What do you think of when you think of Abraham in the Bible? Many thoughts come to my mind:
- He left so much to follow the call of the Lord - his country, friends and family, his religion - and headed off into the unknown, not sure where the Lord was taking him.
- God made a great promise and covenant with him.
- Abraham became the father of a great nation.
- Abraham was justified by faith.
- Abraham, like God, offered up his son.
- Abraham is called "Friend of God."
- Abraham is a central figure not only for Christians, but also for those of Jewish descent and for Moslems.
There is one particular verse in the 13 or so chapters of the Bible that tell his story that contains such a beautiful offer, such an incredible promise...
After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: "Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward."
I think it was a Beth Moore Bible study in our home church where I first noticed this verse, and as I've spent some time lately reflecting on it.
The first thing the Lord says is "Do not be afraid, Abram." God calls Abram by name. To me, it has a lot of significance when someone is speaking to me and chooses to use my given name, even when it is not necessary to understand that the other person is speaking to me. It somehow makes what they are saying more personal and targets it directly at me. It is both humbling and encouraging to recognize that God knows me and calls me by name.
But the Lord doesn't stop with Abram's name. He also tells him "Do not be afraid." Abraham, a man known for his great faith and his unwavering confidence in God, is being reminded by God to "have not fear," as it is written in French. For one to live and experience a great faith, one must first recognize, live and experience a great fear. And that is encouraging. When those moments of terrible fearfulness come into my life, I can trust the One who is shaping and molding me, that He is directing me to a greater faith and trust in Himself. We are told elsewhere in the Bible that "We march by faith and not by sight," so when we forget and start trying to walk by what we see - to figure things out on our own - it is very natural to become fearful, for faith is beyond comprehension. It is then that I need to hear the voice of my Lord, whether He speaks directly to my heart, through the encouraging words of another, or in His Word, reminding me not to fear.
And Abram need not fear. The next phrase is beautiful promise that God makes to Abram. God says, "I am your shield." (in the French, it reads "I am your protector.") When I taught this part of the study to the women at church, we spent some time looking at different verses in the Bible where God promises to be our shield, learning what is meant by a shield. A shield is a defensive tool used by a soldier to protect himself while in battle. It is an object behind which he can hide and he uses his shield to block or interfere with the lashes, blows, arrows and other weapons of the enemy. The Bible uses this image of a shield as a powerful word picture of the protection He offers to His children.And we too have this same promise. Nothing can touch us, unless it first passes through our shield and protector. The struggle comes when my meaning of safe doesn't match up with God's meaning of safe - as my viewpoint is almost always initially a temporal one while His is always infinite. One of the startling things that I learned studying through the book of Job is that his story is not so much a story of great suffering, but rather the story of how God grew Job so that he had an immense faith and confidence in the Lord.
The final phrase in this verse is one that, upon reflection, takes my breath away. God says to Abram, "I am... your very great reward." God is not only the rewarder, but He, Himself, is the reward. The same God of the universe, who created everything, who gives to each man every breath and every beat of his heart, said to Abram, "I give you Myself as your reward."
Deut. 33.29a: "Blessed are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord? He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword..."
2 Sam. 22.2,3a: "David sang to the Lord the words of this song when the Lord delivered him from the hands of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. He said: 'The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation...' "
Psalm 119.114: "You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word."Ephesians 6.16: "In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one."
Phil. 4.6,7: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
It was Abram's response to this last statement that I found surprising and convicting, however: "O Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless...?" Essentially, Abram is saying to the Lord, "Lord, what You are offering me is not what I want. I want a child, the son you have promised me. I don't want You; give me a child."
Can you imagine saying something like that to the Lord? As I asked the ladies at church, they were all quick to say, "Oh no! Having God is better than anything else," which is the right response, but I know as I search my heart, I too, am guilty of this very same thing. God has offered me Himself - the only One who can ultimately satisfy the deepest longings of my heart, for He created me to be in relationship with Him. Yet instead of accepting and truly recognizing the enormity of what He has done, I complain and fuss, because although He's already given me the very best, that was not what I had wanted.
What "other" things might people demand? We came up with a list at Bible study:
- a child or children (just like Abram);
- a husband;
- a family;
- food or drink;
- riches (money or material possessions);
- physical beauty or attractiveness to others;
- good health;
- peaceful and tranquility;
- good health;
- times free from pain and suffering (either physical or emotional);
- good and faithful friends; etc., etc., etc.
This list could most definitely go on, but in closing, I challenged the ladies and myself to spend some time searching our hearts to find if there was some area, where just like Abram, we are saying, "God, I don't want you. I want ____________ instead. Nothing else will satisfy me." Such areas in our lives need to be confessed and forgiveness sought.
Abram had such a promise - God Himself would guard his lives and keep him safe.
An exceeding great reward...