Clumsy, Messy, Children of the Promise

BY DONAVON RILEY

Whenever I read the Genesis account of Abraham, I’m more impressed that he’s often a clumsy, mess of a man than that it’s “faith that’s accounted to him as righteousness.” 

Abraham is godless when God comes to him. Terah, Abraham, and their whole family live right down the road from Babel. They worship the goddess Nana. 

God comes to Abraham and tells him to leave his father and family. From Haran, Abraham inches his way down to Canaan with three U-haul trucks piled full of stuff he’d acquired: family, friends, slaves, herds and livestock, and all the stuff that goes with it.

Abraham pitches his tent at Bethel, but a famine comes. A 1930s Great Depression, Dust Bowl kind of time. There’s nothing to eat. No crops will grow. All the livestock drops dead from disease and dehydration. Worse yet, Abraham is a stranger in a strange land. He doesn’t speak the language so well. Their customs are lost on him. He doesn’t worship their gods. So then, how will he survive? Go to Egypt! 

But, Egypt wasn’t as advertised on television. Egypt’s eastern border is choked with refugees fleeing the famine. So, as a way to get past the border guards, Abraham tries to pass off his wife, Sarah, as his sister. What man of faith pimps out his wife, and profits greatly from it? Maybe it’s a political gesture, maybe not. Maybe Abraham just wants to survive. 

Since he'd left Ur, it’d been one conflict after another. Affliction and trial pile up on old afflictions and trials. How many times does Abraham have to hit rock bottom before God says, “Okay, enough. You’ve sacrificed enough… and you just can’t seem to nail down the whole obedience thing. Let’s call it off. Thanks though. I appreciate the effort!”

Even Sarah doubts God’s integrity, and indicts Abraham. “Abraham, this is all your fault! I put my servant, Hagar, in bed with you so we could help God’s work along and welcome a son into our home. But, instead, Hagar throws this in my face and she hates me! I don’t care what you do, but fix it!”

Twenty-five years Abraham and Sarah wait for God to speak to them. One horrible event after another weighs on Abraham. Where’s the God who called me out of my father’s house? Where’s the promise-maker God? Where’s our Protector?

Then, one day, three men appear to Abraham. God renews his promise and tells Abraham, “You will have your son within a year.” Abraham laughs so hard at this he falls on his face. Sarah too laughs at the absurd promise she’s just heard. How can a one hundred year old woman give birth to a son?

Then Abraham goes back again into enemy territory to survive. He goes back to Negev where they’re confronted. Abraham falls back on an old tactic: he sells Sarah to Abimelech. She’s only his sister, after all. 

God bails Abraham out again. And so it goes between Abraham and this strange God who pursues him even when he’s at his worst. The God whom Abraham eventually calls, “Jehovah-jirah” which means “God will provide.”

When God came to Abraham, the man worshipped other gods. After God called Abraham, he stuttered and stumbled between trust and self-destructive, promise-shattering disbelief. And yet, God covers all Abraham’s sin with the promise: “"In your seed all the nations of the earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”

But wait… Obeyed? Abraham obeyed God’s voice? Yes. Abraham never doubts God will give him a son, even when he raises the knife to slaughter Isaac. And, even when he’s pushed by Sarah to go into Hagar, Abraham still believes God’s promise.

Abraham stutters and stumbles through life, like any of us do. But, “it was not by obeying the laws in Moses’ teachings that Abraham or his descendants received the promise that he would inherit the world. Rather, he received this promise through God’s approval that comes by faith” (Romans 4:13). 

Abraham receives God’s promise as gift, and whether the gift is given or taken away isn’t in Abraham’s control. God alone, through his gracious faithfulness, keeps Abraham and his family safe through every trial and affliction. Abraham doesn’t weaken in faith, even when his sinful flesh fails him and God. 

Instead, with Abraham and all his descendants, as St. Paul writes, we don’t doubt God’s promise out of a lack of faith. Instead, we show respect and praise God for the promise of Jesus Christ our Savior. Like Abraham, we’re made strong through God’s faithfulness which strengthens our trust in his promises. We’re absolutely confident, then, that God will always do what he promises, despite our stuttering and stumbling through life (Romans 4:19-21).

On account of God’s faithfulness to his promise, Jesus comes and saves the world from sin. Through faith, we’re now all Abraham’s children. We’re all approved by God in Christ. We’re all clumsy, messy children of the Promise. AMEN.

Donavon Riley is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author, Online Content Director for Higher Things, a contributing writer at 1517 Legacy Project, Christ Hold Fast, and LOGIA. Pastor Riley co-hosts the podcast: 'The Higher Things Simul Cast'. He is pastor of Saint John Lutheran Church in Webster, MN. A graduate of Concordia Universities in St. Paul, Minnesota and Portland, Oregon, Pastor Riley received his seminary and post-graduate education at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He colloquized into the LC-MS from the ELCA in 2008. He is married to Annie, and is the father of four children: Owen, Alma, Hoshea, and Hallel.
Twitter @DonavonRiley