Abram and his wife Sarai were childless. Sarai was 89 years old. What are the chances a woman unable to bear children throughout her entire life would bear a child at 89?
But God had promised Abram and Sarai a baby 24 years earlier. In the ensuing decades, Abram and Sarai were largely faithful to their covenant with God. For example, when God told them to leave their home and move to the place he would show them, they moved as the Lord directed (Genesis 12:1–9). Despite their obedience, God had not yet kept his part of the bargain.
There were also times during those 24 years of waiting when Abram and Sarai weren’t faithful to the covenant. For example, they lied to the king of Egypt about the fact they were husband and wife (Genesis 12:10–20). Despite their disobedience, God showed up in Genesis 15 and again in Genesis 17, repeating his vow to bless them with countless descendants.
In chapters 15 and 17, God underscored his promise by saying, “I am God Almighty (El Shaddai).” According to scholar Walter Brueggemann, God was saying, “Abram, the fact that you’re 99 and Sarai is 89 is no problem at all because I am God Almighty.”
“El Shaddai is the God who so constrains nature that it does his will, and so subdues it that it bows to and subserves grace,” explains theologian Franz Delitzsch.
In other words, God Almighty, El Shaddai, is able to make the forces of nature – which are often cruel – become kind to us.
Think of the force of gravity, the force of aging, the force of out-of-control water or fire. El Shaddai means God can redirect those powers and turn them into instruments of grace. In the case of Abram and Sarai, El Shaddai bent the rule that decreed an 89-year-old woman was too old to have a child.
But I often wonder why God made them wait so long. The story never gives us an answer. It simply tells us the delay wasn’t a problem for El Shaddai. God operates on his own timetable. He doesn’t feel obliged to fulfill his promises just because we’re tired of waiting for them.
Years ago, while I was impatiently waiting for God’s timing to take the next step in life, a preacher named Keith Price said to me, “God’s timing is perfect; he is never late. There is no panic in heaven.”
God requires only one thing from us: “Walk before me faithfully and be blameless.” Fortunately, he’s not asking us to be perfect. In Walter Brueggemann’s words, it means “be available to me on my terms…completely devoted, in unqualified loyalty…[Your] whole life is to be given over to Yahweh in unqualified devotion.”
The story of Abram and Sarai speaks to us of God’s grace in our weakness. The good news is we don’t have to be perfect for God to bend the rules of nature for us. God was still willing to keep his promise to Abram and Sarai even though they had failed.
Is there something in your life that feels hopeless to you? What has God promised you? Whatever it is, he is God Almighty, and he keeps his promises. El Shaddai is God Almighty and the forces of nature are no obstacle to him.
Are you tired of waiting for God to fulfill his promise? Remember, there is no panic in heaven. There is only a call for complete devotion to him.
—Marvin Dyck is pastor at Crossroads MB Church, Winnipeg. A version of this article first appeared on the Crossroads blog at www.crossroadsmb.ca/blog.