Sand and stars. Those are the two images—or metaphors—the Lord gave to Abraham when He plucked him out of obscurity and made a covenant with him 4,000 years ago. The first mention is in Genesis 15:5 (ESV): And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.’”
God said it again through the angel of the Lord, after He provided a ram to Abraham to sacrifice in place of his son Isaac: “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore” (Genesis 22:17, ESV).
I always thought sand and stars were effective images for what God was trying to convey: My blessings to you will be innumerable and immeasurable. As my chosen people, you will grow in numbers so great, your nation will be impossible to reckon. That had to be mind-blowing for a childless old man and his barren wife, who lived in the middle of nowhere.
The Lord, by His Spirit, illuminated this truth to me in a new and deeper way on my visit to Egypt and Jordan this past summer. As a senior pastor in Tyler, my husband is part of the team that leads biblical study trips for our church once or twice a year, mostly to the Holy Land. Egypt and Jordan have their places in Scripture as well, and provide their own kind of “holy land” experience.
Toward the end of our trip we spent a day and night in Wadi Rum, Jordan, made famous in modern times as the setting for movies such as Lawrence of Arabia, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and The Martian. But this vast desert was first the backdrop for a different kind of epic tale that took place more than 3,000 years ago and played out over 40 years.
Wadi Rum was a mile marker in a sense, a significant pathway for the Israelites as they made their way from Mount Sinai to Kadesh-barnea during their wilderness wanderings. We stayed there, in a Bedouin camp 40 miles from Aqaba, enjoying their hospitality which included a meal of lamb roasted in an underground fire pit, and hibiscus tea.
It hardly felt like August as I reclined outside and looked into the vast night sky. Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus clearly arched across the heavens, and it wouldn’t be an understatement to say there were at least a billion stars overhead. It was almost too much to take in.
As I reflected on our day exploring the desert, the sand that had turned my sandals a deep rusty red, and the sky pocked with stars, my thoughts turned to the children of Israel. They moved through this very desert toward the covenant of hope God made with Abraham. The ancient landscape hadn’t changed much at all since.
It was then I realized, the Lord wasn’t just using literary devices to paint a picture. He was using creation to display His promise. He wanted Abraham, and later the wandering Israelites, not only to hear of His love for them but to experience and remember it every day.
Each grain of sand their feet trod upon as they followed the pillar of cloud by day would be a reminder of the steadfast love and faithfulness the Lord poured out in abundance on His children. When the sun went down and families settled in around their camp fires, the stars that filled the sky would pick up where the sands left off: Lift up your eyes, beloved! My faithfulness continues and my promise will be fulfilled. Every star holds the hope that I am who I said I am, and I will do what I said I will do.
Whether they looked up or down, day or night, they had before their very eyes constant assurance from the God who was guiding them as they left the familiar burden of slavery behind and headed into the yet-unknown Promised Land.
As believers, God does the same for us. He is not only with us as we journey through life, His Spirit dwells within us, providing all we need for each day and every circumstance. We have the hope of glory in the picture of the cross of Christ, and our ultimate promised land is even greater than a place flowing with milk and honey. It is heaven and earth re-created and perfect, the glorious, forever presence of God Himself, where death, tears, and pain are all wiped away forever (Revelation 21-22).
Until that day we can trust that the Lord keeps every single one of His promises. What a gift that He gives us eyes to see the signs on the road to their fulfillment.