Teaching series from Genesis

Waiting on God

Genesis 15:1-17:23

Teaching t13912


We’ve spent the last several weeks studying events that took place over 4000 years ago as we’ve learned about the life of the great patriarch Abram, who would later be known as Abraham. We saw that God called Abraham to leave his native country and his family. And he promised that he would give Abraham the land of Israel and make his descendants into a great nation. And the rest of Scripture tells us that’s exactly what God did – that Abraham did go on to become the father of all Jews, the father of all Arabs and the spiritual father of all Christians too.

But the only problem is, at this point, he is not the father of anyone! He’s in his 80s, his wife is in her 70s, past child bearing age. They’ve been trying to get pregnant for as many as 50 years by now, and nothing is happening. That’s a lot of waiting!

He’s also been waiting somewhere on the order of 5-10 years since God made this promise to him and got his hopes up. At this point Abram is getting pretty confused about how it’s all going to work out.

Initially he may have thought that his nephew Lot was the guy. Lot’s dad died when he was younger, and he would have been the logical choice as Abraham’s heir. But last time, we saw that Lot left Abraham and moved down to the wicked city of Sodom in pursuit of wealth. We also saw that even after Lot was captured in battle by a coalition of four kings and their armies, even after Abraham gathered his men and rescued Lot with a surprise nighttime attack, Lot left him again and went right back down to live in Sodom. And as far as we know, Abraham and Lot never saw each other again. So, Lot is not an option.

What is God going to do? The next 8 chapters of Genesis focus in on this question: How will God bring a great nation from Abraham? And we’ll see that when God does something great, he often takes a lot longer than we expect. And that’s because he wants us to learn to wait on him, to depend on him and to give him all the credit when he does come through.

Let’s pick up the action in Genesis 15…

Genesis 15

1 After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision:

“After this” – after what? After he launched a surprise attack on four powerful kings who had taken Lot prisoner. If I’m Abram, you know how I’m feeling right now? Scared! That at any time those four kings are going to take revenge on me. That one night I’m going to go to bed in my tent, only to wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of horses and swords and screams of terror.

A tent in the middle of the night is a vulnerable place. In fact, one teen found this out the hard way last month while camping in Colorado. The USA today headline from July 10 was “Teen wakes to 'crunching noise' as bear drags him out of campsite by head.”

"The crunching noise, I guess, was the teeth scraping against the skull as it dug in," Dylan told KMGH-TV. (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2017/07/10/teen-wakes-crunching-sound-bear/463566001/)

And that’s just a black bear! Abraham was facing down powerful kings who lost a lot of money, who could be intent on revenge!

So God comes to him and says this:

“Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.”

“Do not be afraid.” Trust me.

So now God is saying “Abram, I will protect you and I will give you much more of a reward than all of that plunder you returned.”

This is something God wants to do for you as well. This becomes a common image in the Bible – God as our shield, our fortress, our refuge, our hiding place. He will protect you and reward you in a way that you could never provide for yourself. In this life, but much more in the life to come.

2 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?”

When archaeologists began digging at the ancient city of Nuzi in the 1920s, they uncovered about 5000 tablets from the middle of the 2nd millennium BC confirming this very practice. The Nuzi tablets said that in the absence of a biological son, it was common practice to adopt one of your own servants as your heir. But they also said that if a biological son was born later that it would take precedence over the prior adoption arrangement.

3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

Abram is genuinely questioning God here. He’s wrestling with God’s promises. Now that Lot is gone, he’s left with his top servant, Eliezer. Eliezer was a good dude, but he’s wondering, “God, is this what you had in mind?”

So far God has said he’d make Abram into a great nation. But as far as we know, God never said that it would necessarily be a biological son born of Abram. So Abram is probing into that ambiguity. But now God clarifies the promise more…

4 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.”

Remember the wording here: “Your own flesh and blood.” A staggering promise for Abram given their history of infertility. And at this point God takes him outside and completely blows his mind.

5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.”

5b Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

6 Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

This becomes a very important promise in the Bible. It really answers the question: how do I get on God’s good side?

  • Is it by following the Law? Nope. That wasn’t even introduced for another 400 years
  • Is it by circumcision? Nope. This was over a decade before God asked Abram to get circumcised.
  • Is it by doing a lot of religious works? Being a good person? Nope! What God wants is faith. He wants us to put our trust in him alone, not trusting in my own righteousness. We don’t earn our way into God’s good standing. We receive it as a gift.

Check out what the apostle Paul says about this in Romans 4:1-3

1 Abraham was, humanly speaking, the founder of our Jewish nation. What did he discover about being made right with God? 2 If his good deeds had made him acceptable to God, he would have had something to boast about. But that was not God’s way. 3 For the Scriptures tell us, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.”

This is what God wants from you tonight. I know that God’s grace is so hard to believe, so unexpected. It runs against every religious impulse we have, every ounce of pride inside. But Christ has paid the debt you owed. And God wants you to put your trust in him.

Well, this scene was at night, and verse 7 goes on to describe another interaction with God, probably that same night or later that morning. This time, God brings up not the promise of a son, but the promise of the land.

7 He also said to him, “I am Yahweh, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

8 But Abram said, “Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

And Abram also has questions about this part of the promise too. He’s been in the land for several years now. He sees all these other people living there. He’s not sure how he will take possession of it. Maybe he’s wondering, “God, will it be this year you give it to me? Or will I have to wait until next year? Is it possible that I’ll have to wait as long as 5 years to get it? What is your timeline here Lord?”

And then God says something that will sound strange to us, but would have made perfect sense to Abram…

9 So the LORD said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

So Abram appears to go off on his own, probably away from the rest of the people in his camp, off to a place with just him and the Lord, carrying these animals.

10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half.

You see, this was how they made a covenant back then. Today, we just sign on the dotted line. Back then, they killed an animal and ripped it in half.

What would happen is both parties who are making the contract would walk between the severed animal bodies and pronounce curses on themselves if they broke their side of the bargain. Check out this 8th century Assyrian text. It’s about a guy named Mati’lu making a covenant:

“This head is not the head of a lamb, it is the head of Mati’lu [his sons, officials and people]. If Mati’lu sins against this treaty… [then] just as the head of this spring lamb is torn off, . . . [so may] the head of Mati’lu be torn off, and his sons.” (Waltke, Genesis, 245)

So Abraham has the animals laid out, waiting to make this covenant with God.

12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the LORD said to him,

“Abram, you know how you were wondering when you’re going to get possession of this land I promised you? Remember how you wanted more details about my timeline? Well, there’s no easy way to tell you this, but it’s going to be a lot longer than you think. It’s not going to be 1 year or 2 years or even 5 years…”

13b “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. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

So God is like, “Yeah… it’s going to be at least 400 years… including slavery… somewhere else”

Abram won’t get the land in this life. Neither will his son, or his grandson, or his great grandson… But after 400 years they will get the land.

Do you ever wonder why God doesn’t tell you more specifics about his plans for your future? I’ll give you two reasons why not:

  1. It’s because God knows what you really need. Often there’s something we want, and we think the best thing would be for me to get it now. But God knows that the biggest need in your life is to learn to trust him, to trust his plans, and to draw close to him during that delay between what was promised and what is happening.
  2. It’s because there are times where you probably just don’t want to know, because what he has planned sounds so crazy that you wouldn’t be able to understand it now anyway. It only makes sense later, as his plan unfolds.

What’s this part about “the sin of the Amorites”? It explains one reason for the delay. He’s giving the people living there now every chance to turn to God. Oftentimes, what we think is slowness or delay is God giving other people a chance to turn to him.

So, Abram is ready to make this covenant, the sun is setting, and suddenly Abram finds himself immobilized in a deep sleep. And that’s when God shows up…

17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces.

Which is different than the usual covenant where both parties walk between the animals. In this case, God alone passes through, meaning that Abraham isn’t promising anything to God. God is making a promise to him…

18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land…

And then, the vision ends. Abram wakes up and heads back to camp. He tells his wife, “Honey, guess what. God came and spoke to me again. He says Eliezer isn’t the guy, and that I’m going have a son of my own flesh and blood.”

Which I’m sure was kind of confusing for Sarai because God didn’t say anything about her role in this whole thing. Just that it would be Abram’s son. God was silent on the question of Sarai’s involvement in the birth of this child.

Which gets her to thinking. And she comes up with a plan.

Genesis 16

1 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian servant named Hagar;

Probably a servant she picked up during that trip down to Egypt when Abram tried to give his wife away to Pharaoh. Hagar is still well within her childbearing years, much younger than Sarai.

2 so she said to Abram, “Yahweh has kept me from having children.

Let’s just stop pretending. I’m 75 years old! It’s never ever going to happen! We’ve been trying for 50 years. God is obviously against me!

So I have a plan for how we can help God out with this promise. I’ve got this servant, Hagar. She’s young. Probably fertile. So, honey…

2b Go, sleep with my servant; perhaps I can build a family through her.”

Abram: “Excuse me? You want me to sleep with who?”

Sarai: “My servant Hagar. She’ll have a kid for us, and I’ll adopt the child as my own.” (note: archaeology has confirmed this practice was widespread at this time in history)

Abram: “So you are telling me you want me to go have sex with this other younger woman? And you think this is God’s will?”

Sarai: “Yes”

Guys, there are times in marriage where you just need to say, “No, honey, we’re not going to do that.” And this was one of those times.

But Abram goes passive and it says…

2c Abram agreed to what Sarai said. 3 So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian servant Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. 4 He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.

Which only confirms Sarai’s greatest fears, which only ratchets up the hostility between these two women…

4b When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. 5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my servant in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May Yahweh judge between you and me.”

And Abram responds like guys so often do. They’ve been passive, the wife starts to go crazy, so they respond with even more passivity.

6 “Your servant is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar;

In fact, Sarai is so nasty to Hagar that it becomes too much for Hagar to handle…

6b so she fled from her.

Poor Hagar. She’s alone. She’s pregnant, without a husband. She’s scared. She’s penniless. She’s vulnerable. She’s a foreigner. She’s been abused. She’s a runaway slave. In the middle of the desert.

And this sets the stage for us to meet, for the first time in Scripture, the most important person in the history of the world.

The angel of Yahweh found Hagar near a spring in the desert;

The angel of Yahweh isn’t just a normal angel. This is the angel who calls himself God, who forgives people’s sins and accepts their worship.

And that’s why a lot of scholars believe the angel of the Lord is none other than Jesus Christ himself, showing up in the Old Testament before he became a man.

And where does the future king of the world choose to make his grand entrance into the pages of Scripture? Is it to Pharaoh or a great king? Is it to the revered Father Abraham? No. It’s to this alone, pregnant, single, scared, penniless, vulnerable, foreigner, runaway slave in the middle of the desert. And I think that’s fitting, because the kind of life Jesus will live and the kind of people he will pursue were a lot more like Hagar than mighty Pharaoh.

He saw her pain, he heard her cries, and he came to her. He went out and tracked her down near a spring in the desert…

8 And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

8b “I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.

9 Then the angel of Yahweh told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” 10 The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”

Which makes it sound like God’s covenant with Abram is going to pass through the son of Hagar.

11 …You are now pregnant and you will give birth to a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the LORD has heard of your misery…

The name Ishmael means “God hears.” Jesus says, “Every time you say your son’s name, I want you remember that God sees your pain. He has seen you the whole time. He loves you. And he came out and found you when you had nowhere else to turn.

13 She gave this name to Yahweh who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me (El Roi),” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” 14 That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi…

I love that the Hebrew word for “well” is “Beer.” It’s the well of the God who sees me.

Well, that’s not the only time in Scripture we’ll see the Son of God meet a woman by a well. But it is the first. And Hagar goes back home like God told her to…

15 So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.

Well, Ishmael grows up, and 13 years pass between Genesis 16 and 17. By now Ishmael is becoming a man, and everyone is just assuming that it’s through Ishmael that God has finally fulfilled his promise to Abram – a son in his old age who will be the father of a great nation. But when Abram is 99, God visits him again and throws a wrench in his plans…

Genesis 17

1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty…

4 … You will be the father of many nations. 5 No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations…

Abraham = “father of many”

11 You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised

This is where God introduces the very important ritual of circumcision, which Jews still practice today.

15 As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah [Princess]. 16 I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”

17 Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” 18 And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”

God, this is ridiculous. I can’t keep putting my wife through this. We’ve got Ishmael, right? What about him?

19 Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac.

The word Isaac is Hebrew for “he laughs.” God says every time you say your son’s name you’re going to remember how impossible it was, how ridiculous it was that I would do such a thing.

19b l I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant…

20 And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers…. 21 But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.”

And so Abraham has a choice to make. There were facts he had to consider. On one side of the scale you have “the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead” (Rom 4:19). But on the other side of the scale you have the clear promise of God.

And you have a costly step of faith. That somehow the only way to become a father was to perform a very painful operation on the one part of the male anatomy that is most crucial to the whole process of human reproduction. I mean, things could go horribly wrong. It’s one thing to get circumcised when you’re 8 days old. It’s quite another to get circumcised when you’re 36,000 days old.

What does Abraham do?

Romans 4:20-21 says that “with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith… being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.”

And so…

23 On that very day…

Abraham went back into camp. And he said, “God has spoken to me again. He said that my new name is ‘father of many’ and that I’m supposed to call my wife ‘Princess’. And that me and Princess are going to have a son.”

So, all that’s left for me to do… is circumcise myself… and all of you… right now.

23b Abraham took his son Ishmael and … every male in his household, and circumcised them, as God told him.


We see two pictures here. On the one hand, Galatians 4:23 tells us that Ishmael “was born in a human attempt to bring about the fulfillment of God’s promise.” But on the other hand, it says that Isaac “was born as God’s own fulfillment of his promise.”

So, what does God want from you? He wants you to trust him.

  • He usually won’t give you all the details ahead of time.

    • Honest questions are ok. He’d much rather have you ask him than just assume and take things into your own hands.

  • Sometimes there will be steps of faith.

  • There’s often a struggle to believe

    • This is where passivity is bad

    • Taking things into your own hands never helps

  • He wants you to learn to wait on him.

    • It’s the delay between the promise and the fulfillment where your trust will grow. When you are brought right off the end of how much you trust God, and he pushes you a little farther, and says, “Do you believe me?”