For Abraham it all began with a promise, “the promise that he would be heir of the world,” Romans 4:13. And Paul used a powerful Greek word for “heir” too – kleronomos (clare-oh-nomm-oss) – meaning “taking possession of.” So imagine being Abraham and hearing you’re going to take possession of the whole world – as a promise, and legally bound by God himself too.
But this was God’s way of introducing himself to Abraham – or Abram as he was then – as a God of promises. It was part of God’s nature to want to make legally binding declarations that humans could rightfully expect him to come through on. So when God tells Abram, “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you” in Genesis 12:2, there’s a relish in those two words, “I will.” I will do this for you, Abram, because that’s who I am; I’m a God who makes promises.
And makes promises out of the blue too, to a man seventy-five years old already (12:4), and then telling this old man to leave his home country and head for a land that his children would possess (12:7) – when the poor chap had never been able to have children. Is it any surprise, then, that ten or so years later and still no son, Abram says to God, “O Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless, and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus? You’ve given me no children; so it’s a servant in my household who’ll be my heir” (15:2-3).
To Abram, then, this was an impossible promise. It’s like me saying to my wife, “I promise you the whole world” (which I did just now to try it out – and she laughed). And to Abram it must have seemed just as crazy. How could God make such promises to him and his non-existent children, when the circumstances weren’t in place to make them happen?
So God “took Abram outside (15:5) and said, ‘Look at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them.’ Then he said, ‘So shall your offspring be.’” Well, that just made God’s promise even more impossible, telling this old childless chap he’s going to have more children than he can count.
But God knew exactly how to get through to Abram, because as Abram stared up at the stars that’s when it hit him, that what God was promising was real. Which is good to know – because of what happened next…(more on this tomorrow)