Genesis 15:1-17:27 - Do You Trust the Lord's Promises?

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Explore the Bible

Winter 2007-2008

January 27, 2007

Do You Trust the Lord's Promises?

Background Passage

Genesis 15:1-17:27

Lesson Passages

Genesis 15:1-6; 16:1-3; 17:1-2,17-19

Lesson Passages Outline

  1. Trust the Lord's Word (Gen. 15:1-6)
  2. Trust the Lord's Timing (Gen. 16:1-3)
  3. Trust the Lord's Wisdom (Gen. 17:1-2,17-19)

Biblical Truth

The Lord expects people to take Him at His word.

Life Impact

To help you trust the Lord to keep His promises


"Can't we stay home this weekend?" my son Daniel asked.

Since his two sisters had left for college, we had been on the road every weekend for a month. Each sister moved on a different weekend. Then one had a long weekend and wanted to come home. The next weekend the other became ill and we brought her home to recover.

I had promised my son he could relax at home after his sisters moved, but I could not keep that promise for two more weeks. When we finally were able to spend a weekend at home, he thoroughly enjoyed it.

How have you been disappointed when a promise wasn't kept?

This lesson challenges individuals like Gerald. He has difficulty believing God really cares, but he needs to recognize God's love for people and to begin trusting God to keep His promises. The lesson also encourages people like Shavonna, who has been disappointed by promises not being fulfilled, to maintain faith in God. The lesson further strengthens adults like Aaron, who clings to God's promises, to have assurance God will keep His word.

As you study about Abraham's trust and doubt as he waited for God to fulfill His promise of a son born to Sarah, focus on ways you can encourage adult learners to experience the Life Impact of this lesson by trusting the Lord to keep His promises. As you continue your personal Bible study, prayerfully read the Background Passages and respond to the Study Questions as well as to the questions in the margins for the January 27 lesson in Explore the Bible: Adult Learner Guide.

The Bible in Context (Genesis 15:1-17:27)

After Abram rescued Lot, God reaffirmed His promises of protection and reward to Abram. Abram noted he lacked an heir to receive God's promised rewards and thought his servant Eliezer probably would serve as his heir. God assured Abram that he and Sarai would have a son and indeed would have as many descendants as stars in the sky. Abram believed God and God credited his belief as righteousness. God instructed Abram to prepare for a covenant ceremony by sacrificing animals, cutting them in half, and creating a pathway between the halves. God then sealed His covenant with Abram (Gen. 15:1-21).

Ten years after leaving home and journeying to Canaan, Abram and Sarai still had no son. Sarai suggested Abram take her servant Hagar as a wife and have a son through her. When Hagar conceived, she believed this meant she was better than Sarai. Her attitude made Sarai angry, and she treated Hagar so badly Hagar ran away. God spoke to Hagar, told her to return, and promised she and her son Ishmael would have many descendants. Hagar returned and gave birth to Ishmael (16:1-16).

When Abram was 99 years old, God reaffirmed His covenant with His servant emphasizing He would multiply Abram. God changed Abram's name to Abraham, the new name signifying he would become the father of many nations. God told Abraham his descendants would become a great nation ruling the land in which he lived.

God further stated His covenant would be with Abraham's descendants throughout time. God instructed Abraham to practice circumcision as the sign of the covenant. All males born to Abraham's descendants or to one of their slaves needed to be circumcised on the eighth day after they were born. Uncircumcised males would not be part of God's covenant with Abraham (17:1-14).

Abraham responded by laughing at the thought of him and Sarah becoming first-time parents. God confirmed His promise, stating Isaac would be born in a year's time. In obedience, Abraham circumcised himself, Ishmael, and all the males in his household (17:15-27).

Trust the Lord's Word (Gen. 15:1-6)

1 After these events, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield; your reward will be very great.

2 But Abram said, "Lord GOD, what can You give me, since I am childless and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" 3 Abram continued, "Look, You have given me no offspring, so a slave born in my house will be my heir."

4 Now the word of the Lord came to him: "This one will not be your heir; instead, one who comes from your own body will be your heir." 5 He took him outside and said, "Look at the sky and count the stars, if you are able to count them." Then He said to him, "Your offspring will be that [numerous]"

6 Abram believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness.

Verse 1. Abram had experienced an eventful life since following God's call to leave his father and move to Canaan. After walking through the land from north to south, he spent time in Egypt, separated from his nephew Lot, and then rescued Lot from a coalition of four kings. Although the phrase after these events probably refers to Abram's rescue of Lot, God's words to Abram could refer back to God's presence with and promises to Abram from the beginning.

The phrase the word of the Lord came typically introduces God's words to a prophet (Jer 1:2; Ezek. 1:3). Visions and dreams served as mediums of revelation through which God spoke to patriarchs (Israel's founding fathers; Gen. 46:2) and prophets (Isa. 6:1; Ezek. 1:1). While we think of Abram primarily as a patriarch, God also used him as a prophet to speak to his generation and later generations (Gen. 20:7).

Do not be afraid often constituted the first words spoken by God or an angel who had appeared to a human (21:17; Luke 1:13). Abram had recently faced danger in battle, fighting enemies in hand-to-hand combat. Meeting the powerful, glorious, holy God constituted an even more frightening experience. Knowing Abram's concern regarding his childlessness, God perhaps also wanted to comfort Abram and encourage him to continue believing the promise that he would have many descendants.

God emphasized two truths to Abram. First, God stated He served as Abram's shield. Abram probably had used a shield for protection in rescuing Lot, yet God declared He had been Abram's shield, protecting him throughout his life. As God had protected Abram in the past, He would continue to do so.

Second, God would provide Abram a reward. Reward often refers to a servant's or worker's wages. God was not paying Abram for serving Him faithfully or for rescuing Lot. While Abram sometimes served God with amazing faith, he also made mistakes. Abram could never have earned a reward from God. In His grace, God would keep His promise to reward Abram, despite his sin.

Verse 2. While grateful for God's promises, Abram wondered regarding the value of a reward if he had no son to inherit from him. Abram had entered Canaan at 75 years of age with Sarai [SEHR igh (eye)] who was then 65 years old. Several years had passed and the couple remained childless. Abram may have wondered if he would ever have a son. He apparently had considered designating his trusted servant Eliezer [EL ih EE zuhr] of Damascus as his heir. Eliezer probably had become part of Abram's household after Abram's victory over the coalition of four kings north of Damascus.

Verse 3. Abram understood children to be gifts of God. Since God had not favored him with the gift of a son, a male servant could be named to inherit from him. (Both the Bible [Prov. 17:2] and nonbiblical sources indicate a servant could be named to inherit from a master.) In such cases the servant would be expected to care for the master in his old age and bury and mourn him when he died. On his master's death, the servant would inherit the master's estate. After being adopted, the servant could not be completely disinherited even if the master had a son. While Abram may have still hoped to have a son with Sarai, he had a contingency plan in place.

Verse 4. God declared Eliezer would not inherit from Abram, but Abram would father a son, who would inherit. Abram did not need a contingency plan. God would keep His promise.

Verse 5. To illustrate and emphasize His promise of numerous descendants, God invited Abram to gaze at the night sky and try to count the stars. Most of us live in areas where the beauty of the night sky has to compete with artificial lights. As a result we probably do not see as many stars as Abram did. Imagine standing in a field with no artificial lights to interfere. So many stars fill the sky that counting them is impossible.

On other occasions God illustrated His promise of numerous descendants by comparing the patriarchs' descendants to the stars of the sky (Gen. 22:17; 26:4), the sand on the seashore (22:17; 32:12); or the dust of the earth (13:16; 28:14). Abram's descendants would never become a huge nation (see Deut. 7:7), but through the years many indeed would trace their lineage, physical and/or spiritual, to Abram.

Verse 6. Abram responded to God's promises by believing Him. This verse is the first appearance of believed in the Bible, but certainly not the first occurrence of Abram's faith. Abram's belief already had led him to leave his father and move to a land he had never seen. His belief had led him to worship God regularly and to allow Lot to choose the best land because Abram believed God would fulfill His promises. "Believe" typically means "to trust someone, placing one's future confidently in the other's hands." Although Abram could not understand how God could or would fulfill His promises, Abram trusted God.

God credited Abram's belief to him as righteousness. The Hebrew verb for credited typically refers to "assigning value to something." When we wish to discover the value of something for insurance purposes or for selling, we sometimes employ an expert to examine the object and then assign a value so we can set an insurance figure or asking price. The Hebrew verb for credited describes the priests' activity as they determined the acceptability of a sacrifice (Lev. 7:18). Seeing the quality and purity of Abram's belief, God accepted his belief and credited it to him as indicating his righteous relationship with Him.

Righteousness typically refers to "behavior conforming to a covenant agreement." Individuals joined together in a covenant took on themselves certain obligations to live according to the agreement and to demonstrate loyalty to the other covenant partners. One who lived by the covenant expectations was considered righteous. In believing God, Abram lived by the expectations of his relationship with God. When God asked him to follow and trust, Abram believed God and entrusted his future to Him.

The account of Abram's believing God and God's crediting his belief as righteousness profoundly affected Paul and James. Paul used this verse to emphasize a person is saved by faith rather than works (Rom. 4:3,22-25; Gal. 3:6). James employed the verse to underscore the truth that genuine faith results in concrete acts of obeying God (Jas. 2:23).

And Today. Abram's faith demonstrated itself in the choices Abram made in daily life. Although Abram sometimes made wrong choices, he typically chose to obey God because he believed Him. In believing God's promises, we also need to trust in and obey Him as we wait patiently for Him to fulfill His promises to us in His good time.

How do you demonstrate trust in God and His Word as you wait for Him to fulfill His promises?

Trust the Lord's Timing (Gen. 16:1-3)

1 Abram's wife Sarai had not borne him children. She owned an Egyptian slave named Hagar. 2 Sarai said to Abram, "Since the Lord has prevented me from bearing children, go to my slave; perhaps I can have children by her." And Abram agreed to what Sarai said.

3 So Abram's wife Sarai took Hagar, her Egyptian slave, and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife for him. [This happened] after Abram had lived in the land of Canaan 10 years.

Verse 1. Because having children marked a wife as successful, being childless constituted a calamity in the ancient world. Sarai had been barren for many years (Gen. 11:30; 15:2). As the years passed, her inability to have children became an increasing disappointment and frustration. Abram's consideration of naming Eliezer to inherit from him probably deepened Sarai's sense of failure.

Sarai's slave Hagar provided a possible way to remedy Sarai's barrenness. [See Exploration: "Slave," p. 104.] The identification of Hagar as an Egyptian could indicate Sarai acquired her while living in Pharaoh's palace (12:15-20).

Verse 2. Sarai, like other childless women in the Old Testament (25:21; 30:2), attributed her barrenness to God. Sarai may have believed God had punished her with barrenness, but more likely she assumed her condition resulted from God's involvement in all of life. While God gifted some with children, He did not gift others.

Sarai decided to take matters into her own hands. She suggested Abram have sexual relations with Hagar, whose children would then legally become hers and Abram's. Although such a custom seems strange to us, peoples in the ancient Near East allowed a husband to have children by a slave if his wife was barren. Since the wife had authority over the slave, she also had authority over the child. Abram agreed to Sarai's plan.

Verse 3. Abram and Sarai had been in Canaan for 10 years waiting for a son as fulfillment of God's promise. Clearly Sarai's patience had been exhausted. Abram's willingness to follow his wife's suggestion indicated he also considered Sarai's plan a viable solution to their problem. Abram took Hagar as a wife, raising her status from that of a slave and ensuring the full legitimacy of any child born of their union.

When Hagar conceived a child by Abram, Sarai regretted her suggestion. She made Hagar's life so miserable, Hagar ran away. God protected Hagar and her unborn son Ishmael [ISH may el] and made Ishmael's descendants into a great nation. Abram loved Ishmael, but Sarai hated him and Hagar. After Isaac's birth, Sarai ordered Abram to drive Hagar and Ishmael away (21:8-13). Sarai's hatred created problems for herself as well as for others.

And Today. Like Sarai we often take matters into our own hands rather than wait for God to work in His good time. Like Abram we also yield to the plans of others instead of maintaining faith in God. We want God to work on our timetable. Instead of hurrying God along, we need to trust His plan knowing He is with us and working in our life.

Why is trusting God's timing sometimes difficult?

Trust the Lord's Wisdom (Gen. 17:1-2,17-19)

1 When Abram was 99 years old, the Lord appeared to him, saying, "I am God Almighty. Live in My presence and be devout. 2 I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and I will multiply you greatly."

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

17 Abraham fell to the ground, laughed, and thought in his heart, "Can a child be born to a hundred-year-old man? Can Sarah, a ninety-year-old woman, give birth?" 18 So Abraham said to God, "If only Ishmael could live in Your presence!"

19 But God said, "No. Your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will name him Isaac. I will confirm My covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.

Verse 1. Thirteen years had passed since the birth of Ishmael (16:16). Abram was 99 years old, Sarai was 89 years old, and still they had no son. God appeared again to Abram identifying Himself as God Almighty or El Shaddai. The Hebrew word from which this term comes can mean either "mountain" or "breast," which means its precise meaning is difficult to determine.

An association with "mountain" would imply God's greatness and power, while an association with "breast" would imply God's nurturing. Typically in the patriarchal narratives the name God Almighty occurs in contexts emphasizing God's promise of numerous descendants (for example 28:3, 35:11; 48:3-4).

The word live translates the same verb earlier translated as "walk with" (5:22,24; 6:9). God wanted Abram to live in faith and obedience to Him as had Enoch and Noah. God also asked Abram to be devout, a word meaning "without defect." God certainly knew Abram was not morally perfect, but He wanted Abram to live each day aware of God's presence and to look to Him for guidance and strength.

Verse 2. Previously God had confirmed His covenant with Noah by providing the visible sign of the rainbow (9:8-17). Here God prepared to confirm His covenant with Abram by providing the visible sign of circumcision and a change of names for Abram and Sarai.

God changed Abram's name to Abraham meaning "father of many" and Sarai's name to Sarah [SEHR uh], another form of the name Sarai meaning "princess" (17:5,15). The name changes emphasized God's intention to fulfill His promise of giving many descendants to Abraham and Sarah.

Verse 17. After God promised again to give Abraham a son by Sarah, Abraham responded in three typical human ways. First, he fell to the ground as a sign of awe and respect in God's presence. Abraham always acknowledged God's holiness and majesty and responded at this point by bowing his head and heart before the Lord.

Second, Abraham laughed, perhaps with a combination of amazement, joy, and unbelief. Third, Abraham silently wondered how he and Sarah could conceive a son and become parents at their advanced age. Biologically he and Sarah were well past the age of giving birth, but they were not past the age when God could work a miracle in them.

Verse 18. Abraham did have one son already. He suggested God fulfill His promise through Ishmael since Sarah and he seemed incapable of having children. Some Bible students believe God did not become angry with Abraham's lack of faith because he had not spoken his doubts audibly. If so, however, God certainly knew Abraham's thoughts. Other Bible students believe God knew about and understood Abraham's doubts as expressions of his humanity.

And Today. A relationship with God includes honest dialogue with Him and honest dialogue inevitably includes telling Him our doubts. God understands our doubts and questions and wants to help us develop greater trust in Him.

Verse 19. God declared to Abraham that he and Sarah would finally become parents. The verb form used for will bear implies the son would be born in the near future (see 17:21). God promised to bless Ishmael and make him into a great nation, but God would confirm His covenant with and fulfill His promises to Abraham through the son born to him and Sarah.

God instructed Abraham to name his son Isaac [IGH (eye) zik], meaning "he laughs." The 99-year-old Abraham had laughed when God told him he and Sarah would have a son. In a year Abraham's laugh at the seeming impossibility of having a son with Sarah would become a laugh of wondrous joy when he held his son in his arms.

And Today. We cannot always see how God plans on fulfilling His promises. From our human standpoint, His promises sometimes seem incapable of being fulfilled. While we cannot see or understand from His divine standpoint, we can trust Him to be faithful to His Word and to His promises. God acts according to His wisdom and love. Let us recommit to trusting Him each day.

How has God worked in surprising ways in your life?

Biblical Truths for Spiritual Transformation

  1. We need to receive the Lord's promises in His Word by faith.
  2. We need to trust God to keep His promises in His own way and time rather than take matters into our hands.
  3. While we may not always understand how the Lord will fulfill His promises, we can trust Him to act in ways that reflect His profound wisdom.

To what extent do you take God at His Word? How can you develop greater trust in God to keep His promises?

Published in the United States of America

Copyright 2007, LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, Nashville, Tennessee 37234

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