Biblical Portrait: God Never Says “oops”

An Amazing Promise

“After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”[1] We are in Chapter 15 of the book of Genesis. The entire conversation in Genesis 15 is absolutely amazing. That night, for the first time ever, Abram expressed his pain to the Lord—for the first time ever, he complained. We don’t know whether it was a decision consciously made in advance that made him say these words, or the fact that he just couldn’t hold back his pain and disappointment any longer. All we know is that, when God tells Abram: “Your reward is exceedingly great,” instead of humble, meek gratitude, we actually hear a resentful complaint: “Lord God, what will you give me? I am going childless.” This is how the English translation reads. In Hebrew, however, it is even worse: “Anohi oleh ariri!” The word ariri ( ערירי – spelled with the letter ayin) means “childless, lonely, abandoned.” But this word also sounds so close to the root “curse” (ariri spelled with the letter alef), that the bitterness of this statement is truly overwhelming: I am cursed by being childless and You are talking about reward?! “Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus.”[2]

Moreover, Abraham repeats this complaint twice, as if to make certain that his pain and disappointment are clearly conveyed to the Lord. Thus, the third verse of chapter 15 merely reiterates the second, with the same resentful, almost angry, attitude: “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir.”[3]

It is in this conversation that God promises him a child of his own: One who will come from your own body shall be your heir.”  At this point, Abraham was 85 years old—younger than 100, of course, when Isaac would be born, but still not exactly a young man. Nevertheless, he believed what the Lord told him—and it is here, in this very place, that the Torah says those famous words about Abraham: And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.[4]

A “Perfect” Solution

Thus, by chapter 16, where the story of Hagar and Ishmael begins, we already know two key things about Abraham: his faith in God, and his desire to become a father. First of all, he loves God with all his heart, he believes in Him just as wholeheartedly, he has great faith, and he has proved his faith many times by being completely and unreservedly obedient. On the other hand, he is desperate to have a child, to see his physical and spiritual heir in “one who will come from his body.” Not only do these two things define Abraham, but they are intertwined in his heart. He knows that God has promised him a child, he believes wholeheartedly in this promise—he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness—and he is waiting for this promise to come to pass. Not only because he himself desperately wants to become a father, but also as a token of faith and obedience, he knows he has to have a child.

This is why, when Sarah comes to him with her “Hagar plan,” he must have seen it as a perfect solution to what seemed to be an insoluble problem. Not only was he getting older, but Sarah was getting older, as well. In fact, she was too old already; she was past child-bearing age, so evidently would not be able to bear his child. On the other hand, the Lord did promise him a descendant “from his body,” so obviously, there has to be another woman to bear this child. However, if this woman were Sarah’s maidservant, her child would still legally be considered Sarah’s son. Brilliant!

It was a great “Aha!” moment for Abraham. He probably looked at his wife admiringly, once again amazed by her wisdom. Perhaps he wondered how Sarah had figured out God’s plan while he hadn’t. Not only did he agree to this plan wholeheartedly, without any objections, but since he believed it to be God’s design and God’s will, he was quick to fulfill it, as he always had been in his obedience to God’s will. So he went in to Hagar, and she conceived.[5]

Was he happy to lay with Hagar? Or, on the contrary, was it a great sacrifice and a great effort for him? We find nothing said about his feelings. Yet, isn’t this exactly the case each time the Scriptures describe Abraham’s obedience? Whether we read about him leaving his homeland, or parting with Lot, or going to sacrifice Isaac, there is not a single word describing his feelings. There is only action: And Abraham went forth… And Abraham rose up early… and once again: and Abraham rose up early…. More than just once or twice after Abraham began walking with the Lord do we see him accomplishing very challenging tasks, yet in describing those tasks, the Bible rarely provides any insights into his thoughts or emotions. Though doubtlessly it was not easy, he performed those difficult tasks time and time again out of love and obedience to God.

This time, however, he was wrong. Tragic as it is to see people willingly and knowingly sinning against God, or just ignoring Him and committing terrible sins, it is even more tragic to watch somebody who loves God with all his heart make a terrible mistake out of sincere belief that it is God’s will—and this is the case with Abraham in our story. How do I know it was a mistake? Simple math can suffice here: We witnessed Abraham’s encounter with God in chapter 15, when he was 85 or 86 years old. The very next time we hear the Lord talking to Abraham is in chapter 17, when Abraham was 99. For thirteen years, God did not speak with him —was this because He was not happy with Abraham’s attempt to bring about the fulfillment of His promise?

And yet, I do believe that Ishmael was also part of God’s plan from the beginning.  For many years, I have wondered why God gave this promise to Abraham: count the stars, if you are able to count them…. So shall your seed be”[6]when in fact, the Jews have always been among the fewest of all peoples[7]. Our numbers are small and not impressive, especially if one compares them with the Arab peoples, for instance. However, if we believe that in chapter 15, the Lord was talking, not just about the Abraham/Isaac/Jacob line, but about the descendants of Abraham from both sons—the descendants of Ishmael as well as the descendants of Isaac—then there can be no doubt that the seed of Abraham is indeed as countless as the stars in heaven. But if so, this means that God already foresaw Ishmael’s descendants, and that Ishmael was to be part of His plan from the outset. God never says “Oops!”; many biblical stories (the story of Joseph, for instance) show us people’s errors and misdeeds—whether they are sincerely mistaken and deluded or they consciously sin and go against God—but through all of that, God is unfolding His plan. The story of Ishmael was not an “Oops!” story, either; Ishmael had to be born, God saw him from the beginning – and therefore He Himself gave the boy this special name: God will hear. Through the delusions and mistakes of those involved in this story, He was unfolding His plan…

 

 

[1] Genesis 15:1

[2] Genesis 15:2

[3] Genesis 15:3

[4] Genesis 15:6

[5] Genesis 16:4

[6] Genesis 15:5

[7] Deuteronomy 7:7

 

Excerpts from my  book “Abraham had two sons”  are included in this  series, you  can get  this book and my other books from  my page on this blog:   https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/julia-blum/   . Also,  my new book “Unlocking the Scriptures”   is available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=unlocking+the+scriptures+by+julia+blum&crid=2IHYED6W7ZVYI&sprefix=julia+blum+%2Caps%2C689&ref=nb_sb_ss_i_4_11

If these articles whet your appetite for discovering the hidden treasures of the Hebrew BibleI would be happy to provide more information (and also a teacher’s discount for new students) regarding our amazing courses (juliab@eteachergroup.com).

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

You might also be interested in:

New Testament Reflections: Vayerah

By Julia Blum

New Testament Reflections:...

By Julia Blum

Join the conversation (10 comments)

Leave a Reply

  1. […] “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”[1] We are in Chapter 15 of the book of Genesis. The entire conversation in Genesis 15 is absolutely amazing. That night, for the first time ever, Abram expressed his pain to the Lord—for the first time ever, he complained. We don’t know whether it was a decision consciously made in advance that made him say these words, or the fact that he just couldn’t hold back his pain and disappointment any longer. All we know is that, when God tells Abram: “Your reward is exceedingly great,” instead of humble, meek gratitude, we actually hear a resentful complaint: “Lord God, what will you give me? I am going childless.” This is how the English translation reads. In Hebrew, however, it is even worse: “Anohi oleh ariri!” The word ariri ( ערירי – spelled with the letter ayin) means “childless, lonely, abandoned.” But this word also sounds so close to the root “curse” (ariri spelled with the letter alef), that the bitterness of this statement is truly overwhelming: I am cursed by being childless and You are talking about reward?! “Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus.”[2] […]

  2. Michelle Manavahe

    ✝️❣️THANK YOU JULIE FOR THIS VERSE ON ABRAHAM AMEN

  3. Henrietta wisbey

    Isn’t it simply amazing!! Through it all God is working His purpose out. Faith, trust, hope. May we find all these in the midst.

    Lovely post. Thank you Julia
    Henrietta

  4. Dot Healy

    This story of our foundational patriarch has such a powerful message – a message Jesus also brought us, “With men it is impossible, but not with God, with God all things are possible.” Our faith is built on the impossible becoming possible … only believe! What God promises WILL come to pass.

    1. Julia Blum

      Indeed Dot, the word “Impossible” has no place in the vocabulary of the Scriptures – and of those who trust His word.

  5. Troy McClure

    Julia, perhaps the innumerable descendants of Abraham are those who come through Jesus Christ.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you for your comment, Troy. Of course, I am familiar with this view -however, I personally believe that in chapter 15, the Lord was not talking only about the Abraham-Isaac-Jacob line, even including the multitude of Abraham’s gentile descendants through faith, He was talking about the descendants of Abraham from both sons: the descendants of Ishmael as well as the descendants of Isaac.

  6. Nick Edwards

    Great teaching Julia. These events remind me of, “all is fore known, yet free will is given”. Both are true. Thank you for your work!
    Nick

  7. Marge Schwartz

    Also, Abraham had many more sons after the death of Sarah.

    1. Julia Blum

      Indeed he did, Marge – yet, the Bible doesn’t tell us much about these sons, while the first two sons: the first-born Ishmael and the son of the covenant Isaac – seem to be extremely important here. Even Paul is writing in the NT : “Abraham had two sons”.