December 9, 2019

The Promise

Learning to take God at His word.

Marla Samaan Nedelcu

Barry is living his best life.

Graduated from an Ivy League school, working on Wall Street, living in Brooklyn, Barry is married to his childhood crush, the beautiful Sarah, who owns a sustainable fashion boutique. They both appreciate the graciousness of affluent relatives who have enabled them to establish themselves, and for Sarah to pursue her passion project. Sarah and Barry love their community. They also love God. With His help they look forward to making a positive difference in their community. They dream of someday raising kids to also enjoy this good life they’ve carved for themselves.

Four thousand years ago Abram lived the good life that Barry is now living. Abram grew up in Ur, a cultural and financial center of the ancient world. He and his family were wealthy and respected, living a life at the pinnacle of success. After marrying his stunning half sister Sarai and establishing his own household, he and some of his family followed God’s call to relocate to Canaan. They traveled for 600 miles and many months, and “when they came to Haran, they settled there” (Gen. 11:31, NET).1

Why, when Haran was only halfway to Canaan?

Haran was like Ur’s sister city. Was it the pull of familiarity—customs, culture, and religion—that reminded them of home?

Sometimes Life Gets Serious

In Haran, Abram’s father, Terah, died, and from his very grave “the divine Voice bade him [Abram] go forward.”
2 “Go out from your country, your relatives, and your father’s household to the land that I will show you” (Gen. 12:1, NET). Abram could not settle anymore. The time for stopping was over. With Sarai and Lot he went—leaving behind past and pride, heritage and esteem, Ur and Haran and their support networks. The call was “Go!” and go they did.

Back to our contemporary representation of Abram and Sarai: under what circumstances would Barry and Sarah follow a call to “go out” from the place that gave them identity, purpose, and security? As millennials they would need a cause. But what cause would so grip their hearts as to compel them to go and leave their coveted lives behind? For Abram and Sarai, the cause was God. Though their own family mixed the worship of God with the worship of idols, they believed in God only, and became God-chosen, appointed bearers of His great promise: “Go from your country . . . to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great. . . . I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen. 12:1-3).

A truly great cause—to be blessed by God and to bless all peoples on earth! Even Barry and Sarah would have been in awe of the magnitude of such a cause. Perhaps, with today’s notion of overpopulation, they would not be so fond of the idea of spawning a great nation. But to give birth to one world-changing child who would alter the course of history, a child who would need to be raised in a place God would show them, would they go? There’s a good chance.

Don’t stop believing. Believe in “the God who makes the dead alive and summons the things that do not yet exist as though they already do” (Rom. 4:17, NET).

Abram and Sarai did go, journeying stage by caravan stage. Barry and Sarah drive mile by mile—through city and suburbs, through the country and rurality. Going where? To the land that their Lord will show them. Hope is in their eyes. In the world’s eyes their future is behind them in Ur and Haran, or Brooklyn and Philadelphia. In their eyes God holds their future; He has called them to a cause that will change the world. They travel for months, and finally God appears to Abram, and says, “Unto thy seed will I give this land” (Gen. 12:7, KJV).

Abram and Sarai settled in that promised land. Sometimes they were bad representatives of God—as when in Egypt they fearfully hid the fact that they were married (Gen. 12:10-20). They also faced great challenges—as when Abram’s nephew Lot was taken captive by the forces of four invading kings. In response Abram engaged 318 of his trained servants to attack the captors and release Lot and others from Sodom (Gen. 14). Through all this God and Abram were ever on good terms (Gen. 13:14-18; 15). Still, among all their experiences, one matter brought them more enduring sorrow and consternation than anything else.

Sometimes Life Gets Painful

Consider God’s promise spoken to Abram: “Look around from where you are. . . .
All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever.I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted” (Gen. 13:14-16).

Now consider the fact that Abram and Sarai were completely childless. They had tried for years, for decades. Barry and Sarah, our contemporary Abram and Sarai, would have spent a nice chunk of their wealth at all the best fertility clinics in the country—all to no avail. All the hoping and waiting, the roller coaster of hormones and emotions, every passing month.

In the midst of it all, what stung them most was
the promise. It was bad enough not to have a child. Barry and Sarah would feel that same ache when they longed for a baby to love and hold. But for Abram and Sarai, living in a culture in which preservation of the family line was of vital importance, the shame of childlessness was inescapably painful.

Then, added to that ache, was
the promise—from God Himself; the promise not of a child, but of a whole nation, numerous as the dust and the stars. That promise—they could never escape it, never avoid it, never forget it even if at times they wanted to. In the daytime they saw dust everywhere; it caked their feet, and they remembered the promise. At night countless shining stars in a silent desert sky shouted their constant reminder of that promise. God’s promise gave them no rest, even as they watched their bodies age and saw the promise remain barren and unfulfilled.

How long would you have held on to the promise? Until age 40? 50? 99?

Later Abram heard his promise-making God again: “Fear not, Abram! I am your shield and the one who will reward you in great abundance” (Gen. 15:1, NET). But Abram responded, “You have not given me a descendant” (verse 3, NET). So the Creator of stars took Abram outside to count them and reiterated His promise: “So will your descendants be” (verse 5, NET).

Imagine Abram’s heart, flooded with conflicting emotions: he must choose between God and his lived reality of great age and no child! He must deny visible reality to believe the invisible One. His decades of proven faith—living in Canaan, not Ur and Haran—ever tested by the emptiness of that promise of a seed. Still, how could he deny his Creator and true friend? So “[a]gainst hope Abraham believed” (Rom. 4:18, NET); “believed in the Lord; and He counted it to him for righteousness” (Gen. 15:6, KJV).

It is the summary of our role in the gospel story: like Abram, counted as righteous by God, because we cherish hope-against-hope belief—belief that chooses the reality of God’s presence in our life over the reality that human eyes see. God asks of us no more than to believe beyond our human understanding, to
really believe in Him. Then He deems us what we could never make ourselves, righteous; and covers us with the robe of perfect righteousness that He earned for us. Righteous we are—by faith!

ALWAYS, the Truth Is Liberating

Have you staked your life on God and His promise though everything you see screams that you’re mistaken, that it’s all for naught? Don’t stop believing. Believe with Abram in “the God who makes the dead alive and summons the things that do not yet exist as though they already do” (Rom. 4:17, NET). Believe in the God who waited to fulfill the promise so long that its very fulfillment became an undisputed miracle, powerful evidence for His existence.

Look at your life: do you see your faults and sins? Then look at your Savior, look at His face on the cross. Believe Him: believe that His grace cancels out all your sins; that you are a new and spotless creature because of His promise; that on your disheartened, discouraged, dead days He is the resurrection of your dry bones (Eze. 37:1-14). Receive Christ’s righteousness, His gift for all who choose to believe. Receive His perfect peace in your heart, the peace that every human since Adam has searched for. Believe His promise thateverything will be all right in the end
. Celebrate the promise of life: you have it all because you believe, because you believe that His life has replaced your debt and death—“believe in the Lord Jesus” and His promise is sure: you shall be saved (Acts 16:31).

1 Scripture quotations marked NET are from the
New English Translation Bible, copyright © 1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

2 Ellen G. White,
Patriarchs and Prophets (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1890, 1908), p. 127.

Marla Samaan Nedelcu, systematic theologian, teaches online classes for Southern Adventist University, Collegedale, Tennessee, and shares life with husband, Adrian; son, Simon; and daughter, Nadia.