was lost. And God found her that she too would see. She was to see that God is a God of sight. He sees. He sees my misery. And there is so much more. He has not promised the misery to end. He is bracing her, he is giving her strong support to endure more misery. How can she go back to endure more misery? Better yet, how is God bracing her so that she can go back to endure more misery?

Verse thirteen is really important. And it is one word that brings the verse together. She calls Yawheh the God of sight; the God who sees. Why does she call this his name? It is the word for – “for she said, ‘Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.” Why did she call God the God of sight? For he sees me. He looks after me. And she sits here in wonder. I have seen him.

How is Hagar being braced to endure more misery? He sees my misery. And there is now so much more. And I see him. He knows my name and I now know his. This is the strong support to endure more misery.

So, what helps? The Apostle Peter wrote a whole letter about misery. And in the first few verses he wrote, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials” (1 Peter 1:6). This verse is a part of a really long sentence that also includes verse eight. How do you endure misery? “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8). So, what helps? Œ Knowing Him  knowing that He knows me. Can you say that?

[1] http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/brothers-we-must-not-mind-a-little-suffering

[2] Derek Kidner, Genesis, page 137.

[3] Ibid., page 138.

And Abram Listened to His Wife’s Voice

Lisa and I continue a tradition that I grew up with in the Sperry household. Each year at Christmas, we watch the film It’s a Wonderful Life. I love a question Mary Bailey asks her husband George. “Have a hectic day?” To which he responds, “Oh yeah, another big red-letter day for the Baileys!”

Do you have any red-letter days? These are personally significant, never forget the day and time and place kind of days. I have a red-letter day. It was five years ago. I thought about it nearly every day while on the beach in August, remembering that it was five years ago. Each Sunday since the beach I have thought about it, remembering that it was five years ago. It was five years ago that together we spent significant time discerning God’s will regarding the next pastor of Calvary Community Church. And on December 2, 2012 he preached his first sermon as your pastor.

It Was Ten Years Ago

Genesis 16 concerns a personally significant, never forget the day and time and place kind of day. Listen to Genesis 16:3. “So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan…” Ten years ago, Abram took Sarai his wife along with all their stuff and made their way to the land of Canaan (Genesis 12:5). When they came to the land of Canaan, the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land” (Genesis 12:7). This is a red-letter day. We know that Abram thought it was a red-letter day because he built an altar right there on that very spot on that very day when God spoke to him. And we know that Abram had not forgot this personally significant day. In Genesis 15, the very next time that Abram hears God speak, Abram says, “Behold, you have given me no offspring” (v. 3). Not only had Abram not forgot this personally significant day, neither had his wife Sarai. Genesis 16 is about Sarai not forgetting this red-letter day. She is thinking about it, remembering that it was ten years ago.

Behold, The Lord Has Prevented Me

Genesis 16:1 sets up the whole chapter. “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar.” So far in Genesis, whenever Sarai is mentioned included is that she is Abram’s wife. Every time. When we first meet Sarai, Abram’s wife, we are also told that she was barren. She had no child (11:30). Those two things, Abram’s wife and she had no child, are brought up again here ten years later. Still Abram’s wife and still no child. In this culture, this was not good. It was a mark of success to have many children and a sad failure to have none. However, in this culture and in these ten years God had promised a child and this was good.

So, put it together. There is this cultural pressure or expectation to have kids. Sarai wants kids. Sarai has a promise from God that there will be kids. And after waiting, ten years of waiting there are no kids. Why did God make this promise and after all of this time, no kids? Why all the waiting? Abram is 85 years old now and it looks less and less likely that Sarai will have a child. What is going on? Better yet, what is God up to?

There is a difference with Sarai from ten years ago. She now has a servant; a female Egyptian servant named Hagar. Why do we need to know not only that Sarai has a female servant named Hagar, but that she is Egyptian? I tend to believe that Hagar was part of the riches that Pharaoh gave Abram while he was in Egypt (cf. Genesis 12:16). But there is more. In Genesis 12, Abram who was childless because his wife had borne no children, had a bare promise of God: you will have offspring. Then he encountered a famine. The famine was a threat to God’s promise. So, what did Abram do? He looked to Egypt.

Ten years later Sarai, Abram’s wife, still had borne him no children. And ten years later, all that she does have is a bare promise of God and tired patience. She has been waiting. She is getting older and as she gets older, so does Abram. Sarai is tired of waiting. So, what does she do? She looks to Egypt. This is why we are told that Hagar is Egyptian.

Again, why all this waiting? What is God up to? Listen to Sarai’s answer. She says to her husband, “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children.” Highlight the word prevented. It means to restrain or hinder or stopped. Just listen carefully to what Sarai is saying. God has prevented me. God has restrained me. God has hindered me. God has stopped me.

Think like Sarai for a moment. What has God kept from her? God had promised something and the promise is good. And he is keeping me from it. It is not that God is keeping the promise from me, it is that God is keeping me from the promise. Keeping thinking like Sarai. Why would God keep Sarai from something good?

Different But the Same

Genesis 16 is different, but it is also the same. It is different from Genesis 3, but it is also the same. In Genesis 3, the serpent introduces a thought about one particular tree in the garden of Eden. It is one particular tree that God said, “You shall not eat.” Why did God say that? It was for their good, but is there more to it than that? “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes shall be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (3:5). The serpent introduces the thought to Eve that what God said was for your good and God is now keeping you from this good. Therefore, Genesis 16 is the same as Genesis 3.

In Genesis 16 like Genesis 3, Sarai takes Hagar her servant just as Eve took the fruit (16:3; 3:6). In Genesis 16 like Genesis 3, Sarai gives Hagar to her husband just as Eve gave the fruit to her husband (16:3; 3:6). In Genesis 16 like Genesis 3, Abram listened to his wife’s voice just as Adam listened to his wife’s voice (16:2; 3:17).

Genesis 16 is just like Genesis 3. There is something the same. In both chapters, there is a lie. Someone feels, thinks that God is keeping them from something good. Fruit is good. A child is good. And yet, there are questions we ask that are reasonable of both chapters. Why would God plant a tree that he did not want anyone to eat? Why would God give a promise and make a person wait and wait and wait? What is God up to? The answer is the same for each question and both chapters. Depend on Me for your good. And in both chapters, we find those who depend on self. In both chapters is the thinking that I will depend on me for what is good. I will depend on me for what is not good. I will depend on me to get my good.

I Will Obtain Children

I want us to see how self-focused this thinking is. Listen to the end of Genesis 16:2. “Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” The word obtain means to build. Sarai will do what God will not do for Sarai. Instead, Sarai will do for Sarai. And she will use Hagar, a servant. It is all about Sarai depending on Sarai to get Sarai’s good. Literally verse two reads, “I may build [a family] through her.” Actually, this is more in the sense of, “I shall be built up through her.” Sarai is all about Sarai.

Abram takes Hagar and treats her as if she is his wife. And Hagar gets pregnant. Notice what then happens. “And when she [Hagar] saw that she conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress” (16:4). The word contempt means to despise or to think little of. Hagar the lowly servant from Egypt now thinks little of her boss. Sarai has become little in Hagar’s eyes! Hagar sees herself accomplishing what Sarai could never do…on her own. The irony of it all is that this was part of the point of all the waiting. God would give Sarai what was good. Part of the point of all the waiting was for Sarai to see that God would do for Sarai what she could never do on her own. God would be glorified in giving Sarai her good.

I want us to see how this self-focused thinking continues. In Genesis 16, Sarai never calls her servant by name. It is never Hagar, just always my servant. Sarai always held a low view of Hagar. And now Hagar has a low view of Sarai. Sarai then says to her husband, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my servant to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me” (v. 5). Note how often the word me appears. Sarai is all about Sarai.

And Sarai is not upset that Hagar is pregnant. This is not, “Oh no, what was I thinking and why did you listen to me?” This instead is, “Oh no, look at how I am being treated!” Sarai is blaming her husband for not stepping in and putting Hagar’s attitude in check. God will get you for this Abram!

In turn, Sarai will deal harshly with Hagar. We will get into this more next week with verses seven through sixteen, but just note the word harshly. Sarai will deal harshly with Hagar the Egyptian. It is the same word used in Exodus 1:11-12. This is how the Egyptians will treat the offspring of Abraham.

And Abram Listened to His Wife’s Voice

This was not the outcome Sarai envisioned. Sarai saw God keeping her from something good. So, Sarai sought to do for Sarai what God would not do. Sarai would get her good. It was the best news when Sarai heard that Hagar was pregnant. She had never been this close before to getting her good. She was about to get what she wanted, but then came the unexpected: Hagar’s attitude. It is this attitude that really upsets Sarai! And in her self-focused thinking she holds Abram responsible! She holds Abram responsible not for the pregnancy, but for her poor treatment.

Then Abram speaks for the very first time. He has not said a word in this whole chapter. “Behold, your servant is in your power; do to her as you please.” Prior to this, he does not utter a word. Instead, he listens. He listened to his wife’s voice (16:2). Therein lies part of the problem. This does not mean that husbands should not listen to their wives. This just means that the time Abram should have spoken up was in verse two! It would only have taken three sentences. “The Lord has promised good to us. His word our hope secures. He will our shield and portion be as long as life endures.”

Part of the problem in Genesis 16 is that Sarai would depend on Sarai to get Sarai’s good. It is called self-reliance. Simpler than that, it is called pride. I do not want to be overly-critical of Sarai. Scripture calls her a holy woman who hoped in God (1 Peter 3:5). Holy women and holy men who hope in God do struggle with pride. And part of the point of Genesis 16, the reason for the ten years of waiting, is for Sarai to see that God would do for Sarai what she could never do on her own. God would be glorified in giving Sarai her good.

We are blessed beyond what we could imagine. God is at work and it is marvelous in our eyes. Yet, it is so easy for pride to creep in. And when it does, it destroys. So, how do we combat pride? The disciples displayed pride (Mark 9). They demonstrated pride when they did not pray. They sought to serve God without prayer. Their prayerless attempt showed a self-reliance that is repugnant to God.[1] Did you notice that Sarai and Abram never paused to ask God if this all was a good idea?

We pray because we desperately need God. Jesus said, “apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). God does not keep us from good. He wants us to see that He will do for us what we cannot do on our own. In so doing, He gets glorified (Psalm 118:23). So, I want to lead us in fighting pride in growing to be a church that is prayerful. Prayerful privately and prayerful corporately.

[1] Andrew Davis, Revitalize, page 94.

Behold, Dreadful and Great Darkness

Will you always remember where you were on Monday, August 21 at 2:30 pm? A friend called it “The coolest thing ever experienced. Ever.” I read that some people cried. Some schools did not allow students to go outside. Some schools rescheduled all afternoon activities. Some schools decided to not even meet for the day. There was light and then there was darkness. It was the total eclipse of the sun.

“Monday’s eclipse, however, felt different, more intimate somehow. It was the first in a century to cross the continental United States, coast to coast, and the first since the republic’s foundation that will pass directly over only this country. It felt — at a time of political division and upheaval — like a personally addressed note from the universe: Hey, America, forget the other stuff for a second. There are bigger things in this galaxy. That overshadow us. That can unite us. Just look up.”[1]

If We Would Just Keep Looking

What happened after we looked up? Protests continued that evening. Kyrie Irving was traded the next day. A commentator was removed from a football game because his name is Robert Lee. Following August 21 at 2:30 pm, we looked up and then moved on.

Genesis 15:7-21 is like Monday’s total eclipse. It is like the total eclipse because it involves the sun. Look and listen to Genesis 15:12. “As the sun was going down…” Then look and listen to Genesis 15:17, “When the sun had gone down…” It is like the total eclipse because there was light, but then there was darkness. Look and listen again to Genesis 15:12. “As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and deep darkness fell on him.” Look and listen again to Genesis 15:17. “When the sun had gone and it was dark, behold…” And it is like the total eclipse because it involves looking.

Look and listen a third time to Genesis 15:12. “As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and deep darkness fell on him.” Pay attention to the word behold. Look and listen a third time to Genesis 15:17. “When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold…” Pay attention to the word behold. This word is used four times in Genesis 15, but three times (cf. 15:4, 12, 17) it is used just for us that we might look!

Behold! And it is not a matter of forgetting for a second all the stuff happening around us. Do not even for a second forget the stuff happening around us. In the midst of all the stuff just look and keep looking. The eclipse last Monday was something to see. It had a point. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). And here we are in Genesis 15:7-21 and as we read, there are these pauses meant to grab us. Look. And keep looking. Not in the sense of searching. It is more in the sense of see and hold your sight there. See and keep seeing what?

And He Said to Him

Notice the first few words of Genesis 15:7. “And he said to him.” The word “and” is important because it connects what is being said next to what was written previously. And written previously is this tremendous simple sentence which is meant to grab our attention that we might see. “And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” We spent much time on this one sentence last week, but just be reminded of it. Be reminded that this one sentence is meant to grab our attention that we might look. The rest of Genesis 15 is very concerned that we keep looking. And we are asking, keep seeing what? It begins here in verse seven which intentionally follows verse six. “And he said to him, “I am the Lord.”

In Genesis 15:5-6, God leads Abram outdoors to look, to just look up and see the stars. And Abram saw the stars, and beyond the stars the promise, and beyond the promise, God himself.[2] Abram responds with what is most likely a vocal “Amen” – it is so! Then what follows is from God himself a vocal “I am the Lord.” I am the self-existent, eternal, unchangeable and unchanging, faithful God. So, see and keeping seeing what? Who God is.

When God declares who he is, he immediately refers to his works. Notice that God tells Abram that he is the one who brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans. Do you know the Ten Commandments? Better yet, do you know how the Ten Commandments begin? The first commandment is “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). But this is not how the Ten Commandments begin. The commandments do not begin with commandment number one. Rather the Ten Commandments begin with “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 20:2). It begins the very same way as Genesis 15:7. The Ten Commandments begin with who God is. Who is he? “I am the Lord.” It is the name Yahweh. God is the self-existent, eternal, unchangeable and unchanging, faithful God. Know his name, see and keep seeing who God is in his works.

How Am I to Know?

In Genesis 15:1-6, God reiterates to Abram the promise of offspring. In verse seven, after God declares who he is and refers to his works, God reiterates to Abram the promise of the land. Genesis 15 is precious. It is precious because Abram is alone with God. It is the first time that God and Abram share in a conversation together. They are enjoying fellowship. And in it, it is so precious, Abram asks God two heart-felt questions. Genesis 15:8 is the second heart-felt question. “How am I to know?” Notice the word know. It is the Hebrew word yada. It is used to mean to know intimately; to really, really know. Abram is not asking how am I to know that you are self-existent, eternal, unchangeable, unchanging and faithful. Instead, Abram asks, “How am I to know that I shall possess the land?” God then has Abram gather 5 animals including birds and cut them in half, except the birds.

God will use these animals in answering Abram’s question. Keep in mind Abram’s question. How am I to know?

Behold, Dreadful and Great Darkness

God waits. God waits to answer Abram’s question. It took some time to gather those animals and do as God prescribed. Part of the reason is that God is making Abram wait for the answer to his question. God waits for the sun to begin to set (15:12). Notice what comes next, the word behold – look! As God is about to give the answer a dreadful and great darkness overwhelms Abram. This has to be more than what Abram bargained for, but he asked the question! It is like the total eclipse. This is not meant for Abram to forget for a second the stuff around him, but to sustain him in the stuff around him. What is it?

Look at the start to the answer to the question. It is verse thirteen. “Know for certain.” It is the Hebrew word yada. But it is actually given twice. “Yada yada.” And instead of talking about the land, God tells Abram about his offspring. It is the offspring that God said would be beyond number! This offspring will spend time as sojourners, strangers, aliens, people without any rights in a land that is not even theirs. It gets worse. And there they will be servants, slaves. It gets worse. They will be afflicted. They will suffer. And it gets even worse. They will suffer for four hundred years.

But notice verse fourteen. It begins with one of the greatest words in the Bible – but. “But I will bring judgment on the nation they serve.” Who will bring the judgment? It is God and who is he? He is the self-existent, unchangeable and unchanging, faithful God…even in suffering. And notice that God refers to his works. I will bring judgment. And what comes from this judgment? “…they shall come out.” Look at verse sixteen. “And they shall come back here.” Now look ahead at Exodus 20:2. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Abram’s offspring will come out and come back because God will bring them out and bring them back. And it is only because of who God is.

Back to Abram’s question. How am I to know that I shall possess it? Look and listen to Genesis 15:15. “As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age.” In other words, you will not possess this land. You will die in peace at the end of a full life. How does this answer Abram’s question? Better yet, how can Abram die in peace knowing that he will never possess the land and suffering awaits his offspring? Keep thinking about his question. How am I to know? He will rest in who God is. God is self-existent, eternal, unchangeable, unchanging and faithful. The people reading this for the very first time are the ones who experienced the affliction and getting out of Egypt and getting back to the land. What are they to see and keep seeing? God is self-existent, eternal, unchangeable, unchanging and faithful. They know this because of his works.

Again, God is waiting. “For the iniquity of the Amorites [inhabitants of the land] is not yet complete” (15:16). The inhabitants of the land are wicked (cf. Leviticus 18) and they have not reached the limit of their wickedness. And God is waiting to judge their wickedness. Why? “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4). God’s justice will reign down upon the Amorites who are godless and sinful, but he is demonstrating his patience toward them that they might repent. Remember, there is a king in this land who is a witness to them. His name is Melchizedek, king of Salem – king of righteousness and king of peace.

When the Sun Had Gone Down

Then the sun goes down and there is nothing but darkness. We have not forgotten about those animal halves. Keep thinking about his question. How am I to know? These animals point to sacrifice. They have been laid out in two parallel rows. It was customary in Abram’s day that when two people entered into a binding agreement together, a covenant, that an animal would be sacrificed, split in half, and the two parties would walk together between the animal. It was a way of saying, “If one us breaks this covenant, may it be done to us as was done to this animal.” This was serious. It was like saying, “May I be cursed.” Keep thinking about his question. How am I to know?

Notice Abram was asleep and he does not walk through the animal pieces. But verse seventeen tells us that the Lord made a covenant with Abram. The self-existent, eternal, unchangeable, unchanging, faithful God made a binding agreement with Abram. And verse seventeen tells us that a smoking fire pot and flaming torch passed between the pieces. These were visuals symbolic of the presence of God (cf. Exodus 3:2; 13:21; 19:18; Deuteronomy 4:11). God alone walked through. In a sense, he alone was saying, “May it be done to me as was done to this animal if this covenant be broken.” May I be cursed.

Three times in Genesis 15 we are told to behold, to look. This passage is meant that we look and keep looking at him who is self-existent, eternal, unchangeable and unchanging and faithful. We are to keep looking at God. Keep thinking about Abram’s question. How am I to know? Our view of God is everything.

Jesus the Christ is the self-existent, eternal, unchangeable, unchanging, faithful God. He said so and when he did the world’s greatest army fell to the ground (John 18:6). A few hours later, his works would be on display. It is the cross. There his arms were spread wide and nailed to the cross. There was found a new covenant. There the Bible tells us that he became a curse for us. It was to redeem us so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to us. The blessing is to be able to call him our God and we his people (Galatians 3:13-14). And look! It all points back here to Genesis 15:7-21.

Look and keep looking! Your view of God is everything. He is self-existent, eternal, unchangeable, unchanging and faithful. His works do not fail. Dread and darkness may overwhelm you. Suffering may last a really long time. But. But he is your God. Look and keep looking.

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:8-9).

[1] https://nedispensaries.com/the-total-solar-eclipse-is-sweeping-across-the-united-states-washington-post/

[2] R. Kent Hughes, Genesis: Beginning and Blessing, page 229.

And God Counted It as Righteousness

There used to be just one, just one that would rock in the tree tops all day long, hopping and a bopping singing his song. There used to be just one who all the little birdies on Jaybird Street would love to hear go tweet-tweet-tweet. Today some sixty years later, there are approximately 157 million people who tweet every day. A tweet consists of no more than 140 characters, not words. Typically, a tweet is simply one sentence. This one simple sentence can send a company’s stock to fall by .9 percent – that is about 5 billion dollars – in just minutes.[1] One simple sentence is meant to grab your attention.

Genesis 15:6 is one simple sentence. Last week we asked why this one sentence is placed here. At the very least, it is meant to grab our attention. And it is only about sixty-eight characters. “And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.”

Abram Says Amen

The first word that I want us to pay attention to is the word believed. It is written in such a way to tell us that Abram believed and continued believing. It is the Hebrew word aman from which we get the word amen. And the word amen literally means “it is so.” This means that right here in Genesis 15:6, Abram said “Amen!” It is a little bit bigger and better than that, because the way this word is constructed says to us that Abram said, “it is so” and he kept saying “it is so.” Abram believed God and continued believing God.

This is the first time that the word believed appears in Genesis. This is not to suggest that Abram is the first person in Genesis to believe God. So, why is this word appearing here for the first time in this one sentence? That is just like saying, why is this one sentence appearing here? You could remove this one sentence and have it not interrupt the flow of the text.

Another word to pay attention to is the word righteousness. Abram believed God and God counted it to him as righteousness. This is not the first time that the word righteousness has appeared in Genesis. The word itself is in the name Melchizedek which means “king of righteousness” (Genesis 14:18). In Genesis 6:9, Noah, who built Noah’s Ark, was described as a “righteous man,” one who was right with God, who pleased God. Noah’s great-grandfather Enoch was also called a man who pleased God. “Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God” (Hebrews 11:5). Abel, the fourth man mentioned in the Bible, is also called righteous (Hebrews 11:4). And each of these men – Abel, Enoch, Noah and Abram – are known for believing God or for saying “Amen! It is so!”

But why is it here? Why is believe here for the very first time? Why are believe and righteousness here together for the very first time? Why does this one simple sentence fit here? Genesis 15:6 is meant to grab our attention…that we might see.

What Are We to See?

What are we to see? The Bible tells us explicitly that this one simple sentence was written for our sake (Romans 4:24). This is why I say that Genesis 15:6 is meant to grab our attention that we might see. This one simple sentence is so attention grabbing that we might see, a whole chapter of the Bible is dedicated to it. The chapter is Romans 4. And this chapter begins with a question. “What then shall we say was gained by Abraham?” Another word for gained is discover. Romans 4 begins by asking, “What shall we say Abraham saw?”

Necessary to Romans 4 is to know or follow what leads up to Romans 4. You cannot just jump into Romans 4, you need what came before Romans 4. And needed for Romans 4 is Romans 1 and Romans 2 and Romans 3. All three of those chapters are necessary to Romans 4. But for the sake of time, just draw your attention to the theme of Romans, Romans 1:15-17. “So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” The you are those who are reading this letter, specifically those who are in Rome reading this letter. Listen to what Paul has to say about those who are in Rome receiving and reading this letter. “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints” (1:7). The you, specifically, are those who are believers in Rome reading this letter! And in verse fifteen Paul writes that he is eager to preach the gospel to whom? YOU.

Now read verse sixteen. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Pause there and highlight the word believe. When have we first read of that word? It is Genesis 15:6. When it comes to belief, and this is true of Genesis 15:6, it always involves a what (content), but not a what alone. The what is necessary, but belief is not merely about the what. Belief is always about the who. In other words, the object of belief is not a what (content) alone, but the object of belief is always the who, and this is true of Genesis 15:6. Continue with verse sixteen because Paul writes more. “…to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” And now verse seventeen. “For in it,” pause there. What is the it? The word it refers to the gospel. This is really important. “For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed.” Now pause again right here. The gospel is content, the what. The Bible defines the gospel as good news which causes great joy (Luke 2:10). Paul writes that in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed. In the content, the righteousness of God is discovered. Mark that down.

But there is more. “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith [beginning and ending in faith or by faith to faith], as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” These three verses are the theme of Romans. Take this theme and run it straight to Romans 4:1. “What then shall we say was gained by Abraham?” In other words, this theme has something to do with Abraham. It is a theme found in a New Testament letter but has so much to do with a man found in the Old Testament.

Come back to our question. What are we to see? But do not forget the theme, mainly, the righteousness of God is revealed, discovered, in the gospel by faith to faith. And this connects with Abraham by asking, what did Abraham discover?

What Did Abraham See?

What did Abraham see? This is the question of Romans 4. Listen to how Paul answers it. It is verse two. “For if Abraham was justified,” justified means legally declared righteous, “by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.” In other words, Abraham was declared righteous. Was he declared righteous by his works? If so, he would have something to boast about, but when it comes to the righteousness of God, this does not work. Then notice Romans 4:3. This is so great. “For what does the Scripture say?” Notice that the word Scripture is singular. Paul does not write the Scriptures, but the Scripture. This is supported by the very next words. Paul quotes one simple sentence which is meant to grab our attention. He quotes Genesis 15:6.

In Genesis 15:1, we are told that the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision. This is just interesting because the theme of Romans – what is seen – connects with Abram about what he saw and all the way back in Genesis we are told that the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, something seen. The word of the Lord is the what, it is content. In other words, the word of the Lord is the gospel. And what did Paul write in the theme of the letter of Romans? In the gospel, the righteousness of God is revealed, discovered, it is seen.

Genesis 15:6 says that Abram believed the Lord. I want us to notice that Lord is in all caps. This is the most precious and revered name of God. It is the Hebrew letters Y-H-W-H. We believe this name is pronounced Yahweh. It is a name that speaks of God’s self-existence and unchangeability. And as significant, this name has to do with God’s covenant keeping faithfulness.[2] But I really want us to notice here in verse six that Abram believed the Lord, the same name that is used in verse one when speaking of the word of the Lord. The word of the Lord is the content, the Scripture, the gospel. It is the what and the what is necessary. And verse six tells us that Abram did not believe the content alone, but he believed the who. He believed the Lord. The object of faith is always God.

But remember what Paul wrote. The content, the gospel reveals the righteousness of God. And in Romans 4:1, Paul asks, what did Abraham see? Genesis 15:6 tells us. Abram saw the righteousness of God. This is important because if not understood properly, Genesis 15:6 might seem to say that God counted Abram’s faith as righteousness. And this is not what Genesis 15:6 is saying. The gospel reveals the righteousness of God. Abram heard the gospel, he heard the content and believed God. In so doing, he discovered the righteousness of God. God then counted righteousness to Abram.

And God Counted It as Righteousness

In Romans 4, Paul is most concerned with this word counted. Another word would be reckoned or imputed. He uses it not just in verse three, but in verse four and verse five and verse six and verse eight and verse nine and verse ten and verse eleven and then finally in the conclusion. “But the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but ours also” (Romans 4:23-24). Really notice verse twenty-four. “It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” What is the it? Righteousness. Righteousness will be counted to us just as it was counted to Abraham.

This is not being made righteous. This is being declared righteous. Being declared righteous only happens through faith. This righteousness is a gift. You cannot earn it. Listen to Romans 4:4. “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift, but as his due.” This righteousness is a gift and it only happens through faith, therefore not even faith can be called a work. Now listen to Romans 4:5. “And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” Abraham is the subject of this whole conversation. It was him who Genesis 15 says was counted as righteous. This means that when Paul writes “and to the one who does not work” he is talking about Abraham too. And when Paul continues, “but trusts him” that includes Abraham. And when Paul continues some more “who justifies the ungodly,” this includes Abraham. He was ungodly when God counted to him righteousness. God only counts righteousness to the ungodly.

We Are to See What Abram Saw

We asked, what are we to see? We are to see what Abram saw. Paul writes later in Romans 4:16, “to the one who shares the faith of Abraham.” This is incredible. We are to share the very same faith as Abraham who was counted righteous. Counted is a legal term meaning to put into the account of. Your sin is no longer counted against you, but instead God legally declares you righteous. It is God legally declaring simply because you believe him, that all he sees when it comes to you is righteousness. And it so glorious because you know you are guilty.

We are to see what Abraham saw. What did he see? He was trusting God alone to justify him, one who was ungodly. Abram believed God. He heard the content of the gospel and believed God. It was not the full content that you and I know. But he believed God. What did he see? Abram saw that God would take care of him. He saw that God would take care of his unrighteousness. By the way, to be credited righteousness means that you were lacking righteousness. And the righteousness that was credited to Abram’s account was the righteousness of God. What though did Abram see? Listen to Jesus. “Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad” (John 8:56). Abram saw that God would provide for him. He saw the righteousness of God and he greeted it from afar and was glad! And the righteousness of God is Jesus the Christ. Therefore, when God looked at Abram he saw him robed in the righteousness of Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21).

So, it is with us. We are to see what Abraham saw. Remember, this is written for our sake. Paul is writing this for believers. Why? 1. It is ultimately for our continued seeing. 2. That we would continually be satisfied by and with God’s supremacy alone. 3. And that the content would hold our view there continually.

[1] http://www.newsweek.com/amazon-stocks-fall-5-bn-after-single-tweet-trump-651675

[2] Mark Jones, God Is, pages 92-93.

Alone in the Silence with God

No one knows this; I have not yet shared it with anyone. But this is a strange time. Call it a fearful time. Call it a time of anxiety. Call it a struggle. And there have been some tears, but only manly tears. Come this Wednesday morning, my oldest daughter will be a freshman in high school.

Our public high school is not unlike other public high schools. We have a principal. We have assistant principals. We have an athletic director. We have guidance counselors. And we have a full-time police officer in the hallways, Monday through Friday, from the beginning of the day until the very end of the day. This past week, he spoke to all the freshman parents and especially for those dads who have some manly tears. I do not remember his name, but I do remember what he said. “I will lay down my life for your son or daughter. I am not worried about death. My faith tells me that when I die, I will be okay.”

After These Things

Genesis 15 begins with three important words: after these things. These three words serve to provide a close connection with Genesis 14. In Genesis 14, four significant kings seek to remind others of their significance. These four kings destroy towns, take possessions and take people as their possessions! One of these people is Lot, Abram’s nephew. These four kings not only take Lot as their possession but they take his possessions too! Abram defeats and drives out from the land these four kings. He brings back to the land both the people and their possessions, including Lot and his possessions.

Genesis 15 has a close connection with Genesis 14 because of the words “after these things.” But there is even a closer connection than just Genesis 14. These three important words connect Genesis 15 with Genesis 14:23. There Abram is offered a reward for his victory over the four kings. And there Abram refuses to accept even a thread as his reward. Mark that down. These three important words are serving to connect with that verse. But what specifically in Genesis 15 is being connected to this particular verse?

Alone and Afraid

We begin to find the answer in Genesis 15:1. “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: ‘Fear not, Abram.’” Pause there. What do we discover about this one man named Abram? He was alone. Now this is going a little bit further than verse one, but as you read the rest of the chapter it becomes obvious that Abram was alone. There is no one else in this chapter with Abram. It is just Abram. And when we meet Abram in this first verse he was not just alone, but he was afraid. How do we know that Abram was afraid? As far as we know from the text, Abram had not told anyone that he was afraid. No one knew it. But Abram was afraid. Abram was anxious. Abram may have shed some manly tears. Abram was struggling. How do we know that Abram was afraid? We only know that Abram was afraid because God said, “Fear not, Abram.”

Be gripped by those three words. First, God said to Abram to not be afraid because God knew that Abram was afraid. God knew that Abram was anxious. God knew that Abram was struggling. The Bible teaches that God knows everything and that there is never a time, there has never been a time and there will never be a time in which God does not know everything. He is omniscient. There is something comforting to know that in God’s omniscience, he not only knows everything but he knows what is going on deep inside me. I say deep inside me because there is much I do not share with anyone. I just keep it to myself. And as I keep it to myself at the very same time I desire to be able to just dump it all on someone. If I just had someone who would let me unload for a few minutes and listen, all would be okay. Then I read these three words and learn that this very human need has been met by the all-knowing God. He knows when I am afraid. He knows when I am anxious. He knows when I am struggling. There is something about knowing that God knows all of that about me.

So, God knows that Abram was afraid, but there is more. God not only says, “Fear not,” but he says more. He says Abram’s name. God knows that Abram was afraid and God knows Abram’s name. This is the first record of God saying Abram’s name. God knows when I am afraid; when I am anxious; when I am struggling. And God knows my name. This indicates that in this crucial moment Abram is about to hear something deeply personal. Mark that down and just ask, what is so deeply personal?

And God Spoke

Just keep looking at Genesis 15:1. What is so deeply personal? “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision.” Pay attention to the words “the word of the Lord.” This is the first time that these words appear in the Old Testament. In fact, in the book of Genesis these words only appear here. Actually, these words appear one more time in the book of Genesis. It is in Genesis 15:4. So, these words which only appear here in the book of Genesis, appear twice here in the book of Genesis. The importance of these words is that they are deeply personal. These words are deeply personal because it is revelation, special revelation. Although, only used here in Genesis, these words describe all of Genesis and all of the Old Testament and all of the New Testament. The Bible is the word of the Lord (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16). Therefore, all of the Bible is deeply personal because all of the Bible is revelation. All of the Bible reveals to us who God is. And we have discovered together in Genesis that when God speaks, he speaks for our good. He speaks that we would know what is good and that we would know what is not good, and he does this for our good. And what is ultimately for our good is knowing who God is – the knowing that treasures and adores and is satisfied.

Listen to what God says to Abram as Abram is afraid. Listen to what God reveals to Abram which is for Abram’s own good. “I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” Some translations word this as “I am your shield; your exceedingly great reward.” The basic truth is the reward is only exceedingly great because of who God is. It is deeply personal. And we only know how deeply personal this is because of God’s Word alone. God has revealed to us who he really is through his Word. Our reward is exceedingly great only because of God and who he is. This is wonderful!! And it only gets better.

God as our shield is used quite often in the Psalms. We read of it this week in Psalm 115. “You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord! He is their help and shield. The Lord has remembered us” (Psalm 115:11-12a). Shields are used for protection in wartime and this fits with connecting to Genesis 14. For there, after Abram’s victory, King Melchizedek declares, “blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” But there is more and it only gets better. Listen to Psalm 3:3. “But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.” What does King David, a mighty warrior, know about God? He is my shield, but there is more and it only gets better. God is a shield about me, my glory. God is my glory. I have been learning that this is truly where joy is to be found, my joy. My joy is to be found in who God is, in his glory. So, when David says that God is his shield, his glory, David is also saying that this is where his joy is (cf. John 15:11). And when God says to Abram when Abram is afraid, anxious, struggling that “I am your shield,” he is also saying, “I am your glory.” In other words, be satisfied in and with Me. The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever. And this all begins and ends with the word of the Lord.

God, What Will You Give Me?

But listen and learn and be mentored by Abram. Abram responds by saying, “O Lord God, what will you give me?” This is just honest, blunt Abram. He is sharing his heart with God. He is not being defiant or dissatisfied with what God has just said, but just blunt. And he repeats what he is so focused on in Genesis 15:3. “You have given me no offspring.” What does Abram view as his reward? A child. He is focused on having a child, specifically a son, because a few chapters earlier God had promised Abram offspring (Genesis 12:7). Abram has been holding onto a promise of God, God’s Word. It seems, though, that what Abram is missing is that the reward is nothing without who God is. The reward is only exceedingly great because of who God is. What then does Abram really need?

Just appreciate Abram. We have seen him so far go from being an unlovely sinner to a man who believes God and obeys God. We have seen Abram proclaim God’s greatness. We have seen Abram view his future through the circumstances of the present. And we have seen Abram grab a hold of the circumstances of the present with the grace and hope of the future. And I am reminding me and you of this because after verse three something changes with Abram.

Alone in the Silence with God

Notice verse four. “And behold, the word of the Lord came to him.” Another word for behold is look. Who in verse four is being told to look? It is us. We are being told to look or behold that the word of the Lord came to Abram. It is the second and last time in Genesis that the words “the word of the Lord” appear in Genesis. At the very least, we are being told to behold God’s Word. For what reason?

God promises Abram that he will have offspring. God is reminding Abram even now in his fear and anxiety and struggle to grab a hold of his present circumstances with the grace and hope of the future. God will fulfill his promise to Abram by giving him his very own son. But more importantly, what does God give Abram in the present? The bare word of God. And something happens.

In verse five, God brings Abram outside and has him look at the night sky. Look at the stars Abram. Number the stars if you can. This is how many offspring you will have. Then something happens. It gets silent. Silence is what follows verse five. Abram does not say a word. He is just alone in the silence with God. Now read verse six. “And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.”

The question to ask is, why is verse six here? Didn’t Abram believe God back in Genesis 12? The answer is yes. So, wouldn’t righteousness be counted to Abram in Genesis 12? The answer is yes. So, why is verse six here?

We need to go to the New Testament. We need to go to Romans 4:20-24 and just listen. “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God.” Abram was not wavering in Genesis 15, he was just sharing his heart with God. “But he grew strong in his faith.” From Genesis 12 through Genesis 15, we are watching Abram grow in his believing God. Genesis 15:6 is written in such a way grammatically, that it actually means that Abram believed God and continued believing God. “But he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness.’” Now really pay attention to verse twenty-three. “But the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also.”

1. Genesis 15:1-6 was written for Abram’s sake.

2. And Genesis 15:1-6 was not written for Abram’s sake alone, but for ours also.

The word believed in Genesis 15:6 is the Hebrew word aman from which we get the word amen – it is so. This was written for both Abram’s sake and ours. We are watching Abram grow in his believing God. And in this moment, in Abram’s fear and anxiety and struggling, Abram grows strong in his faith. In Genesis 15:5-6, he is not the same man as in verses two and three. He is no longer saying. “O God, what will you give me?” He grew, alone in the silence with God. How? Notice how Romans says that Abram grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God. In this moment, it was no longer about getting the son for Abram, instead it was about the best thing that God did for Abram through his Word in this moment. The change in Abram, the growth was about God’s glory, God’s supremacy being Abram’s greatest satisfaction.

3. Central to Genesis 15:1-6 is God’s Word which is written for our sake that we, like Abram, would have God’s glory, God’s supremacy be our greatest satisfaction.