God of the Promise
I’ve been preparing to teach a Bible Overview workshop, and specifically looking at the stories of the Patriarchs and the Old Testament historical narratives. It’s the stories we all learn in Sunday School - the parting of the Red Sea, the burning bush, the manna in the desert. The kind of stuff that makes great movie material. But these were real people! Real stories, real heartache and trauma and extravagant miracles.
Did you know that Noah and Abraham were alive at the same time? Sounds crazy but it’s true… Abraham is a descendant of Noah, 10 generations after. But Noah lived a loooong life, to the ripe old age of 950. It’s quite possible that they even had conversations or shared meals together! And Noah might have spent time with Methuselah, who was alive at the same time as Adam. It’s possible that Adam’s stories of creation and the garden of Eden were shared with Methuselah, who shared them with Noah, who shared them with Abraham.
This is all just speculation, but it illustrates how generations build on those who come before them. I was struck by how the great Patriarchs were building on the ones who came before them - both good and bad. And how each of them were given the promise that wasn’t actually for them but for those who would come after them. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were given the promise, but they did not possess the promised land. These men had the promise but not the possession. And yet, how does God refer to Himself? Over and over, when He is talking to Moses or to the people of Israel, He calls Himself the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God is not hiding from the fact that these men didn’t see the promise fulfilled. He celebrates them. So what does He know that we don’t?
Maybe, the point isn’t the promise. Maybe the point isn’t us. Maybe, like the Patriarchs, we are supposed to partner with God and walk with Him, sowing seeds for future generations. Maybe we’re supposed to be ok with sojourning in a land that we will never build a home in.
Let’s look at Abraham - when he was given the promise and walking through the land as a sojourner, he had no rights to be there. When he first got the promise, he had no inheritance, no deed, no practical confirmation of what God said. Can anyone relate to that? Do you have a promise from God that seems laughable and there is no practical confirmation? What Abraham chose to do, was to walk the land and build altars in it. Walking the land is important because he learned the lay of the land, he surveyed it until it became familiar territory. He didn’t burst in and demand the natives let him take over, he quietly immersed himself in it and awaited God’s timing. He also built altars - he marked the places he experienced God and left them there for future generations to see. How can you mark your experiences with God?
And then there’s Isaac. Isaac was given the promise as well. He was 25 years old when his father almost killed him as a sacrifice to the Lord. I don’t know about you, but I always pictured him as a young child, blissfully unaware of the trauma unfolding with him at the centre. But as a 25 yr old, he would know what was happening. He would be aware, but he didn’t fight back. He knew there was a promise on his life, and he chose to submit to his father even when it seemed to go against the promise. He surrendered to the sovereignty of God. When Isaac was older, he had the privilege of digging wells in the land, of opening up the places that had become dry. There were things his father had discovered, that the enemy tried to cover up. Isaac identified those places, and did the work of uncovering them. What are the blessings that have been lost your generation? Identify them and work with God to uncover them.
Oh, and Jacob. Dear Jacob. The deceiver. So many mistakes he made, so many times he disobeyed the Lord. And yet God used him. God chose him to father the 12 tribes of Israel. God trusted him to raise the men who would raise the nation. There is nothing God won’t redeem! Your mistakes and your past do not disqualify you from participating in the promise. Shame would like to rob you of the role of fathering or mothering the next generation, but God wants to trust you with them.
The Patriarchs had the promise but not the possession. They surveyed the land and built altars in it. They dug wells in the land and revealed and restored what the enemy had stolen. They were sojourners, but not owners. They were sowing for future generations, and they were ok with God’s sovereign timing. When God gave them the promise, they considered it done. They acted as if it was.
God was not ashamed of these men, He was proud to be associated with them. It’s so important that we pay attention to that and lean into it for ourselves. God is not ashamed of the things we haven’t achieved. He is proud to be known as your God.
Where are you in this story? Are you possessing the promised land, or preparing it? Are you building altars or digging wells? What are you believing for the next generation?