All of the characters in the Bible have something to teach us. If they didn’t God wouldn’t have put their stories in the Bible, right? Of course, much of the time they’re there to provide a negative example, for us to point to and say “I sure don’t want to end up like THAT guy!”
For Abraham, the main lesson his story teaches us is all under the umbrella of “faith in God’s promises.” There’s so much to learn from him, and he (for the most part) provides an excellent example for us to follow in this regard. And not just an example: Paul says that in the eyes of the Lord we’re spiritual descendants of Abraham if we place our faith in the same God he did. That means that we have a part in the blessings of the covenant God made with him. As Rich Mullins put it, “Sometimes I think of Abraham, how one star he saw had been lit for me.”
Back at the first of the chapter, Paul cited Genesis 15:6, which said that “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” But in today’s passage he takes a closer look at the circumstances surrounding that verse, and he offers a lesson concerning faith for those of us who already believe in Christ.
What precisely was the promise that God made that Abraham believed that caused him to be seen as righteous? The Lord told Abraham “Do not be afraid. . . I am your shield, your very great reward.” Abraham responded respectfully but from the heart, and basically he said “That’s wonderful Lord, and I’m certainly grateful, but if I don’t have children, what good would anything else do for me? I don’t have any children, so one of my servants will be my heir.” Once again I want to remind you that it’s almost impossible to overstate just how important children were considered in that time and culture. If you were the equivalent of a multi-billionaire (and Abraham was one of the richest men in the world), what good would all that do you once you died if you had no one to leave it to? Considering any physical blessing, Abraham would've counted any of that as far less valuable than his heart's desire, namely children.
The Lord answered by telling him straight out that Abraham’s servant would not be his heir, but a child that came from his own body. Then he took Abraham one step further: He pointed the man to the stars, and told him that his heirs would be as uncountable as the lights in the sky.
God said this, Abraham believed him, and according to the Scriptures, “it was credited to him as righteousness.”
That’s where we—who already believe in Christ—can further learn in Abraham’s “school of faith.”
Let’s look at his situation. He was over a hundred years old, and his wife was around ninety. Now, it’s likely that he was really healthy and spry for a hundred-year-old, and there have been modern cases of men almost that old who’ve impregnated women. But Sarah was way past the years in which she could bear children; the Scriptures explicitly say so, so she'd experienced menopause years prior to this. Her body was no longer producing eggs.
Here’s the point that’s so important for us to catch. First, let me contrast Father Abraham with how a lot of people see faith. They tend to downplay or even ignore facts which seem to contradict it. God says something to us, and it might seem--at first--like it’s untrue. So they deny even that there’s a problem.
That’s not Abraham. Paul specifically says that Abraham “faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.” He knew good and well that hundred-year-old men and especially ninety-year-old women--humanly speaking--do not produce children. He wasn’t blind to that.
But he wasn’t weakened in his faith. Despite what he saw with his own eyes, “against hope. . .in hope [he] believed.” “He did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God,” and here’s the key to this—“being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.”
I’m not entirely sure, but let me venture a hypothesis on how Abraham's thinking process on this: “I believe that the Lord made everything around me. He created everything seen and unseen, merely by speaking it into existence. If he did all that, then couldn’t he give me a child, even though physically it’s impossible? Which is harder: Creating the universe, or giving me a child?”
If that’s so, then how much more do we—on this side of the Cross--have to go on in order to be “fully persuaded that God [has] power to do what he [has] promised”? Our Savior raised himself from the dead. It was attested to by hundreds of witnesses, all of whom were willing to die to back up that claim (for evidence for the Resurrection, check here).
Paul very specifically says that this story about Abraham has a profound effect on you and me in the here and now: “The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.”
We have even less of an excuse to doubt God’s promises than Abraham did. So here are the tough questions you should've known were coming: Without denying or ignoring the facts in front of me, do I hold onto what the Lord has told me? Am I unwavering in my belief? Am I fully persuaded that God has the power to do what he’s promised? What about you?
Lord Jesus, like someone told you a long time ago, I do believe. Help my unbelief. Please.