Read the text here: Genesis 15:1-18
Don’t you hate to wait? Someone promises they will do something, or take you somewhere and you have to wait for it to happen. For most of us waiting is synonymous with impatience. We don’t want to wait – we want whatever it is right now! Thank you very much!
Bear this in mind as you read through chapter 15 of our Old Testament lesson for this morning, for Abraham is a model of impatient waiting. Back in Chapter 12 God called Abraham and his wife Sarah to uproot themselves and begin a journey to a far off land that God promises to give to him. So far, so good! Abraham and Sarah do come into the land and settle. But it is the other part of the promise that is the problem. God promises that Abraham and Sarah will be a great nation and that the children of Israel will be their heirs for both the promise and the land. But there is a problem – Abraham and Sarah are barren, they have not been able to have any children and not only that but they are getting up in years so that they are no longer able to have children. So this text begins a series of attempts on the part of Abraham and Sarah to take matters into their own hands in order to secure their legacy. They simply can’t wait any longer! It is now or never! So what about Eliezer of Damascus, asks Abraham in our text for today. God rejects the suggestion and Abraham and Sarah will go on to attempt several other options – most importantly Abraham will have a son, Ishmael, with Sarah’s maid Hagar.
God’s response to Abraham is to restate the promise over and over again. “Look at the stars,” says God, “that is how many descendants you will have.” But Abraham keeps pressing the issue – “when, when, when! We can’t wait forever, God! Let’s get on with it already!” So God commands Abraham to sacrifice several animals by splitting them down the center. What does this mean? In making a legal agreement people in ancient times often included a ceremony of sacrifice and one text from the 8th century BCE has these words that were spoken by the one making the sacrifice: “Just as I am tearing the shoulder off this sheep, may my own shoulder be torn from its socket if I violate this agreement.”
Dr. Ralph Klein writes, “Abraham and Sarah had a hard time believing the promise of the land (and descendants). Would it help God says if I would invoke upon myself a curse? That is, may I be cut in pieces like these animals if I don’t fulfill this promise? At other times in the Old Testament God reinforces his promises by “swearing by himself” or “by raising his hand to heaven.” When a promise is hard to believe, God reinforces the promise by putting himself at risk. Now can you believe?”
God is going to extreme measures to confirm that His promises to Abraham and Sarah are secure and unalterable. God says He will give you the land as an inheritance – and He will fulfill the promise; God says that your descendants will be like the stars – and they will; God says He will be present with you no matter what and never abandon you – and God will fulfill the promise! It might not happen on your timetable – it might require you to learn patience and waiting – it might not happen the way you think it should. But God will fulfill God’s promises and you can count on it and God is even willing to go to extreme measures to prove it!
Our Gospel text continues our journey towards the cross. The incarnate God will be crucified in Jerusalem. Talk about extreme measures! The Old Testament states “cursed be anyone who hangs upon a tree.” God takes on a curse for us – for you and me. Why? “For God so loved the world…” That’s why. God’s promises to us – to you and to me are secure; God will accomplish them; God will never turn his back on us no matter what. But we too need to learn patience; we need to learn to wait; we need to accept that we are on God’s timetable and God will fulfill God’s promises often in ways that we cannot imagine.
“Genesis 15 recognizes that it is sometimes hard to believe when we are in bad situations.” When we are confronted with difficulties and trials, those times when the darkness seems like it will overpower us. “But God addresses our difficult situations with promises that ring true to our needs, just as God doubled down on the promises to Abraham and Sarah. God lives up to his relationship with us by demonstrating that his news for us is indeed good, that he is willing to risk his very self so that we might believe” and follow.