When my wife and I were first married, we started each evening to read a chapter of the Bible aloud before we went to bed, beginning in Genesis. We would alternate reading verses. We hadn’t been doing this for very long when we came to Genesis 15. As we were reading through that chapter, I noticed something I had never seen before. It caused me to exclaim aloud, “Wait a minute!” As I looked at this new thought, the chapter, as well as the Bible’s teaching of “‘faith,” opened up to me in a way that was unbelievable. It’s the subject of this post.
One word of caution. There is a standard understanding of this chapter, which I once held, and it’s pretty much the only way it’s looked at. In fact, I have never seen anywhere else or heard the approach to this chapter that I now hold. The eventful evening described in the first paragraph was more than 40 years ago, so there’s been enough time for someone else to see it. But apparently nobody has. I don’t think I’m wrong. It’s just that every so often someone comes up with some hare-brained idea “from Scripture” – some new teaching – and it’s all the rage for a couple of weeks, then fades back into the woodwork. I’m not interested in novel ideas from Scripture. I agree with Paul in Romans 4:3, when he asked the question, “What does the Scripture say?” Actually say?
So, first, before you go any further, I would like for you to read Genesis 15 – yes, right now. It’ll take you less than five minutes. Close your laptop and open your Bible. Read Genesis 15. Or look it up online, I guess, if you’re inclined that way. I’m an old geezer myself and I still prefer books, though, obviously, I do use a computer.
Did you do it? Thank you. Did you notice anything? Now, I’d like you to read my remarks and tell me what you think.
The usual reading of this chapter concludes with the idea that Abraham goes out at night and sees all the stars in heaven. He thinks, “Whoa! That’s a lot of stars!” The trouble with this idea is that men HAD counted the stars, or so they thought. The ancient Egyptians catalogued only 1025 stars. That’s not a very large posterity. Even as late as 1627, the astronomer Kepler catalogued only a little over a thousand stars. It’s only been with the invention and improvement of the telescope that science has discovered that there are innumerable galaxies, each with innumerable stars. (Just in passing, how did the “ignorant goatherder” who is alleged to have written this know about innumerable stars, when only a few, relatively speaking, are visible to the naked eye?)
There’s another, even more interesting, challenge to the usual understanding of Genesis 15. That’s why I asked you to read it before reading this. If you haven’t, please do it now…. There are two phrases which caught my attention that long ago night and changed forever my perception of this chapter. Did you notice them? God had told Abraham to “look now toward heaven….” Some of the later versions omit the word “now,” but I think my interpretation is still valid. After the conversation in vs. 1-5, we read in v. 12, “Now when the sun was going down…,” and in v. 17, “when the sun went down and it was dark,…” My wife would have read v. 12, and I would have read v. 17.
Now, I don’t know if it was just the reading of these phrases, or hearing them read, or what, but they caught my attention. They caused me to exclaim, “Wait a minute!” To me, these phrases indicate it was broad daylight when God told Abraham to look at the stars.
Now I hear you say, “Wait a minute!” It doesn’t make sense, does it? God asking Abraham to count stars in the daytime? Well, there are some lessons I think we can learn from this incident. Sometimes we have to trust God when it doesn’t seem to make any sense. There are a lot of things in Scripture that don’t “make sense.” God told Noah to build an ark because a great flood was coming, and it had never even ever rained. God told Israel to walk around Jericho seven days, with the priests blowing trumpets, then on the seventh day, Israel was also to give a great shout. What kind of warfare is that? Jesus told the disciples to feed a crowd of 15,000 or more with a few sardine-sized fish and a couple slices of bread. Pretty slim pickings. Yet, in each case, God was right and sense was wrong, or at least, inadequate.
In addition, Abraham had to choose between what he could see, or what God said. Further, he had to choose between God and the science of his day. That’s still true. At least in this country, the US, it hardly seems like God exists. Violence is increasing, immorality and perversion are becoming the law of the land, and the Bible is illegal in a good portion of our society. As for science, no comment is needed.
But there’s more. Abraham was a shepherd. He had spent a lifetime of nights under the stars. It was likely that he would spend a lot more nights under them. However, God said, “Look NOW….” Abraham couldn’t depend on experience. God said, “Look NOW….” Abraham couldn’t count on his expectations. “NOW”. “NOW”.
As Christians, we can look back of how God has blessed us. The way I met my wife involves about 7 years and at least four states and several people, a telephone book and a phone call, but that’s a story for another time. We can see many times God has been with us. And, by His grace, we look forward to an eternity that will eclipse a million times what this world has to offer. It’s the “NOW” that’s the problem. This blog has led me to many others, telling of people and experiences I can’t even begin to imagine. Things people are suffering. Their “NOW” is anything but enviable.
“All” Abraham had to go on was the naked promise of God. There was no “tangible, verifiable evidence” for him, the kind that skeptics and unbelievers keep asking for – just God and His promise. But, you see, that’s what “faith” boils down to: an absolute reliance on and trust of God and His promise, His Word. Why do you think there are such attacks against the Bible? “Faith” isn’t about us getting God to do what we want. Faith is about what God wants or has said.
Abraham had to wait 13 years for the beginning of the fulfillment of that promise, and did some foolish things in the meantime, things which echo even today in the Middle East. Even though he was foolish, God was faithful to His promise.
Let me encourage you, dear friends, readers of this blog. I know nothing of your “now,” but God does. Trust Him. Look to Him. I don’t know what to say to ease your burden. I just hope and pray that He will use even these few words to encourage and strengthen you. “Look now toward heaven….”
The following was added after the post was published:
Sorry, I got to thinking about this and didn’t like where I ended it. For all believers, Paul wrote in Romans 8:18 that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Not “to us,” but “in us.” I can’t wait!