"Justification is illustrated in the Old Testament" Page 5 of 6 (series: Lessons on Romans)
by John Lowe
18 Who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, “So shall your descendants be.”
In the preceding verses, Paul has emphasized that the promise came to Abraham by faith and not by law, so that it might be by grace and that it might be sure to all of his seed.
Who, contrary to hope, in hope believed. Grammatically this is known as an oxymoron, a figure of speech in which contradictory ideas are combined (e.g., thunderous silence, sweet sorrow, etc.). Abraham was beyond hope, nevertheless, he believed, in hope. When the promise was given, that Abraham would become the father of many nations, there was no human ground for hope with regard to Abraham’s wife Sarah bearing a child. Although beyond hope, Abraham believed God anyway and his faith generated hope.
19 And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb.
Verses 19-21 restate in specific details the first part of verse 18, about Abraham’s hope. When the promise of a great posterity was first made to Abraham, he was seventy-five years old (Gen. 12:2–4). At that time he was still physically able to become a father, because after that he fathered Ishmael (Gen. 16:1–11). But in this verse Paul is speaking of the time when Abraham was about 100 years old and Sarah was only ten years younger, when the promise was renewed (Gen. 17:15–21). By now the possibility of creating new life apart from the miraculous power of God had vanished. However, God had promised him a son, and Abraham believed God’s promise.
And not being weak in faith. Abraham faced the fact that his body was as good as dead, due to his advanced age, as far as his ability to father a child. He also carefully considered the deadness of Sarah’s womb. She was unable to conceive a child through out their life together. Weak faith occurs when doubt erodes one’s confidence in God’s word. Abraham believed God in spite of the circumstances. He did not consider his lack of virility at one hundred years old. Neither did he consider the inability of his ninety-year-old wife to conceive and withstand the pain of childbirth. Adverse circumstances did not stand in the way of Abraham’s faith.
He did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old. Humanly speaking, it was utterly hopeless, but Abraham had faith. There is no merit in faith itself. You see, there was nothing around Abraham that he could put his trust in—nothing that he could see, nothing that he could feel, nothing. But his faith in the promises of God did not waver or falter. All he did was believe God. That’s important.
20 He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God,
The apparent impossibility that the promise would ever be fulfilled didn’t stagger him. God had said it; Abraham believed it; that settled it. As far as the patriarch was concerned there was only one impossibility, and that was for God to lie. Abraham’s faith was strong and vibrant. He gave glory to God, honoring Him as the One who could be depended on to fulfill His promise in defiance of all the laws of chance or probability. Above all, Abraham gave God the glory, for the great things He had done.
He did not waver at the promise of God. In regard to faith in God, Abraham was known as the father of the faithful, because he possessed great faith. But how can we reconcile this with Abraham’s laughter in Genesis 17:17?—“And Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born to him that is a hundred years old? and shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear?” We need to understand that Abraham’s laughter wasn’t meant to mock God. Jerome translated laughter as “marveled.” Calvin and Augustine both translated it as “laughed for joy.” Abraham’s questioning how a child could be born of him at one hundred years of age was more an exclamation of holy wonder, it was also an expression of his faith. Therefore, he was strengthened in his faith, as opposed to being weak in faith (vs. 19). But, I believe there were times when Abraham’s faith was weaker, like the time he went to Egypt to escape famine. There he lied and told Pharaohs that Sarah was his sister, because he wasn’t convinced that God would take care of him and protect him. Even the best Christians have doubts, sometimes. The truest faith is not the kind which never has a question. The man who feels a tinge of disbelief, but maintains his confidence in God, has discovered for himself the meaning of the prayer, “Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). This is the kind of faith which grows strong.