top of page

Genesis 15:1-6

God promised Abram that he would have a great name and that his family would be a great and numerous people. That was a transformative marker in Abram’s life. It set his life on a new trajectory, one with divine purpose and promise. But that promise had been given some time ago. Doubts began to creep in. God seemed preoccupied with other matters that had nothing to do with fulfilling the promise given. Abram waited, and waited, and waited. The tension and frustration have build to a raging storm within Abram’s breast. Why is God delayed?

I have imagined this scene a thousand times. Abram sitting inside his tent by the glowing embers of a dying fire. The silence of night falls about his shoulders like a heavy cloak. He is despondent, sitting in a quagmire of his own restless despair. He waffles between anger, grief, and wondering whether he heard God speak. Maybe it was a trick of the mind. Would God really choose him for such a gift?

As Abram tosses a small twig onto the burning coals, a vision overwhelms him. God meets Abram and tells him to not fear. God is Abram’s “shield and great reward” (v. 1). Abram has become so focused on what the promise can give him that he fails to see that God’s presence IS the gift. The promise God has given to Abram is a promise of God’s abiding with Abram. Frustration pours out of Abram, “Sovereign Lord, what can YOU give me…” Although the language of worship is used, it feels contrived or cynical on Abram’s lips. A person can claim God is Lord and yet deny the claim’s power over their lives. Abram has so focused on God’s promised gift that he has lost sight of the Giver of all good things. At the very least, Abram questions God’s ability to make good on God’s promises.

Abram launches into legal accusations against God. God is on trial. God has promised and not delivered. Abram has no heir, except a distant relative. There is no son, there is no numerous people, there is no future. What good is God’s promise without an heir!? If Abram dies without an heir, what has been the whole purpose of leaving everything to follow God into a place of wandering?

God does not seem angered by Abram’s indignation but affirms the promise. Abram will have a son of his own “flesh and blood.” Then, the scene shifts. God takes Abram outside of the tent and tells Abram to count the stars, if he can, for his offspring shall be just a numerous. I have always imagined Abram laid on the desert floor, peered up at the Milky Way, and was overwhelmed by the vast expanse of stars piercing the inky night sky. An impossible task to count such a multitude. However, verse 12 calls us to consider a different setting than the night sky.

Verse 12, which follows this scene between Abram and God, says, “As the sun was setting…” When God invites Abram out of his tent to consider the stars it is not during the dark of night. It is in glaring hours of noon-day sun. Blinding light which covers the stars under the veil of blue sky. No stars are visible… except one. The sun is the only visible star. “So shall your offspring be.” The fullness of the promise may not be visible and yet it is present. Abram will only experience a small part of the promise’s completion – a son. The star-like hope of the promise lies behind the sun-blinding unfolding of the promise in the present. One reality is blindingly visible. The other is shrouded in mystery. Both are fully present. Such are the promises of God.

The text says this sign is received in faith by Abram and it is “credited to him as righteousness.” The visible signs of God’s good Creation, God’s handiwork, remind Abram that God spoke everything into being. God’s promise is trusted because Abram awakens again to remember that God can call forth new things, including an heir. And, although Abram cannot see the end of the promise, he can surely give witness to those tangible realities which God has shown him: God’s creation, God’s call and promise, and God’s continued assurance of abiding with Abram in the journey.

We can empathize with Abram. It’s hard waiting. Mystery and waiting are such difficult parts of life, especially when it feels like the waiting has been dragging on. A life of sojourning with God can feel like a perpetual waiting game. We want God’s promises to be fulfilled now. In a society that expects instant gratification, we don’t expect to wait long to experience satisfaction. The difficulty with mystery is that it can’t be controlled. The problem with God is that God can’t be provoked to act on our timeline. And, the frustration of God’s promises is that they inevitably work themselves out through a slow unfolding of the path toward completion. Where we expect the full-blown details and destination, God is content with only showing us the next step in the journey. Yet, with each step, we may be surprised to learn that we are also experiencing a small foretaste of the whole scope of God’s promises to come.

God doesn’t condemn Abram for questioning God. In fact, God takes Abram’s accusations seriously and redirects his angst by affirming that God makes good on God’s promises, even if not in the timing we expect. What Abram sees as an increasingly improbable promise God uses as an opportunity to shape faith in Abram. The journey of discipleship is not one without doubt and questions. Doubt is a part of faith. God is big enough to handle our wrestling moments. It is by engaging those very doubts that Abram encounters a God much greater than his greatest skepticism. In reality, Abram is drawn out and into the blinding reality of God’s glory, the assurance of hope.