Dark Visions, Bright Promises: Abraham

After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.’ But Abram said, ‘Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus? You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.’

Then the word of the Lord came to him: ‘This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.’ He took Abram outside and said, ‘Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can.’ Then the Lord said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:1-6)

Abram had just been to war. He had rescued his nephew Lot, who had the poor judgment to get involved in someone else’s tribal warfare. Chapter 14 of Genesis describes several “kings” who were making war on each other, but notice that when Abram rescued Lot, his force mustered only 318 men. Granted, the Lord fought for him, but … 318 men? And that was the victor’s troop strength? Yep. Tribal warfare.

Abram may well have felt the first “intimations of mortality” in that battle. That’s purely a guess on my part. Whether it was that or something else, God chose to speak to Abram and encourage him. And when He spoke, His words seem to indicate that He knew Abram was feeling his mortality keenly: “Don’t be afraid; I am your shield…”

But there was more to fear than battle. By Abram’s time, lifespans had been declining drastically for generations.

From Adam to Methuselah, the average lifespan was 926 years.

Lamech, son of Methuselah, died at 777 years old. That’s a 16% drop in lifespan. Just a glitch, right? A statistical anomaly. Noah, Lamech’s son, lived 950 years.

But uh-oh. Shem, one of Noah’s sons, only lived 600 years. Shem’s son Arphaxad only lived 438 years. His son Shelah only 433 years. That’s a drop of forty-five percent from Adam’s time. And it got worse.

Shelah’s grandson Peleg dropped dead in his youth – at 239 years old. And by then, people knew for sure that lifespans were decreasing radically, because Noah was still alive when Peleg died. Noah was Peleg’s great-great-great-grandfather. In just five generations the lifespan dropped from 950 years (Noah) to 239 years.

Peleg only lived one fourth as long as his great-great-great-grandfather.

Peleg’s son Reu died at exactly the same age. Reu’s son Serug was only granted 230 years.

Serug’s son Nahor … one hundred and forty-eight years.

Abram must have felt like he was in the Twilight Zone. “Why are we dying so soon? How long will I live? How long will humans even exist? And why must I be childless, giving everything I have accumulated to a servant?”

Being childless in those days was a disgrace for both husbands and wives. It was such a shame to Abram’s wife Sarai that she gave her maid, Hagar, to her husband as concubine, to prove that she was not the barren one. Sure enough, Hagar became pregnant and gave birth to Ishmael. So Abram thought, “Now it begins! I’ll have those many children the Lord promised me.”

Abram was 86 years old then, but it wasn’t until thirteen years later that God appeared to him again … and told him that Ishmael was not acceptable as the son He promised Abram.

(Did you know “Abram” means “father of many”? So for years, for decades, if Abram entertained guests, they might ask, “Where are your many children?” And Abram looked like a foolish braggart, a blowhard, when he had to admit, “I have none.” Then it was one instead of many. Abram still sounded like a self-deceiving old fool. And now even that one is disqualified from inheriting God’s promise.)

Abram was 99 years old the second time God spoke to him, and the shortening lifespans have caught up with him. His body tells him that he’ll never be a father again. So when the Lord tells him he is going to have a son by Sarai, who is herself so old that childbirth is laughable, they both … laugh. [shrug] What else?

But God wasn’t joking. He re-named Abram (“father of many”). New name: Abraham – “father of a multitude”. God also changed Sarai’s name (“princess”) to “Sarah” – “princess of many”. And in due course, the multitude was born. Sort of. The beginning of the multitude, at least.   😉

God’s promises always come true. All His promises. Yes, God did promise Abram that he would be the father of many descendants. But later on the same day He made that promise, He made another promise

As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. Then the Lord said to him, ‘Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.’ ”

Let’s see, Abram – you will have many descendants, but they will be slaves, and will be mistreated, as slaves usually are. For four hundred years.

“Did I hear that right, Lord?” “Yes, Abram, you did.”

“And my children, my descendants, will return here why?”

“Because the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its peak.”

“What does the sin of the Amorites have to do wi… Never mind. I don’t want to know.”

But Abram had already won the most important battle of his life. When God first told Abram that he, already old, would have a son, “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”

Sometimes we glance up at the future and see that it has fangs. Those moments can rock you back on your heels. Raise the hair on your neck. But if you’ve already decided to believe God, you already have the battle half won. You have to have a solid foundation to stand on. Then a future with fangs isn’t scary. Well, not as scary.

“For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
(1st Corinthians 3:11)

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27)

We have a choice: trust God or not. If we trust Him, we may get run over by an eighteen wheeler, real or figurative. But if we trust God, we will pass the test, and in the end, we will be shouting with joy over our rewards. And shouting even more over the mercy, the justice, and the love God has given us.

As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.