Doubt is a powerful thing. It can lead us into some truly irrational and destructive behaviors. Abram experienced doubt acutely when it came to God’s promise.
God had sworn that he would make Abram’s descendants so numerous that they could not be counted, they would be a great nation and would be a blessing to the whole world.
God Fulfills His Own Promises
The only problem is, Abram is very old, has no children and his wife is barren. God knows these doubts and visits Abram in a vision. Abram refuses to be consoled, saying in a sense, “What could you possibly do for me to make this better? You sure aren’t giving me any children.”
In response, God doubles down on his promise. He enters into a traditional covenant ceremony with Abram. In this ceremony, animals would be sacrificed and cut in two. Then, the people making the covenant would walk in between the halves of each animal as a physical symbol which communicated, “If I break this promise, let what was done to these animals be done to me.”
But what’s strange about the way God performs this ritual is that Abram does not walk through the animals. God alone passes through them. The upside-down version of this cultural ritual is God’s way of saying, “I alone will uphold this promise. Despite everything you think is going wrong, I will do what I swore I would do.” This is the way God fulfills all his covenants. He does it all because we always fail to hold up our end.
Abram Tries to Fulfill The Promise Himself
But Abram’s doubts endure. So Abram and his wife decide to create this countless nation by themselves. Sarai, Abram’s wife, suggests that he try to conceive a child with their servant, Hagar. To Sarai’s chagrin, the endeavor is successful and she becomes so jealous that she drives the pregnant Hagar away.
But God appears to Hagar, tells her to return to Abram and Sarai, and promises to establish a people through her child as well. However, this child does not receive the blessing that Abram wanted. Hagar’s child would not be the child of promise, but the child of a slave. That is because Abram tried to earn through effort what God had promised through grace.
Where is Jesus?
Both of these stories have so much to show us about who Jesus is and what he has done.
Jesus Fulfills His Own Promises
Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is an intensified version of what Abram experienced in this cultural ritual. At the cross, no animal was killed. Instead, it was the son of God. The split-animal-ritual from Genesis communicates that if the covenant is broken the infringing party may be split open like the animals.
But at the cross we see an even better sacrifice making an even better covenant. The cross communicates that even though we broke the covenant, God has been torn open for us. Therefore, no punishment remains for those who believe in Jesus. Instead, all that remains is the promise.
Jesus will keep his own promise. Despite all our faults and sin, Jesus has done and will do everything to save us from what we deserve and bring us to himself. All we are called to do is what Abram did - receive the promises of God with faith.
Fulfill or Fulfilled? Slave or Free?
In the New Testament, Galatians shows us that the division between the children of the promise and the children of the slave still exists. But what makes us children of promise instead of children of slavery may surprise you. We are enslaved when we try to be a part of God’s family and bring about God’s promises through our own strength and effort. Like Abram who tried to bring about God’s promise by his own means, we must not trust in ourselves.
We only become children of the promise when we trust the promise. If we simply have faith that Jesus has done for us what we could not do for ourselves, we freely receive all the benefits of the promise from our father.
See For Yourself
I pray that the Holy Spirit would show you the God who upholds all the promises he makes by himself. And that you would see Jesus who has earned for us through the cross everything he promised to us in grace.