Genesis 15 Part 1: Faith and Doubt

“[Abraham] has now permitted God to be not a hypothesis about the future, but the voice around which his life is organized.” -Walter Brueggeman

Genesis 15 Part 1: Faith and Doubt
15 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:
“Do not be afraid, Abram.
I am your shield,
your very great reward.”
2 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit[c] my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”
4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring[d] be.”
6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
7 He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”
8 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

Abraham’s doubt and faith
Back in Genesis 12, God asks Abraham to pick up everything and move. If he does, God will give him land and descendants. So Abraham does. And he’s called Abram for awhile before God changes his name, in case you’re confused. My seven-year-old keeps asking me why God changes people’s names and never likes my answer, so I won’t give it to you.
After some family strife, war, and a mysterious priest, Abraham still doesn’t have an heir (or land) and begins to doubt God. God promises to him again that he will give him an heir. Then, he shows him the stars as proof, and Abraham believes about the heir, but doubts about the land. (My next post will cover what happens next)

Messy Faith
What can we learn from this strange vision? (It will get a lot stranger in the next post)
First, God is inviting Abraham (and us) to a faith that goes beyond our current circumstances—a faith that trusts God in any barrenness we might be experiencing in this life. As Walter Brueggemann points out, Jesus calls the disciples men “of little faith” several times in the gospels whenever they get anxious about present circumstances (sickness, storms, tough demons, lack of food, etc.). Will we trust when the evidence doesn’t line up with the promises? Or will we continue to try (and fail) to control our present circumstances?
Second, why does God show him stars? Did Abraham just need a visual aid to reinforce the promise? Possibly. But implicit in this is that God created the stars. What is Abraham’s situation compared to the power of the one who lit up the night sky. To connect it to the point above, we can trust God for our future because the whole cosmos is in his hands.
Third, Abraham believes, and God credits it to him as righteousness. Our only response is to trust and follow. Yet in verses 2 and 3, and again in verse 8, and then the whole Hagar thing, Abraham continues to show signs of doubt. That’s good news for us. We can doubt. We can mess up, but faith is reorienting ourselves on the promises of God and taking one more step forward.

Counting Stars
Let’s commit to recognizing how much bigger God is than our circumstances. Then trust him with our future despite the chaos of our present. And when we start to doubt, despair, sink, or go hungry, return again and again to the God who numbered the stars.
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