GENESIS – SERIES NR 17: Nothing too difficult for God
Scripture : Genesis 18
We believe that God is omnipotent. We confess it every Sunday. But, will we
stand or fall by that? In Gen 18 we read about a woman who found the
confession that God can do anything so strange and unreal, that she burst out
laughing. Her faith caused her laughter! How does that fit together?
Firstly, we have to bear in mind that WE are represented in Sarah’s laughter! Because it is the history of salvation which is described here. It is God’s
dealings with His chosen nation – where principles and examples are described which would remain true throughout the centuries, and repeated again and
again in the lives of millions of Christians.
In other words: In His dealings with Abraham and Sarah He indicated the
direction for His church on earth right up to the second coming. Therefore we can mirror ourselves in Abraham and Sarah. When Abraham for example,
embraced the Lord’s promise in obedience, we see therein a picture of the
entire true church of all ages bowing down before the Lord. But likewise when Sarah could not control her mirth about the impossibility of God’s promises, we can hear the doubt of the entire church through all the ages! In Sarah’s
laughter we can hear the echo of our own!
It was now approximately 25 years since the Lord first gave the promise of
descendants to Abraham. Sarah was still childless. In the meantime they
attempted to help God to fulfill His promise by way of Hagar and Ishmael.
This willful experiment was actually wrong in the eyes of the Lord.
And then, decades later, out of the blue, Abraham received a visit from three strangers. In his hospitality he was unaware that he was entertaining divine
visitors. Even less that it was the Lord Himself sitting down to dinner!
While they ate, one of the men made a strange announcement. He said that
the promise of God which was at that time unfulfilled for 25 years, would be fulfilled within the next 12 months! Sarah would have a son. And that while
Abraham and Sarah were already old and well advanced in years, and Sarah
past the age of childbearing. It was simply impossible that she could become
pregnant. Nature was against them!
However, Sarah was listening to the conversation and overheard that she would bear a child. These strange men – whoever they may be – who were visiting with Abraham, were making this strange claim. She was amused.
Humanly speaking there was of course nothing wrong with Sarah’s reaction.
The facts were simply logical! She actually had very good reason to laugh. One should understand Sarah: She did not know who the three visitors were. But even if she did know, she probably would still have been amused. Because,
HUMANLY SPEAKING it could not be!
This is what God’s promises actually always are: Humanly speaking impossible. There is always an unpredictable factor. Yes, we always profess that we fully trust in the impossible. We pretend. But we do not always mean it. The
“humanly speaking” is always hiding in the back of our mind. Man’s fallen
human nature refuses to work with the unpredictable factor, and for safety
sake leave out the unbelievable possibilities of God’s omnipotence and
faithfulness. It is better to stay only with the KNOWLEDGE-component of faith, and leave out the TRUST.
Sarah was staring herself blind against the facts of her natural circumstances.
Her faith was therefore dependent on how credible her circumstances were.
She did not realize that she was putting up boundaries for God. But on the other hand, she did not know WHO the visitors were.
The visitors’ answer should have stopped Abraham and Sarah in their tracks.
Sarah was not in their presence when she laughed, but the visitors knew it.
And they knew why she laughed. They could read her mind. “Is anything too
hard for the Lord?” the Lord asked Abraham. WHAT? Is it God Himself sitting over there with Abraham, what is happening here? And why THREE men? Yes, indeed it was the Lord. Not three angels. We can also not say that it was the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the form of three men. Perhaps it was, but
there is no proof in the text. It is also not necessary. Perhaps it was the Lord accompanied by two angels. All that is important here, is that it was the Lord who appeared to Abraham. We call it a “theophany”. In verse 14 the one
visitor refers to himself as “the LORD”. However we must understand it, it was definitely the Lord who appeared in human form to Abraham and Sarah.
And His question engraves itself onto our souls: “Is anything too hard for the
Lord?” If we believe that, we will not be overcome with fear and
powerlessness so easily. We will not tremble so readily over the powers of
“Sarah, is there anything which is too miraculous for the Lord? Would it be
impossible for Him to bring forth a son out of your aged body to fulfill His
promises? And if He can bring forth a son out of your aged body, why can He not allow a virgin to become pregnant and bear a Son? Why would it be
impossible for Him to establish and maintain His church here on earth in a
miraculous way. Would it be impossible for Him to bring about the impossible with His own Son’s death on the cross: reconciliation between a Holy God and ungodly humans. Would the wonder of eternal life be too miraculous for Him”
Yes, faith-trust means to laugh. The laughter of joy and gratitude. Abraham and Sarah learned something very important from the word of the three visitors:
They learned to know the Lord anew as the Lord of miracles. God will and
shall keep His Word. Even contrary to natural expectation! And one of the
promises that He will keep, is the promise of judgment over the stubborn
rebellious unsaved humanity. Judgment is part of His covenant-promises.
Abraham is now going to discover that.
The visitors had a pleasant visit and were getting ready to leave. Two departed, but one remained behind to discuss a few things with Abraham. It is the
living God himself who was speaking to Abraham.
The Lord made it clear that He was heading to Sodom. In order to judge
Sodom. Sodom and Gomorrah were two cities situated against to the north of the Dead Sea. That is where Lot chose to live. However, Lot did not know
how wicked these people were. The Lord was determined to raze these cities
to the ground, but first, Lot had to be rescued. God’s child cannot and must
not and will not be judged along with the ungodly.
That is the information that the Lord imparted to Abraham. Shocking
information. Facts which brought Abraham up short.
It is amazing to think that the Lord found it at all necessary to make His
Divine plans known to a human being. What interest was there for Abraham in Sodom, and what chance was there that he could change the Lord’s mind
about what He was going to do?
Well, Lot was in Sodom. And Abraham was in a covenant-relationship with God. What Abraham said and prayed was therefore not nothing. The Lord
incorporates His children’s prayers and intercession into the execution of His
Divine plan. That is an incomprehensible mystery of which the Bible is full.
That is exactly what was happening here. Abraham suddenly emerged as the
intercessor, the man who stood in the breach for other people. Yes, God
wanted to rescue Lot out of Sodom, but it pleased Him to do it BY MEANS
OF Abraham’s intercession. It is simply above our understanding.
In addition it was also important that Abraham and his descendants had to
learn that the God of the covenant is also the God of judgment. Yes, He is
love, but He is also the Judge of heaven and earth. He is holy. And everyone
is accountable to Him. He demands obedience. That is why Abraham had to
know about Sodom.
It was further necessary that Abraham should have been informed about
Sodom so that he could understand that – as a believer – he was not living in isolation but that he was part of the rest of the world and had a
responsibility towards others. And this was indeed his big test: Did he have a heart for the (lost) world?
Therefore it was from the Lord himself that Abraham heard that He would not tolerate Sodom and Gomorrah’s heaven-defying sinful behavior, and that the
people would be tried under His wrath. What would Abraham’s reaction be to this announcement? That is the question.
Well, Abraham could piously have put his hands together, sighed sadly and
looked up to heaven praying: “Lord, I know it is terrible, but I know that I am right with You. On the other hand, the Sodomites are a wicked lot. What You decide is right. Law and justice must be upheld. It is hard, but it can’t be
Abraham would certainly have pleaded on behalf of his nephew, Lot. It is
understandable. After all, they were family. Or he might have thought: Lot is
getting his just deserts for his greed.
But no, here the miracle of God in Abraham’s life came to the fore. It was
the work of the Holy Spirit in his heart. When Abraham heard the Lord’s
announcement, he began to plead with the Lord for Sodom and Gomorrah. He pleaded for their preservation/salvation. He even dared to argue and
remonstrate with the Lord. Not for his own sake, but for the sake of the
corrupt people who truly deserved the judgment.
This is really an intriguing story. A sinner dares to INSIST on something with
the God of heaven and earth. Abraham was literally trying to make the
almighty God change His mind. He was pleading. He was begging. He was
crying. His plea rested on the words WHAT IF… Maybe. “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are 50 righteous people in the
city? What if 45… what if 40… what if 30… what if 20… what if 10… ?
It sounds as if Abraham was only concerned about the saved people – the
righteous. But not so. He was pleading for the entire city. He was praying for the entire city for the sake of the righteous. With “righteous” Abraham
probably meant those in whose lives the Lord was busy, those who may have heard something about God’s covenant, and who were seized by it. He was
holding THEM up before the Lord as a reason, in his opinion, why the Lord
should not destroy the city. In today’s terms: He was pleading with God that
He would spare the world (Sodom) for the sake of the church of Christ – in
order to enable the church to continue its witness in the world. So that a
mere 10 people could permeate an unbelieving city with the message of the
It takes faith-courage to PERSIST in this way with the Lord, not so?
But we notice in Genesis 18 the endless patience of God with someone who
is truly caught up with the spirit of intercession. The Lord allows it! But that
is not all. He even gives in! He listens to the urgent supplication of His peopleand He changes His plan – He certainly CAN change circumstances.
A Christ-believer is someone who has been called to pray. And chosen to be
an intercessor – in reality to stand between the Lord and a humanity heading
for destruction. And to intercede. John Wesley said: “When one becomes a
Christian, the Lord removes the world OUT of your heart and then place the world UPON your heart.” That is the prayer-burden which Abraham experienced. With an attitude of: “I will not give up until You have answered.”
The Lord Jesus is of course the leader in prayer, and intercessor par excellence. We know how He prayed in John 17, and we know how He prayed on the
cross for His murderers. Above all, His self-sacrifice on the cross was the
greatest intercession imaginable. And Hebrews makes it clear that He – as
eternal High Priest – is continuously busy interceding for His church. The Lord
Jesus is therefore the Greater Abraham or the One whom Abraham
prefigured in his intercession-prayer.
That is the power of Christ who is at work in us and places the same kind of burden on us. All Christians experience it. Some more than others. Throughout the centuries many Christians have had a particular gift of intercession. One
thinks of Rees Howells who helped shape the outcome of the Second World
War by way of intensive intercession. Throughout the war Rees Howells
wrestled with God for hours – day and night – against the evil forces in the air who were driving the war. And in this way he begged the outcome of the
war from God who answered him. A man whose entire life – every segment of it – was altogether surrendered and sold out to the Lord. Gripping to read his story. You can do it online. Try to get hold of the book: “Rees Howells:
And then there was of course Daniel Nash (Father Nash) who died while he
was on his knees over a map of the world – busy interceding for nations and peoples. The most wonderful way to be taken up into glory: in the action of
Father Nash was the man whom the Lord used during the ministry of Charles Finney – the man through whose ministry the Lord brought thousands of
people to salvation. But it was actually not through the preaching of Finney,
but it was the intercession of Father Nash that brought the success.
When Finney was to visit a certain town for a series of evangelistic services,
Father Nash would go to that town three weeks in advance, rent a room and begin to intercede day and night for a spiritual breakthrough in the area. He
and Abel Clary usually prayed together. They would literally lie on the floor
and with tears, sighs and groans and with loud cries call upon the Lord until
they were physically exhausted and ill. But, they would never accept NO from the Lord as an answer.
Once, the lady from whom they had rented a room, came to Finney in a state, telling him: ” Something very strange is happening. Two men rented a room
from me, but I never see them leave the room. They eat nothing, drink
nothing, and one can hear the strangest noises coming from the room”.
Finney could reassure her with a smile: “Do not be perturbed, Madam, it is an unusual burden of prayer which is resting on them”.
And then, when Finney began with the services and started to preach, the
heavens went open and thousands came to faith. Father Nash would never
attend the services, but remained prostrate before the Lord in prayer.
The Lord help us to have a heart for people who are lost – in such a way
that intercession becomes important to us. People who have once begun to
learn this and relish it, will not be able to return to the way things were
Translated by Marthie Wilson