And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” (Genesis 15:4 ESV)
How much comfort is there in God telling us what WON’T happen? Abraham was looking for an heir, he was in the depressing position of having to will his household to a trusted servant instead of a beloved son. The only thing God told him was that it wouldn’t be the servant, then He proceeds to reiterate the original promise that has been at work the whole time regarding Abraham’s future.
As Americans we are predisposed to pragmatism. The idea of pragmatism is summed up well in the expression, “do whatever works.” It is this quality that has brought us invention and modern conveniences, as well as bringing us a distance from invisible things, eternal things. In our desire to get things done as efficiently and quickly as possible we don’t tend to like answers that are ambiguous or that require us to trust. We want the tools to fix something in our hands so everything can run on our timetable.
God doesn’t seem to care very much about our sense of pragmatism. Though He, obviously, isn’t opposed to invention or convenience, He does seem to structure our lives, at least in strategic instances, so that we don’t have all the answers, or all the tools, or all the control…or any control for that matter. Abraham found himself holding a last will and testament that left his great wealth and heritage to his chief servant, a man of no blood relation to him as far as I can tell. Abraham loved, trusted, and likely was friends with this servant, but he still wasn’t a son. He would never be a son, a blood-sharing, name-carrying child of Abraham.
As Abraham brings up this bit of information to God, he was met with the answer that we ted to hate so much. Abraham had formulated his own plan, he had determined to give his servant his inheritance. Why? Maybe because he had to choose someone, maybe because he feared for his health or life, or maybe its possible that he was attempting to force God’s hand into giving him a son. Abraham, like the rest of us, had the same insecurities and fears about putting all of his life in the hands of God. And it is out of the soil of insecurity that manipulation grows most efficiently.
God’s answer to Abe is the same answer that He offers us when we try and circumvent the “problem of sovereignty”: He gently reminds us that He is in control, and tells us to put down our drawing boards and meditate on the original promise He’s given us. God told Abraham, very simply, “the man you’e chosen isn’t the one to keep your name going.” Now, though God refers to Abraham’s “son”, that “son” hasn’t been conceived, hasn’t drawn a solitary breath of air into his lungs…that “son” is as intangible as anything in Abraham’s life. That “son”, truly, represents any one of the thousands of children that would be born that day on the earth. There was no specificity to it, it wasn’t something Abraham could control, it required complete trust.
This is the issue we face anytime we believe God has told us something specifically. Anytime there is a “promise” in our future, something God has made clear that He has planned for us. We will be tempted to try and write our own name down on the dotted line, and then hold that little piece of paper up to our enormous God and say, “here, I took care of this because You didn’t seem to be working on it.” But He will, in his love, never let us usurp the joy that He has planned for us. He may let us walk in our own stupidity and impatience for awhile to learn our place (as happened with Sarah and Hagar/Ishmael), but if He has promised it, then, no matter how ambiguous His answers seem, He will do what He promised.