4. “As the Stars of Heaven”
Once again the Lord appeared to Abram after his victory and said to him, “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield, and your reward shall be especially great.” But Abram’s heart was heavy at the thought that he had none to inherit the promises that God made, and he answered bitterly, “O Lord God, what will Thou give me; for I go from here childless, and my own heir must be my servant, Ellasar the Damascene?” But God answered him gently, “Not Ellasar, but one of your own flesh and blood shall be your heir.” Then, leading him forth under the midnight sky, where the countless myriads of stars burned in the dark vault, God said: “Look to the heavens and see if you can number the stars. So many shall be your descendants.” And the childless man believed God’s word even in this, and the Lord was well pleased with his faith.
Therefore He pledged to him the Land of Promise once more, and when Abram sought a sign to assure him, God gave him that also. He directed His servant take a young heifer, a she-goat, and a ram, each of three years old, and with these a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon, which He commanded him to sacrifice, dividing each beast into two parts, laying the parts on this side and that; but the birds he did not divide, but laid the dove on one hand and the pigeon on the other. And when this was done, Abram sat by the sacrifice and drove the vultures from it until the night should come. For this was the ancient manner of a covenant: that He who made the promise should pass between the two parts of the sacrifice; and Abram waited for the passing of the Lord.
The sun sank down in the west, and, as the shadows fell, a deep sleep came upon the weary man, and with it a trouble of spirit, as though horrible darkness compassed him about. But out of the darkness came the voice of God. “Know assuredly,” It said, “that your descendants shall be strangers and slaves in a foreign land. For four hundred years shall their bondage last, and I will judge their oppressors; and afterwards they shall come forth from bondage with great wealth. As for yourself, your end shall be peaceful, and in a good old age shall you be buried. And in the fourth generation, when the wickedness of the people of this land is at its height, your children shall come here again.” Then out of the darkness came a vision. A smoking fire and a flaming torch moved slowly down the path between the two parts of the sacrifice, and Abram knew that God had set His seal to the promise.
Nevertheless, the days went by and no child was born to Abram; and Sarai, his wife, grew impatient because the promise was not fulfilled. So she persuaded Abram to wed her bond-servant, an Egyptian named Hagar, in the hope God might therefore send the child of His promise. But this was the beginning of many sorrows to Abram and to Sarai, and not least to poor, innocent Hagar. For Sarai grew jealous of the Egyptian girl after a time and drove her away from Abram’s tents; and though God met her in the wilderness and sent her back again, yet there was never peace in the camp afterwards till she and her son were driven forth once more.
For a son was born to her, a bright, sturdy, quick-tempered, open-hearted boy, whom Abram named Ishmael; but the sight of him was a plague to Sarai’s jealous heart, instead of a joy, as she had hoped. When the boy was thirteen years old, God spoke once more to Abram, and encouraged him to be true and faithful, and renewed to him all the promises that had been given before.
And He commanded Abram to change his name, and call himself no longer Abram, “Lofty Father,” but Abraham, “Father of a Multitude”; while the name of his wife was to be changed henceforth to Sarah, “Princess” — “For,” said the Lord, “I will bless her and give a son to you and her, and she shall be a mother of nations: kings shall be her descendants”.
When Abraham heard that promise, he bowed to the ground, and laughing, partly for wonder and doubt, but partly, too, for joy and hope, he said in his heart, “Shall a son be born to a man an hundred years old, and to a woman whose years are ninety?” And wavering in his mind he prayed the Lord to bless the boy who played already about the tent-door. “Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!” But the Lord answered him: “Ishmael shall have his own blessing. Twelve princes shall be his sons, and a great nation shall descend from him. But My covenant is with the son who shall be born to you and Sarah at this time next year.