What is faith?
Faith is the depending upon the Word of God only, and expecting that Word only, to do what the Word says.
The story and record of Abraham, then, gives us instruction on the definition and practice of faith. It also tells us what is promised to those who practice such faith. What does the Scripture tell us?
Genesis 15-17 recounts the beginnings of the famous patriarch’s lessons for us on faith. At the time, his name was Abram and his wife’s name was Sarai. Both of them were over 80 years old, well out of the range of normal child-bearing years. God leads Abram outside under the starry sky and tells him to look up. As Abram sees the wonders of God in the heavens, God tells him his offspring will be as numerous as the stars.
What does the text say about Abram? It says, “he believed in the Lord, and He counted it to him for righteousness.” (Gen 15:6) Abram accepted the word of God, and expected the word of God to accomplish what the word said. In that, he was right.
Sarai, however, did not put her expectations on the word of God only. She depended upon herself to accomplish God’s purposes. She devised a plan that was outside of God’s will, inviting Abram to sleep with her maid, Hagar. Instead of holding fast to the word of God only, Abram swerved from his faithful integrity. He “hearkened to the voice of Sarai.” (Gen 16:2)
Soon, a child was born to Hagar, but the birth was not within the will of God. Sarai became jealous over her own arrangement, and hard feelings came between her and Hagar. The Lord seemed to ignore the birth of this child. Abram, noticing the Lord’s stance, even said “O that Ishmael might live before thee!” (Gen 17:18) This was an attempt perhaps to “help” the Lord remember how old he and his wife were and that Ishmael might be forced to fulfill the promise made to Abram.
The Promise, Repeated
Then the Lord “helps” Abram remember. God proceeds to give Abram and Sarai new names- ones in which their posterity would recognize as a description of their faith. Abram became Abraham, “the father of many nations.” Sarai became Sarah, “the mother of nations.”
The promise is restated that Sarah would be the mother of the new covenant, not Hagar. Hagar is promised blessings and to become a great nation as well. Ishmael would soon be the father of modern-day Islam- the close cousin of Israel. But the covenant was promised through the next son, Isaac.
Through this whole ordeal Abraham and Sarah were taught that, in the carrying out of the promise, and the fulfilling of the word of God, nothing would be sufficient to answer but dependence upon the word only. Sarah learned that her own efforts brought trouble and perplexity, and actually delayed the fulfillment of the promise. Abraham learned that the word of God only, rather than anyone else’s, should be depended upon.
So now, the way was cleared for the child of the promise- the child that sprang from faith. And it didn’t matter how old Sarah and Abraham were. God’s word proclaimed it. They believed it. And now, they depended upon it.
Let us learn this valuable lesson from “father Abraham” and not delay the promises of God to us, the children of faith.