Commentary by Walter Albritton

September 16, 2007


Faith Helps Us Believe that God Can Do Wonderful Things

Genesis 15:1-6; 18:1-15; 21:1-8

Key Verse: Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? – Genesis 18:14a

The key verse provides the main theme of this next lesson in the study of the Book of Genesis. It is a question, asked of Abraham, by the Lord Himself. The context of the question is obvious. God is responding to Sarah having laughed about having a child in her old age. We might paraphrase it this way:

“The Lord expressed his surprise to Abraham that Sarah should laugh at the idea that she would have a child in her old age. And he said to Abraham, ‘I am surprised that you or Sarah would doubt my power to do anything I want to do. If you do not believe that now, you will believe it when Sarah gives birth to a son in the spring.’”

The use of the word “wonderful” (NRSV) may cause some of us to say, “Wait a minute; my Bible uses the word “hard.” In fact most translations do use the word “hard.” One translation opts for the word “difficult,” which seems to make more sense than “wonderful.”

My research helped me to feel better about embracing the word “wonderful.” Evidently the original Hebrew word may be translated into English as either “hard” or “wonderful.” We might even think of it this way: “The Lord can do wonderful things even in situations that seem to us too hard for him to overcome.”

Wonderful, like the word “love,” has lost some of its meaning through overuse. We use it to describe almost anything: a wonderful day, a wonderful car, or a wonderful apple pie. Its meaning, however, is quite powerful. It means something marvelous, amazing, astonishing, awesome, unbelievable, miraculous, excellent, extraordinary, or sensational. Those, indeed, are words that describe the Lord!  

That being said let us consider a few wonderful affirmations we can make about today’s lesson.

First, the faithfulness of our God is wonderful! When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, God did not give up on the human race. Though sin caused humanity to be estranged from God, he continued to love them with a love that would not quit.

His great desire now was to redeem humanity from sin, to deliver all people from the dominion of darkness and bring them into the kingdom of light. God’s plan of redemption is what the Bible is all about.  This great plan begins with the call of Abraham.

Today untold millions of people – Jews, Christians, and Muslims – honor Abraham as the father of the faithful. His story is precious to us as followers of Jesus. His story is about the character of our God. His story affirms the faithfulness of God to keep his promises. Therein is our hope of salvation.

Abraham’s story begins with God’s action. God took the initiative. He appeared to Abraham, a Chaldean living in Ur, a city of sun worshippers. God told Abraham to leave. In this we see a plan, not Abraham’s plan but God’s plan. The Bible teaches us that it was a plan motivated by love, a love that eventually would result in the sacrifice of God’s only Son.

What impresses us is that Abraham obeyed God. He departed not knowing where he was going. Surely it was not easy for him to obey God. He had to leave his country, giving up his citizenship. He had to leave his family, giving up whatever status he enjoyed in his father’s family. He had to leave his father’s house, giving up his right of inheritance as his father’s son.

His journey led him first north for hundreds of miles along the Euphrates River. Perhaps the river afforded him a degree of security; there was less risk than in traveling across the hot desert. Arriving in the town of Haran, Abraham lived there until the Lord told him it was time to move on.

He could have begged off this time. He could have said, “Lord, I am 75 years old. I am an old man now. Send a younger man and let me spend my remaining years here in Haran.” But Abraham did not quibble with the Lord. He loaded up and moved out again, this time moving south down the coast of the Mediterranean Sea – toward Canaan land.

So we can celebrate this second marvelous affirmation: the obedience of Abraham is wonderful! Though not a perfect man, Abraham is an awesome example of how obeying God can release unbelievable blessings from God.

A third amazing affirmation is this: we share the blessings of God’s wonderful unconditional covenant with Abraham!  We have been blessed because God blessed Abraham! This sacred covenant symbolizes the redemption God has provided, through Abraham, for “all the families of the earth.”  Rabbi Lawrence Duff-Forbes calls the Abrahamic covenant “the Menorah of Abraham.”  

Duff-Forbes calls our attention to the perpetual menorah, the everlasting light, described in Leviticus 24. This huge candlestick, or candelabra, is still a revered symbol in Israel and persists as the official symbol of the nation of Israel. The rabbi compares the seven points of illumination of the lamp stand to the seven divine promises of the covenant. These seven precious points of promise represent “the seven-fold light” of Abraham’s Menorah. They are:

1.     “I will make you a great nation.”

2.    “I will bless you.”

3.    “And make your name great.”

4.    “And you shall be a blessing.”

5.    “I will bless those who bless you.”

6.    “And I will curse him who curses you.”

7.    “And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

          The pure and perpetual light of this Menorah is inextinguishable, Duff-Forbes declares, “because its source is the divine faithfulness” of almighty God. The covenant was “born of divine grace, delivered while Abraham was yet uncircumcised, sealed by God’s oath, and ratified by sacrifice initiated by God.” God’s promises are unconditional because human failure will not cause them to be rescinded! 

          Finally, this affirmation: the lesson of laughter assures us that God will deal kindly with us when we doubt his power to do wonderful things in our lives!

       Abraham and Sarah laughed at the idea of having a child born in their old age. But God was patient with them, not angry. He invited them to believe that nothing was impossible to him. God seemed to say, “Stick with me and you will see what wonderful things I can do for those who believe!” Can we not see God’s rich sense of humor in giving the old couple a baby whose name meant “he laughs”? The wonderful thing about God is that evidently he was laughing with Abraham and Sarah!

            A statement from the New Testament keeps dancing in my mind. Three times we find it there – in Romans 4:3, Galatians 3:6, and James 2:23 -- "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." It is, of course, a quote from Genesis 15:6. James adds this amazing comment, “and he was called God’s friend”!

         Abraham believed God! We can also! We can believe, no matter how dire and hopeless our circumstances, that God can do wonderful things in our lives – for His glory!  How wonderful – to consider that a person can believe God – and become God’s friend!  Abraham did it. At least we can try!    

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