I love how God uses familiar passages in scripture to present truths that are personalized to exactly what *we* individually need to see! In my women’s Bible study, we are studying the end of James, Chapter 2, “Faith without works is dead.” This brought up how Abraham showed his faith when asked by God to bring his son Isaac up the mountain for a sacrifice (James 2:21, Genesis 22). The point was that Abraham’s action demonstrated his faith. Fair enough… But, was this always the case? Thinking back to the story of Abraham, did he always put his ultimate trust and confidence in God’s plan? The more important question is Do I? Let’s just say, I can definitely relate to Abraham’s earlier impatience regarding God’s promise to him.
God made a covenant with Abram (before his name was changed to Abraham) that he and his descendents would rule a great nation. The only problem was that Abram was already ‘advanced in age’ and had no children (Genesis 12). Clearly not understanding the mechanics behind this, Abram brought his concerns before God. God assured Abram, in a vision, that his son would be his own flesh and blood. Abram believed God, and this was “counted it to him as righteousness (Genesis 15).” This is reassuring, as it is proof that it is okay to ask God for clarification when we don’t fully understand how His plan is going to work out in our lives. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that He will give us all of the details.
Abram’s trust in God proved to be short-lived, as he took matters into his own hands in Genesis 16. Abram’s wife, Sarai (later changed to Sarah) was obviously concerned about her inability to conceive and thought she might be the ‘problem’ in God’s promise being fulfilled for Abram. Technically, she blamed God, “And Sarai said to Abram, ‘Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.’ And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai (Genesis 16:2).”
Uh oh…. We’ve seen this formula before. The particulars are very reminiscent to the ‘Fall of Man’: Woman has been deceived; woman persuades man to be deceived; God gets blamed for everything; bad things result! But, this is more than a man versus woman conflict. The major problem is a lack of human trust in God’s plan!
This scenario is repeated many times in the Bible and in our modern lives and the result is never good. By failing to wait on God’s plan, and taking matters into our own hands, we are essentially telling God that our decisions are better than His, and that we can take care of everything without His help. Every time this happens, especially in my life, problems ensue!
Let’s get back to the story from Genesis… Sarai’s servant Hagar bore Abram a son, at the age of 86, and the boy was named Ishmael (Genesis 16:16). As we will see, problems definitely resulted from Abram’s impatience to become a father. In fact, those problems are still evident today!
Thirteen years later, God appeared to Abraham (age 99) and promised that Sarah (age 90) would bear him a son, who would be named Isaac. Abraham “fell on his face and laughed (Genesis 17:17)” at the impossibility of this occurring! Again, God reassured Abraham of his plan; and, as a result, Abraham’s son Isaac was born.
So, now we have two half-brothers, Ishmael and Isaac, who would carry Abraham’s seed to all the nations. Abraham loved his sons, and God blessed both brothers and divided the land…. And fighting has been going on regarding the ownership of that land that ever since. Talk about a sibling rivalry!
Paul delves into this issue a little deeper in Galatians 4:22-23, “For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise.” God assured Abraham that he would bear a son. Isaac was born from God’s miracle, according to God’s timing. Ishmael’s birth, however, was arranged by mortal efforts, as a result of unbelief and impatience. Thus, he was born according to the flesh.
This ended up being significantly more difficult to explain than I intended, and I had not previously noticed the strong parallels to the fall of man or the end times! I might need to revisit this story one day and focus more on those aspects!
I hope my original point is clear. We (‘I’) should always trust in God’s plan for our lives, and be patient with His timing. Problems will likely result when we fail to do this! It doesn’t matter how smart we (‘I’) think we are, the only perfect plans come from God! God does not need our help to accomplish His will…. Why can’t we (‘I’) just take the easier route and trust Him with our lives! “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).”
Let me tie this back to the James Bible study, where my original thought came from. After writing this blog, I saw a question that asked what James meant in 2:22, “You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.”
I believe that Abraham continually showed his current level of faith by the decisions he made, sometimes completely trusting God, other times having doubts in God’s plan. Abraham’s faith, and thus actions were imperfect, but they constantly improved as God tested him. Interestingly, when Abraham is described in the ‘Hebrews Faith Hall of Fame (Hebrews 11:8-12),’ the author only mentions his successes. This is encouraging!
We, too, will grow spiritually by making good and bad decisions in our life. The important part is that we trust that God will strengthen our faith from our choices. This process will help us develop a deeper relationship with God and prepare us for eternity!