“O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” – Genesis 15:2-3 ESV
God had just promised to protect and provide greatly for Abraham. “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great” (Genesis 15:1 ESV). This is not the first time that God had promised to bless Abraham. When God had first called Abraham to leave his home in Ur and head to the land of Canaan, He had said, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3 ESV). Some time later, when he arrived in the land, Abraham received yet another promise from God. “To your offspring I will give this land” (Genesis 12:7 ESV). But from Abraham’s perspective, there was a problem with God’s plan. He and his wife, Sarah, were both old and, to make matter worse, she was barren. So Abraham was having a bit of a hard time figuring out how God was going to make all this happen. He wanted to believe God, but the circumstances of life didn’t seem to be in God’s favor.
For Abraham, the key to God’s promises being fulfilled was obviously tied to offspring. Without kids, it was going to be hard for Abraham to father a great nation. And what good was the promise of land without children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to occupy it? Which is what led Abraham to ask, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless…?” For Abraham, the problem was pretty clear. He had no kids. He and his wife were old. She was barren. But he DID have Eliezer, his chief servant. In Abraham’s way of thinking, this foreign servant must be the obvious solution to the problem facing God. He didn’t seem to consider that God might do something miraculous or impossible. Even though Abraham addressed God as “Lord God”, which means “Sovereign Lord”, he seemed to be having a bit of a difficulty in thinking that God had this situation under control. So he gave God some advice. A little bit of helpful counsel. “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” God had failed to deliver on His promise, so Abraham decided to give Him a helping hand and an alternate solution to the problem.
How easy it is for us to doubt God. We want to believe Him, but when we look around us and consider the impossible nature of our circumstances, we begin to wonder if He can really deliver on His promises to us. Things can look bleak and foreboding, so we begin to wonder if God has thought things through. Has He really considered all the options? That’s when we can begin to give Him alternative options. We suggest new scenarios and cleverly devised schemes to help God out. We see this lived out in the very next chapter of Genesis, when Sarah comes to Abraham with a plan to provide him an heir through a highly questionable means. “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her” (Genesis 16:2 ESV). In Sarah’s mind, God was responsible for her barrenness, so He must have wanted her to come up with another plan for fulfilling His promise to her husband. And Abraham bought into it without an argument. “And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai” (Genesis 16:2 ESV). Ishmael was the result of this man-made plan. But like Eliezer, Ishmael was not to be the fulfillment of God’s promise. It sounded like a great plan at the time. It seemed logical and reasonable. But it was not what God had in mind.
Too often we settle for less than what God has promised because we are pessimistic and doubtful in our prayers. We try to solve seemingly impossible problems by human means. We attempt to give God help. Rather than wait on God, we determine that second-best is better than nothing. A foreign servant is better than a flesh-and-blood son who’s never going to show up. A son born by an Egyptian maid-servant trumps the son your barren wife is never going to have. But neither of these options were what God had in mind. Abraham’s prayer revealed his pessimistic outlook on God’s ability to fulfill what He had promised. God hadn’t come through. He and Sarah were still childless. She was still barren. The promise was still unfulfilled. Time was running out. God needed help. But God knew exactly what He was doing. His timing was perfect. His plan was without flaw. He was in control.
God’s response to Abraham’s doubt and pessimism was simple, yet direct. “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir” (Genesis 15:4 ESV). In other words, God told Abraham, “I don’t need your help.” Then God took Abraham outside and said, “‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be’” (Genesis 15:5 ESV). God reconfirmed His promise. He let Abraham know that He was going to come through in a major way. And that object lesson from God had an immediate impact on Abraham. “And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6 ESV). Abraham would go on to doubt God. He would buy into his wife’s less-than-ideal suggestion to have a son by her maid-servant. But he was learning to trust God. He was learning to take God at His word. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). Faith is a learned trait. It comes from waiting on God. It results when we stop looking at our circumstances, the things we can see, and start relying on the promises of God that we can’t see. He doesn’t need our help. He simply asks that we trust Him.