It’s one of the more beloved stories of the Bible: the saga of Abraham and Sarah, originally known as Abram and Sarai.
Abraham, faithful to God, obeys God’s command to leave his homeland for the land God promises, trusting God’s pledge to make of him a “great nation” (Genesis 12).
With his wife Sarah, nephew Lot, and other earthly riches, Abraham travels to Canaan. After a famine-prompted sojourn in Egypt, Abraham and Sarah return to Canaan.
But Sarah is still childless. Years later, God gifts a miracle as he grants an elderly Abraham and Sarah the child they desperately desire: Isaac. Through Isaac, and Isaac’s son Jacob, come the 12 tribes of Israel.
But Abraham and Sarah were decidedly imperfect. They disobeyed, made mistakes, questioned God, and even laughed at God. Still, God chose to bless them in spite of this.
Why did God bless Abraham and Sarah even after they disobeyed? And what does this say about God’s nature and His love for us today?
What Did God Promise Abraham?
We first meet Abraham, then called Abram, in Genesis 11. After the great flood, Noah’s three sons repopulated the earth. His son, Shem, was a great-great-great-great-grandfather of Abram’s father, Terah. Terah had moved his son Abram and the rest of his immediate family to Harran, partway between Ur and Canaan, and there they settled until Terah passed away.
This is where Abraham’s story begins, when God speaks to him there in Harran, pledging, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household 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, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:1-3, NIV).
Abraham obeyed, we’re told, and he and his family began their journey to Canaan, where God spoke to Abraham again, promising in Genesis 12:7 that He would give that land to Abraham’s offspring.
God’s words were not empty, for our Lord does not make empty promises. And God made a distinct promise to Abraham: I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you. I will give this land to your offspring.
Why Did God Bless Abraham and Sarah?
What comes next is the first instance of disobedience. Abraham was fully aware of God’s promise, but then came a famine. Instead of staying in Canaan, he took his family to Egypt, where food was more plentiful.
Problems in the family began immediately after this — Abraham realized his wife, Sarah, was beautiful, which would create a problem, for the Egyptians would desire her and kill him. So, they lied and told everyone Sarah was his sister.
The Pharoah of Egypt did indeed desire Sarah and took her into his palace, not realizing she was married to Abraham. The Bible then tells us, “The Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai” (12:17).
When Pharaoh realized the reason, he confronted Abraham, gave Sarah back, and sent the family on their way.
God could have punished Abraham harshly for his lack of faith, but God didn’t. He loved Abraham and fully intended to make of him a “great nation.” Ultimately, God steered Abraham and Sarah back to Canaan, where their story could continue. God intended this plan to work.
Why Did God Bless Abraham after His Disobedience?
Abraham did well by the Lord for a time. His nephew Lot moved east, and Abraham and Sarah stayed in Canaan, where the Lord had placed him.
When difficulty befell Lot and Lot was taken captive, Abraham even went to his rescue. God blessed Abraham, and the rescue was not only a success, but Abraham was able to defeat the enemy and bring peace to the region (Genesis 14:15-17).
He remained loyal to God, refusing to take any of the spoils of the attack offered to him by the king of Sodom.
After this, God made a covenant with Abraham, telling him in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward” (Genesis 15:1). When Abraham questioned who would be his heir, as he was childless, God promised a son who is his own flesh and blood.
In Genesis 15:5, God promised, “Look up at the sky and count the stars — if indeed you can count them. … So shall your offspring be.”
God also promised He would give Abraham’s offspring possession of the land.
This is where we see disobedience again. First, Abraham appeared to be skeptical of God’s promise, asking God, “How can I know that I will gain possession of it?” (15:8).
So, God told Abraham to bring Him a heifer, goat, ram, dove, and a young pigeon. Abraham complied, cutting the animals in two, which was the typical way to honor a covenant in those times.
But the Bible tells us, “The birds, however, he did not cut in half” (Genesis 15:10).
This might seem like a small act of disobedience, but it was still disobedience. And at nightfall, the Bible tells us, Abraham “fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him” (v. 12). Then God told Abraham that while his descendants would indeed inherit the land, they would be enslaved and mistreated for 400 years.
Again, in spite of Abraham’s doubts and improper covenant etiquette (by not cutting the birds in half), God still kept His covenant with Abraham. His descendants might suffer a while, but ultimately, they would inherit the land and still become the great nation God promised.
As with the situation in Egypt, we see: God intended His plan to work. His promises were for good, not for evil, for God is only and always good.
We might interpret the “dreadful darkness” Abraham experienced as fear God stirred in his heart and the 400 years of oppression as a punishment, and indeed they might well be. But both were used for good.
But they were for the good. They steered Abraham back toward God. They helped Abraham return to alignment with God and renew his faith.
Why Did God Bless Abraham and Sarah after Hagar?
More disobedience comes next. Abraham still has no children sometime later, so Sarah tells her husband to sleep with their slave, Hagar, and get offspring in this way. Abraham does, and Hagar gives birth to Ishmael.
Again, we have a problem with trust. Abraham and Sarah did not trust God to provide. Instead of waiting on God’s perfect timing, Abraham and Sarah tried to fulfill God’s promise themselves by having a child through Hagar. This disobedience caused strife between Sarah and Hagar and between Sarah and Abraham.
And yet again, we see God’s grace and mercy in this family. God had a plan and a purpose. He knew the outcome, that Sarah would indeed give birth to Isaac, father of Jacob and ultimately all Israel.
But it seems God again wanted to teach Abraham and Sarah a lesson through their disobedience, and like any good parent, He did this with consequences: the strained relationships and tension among them.
And as before, Abraham returned to alignment with God.
Why Did God Bless Abraham and Sarah after Their Disbelief?
When Abraham was 99 years old, God told him Sarah would give birth to his son, Isaac. This seemed impossible to Abraham, for Sarah was 90 years old, so he laughed at the idea. But God insisted it would happen.
Later, when Sarah laughed at the notion that she would bear a child at such an advanced age, God asked why she laughed.
“Is anything too hard for the Lord?” God asked in Genesis 18:14.
Both Abraham and Sarah doubted God. Sarah even lied when confronted about why she laughed. They did not initially believe this could possibly happen.
But God knew the truth — He can do anything, especially the seemingly impossible.
By blessing them with Isaac, God showed them important truths: One, He is God Almighty, God All-Powerful, God Who Can Do All Things. Nothing is too hard for Him.
And two, God intended His plan to prevail. Even Sarah and Abraham’s continued disobedience wasn’t reason enough to stop what God planned for good.
We likely know the end of the story — Abraham and Sarah did go on to have Isaac, whose son Jacob had 12 children who became the founders of the 12 tribes of Israel. Jesus Christ is descended from this bloodline, and Abraham’s descendants are as God promised — so numerous they are virtually uncountable, much like the stars.
All of us sin. As hard as we try not to, we are imperfect and cannot earn our way into heaven.
The story of God blessing Abraham and Sarah in spite of their continued disobedience indicates a number of things: God loves us. God can do anything He wishes. God won’t let anything stop a plan He intends.
And God will use our disobedience to help steer us back on track — and into a better and deeper relationship with Him.
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Jessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism. Learn more about her fiction and read her faith blog at jessicabrodie.com. She has a weekly YouTube devotional, too. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and more. She’s also produced a free eBook, A God-Centered Life: 10 Faith-Based Practices When You’re Feeling Anxious, Grumpy, or Stressed.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
These verses serve as a source of renewal for the mind and restoration for the heart by reinforcing the notion that, while human weakness is inevitable, God's strength is always available to uplift, guide, and empower us.
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