When God Says No

For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.    Jeremiah 29:11                     

For more than twenty years, Abraham struggled to understand what God meant by “I will make you into a great nation” (Genesis 12:1). Because he had no children, he once suggested that his servant Eliezer could be his heir (Genesis 15:3). Later, he followed Sarah’s advice and fathered a son by Hagar, a maidservant (Genesis 16:4).

In Genesis 17, God once again assured Abraham that he and Sarah would have a son. Abraham laughed. How could a 99-year-old man and a 90-year-old woman produce a child? In his disbelief he lamented, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing” (v. 18).

I sympathize with Abraham’s reasoning. If God could enable an old woman to bear a child, why couldn’t He just make Ishmael follow His ways? Maybe Abraham was thinking, Choose Ishmael, Lord. Make him my heir. It will all be so much simpler that way.

But what seems reasonable to us is not always what God knows is best. He refused to choose Ishmael as the primary heir and eventually told Abraham to send Ishmael and Hagar away. Genesis 21:11 indicates that the departure of his eldest son broke Abraham’s heart, but he obeyed God anyway. He chose to trust God’s wisdom even though he did not completely understand it.

I look at many situations the way Abraham did in Genesis 17. I think, Why won’t you give my friend that job she wants, Lord? Wouldn’t that be best? Or I pray, Why won’t you change this person’s heart, Lord? What’s wrong with that plan?

God says, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8). The Hebrew word gabbah which is translated “higher,” means “exalted” and suggests the unreachable heights of an eagle’s nest or the stars in the heavens. It’s as if God is saying to us, “Trying to understand some things I do will only lead to disappointment and disillusionment. Please trust me. I will do what is best.”

Will I trust Him as Abraham did?


The Hebrew word translated “prosper” in Jeremiah 29:11 is shalom. It means much more than “peace.” It refers to wholeness—soundness of mind and body or contentment. How did sending Ishmael and Hagar away bring shalom to Abraham’s household? (Consider Genesis 16:3-6; 21:9-10)

Read Hebrews 11:8-19. In what other difficult situations did Abraham defer to God’s wisdom?  What were the results?

Solomon lists many benefits of obeying God’s commands in Proverbs 2:1- 22. What benefits have you received because you have “turned your ear to wisdom”?

Paul uses Ishmael and Isaac as symbols in Galatians 4:19-31. What point is he making?

Denise K. Loock


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