(God) took (Abraham) outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars-if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”(Genesis 15:5)
God had promised Abraham and Sarah that they would be founders of a great nation and a blessing to the earth. They had kept their part of the bargain and gone where God told them to go. They had trusted and believed. But the years had piled up like sand in the desert and no child had been born to them. True, God had brought them into a new land as promised, but what good was that if there was no one to leave it to?
The story of Sarah and Abraham is a story of barrenness – not only of their inability to have children, but also of a world in which our prayers go unanswered, our deepest hopes remain unborn. As for Abraham, so also for us the time comes when we want action. Abraham, speaking for us all, says to God, in essence, “The land is fine, Lord, but what about the child you promised?”
We who worship the God of Abraham and Sarah and believe that the promised blessing is also for us feel the urgency in his question. We have asked it from the depths of our hearts too. Why am I unable to find a meaningful job? Where is the good health for which I’ve prayed? Will there ever be someone to love me? How long must we live in fear of terrorism?
As Abraham’s question cut through the night air, God gave him a sign. He took him outdoors, beneath a sky powdered with stars, and said again that he and Sarah would have descendants to outnumber the lights of heaven. It was not an explanation but simply a reiteration of the promise. It meant Don’t give up! Keep the faith! I’m still around!
Faith is a gift, something we receive rather than achieve. Some receive it in great measure, others less so. But all of us, like Abraham, are called to be observers of signs. When he grew tired of waiting, he saw in the stars something that helped him persevere. Our signs may be more subtle – a kind word, a gentle hand, a beautiful thing that reminds us of the Creator’s love. Harvest those signs. Share them. Each one, great or small, helps us in the long and difficult wait for the fulfillment of God’s promises.
Dr. Michael A. Halleen