The story of Abraham is a most remarkable one; called by a God that he did not know; commanded to go to land to which would be given to his descendants and given a promise so great he did not understand. Abram, who was later named Abraham, had an amazing life story. And we are called to follow in his steps and we are given some of the same earth-shaking promises.
The story begins in Genesis chapter 11. In chapter 12, the Lord said to Abram “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house. To a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation. I will bless you. And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you. And I will curse him who curses you. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
When the Lord showed up in Abram’s life He gave him some very good news. He promised the poor fella the sky! He told him He was going to make him into a great nation and make his name great. He promised him he would be a blessing and that He would bless everyone who blessed him and curse everyone who cursed him. And in him, that is “in Abram”, all the families of the earth would be blessed. The Lord could not have given Abram better good news than He gave him.
If you are reading carefully the Lord promised all these good things to Abram and He did not ask Abram to promise anything in return. Some may interpret the passage as God asking Abram to leave his country and his father’s house. But there is no indication that this stipulation was a condition for all of the many blessings the Lord would give him.
In response to all these blessings Abram was to simply do what God asked him to do. He has done the same for each of us. He has come to us with good news. The best news we could ever hear. And in response to this good news we are expected to believe his promise and do everything He asks us to do. It’s really a good deal when you stop and think about it. But as we read the story of Abram it appears it was not as easy as we may have thought. He was plagued with the same problem we are often troubled by. That persistent old covenant kept sneaking into Abram’s experience.
It’s really simpler than we might expect. The new covenant consists of believing what God has said and living a life consistent with what God has said. The old covenant is simple too. It consists of disbelieving what God has said and living a life consistent with our unbelief. We see this experience in Abram’s life again and again.
The conflict between the old and new covenant is most clearly revealed when God promised Abram a son. It happen like this: The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision saying, “I am your shield, your exceeding great reward.” But Abram said, “Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And behold the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir” (Gen. 15:1, 2, 4)
We don’t know precisely how much time elapsed between God giving Abram the promise and the events recorded in chapter 16 of Genesis. It seems that the enemy may have been plotting Abram’s failure from the moment God made the promise. Genesis chapter 16 begins with the words “Now Sarai Abram’s wife had borne him no children. And she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, ‘See now, the Lord has restrained me from bearing children.’” She blames her problem on the Lord.
I suppose all humans who suffer disappointment while trying to produce children tend to blame God. They assume that for some reason God has restrained them. Or God is not blessing them. Whatever may be the case they assume that somehow God is the One who restrains them from having the children they desire. There are many things which can cause them to fail to have the children they desire but we tend to think this is a matter which God controls and He is to blame when our expectations and desires are not met. It may just be that we don’t have the faith to receive the blessing God desires to give but somehow, we tend to make it God’s fault.
In this particular case, Sarai, lacking the faith to receive the promise God has made and certainly was eager to fulfill suggests that Abram take a second wife and try to help God fulfill His promise. This was in accordance with the practice of that day in the area where they were living. So after waiting ten years for God to fulfill His promise Abram takes Sarai’s handmaid, per her suggestion, and fathers a child who is born of the flesh, not born per God’s promise.
This is what Paul identifies as the Old Covenant. In Galatians 4:24 he says “which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar—for Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.”
It is amazing to me that after the Bible said Abram believed God and He accounted it to him for righteousness, Abram would later fail so miserably because of unbelief. And all of Abram’s mistakes can be traced to unbelief. It’s a lesson for each of us who believe the Lord, at any point in our experience, concerning any matter. Just because we may believe the Lord today does not mean that we are safe for a moment. We can at any moment find ourselves taking a miserable trip down the road of unbelief. Our only safety is depending fully on the Lord at every decision point.
When Sarai suggested that her inability to conceive was God’s fault, it appears that Abram readily concurred. He seems to have readily entered into the plan that Sarai suggested. Abram thought he was safe in making this decision on his own. We do not read that he prayed about it. He did not seem to think it was a big deal at all. He seems to have immediately acted out his wife’s suggestion. And looking back from our perspective we see what a tragic mistake it was indeed. Now we have the Israeli/Arab conflict. Now we have Isis. We have seen 9/11 and many bombings. We have seen the school house slaughter. We have seen the mass shooting in San Bernardino. It seems there is no safety anywhere. The world is plagued with danger everywhere because Abram acted in haste and did not take time to pray.
As we travel the roads we travel. As we make decisions in our daily lives. As we deal with temptations big and small, important and trivial, let us learn from Abram’s mistake. We do not know which decision will change the course of our lives. Let us consult with God over every decision that comes our way. We cannot tell how big our choices may be. But if we make them carefully and prayerfully we shall not regret it, like Abram came to regret his decision. When Sarai said, “Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, namely with Isaac.” Genesis 21:10. Then Abram had a talk with God. It was talk taking place much too late.
How different our world would be, if Abram had prayed earlier. How different our world would be if Abram had stayed with the New Covenant. We have some of the same promises. And we have the same choices; the Old Covenant or the New Covenant, which will it be?