Genesis 15-17: What Do You Do When God Seems to Be Moving Too Slow?

Most likely you are reading this because you love God’s Word.  If I were a betting man, I would say that you probably want to experience the thrill of living in the middle of God’s Will.  You know that there is no substitute for the incredible joy of living a life that God created for you to live even before the foundation of the world.  Yet, the reality is that most of us seldom have the patience to wait for God to accomplish his plan for our lives.  It is when we find ourselves in this waiting pattern . . . waiting for God’s plan to begin moving in the swift flight that we have always imagined that we become impatient and we begin to manipulate things for God. The truth of the matter is that we get ourselves in the most trouble and in the most complicated circumstances when we attempt to speed up God’s plan


In this text we are learning from the life of Abraham.  This is one of the best things about the truth of the Scriptures – the people who made up its pages are real and they are like us and filled with their own set of issues, problems and failings.  This is one aspect of the Bible that sets it apart from other holy books from other traditions.  The people in the Bible are like you and me and we are given the opportunity to celebrate with them their faith and their moments of victory and experience their heart break when they wandered away from the Lord and went their own way. 


As was mentioned in the last post, God came to this pagan Abraham and he offered him an amazing opportunity . . . to step out in faith, follow the true God and receive his great inheritance.  This inheritance was dependent upon one particular promise – that God would raise up an heir.   Abraham was seventy-five and did not have a son and it was probably this aspect of the inheritance that was most important for Abraham.  Yet, after Abraham left all he knew to follow God, and after he had witnessed many miracles, the greatest miracle seemed to never come.  The possibility of a little boy from whose lineage would come the blessing of the nations through the Savior of the world.  Abraham was becoming a little nervous as the years ticked by as he cried out in prayer,


“’O sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?’ and Abram said, ‘you have given me no children, so a servant in my household will be my heir.’ Then the word of the LORD came to him: ‘this man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir; He took him outside and said, ‘ Look up at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘so shall your offspring be’” (15:2-5). 


Abraham trusted by faith in God’s promise to him, in spite of his age, and we find that it was “credited to him as righteousness” (15:6).  As the Apostle Paul pointed out, it is not by works that we enter a relationship with God, but by faith. 


Yet, God wanted to impress this promise deeper upon Abraham so that he wouldn’t forget that this promise would be fulfilled in his perfect timing so God made a covenant with Abraham.  John C. L. Gibson has written about the meaning of this ceremony in which God passed through the split carcasses of a heifer, a goat and a ram:


“The ceremony which he partially prepared and partially witnessed in a vision was not a sacrifice but a rite to ratify a solemn agreement. We have another reference to such a rite in Jer. 34:18–20. The Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar were besieging Jerusalem at the time and the populace was in desperate straits. The king, hoping perhaps to unite the whole city in its own defense, made a proclamation that all slave-owners should release their slaves, and it seems that a calf was cut in two and the burghers passed between it to underline the seriousness of their intent. They were in effect inviting God to cut them in two like the calf if they did not keep the bargain they had struck. But as it turned out, the approach of an Egyptian force caused the Babylonians to lift the siege temporarily, and the citizens grabbed their slaves back. The prophet Jeremiah was moved to announce in God’s name that the Egyptians would soon be gone and that the fate they had wished upon themselves in the ceremony would then befall them—and quickly!”[1]


How incredible it is that God would be willing to make this kind of promise, essentially saying to Abraham, if he did not do what he promised that he would have done to him what happened to the heifer, goat and ram, i.e., to be cut in two and scattered.  God was serious about this promise and he was more than gracious about impressing his commitment on Abraham.  Yet in spite of this, Abraham could not quite believe that God was going to fulfill his promise the way he said that he would.


When We Compromise God’s Plan, We Always Miss out on God’s Best

It is clear that Abraham really believed that God was going to start a new race of people through his seed.  Yet, in his advanced age, he wasn’t quite sure how this was going to happen given that the years were quickly marching by and Sarah’s child bearing years were long behind her.  It is obvious that this couple was perplexed about this situation and Sarah decided to offer her maidservant, which was something that was done in those days, to Abraham to have the heir that God had promised.  I’m sure that they rationalized that this must have been the way that God had intended it to be given that him using Sarah now seemed to be an impossibility.  So Hagar became pregnant and because of this, Sarah began to resent the fact that things were happening just as she had planned.  She was angry at what was happening and began to mistreat Hagar.  While this was not God’s plan for Abraham, he still blessed this boy, Ishmael, who was born to him and Hagar.  The failure of Abraham and Sarah to wait on the Lord caused tremendous trauma in this family.  Abraham loved his son Ishmael, yet Sarah couldn’t stand him or his mother.  Dysfunction was not everywhere in Abraham’s life and this was because he decided that God wasn’t moving fast enough and that he had to help God out. 


The angel of the LORD had a promise for the boy, “He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and every[s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.”  The reality is that the wild donkey was one of the most admired animals of the ancient world and in this text God was saying something very positive, in many ways, about the future of Ishmael.  Yet, this prophesy of a large future inheritance for this boy has played out as Ishmael became the father of the vast numbers of Arab peoples.  Also, there has been conflict for many, many years between the sons of Ishmael and the sons of Isaac (father of the Jewish people).


So, we read in chapter 17 that Abraham, in spite of all God had told him, had found it difficult to believe that God would do what he said he would do. For him, it seemed that it was a physical impossibility for a hundred year old man and a 90 year old woman to have their first child together.  It became so unbelievable to him and his faith had begun to wane so much that he actually laughed when God told him that it was going to happen.  Abraham even found himself at a place where he was trying to advise God, possibly to help God save face, to simply go with Ishmael as the heir to the inheritance. 


Abraham didn’t understand that God does not look at our limited circumstances the way we look at our limited circumstances.  Perhaps you feel like you are in a place in life where you are spinning your wheels.  Maybe you are thinking to yourself, “I thought that God was going to do something special with my life and I guess that it doesn’t look like it is going to happen.”  Remember that God’s timing isn’t always our timing and his ways are not always our ways.  Maybe you are dealing with tough financial circumstances or relational dysfunction and there is a part of you that is tempted maybe to do something wrong because it will lead to what appears to be a good outcome.  Do your best to say “no” to these temptations because God’s ways are always the best ways.  The reality is that God never wants us to do what is wrong, no matter how convenient or wonderful the perceived result may be.  When we find ourselves in difficult circumstances it is his desire that we trust in him and demonstrate integrity in the tough decisions we have before us.  So what do we do when God seems to be moving to slow? We must wait on him and trust that he will do what he has promised according to his perfect timing.  God didn’t forget Abraham and Sarah and he won’t forget you either.

[1]Gibson, John C.L.: Genesis : Volume 2. Louisville : Westminster John Knox Press, 2001, c1981 (The Daily Study Bible Series), S. 54


2 Responses to “Genesis 15-17: What Do You Do When God Seems to Be Moving Too Slow?”

  1. Derek Taylor Says:

    It is a good reminder for us to realize that our lack of faith can lead to long term problems. However, it is also encouraging to realize that God will step in and help us sort out the mess we made when we turn to Him in faith (even though our faith might be pretty thin gruel, like Abraham’s was here).

    I am also struck at how Abraham’s vision was so much smaller than God’s, even after the dramatic promises and faithfulness God had demonstrated. Our dreams are so pedestrian in comparison to what God wants to do with us.

  2. Bruce Smith Says:

    Well said, Derek. Your comparison of God’s desires our our expectations is excellent. Thanks for sharing.

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