Valley Experiences of Abraham

God promised Abraham that He would make him a great nation with many descendants.

(Gen 12:1-2 NIV)  The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. {2} “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.

Despite this promise, Abraham remained at a low point in his life in terms of descendants. He had none! In the days of his time, a person’s honour was tied to the number of descendants that he has. To have no descendants meant great shame. It was a greater embarrassment because his God promised that Abraham would be a father of a great nation.

For a very long period after this promise, Abraham continued to be childless. But God would appear to Abraham time and again to reassure him that His promise still stands.

(Gen 15:1-5 NIV)  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.” {2} But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” {3} And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” {4} Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” {5} He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars–if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Abraham was clearly disappointed that up to this point he still did not have any children. He brought up his disappointment to God and He understood. He did not scold Abraham for being disappointed. He understood that it was natural to be disappointed and reassured him once again.

Abraham believed God’s promise that he would have children. But being pressured by his wife, he agreed to have children through his maidservant Hagar. Perhaps his faith wavered at that point. Or perhaps he thought that God’s promise of descendants could also mean they come from someone other than his wife.

Sometimes when God promises us something and it is slow to come, we waver in our faith and we try to “help” God to fulfil His promise by doing the wrong thing. We let the ends justify the means. We rationalize that it should be all right since the end is what God had promised.

Abraham may have fallen into this mistake by agreeing to have a child through the maidservant. Sure, this was a well-practised custom in those days but it does not make it right. God’s original plan was to have one man and one woman form one flesh.

(Gen 16:1-4 NIV)  Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar; {2} so she said to Abram, “The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her.” Abram agreed to what Sarai said. {3} So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian maidservant Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. {4} He slept with Hagar, and she conceived. When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress.

The Lord appeared to him again and this time God changed his name from Abram (which means “exalted father”) to Abraham (which means “father of many nations”). This would greatly compound the shame of a man who was to be addressed by everyone he meets as the father of many nations when he did not even have one son with his wife. Yet Abram obeyed and changed his name to Abraham.

(Gen 17:1-5 NIV)  When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty ; walk before me and be blameless. {2} I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” {3} Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, {4} “As for me, this is my covenant with you: 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.

There was another difficult thing that Abraham had to do in order to see the covenant fulfilled. He had to circumcise all the male in his household. Again it was probably an embarrassing thing to do for Abraham had to explain that God told him to do it. The God who had long promised many descendants but still have not yet delivered even one. Yet Abraham obeyed.

Clearly he passed the test of whether he would continue to obey God when God’s promises are slow in coming. It is one thing to obey God when we see immediately results. But only a person who truly fears God will obey Him no matter what. Abraham passed the test.

God reiterated His promise to Abraham again. This time God clarified the promise so that there would be no room for misinterpretation by Abraham. The son was to come from Sarah, not any maidservant.

(Gen 17:15-19 NIV)  God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. {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!” {19} Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.

The Lord appeared to Abraham yet again and this time the promise got even more specific. Abraham and Sarah were to have the baby in one year’s time. To God, nothing is impossible. What He has promised He will bring to past. It does not matter how bleak your current situation is.

(Gen 18:10-14 NIV)  Then the LORD said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.” Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. {11} Abraham and Sarah were already old and well advanced in years, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. {12} So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?” {13} Then the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ {14} Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son.”

The end of Abraham’s valley experience came one year later when Sarah gave birth to a son and named him Isaac.

(Gen 21:1-2 NIV)  Now the LORD was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah what he had promised. {2} Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him.

The verse above emphasized that Abraham received his promise at the time when God had intended. Not earlier. We need to trust that God has His timing in everything. We may not understand why He wants us to wait. It may be to train us to be patient or to mould our character but God is never late in fulfilling His promise.