Confidence in Seasons of Uncertainty
Trust God even when the way is not clear. (1–5)
The Bible does not make it clear how many years have passed since Abram’s call to the promised land. He was 75 when he left Haran (12:4) and 86 when Ishmael was born. Chapter 15 is probably a decade after Abram received God’s promise of fathering a great nation. As the years passed, he began to question his understanding of God’s promise to him.
Abram tried to envision how he could realize God’s promise. The only way that Abram could see was if Eliezer became his heir. Adopting a servant as an heir was a documented practice of Abram’s day, though there is no mention of adoption in the passage.
The main point is that Abram could not see how God could keep His promise and he looked for an alternative that was within his control. This would not be the only time that Abram tried to fulfill the promise under his own power.
God responded by referring Abram to the stars of the sky. This is the second time God compared Abram’s descendants to an uncountable number (13:16). Not only were the stars an image of how large Abram’s posterity would be, but they were also a reminder that Abram’s understanding of God’s ways was inadequate. God has ways of accomplishing His will that are clear to Him when humans cannot see a way forward.
Trust in God results in righteousness. (6)
The context is unclear whether Abram’s belief is something that happened now or that he had already believed when he left Haran. The writer of Hebrews mentions both Abram’s obedience in leaving Haran and his life in the promised land as evidence of his faith (Heb. 11:8–9). Either way, it counted for righteousness in God’s economy.
This verse is key to Paul’s theology of salvation. He quotes it in Romans 4:3, noting that this happened before God initiated the rite of circumcision (17:10), which became the discerning mark of works over faith in the first century.
Paul expanded the idea to say it was faith like Abram’s that is the real discerning mark of his children (Gal. 3:7). Though it may escape the notice of those without faith, Paul saw the irony of the passage. Abram struggled to see how God would fulfill His promise of making Abram a great nation. Yet his faith that God would fulfill it led to Abram being the spiritual father of an even greater nation, all who trust in Jesus as their Savior and Lord.
Trust God to work in His time. (13–16)
Part of believing God’s promised is the understanding that God works on His own timeframe. One can see this in three aspects of this passage.
- Abram’s encounter with God takes only a few verses to recount but took place over at least two days. God directed Abram to try to count the stars (v. 5). This can only happen at night. Since Abram watches the sun set over his sacrifice, it must be the next night. God’s response to Abram did not come right away.
- God mentions an event that is decades in the future and will last for 400 years, long after Abram is dead.
- God promises that Abram will rest in peace, meaning that he will be contented when he is at the end of his life.
Finally, God has His own timeline for the end of His patience with the Amorites. Trust in God does not take place on our timeline. God has His own, for His own reasons.
By Daryl Watts
Watts is a church consultant in Fresno, California.