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Comment-Underestimating God

August 2005

We are often warned not to underestimate our enemies, but what about our friends? Are we in danger of under-estimating God?

Underestimating God not only burdens us with needless cares but can cause much harm. This is exemplified by no less than Abraham, the archetype of faith! If even he could fail in this respect we also need to watch out.

A helping hand

Abraham’s underestimation of God is seen firstly in the matter of his heir. God had given him a remarkable inheritance but there was one problem – Abraham had no son to inherit it! Nevertheless, the Lord promised that in due time a son would be born to him. Abraham believed God ‘and it was accounted to him for righteousness’ (Genesis 15:1-6).

But the years passed and nothing happened. Had God forgotten his promise, or was he simply unable to deliver? The patriarch was now 85 and his wife was well past the age of child-bearing. Clearly, God needed a helping hand!

So Sarah had a bright idea. She would give Abraham her young Egyptian slave Hagar as a second wife. She could bear him children who would also belong to Sarah since Hagar was only a slave.

The plan succeeded brilliantly. Hagar conceived almost immediately and Ishmael was born. With a little help from Sarah and Abraham, God’s promise had at last been fulfilled. There was only one problem – Ishmael was the wrong son! (Genesis 17:18-19).

The outcome, of course, was much personal suffering for all concerned, while the conflict between Israel and Ishmael’s descendants is a matter both of historical record and current reality.

Where did they go wrong?

Their error was to underestimate the power of God – his ability to do the impossible. By taking matters into their own hands, Abraham and Sarah departed from absolute dependence on God.

Moreover, they threatened to negate the pattern of a ‘miraculous’ birth by which the true son, Isaac, became a type of Christ – the seed in whom, ultimately, Abraham himself trusted and was justified as a result. Far more was at stake than they realised.

In a second example, Abraham and Sarah concealed from Abimelech, king of Gerar, that she was his wife (Genesis 20). The patriarch judged that Gerar was a godless place: ‘surely the fear of God is not in this place and they will kill me on account of my wife’ (20:11).

What was the problem this time? Abraham underestimated the presence of God. He thought he had stumbled into a divine exclusion zone – a godless place where he would have to look after himself because God was simply not around to help.

How wrong he was! Unknown to him, the Lord was in direct communication with Abimelech, who had taken the still-attractive Sarah into his harem. God not only kept him from touching Sarah but also warned him verbally of his displeasure.

God’s presence was all too real to Abimelech even if it wasn’t to Abraham!

The lessons

We live and serve the Lord Jesus Christ in difficult days. Fifty years ago things were different. Many local churches in the UK were experiencing blessing, and conversions were at times common.

But today, with a few happy exceptions, we have little sense of either the power or the presence of God. In these circumstances there is a genuine danger of underestimating God. Like Abraham we doubt God’s power to do the impossible and feel that his presence has been withdrawn from our godless land.

But that is not the case. If we lose heart and take matters into our own hands – relying on our wits rather than on the Lord to get us through hard times – we not only underestimate our God but do endless harm to his cause.

Abraham overcame his doubts and mistakes, so that Romans 4:20 can conclude, ‘He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God.’

Let us, like him, recover our confidence in the power and presence of the Lord.

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