What to Do When You Mess Up
To set the context, at the end of chapter 16, Hagar, Sarai’s maidservant, gave birth to Ishmael. Between chapters 16 and 17, Ishmael grew into a young man of thirteen years. Abram loved him, yet the promise from God had not yet been fulfilled.
Genesis 17:1-8, 15-21 and Genesis 21:1-7 (ESV)
From chapter 17: 1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless 2 that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” 3 Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, 4 “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. 7 And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8 And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”
Isaac’s Birth Promised
15 And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16 I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” 17 Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” 18 And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” 19 God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. 20 As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. 21 But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.”
From chapter 21: 1 The LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did to Sarah as he had promised. 2 And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him. 3 Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac. 4 And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. 5 Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. 6 And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” 7 And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”
Digging into God’s Word
Follow the time spans of Abraham’s life: Abram was 75 years old when God first promised to make him a great nation (Genesis 12). A decade later, in their impatience, Abram and Sarai had done an awful thing. In a desperate attempt to solve what was God’s problem to solve, they had taken advantage of Hagar, who had given birth to Ishmael. Abram was 86 years old when Ishmael was born (Genesis 16:16).
Abram loved Ishmael dearly, and God promised to bless Ishmael because of it, but Abram’s and Sarai’s impatience had caused deep hurt and bitterness. Ishmael was not to be the heir, because he had been an act of human will, not of God’s promise.
Thirteen long years passed, Abram and Sarai sitting in the regret of what they had done wrong. Had God been silent all that time? We don’t know.
One verse later in the Bible, when Abram was 99 years old, God appeared to him and renewed His promises to give Abram an heir and to give land to his descendants.
Abram “fell on his face” (17:3).
Did he fall face down to the ground because God was speaking to him? I wonder if he fell in awe and humility–and maybe a tinge of shame for what he had done–made all the more clear in the presence of a holy God.
What a God of restoration we have. God looked into Abram’s and Sarai’s hearts and saw not only their depravity but also their longing to be right with Him. He renewed His covenant with Abram and even gave Abram and Sarai new names: Abraham, meaning “father of a multitude” and Sarah, meaning “Princess.”
What have you messed up? God can redeem it and make things new again. He is a God of restoration.
Reflect on these questions. If you have time, journal your answers.
- Have you done anything in your life that you feel God cannot forgive or that has had such terrible consequences you’ve had to shove it deep down in order to keep living? Tell God about it. He knows, but confess it to Him. Write it out if you can (and then throw it away if you want), or say it out loud or in your heart to Him.
- If you are able and feel so inclined, fall on your face before God. Literally get down on the floor and put your face to the ground. In humility before God, seek Him.
- 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” You have confessed your sin. Receive God’s forgiveness. Let His forgiveness and grace wash over you. Thank Him for this freeing love. He has made you new!