“As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates – the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”
Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
For Abram there had to be a sense of joy in the promise made by his God. Up until the moment when the Word of the Lord appeared to him in that vision, he had thought that his line would end with him. He had no child to name his heir and he and his wife were past prime child bearing years. He had thought it would all fall to a servant of his house, and he would disappear into the sand of that desert that he had wandered for so many years.
Imagine then the surprise and the happiness to find out that he would not only be given a child after years of believing it would never happen, but that his descendants would rival the sheer number of stars in the sky. In a sense it had to be everything that he could have ever wanted, everything he had ever really prayed for, as God promised to heap blessing upon blessing to His faithful servant.
Yet it was a blessing from above that would be tempered by the sins below. Even as the Word of God came down from on high to promise him his heir, there would be more. Slavery, suffering and sorrow for four hundred years. For 20 generations his descendants would be strangers in a strange land, knowing no home of their own, bruised and cut by the brutality of the taskmaster’s whip. They would come to know hardship as their freedom and their humanity was robbed from them as they were treated with less value than animals.
Four hundred years. By that point none alive would remember what it was like to be born outside of captivity. They would only know what it was like to be driven like cattle, their back’s broken under the yoke of their masters. All they would know was the harsh reality of a harsh existence where their lives held little to no value, left to die when they could not work any longer.
Those words, that vision of the Lord, it had to weigh on Abram even as he realized what it would mean for his descendants even as it seemed like such a foreign concept to a man who had spent so much of his life free, wandering the land with his servants and his herds.
Yet, the simple truth is that this world, this world filled with sin and suffering, held captive to the power of iniquity and transgression, will seek to twist and warp the blessings of God. It will take to take the good that He offers to His children, and pervert it into something else completely, something that becomes so unrecognizable to us as it weaves its way through. This is, after all, a world whose Prince forever seeks to remind us of His power and authority, and, in that, he takes whatever peace God may intend for us, and seeks to remake it in his depraved image that all we can see is his face.
He brought sin into this world, and he uses sin to not only rob people of their joy and their peace, but of their faith as he manipulates and maneuvers in the shadows of God’s light. In that he elevates the unrighteous while seeking to grind the righteous under his heel, that he might crush their spirits and their minds, their hearts and their souls. He works evil that we question God’s place in everything, wondering where he is and why He has let this happen.
The thing is that none of this is a mystery to God. Ever seeing, ever present in the lives of His people not even the future itself is hidden from His sights. He understands not just what is happening, but what will happen as He moves through our lives. After all, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:13) Though the Epistle refers to our hearts and our souls, to all that is within us, it could easily be remembered that all that is in our futures, all that remains to be lived in our lives and beyond, is laid out before Him who formed us by His own hand and knew us before we were in this world, while we were still in the womb. Remember the words of the Proverbs that declares, “The eyes of the LORD are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.” (Proverbs 15:3)
Yes, we may see challenges and difficulties, we may see a future unlike anything we expected, a future that we perhaps never would have wanted. We may come to understand that there are going to be difficulties beyond that which we believe that we can handle. They present themselves and they create a sense of fear and anxiety and anticipation within us that makes us dread what may come next. In the flash of that vision that laid before him that is, undoubtedly, what Abram saw for His children as he heard the word of the Lord speak unto him. Yet, what Abram came to realize, and what each of us need to realize in our own lives and our own struggles, is that God does not just end our stories there.
Even as He looks to the future and He sees what the wages of sin will bring, as He sees the despair and the pain that the old adversary intends, our God, a loving Father, and a fearful defender of His children, designs for us a future that transcends anything this world may bring. Even in those moments that we have to travel through the storms of this world, when it comes beating down on us, leaving us wounded and broken, marking us in pain and sorrow, our Heavenly Father has more in store for us than that. After all, He is who loved us so dearly, cherishing us and valuing us so beyond measure that He would not withhold His own Son for our sake and for our salvation. What suffering, what hurt, what bondage would He then leave us to amidst the agony of this world? He looks upon us with such care, with such devotion that even His judgement is tempered by His promise of redemption.
Hearing the word of the Lord Abram had to undoubtedly wonder what sort of world he would bring a child into. Yes, He knew of its hardships, and had witnessed some of it firsthand. But to know that his descendants would be brutally enslaved, that perhaps had to cause him pause. If that were the end of the story of Abram’s line, then he perhaps would have rightly stopped and cursed the day he ever prayed for an heir, he would have perhaps stopped and recognized his blessing as a curse upon his own name for all time. Yet, as we are reminded even through the sacrifice and death of our dear Savior, God never ends the story of His dearly beloved children there with their sorrow. As He promised to His servant Jeremiah, so He promised to Abram and so He promises to us, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
This, dear brothers and sisters, may mean that there are going to be periods of hardships in all of our lives. In this world, given to sin, death and the Devil, it is unavoidable. Yet, during those times it is all the more important for us to cling to the promises of the Lord, our God, to look upon His face rightly and to understand that, in His word and through His promises, He has more intended for us, just as He did for that heir of Abram, those descendants of Abram. Perhaps we may be confused, perhaps we may not always understand. Yet, in His time, and in His way, all will be revealed to us as He opens our eyes to the possibilities that transcend whatever it may be that this world brings, whatever it may be that seeks to beat us down and break us.
Be patient, and trust in His blessings, knowing then that He plans are beyond our knowledge and His designs look past our own wisdom, and He will move in your life in the most amazing ways. His is the power to make a sinner a saint and to draw a slave to salvation, uplifting even the lowest amongst us though the power of His Holy and Divine Spirit. We just need to be willing to put behind us our own comfort and seek a certainty and a security that surpasses this world to carry us to a higher truth that dwells only in the blessed and wondrous assurances of our God.
Now may the peace of the Lord, that peace that transcends all human understanding, knowledge and wisdom keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus even unto life everlasting, Amen.