“By faith even Sarah herself, when she was unable to have children, received power to conceive offspring, even though she was past the age, since she considered that the one who had promised was faithful. Therefore, from one man – in fact, from one as good as dead – came offspring as numerous as the stars of the sky and as innumerable as the grains of sand along the seashore.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
If you are at all like me, then your faith journey after Jesus has not been a smooth affair. Personally, by God’s grace, I haven’t had the bumps in the road that many people have had, but there have nonetheless been ups and downs along the way. Some of these have felt like walking along rolling hills. Others have seemed more like mountain climbing. Yet where I have stuck with faith, the end points of the many small journeys which compose the big one have consistently been better than not. As we dig into the next snapshot of Abraham’s life with the author of Hebrews, we are going to see the one that was most like a rollercoaster for him and Sarah. Let’s strap in and see how it went.
The promise that most animated Abraham’s and Sarah’s life was one that came too late for them to enjoy. At least, that’s what they thought several times along their journey. We rightly give a lot of attention to God’s promise to bless the world through Abraham (so do the authors of the New Testament) for theological reasons, but I don’t honestly think that was their greatest focus personally. I don’t suspect the part of the promise where God told them He was going to make a great nation from them the author cites here held their first priority either. That top spot was occupied firmly by their hope for a child. After being married for more than a half a century, they had never had a child. And now, at 75 and 65, God had promised them they would. They were ready to go.
If you are someone who has known the pain of infertility, you can understand some of what Abraham and Sarah were facing together. It is no doubt an incredibly painful place to be. It was even more so in that culture when a woman’s sole job was to produce a male heir for the family to pass along the father’s name and land. If she couldn’t do that, the rest of the world began to look on her with suspicion and judgment. She obviously wasn’t the wife she needed to be. She had done something to make God unhappy. She needed to be replaced by someone who could do the job. This all took the inherent pain and made it even worse.
When God came to Abraham and told him His plans to make a great nation from his descendants, the implication there was that Abraham was going to have a child. But he was 75. I’m almost 40. I really can’t imagine starting over with a baby. In 35 years, I’m sure I’ll be even less able to imagine such a thing. But Abraham didn’t actually have his son, Isaac, for another 25 years after God first made him this promise. And for Sarah’s part, at 65, her body was done with childbearing. It simply wasn’t physically a possibility for her any longer. This promise from God was incredible, to be sure, but in some ways, it just added weight to their pain.
That fact probably had a great deal to do with the ups and downs along their journey from here forward to the point they held their infant son in their arms. Some of their ups and downs were because Abraham’s faith was still growing, and instead of trusting in God’s promise and provision, he was a faithless coward, lying twice to two different powerful men that his wife was his sister in hopes that they didn’t kill him in order to take her for themselves since she was so attractive. In both instances, Sarah was taken to be a part of the local warlord’s harem until God Himself intervened to straighten things out.
Then came the whole mess with Hagar. It is interesting here that the author of Hebrews praises Sarah (or possibly Abraham, depending on how you translate the Hebrew here and to which ancient manuscript you give the most weight in your translating) for her faith in considering “that the one who had promised was faithful.” While they never exactly abandoned hoped in God’s promise, they struggled with the notion of His being faithful to it the way they initial had hoped that He would. They struggled a lot with that, in fact.
After waiting for years, Sarah is the one who suggested Abraham take Hagar as a concubine in hopes of his producing a male heir with her. Once he did, of course, Sarah was insanely jealous, and Hagar began to look down on Sarah as an inferior wife now that her son was technically Abraham’s firstborn. The family dynamic was a mess which caused no end to the headaches and heartaches for any of them for years. Then, when God came and reaffirmed His original intention of Abraham and Sarah’s having a child together, she laughed out loud at the utter ridiculousness of the idea. Then, when she was called out for scoffing, she lied about it. It wasn’t a pretty picture. And yet, the day nonetheless arrived when the husband and wife were holding their new baby boy, ironically named, “laughter.”
We’ve been talking about faith now for a couple of weeks. What we are seeing here is one of those situations in which our faith is put to the test. And just so we are clear, the test is not found first in the particular path of action we happen to choose. The test is found in whether or not we trust in God’s character in the first place. That’s the test. Everything that comes from there is merely an indication of the faith we do or don’t have. If we trust His character, we’ll stick with His path and His plans. If we don’t, we won’t. If we only trust so far, we’ll only go so far.
But here’s the thing – and I think this is where the real hope of this story is for us – just because our trust fails at one point, doesn’t mean we are out of the story altogether. If that were the case, Abraham and Sarah would have been written out of God’s story almost before they left the starting blocks on the journey. They failed to trust in His promise over and over and over again. Yet He had promised, and He wasn’t wavering from it. As a result, they were able to keep coming back to the table and reaffirming their ultimate trust. And in the end, they held their son together.
If you have set out on a journey of faith in which you are endeavoring to live out a trust in God because of your hopeful confidence in the promise of His coming kingdom, my guess is there have been a few points along the way when your faith began to sag a bit. In fact, there have probably been more than a few times. You’ve probably fallen off the wagon a time or two. Even more times than that, you jumped off the wagon and ran in the other direction for a while. I would even be willing to wager that you have all but counted yourself out as far as being of any use to God and the advancement of His kingdom, let alone as an eventual recipient of the eternal life in Christ Jesus.
If your journey has been more like a rollercoaster than an interstate highway through Kansas, well, know that you are not alone. Not only are you not alone, but some of your company for the journey are heralded as two of the individuals best known for their faith in the whole of the Scriptures. If they could garner themselves that distinction in spite of the turbulence of their trust, your struggles don’t mean you are going to be left by the side of the road and forgotten.
If you have taken a break for a bit because you just weren’t sure about who this God really is, come back to the table. Let Him reaffirm His character to you. Give Him another chance. He’s not done with you. He will yet accomplish incredible kingdom advancing works through you if you will just trust in Him and do life His way. It will often be hard, and you know it. But if you will return to your trust, you will yet see the fruits of His promise.