Think back thirteen years. How much has happened in your life in that time? How have you changed? Are you better or worse? Have you grown in faith, or lost the plot?
There is a thirteen year gap between the end of Genesis 16 and the first verse of Genesis 17. Ishamael is now 13 years old. I wonder how things have changed for Hagar or Sarai, and what about Abram? “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him.” It sounds to me as if God has been out of Abram’s picture for all that time. Did he realise that he’d handled things badly, and feel embarrassed around God? Did he reject God – “see, I’ve managed it without you”? Was he just too busy child-rearing to worry about God? Did it seem like there was no point in talking to God, since he’d taken a path of his own, so that God could no longer be interested in him?
We’ll never know exactly how Abram felt about God in all that time, but we do know that it was God who took the initiative to re-introduce himself to Abram.
What strikes me profoundly about God’s speech here, is that whilst Abram has obviously changed a lot in those thirteen years, nothing at all has changed for God. He is the same God. He still wants Abram to “walk before me and be blameless”, (Genesis 17 v 1) and the covenant which he made all those years ago remains the same – God is confirming it.
I find that so reassuring. Whatever promises God has made to me in the past still hold water – those things God has whispered in my ear and told me to go for, he still wants for me. God has not changed, and his vision for what I can become has not changed. There are sometimes reasons why there has had to be a delay in entering into the promises God has given us – and usually they are because of bad decisions – but if God has given his word on it, he still wants it to happen. It’s reassuring too, that if we do drift from God, he will always want to re-enter our lives, and will choose the point when he knows we are ready. But sooner or later, come he will.