When my wife and I were first married, we started each evening to read a chapter of the Bible before we went to bed, beginning in Genesis. We would alternate verses. We hadn’t been doing this for very long when we came to Genesis 15. As we were reading through this chapter, I noticed something I had never seen before. It made me exclaim aloud, “Now, wait a minute!” As I looked at this thought, the chapter, as well as the Bible’s teaching on faith, opened up to me in a way that was unbelievable.
One word of caution. There’s a standard understanding of this chapter that’s pretty much universally held. I held it myself. In fact, I’ve never seen or heard the approach to this chapter that I now hold. I believe that my view is right. It’s just that every so often someone comes up with some new teaching “from Scripture” – some hare-brained idea that’s all the rage for a couple of weeks, and then fades back into the woodwork. I’m not interested in novel ideas about the Scripture. I agree with Paul in Romans 4:3, where he asked the question in another connection, What does the Scripture say?
So, before you go any further in this post, I’d like for you to read Genesis 15 – yes, right now. Close your laptop and open your Bible. Read Genesis 15. It’ll just take a few minutes. Or look it up online, if you’re inclined that way. I’m an old geezer myself and prefer books, though, obviously, I do use a computer. 🙂
I wonder how many will actually do that.
Anyway, the usual reading of this chapter concludes with the idea that Abraham goes out at night and looks at the starry heavens. “Whoa!” he says. “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 1025 stars. That’s not a very large posterity – not even really a good sized town. Even as late as 1627, the German astronomer Kepler had only catalogued 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 one with innumerable stars. Just in passing, how did the “ignorant goat-herder” who is alleged to have written Scripture know about innumerable stars, when only a handful, relatively speaking, are visible to the naked eye?
There’s another, even more interesting, challenge to the usual understanding of the chapter. That’s why I asked you to read it. There are two phrases which caught my attention that long-ago night, and forever changed my conception of the chapter. Did you notice them?
God told Abraham, “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 v. 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 the reading of those phrases, or hearing them read out loud, or what, but they caught my attention. They caused me to exclaim, “Now, wait a minute!” To me, these phrases indicate that 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? The idea that God would ask someone to count stars in the daytime?
It seems to me that there are several lessons we can learn from this incident. There are a lot of things in Scripture that don’t “make sense.” That’s why unbelievers and skeptics have so much trouble with them. God told Noah to build a huge boat because a flood was coming, and it have never even rained up until that time. God told Israel to walk around Jericho for seven days, and on the seventh day they were also to yell real loudly. What kind of warfare is that? The Lord fed 15,000 or more people with a few sardine-sized fish and a couple slices of bread. Pretty slim pickings.
Yet, in each case, “sense” was wrong, or at least very inadequate.
In addition, Abraham had to choose between what he could see, or what God said. To do that, he had to go against the “science” of his day. That’s still true. At least here in the US, it seems that God hardly exists. Violence and immorality are increasing. Atheism has pretty much become 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’d spent a lifetime of nights under the stars. And he could expect to spend a lot more nights under them. But God said, “Look now….” Abraham couldn’t look to his experiences. God said, “Look NOW.” He couldn’t count on his expectations.
As Christians, we can look back and see how God has blessed us. For example, the way I met my wife involves about 7 years, four states, quitting a job, a long move, several people, a telephone book, and a phone call. But that’s a story for another time….
We can see many times that God has been with us. And, by His grace, we look forward to an eternity which will infinitely eclipse the things of this world. It’s the “now” that’s the problem.
I’ve known and know people going through things I can’t even begin to imagine. And this blog has led me to people who are also suffering. For all these, “now” is anything but enviable.
“All” Abraham had to go on was the naked word of God. There was no “tangible, verifiable evidence” – the kind skeptics and unbelievers are always 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 Word, even when everything around us says, “Why?” Why do you think there are such attacks on the Bible? “Faith” isn’t about us getting God to do what we want, it’s about trusting His Word and what He says He will do.
Abraham had to wait 13 years for the beginning of the fulfillment of that promise. He did some foolish things in the meantime, things which echo today in the Middle East. Even though Abraham was foolish, God was faithful to His promise.
For all believers, Paul wrote, the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us, Romans 8:18.
Let me encourage you, dear readers of this blog. I don’t know anything about your “now,” but God does. I don’t know what to say to ease your burden. I just hope and pray that He will use these few words to encourage and bless you.
Look now toward heaven….
(originally published March 26, 2013.) edited.