Rhetorical Reassurance

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Genesis 18:14 records a rhetorical question, one that should reverberate in our hearts as we “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12). In this verse, the Lord responds to Sarah’s unbelief with, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” This question, like all rhetorical questions, answers itself. The unspoken answer screams assurance to a woman who needed a miracle. Likewise, when the Christian is confronted with what is an otherwise hopeless situation, we can experience wonderful reassurance concerning the faithfulness of God to His promises. The Christian should often contemplate God’s revelation of such rhetorical reassurance.

The question in Genesis 18 is clearly rhetorical. It demands what one of my fellow elders would call a “dah” response.

According to Mr Google, “dah” belongs to our urban vocabulary. Its etymology is traced to the Russian word for “yes,” and its colloquial use expresses, “Of course, what else would you expect?” Though its first appearance is traced to 1940, the idea has been around for a long time—at least as far back as this story in Genesis 18.

The question asked by the Lord demands the answer, “Of course there is nothing too hard for the Lord!” Or, as the older versions of the Bible might state it, “God forbid!” So why did God ask this? Because He graciously sought to provide reassurance to some struggling believers. Thankfully, He still does. I need this reassurance; perhaps you do as well.

Though I know the correct answer to the question, and though this is to be my fundamental conviction as a Christian, I almost missed its encouraging, reassuring message.

As I was reading Genesis 18 in my devotions one morning, I was struck by this response of the heavenly visitors to Abraham. Perhaps you can recall the setting. The Lord promised Abraham, when he was 75 years old, that He would give a son to him and his wife, Sarah. Several years later, when Abe had reached the age of 99, God reiterated the promise and ratified it—again—with a covenant—of circumcision (Genesis 17). God went as far as to change the names of Abram to Abraham (father of nations) and Sarai to Sarah (mother of nations). But, as we see in Genesis 18, even though Sarah may have accepted the prophetic name change, her faith was weak. She was aware that she was well beyond child-bearing age. In fact, the Hebrew text describes her womb as being “dried up.” Sarah realised that she was unable to conceive and to bear the life of a child. It is in this context where this all-important rhetorical question arises.

The heavenly messengers told Abraham that, in a year’s time, Sarah would give birth to a son (using her new name of promise, 18:10). Sarah overheard this behind the flap of the tent and, with an unspoken laugh of unbelief, expressed her very doubtful heart: “After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” (v. 12). We are then told that “the LORD” responded—to Abraham—and asked why she doubted. “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” (14). What a wonderfully reassuring rhetorical question! So, let’s contemplate it.

Note that the Lord confronted Abraham about Sarah’s unbelief. Why? Perhaps the Lord was tenderly taking into account that Sarah would be horrified, and even crushed, by a direct confrontation concerning her unbelief. The Lord knew that Sarah had been listening in on the conversation; therefore, He kindly addressed her while not addressing her! It is good to know that the Lord knows our dusty frames and so He compassionately corrects us (Psalm 103:14).

But then again, perhaps the Lord was gently chiding Abraham for not shepherding his wife to a firmer faith.

Christians who lead others (disciplers, teachers, parents, husbands, elders) are, to some degree, responsible to strengthen the faith of those we lead. We are to do all we can to magnify the Lord before others so that they will develop the conviction that nothing indeed is too hard for the Lord (Psalm 34:3). I recall many years ago sending a note to my pastor thanking him for “giving me a great God.” His ministry and his manner of life helped me to see the greatness of God, therefore strengthening my conviction that nothing God wills is too hard for Him.

The rhetorical question in this story resurfaces, at least thematically, in later accounts where children are born against all human odds: Isaac and Rebekah (Jacob and Esau), Jacob and Rachel (Joseph and Benjamin), Hannah and Elkanah (Samuel), Zacharias and Elisabeth (John), and Mary and Joseph (Jesus!). The last two examples well illustrate the lesson that nothing is too hard for the Lord. This point is emphatically declared in both cases.

Luke 1:18–20 records the unbelief of Zacharias and the rebuke from the Lord. Of all people, this man, who was a priest, should have believed the words of God through His messenger Gabriel. Gabriel in fact, means “God is mighty.”

One can understand the perplexity of Mary when she received the message that she would conceive Messiah by the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit in her womb. But note the reassuring words: “For with God, nothing will be impossible” (v. 37). And you have to love Mary’s response: “Let it be to me according to Your word” (v. 38).

I don’t believe that these examples are given to assure every Christian wife that she will have children. My heart bleeds for woman who cannot bear children. Yet, resting in God’s good character, we know that He has His reasons. Rather, these texts are in order to give assurance to Christians that God is trustworthy, and therefore He can do what He has promised. And this brings me to my last observation: Christian, when things grow dark, be reassured by this rhetorical answer, “Nothing is too hard for the Lord!”

Christian, it is not too hard for the Lord to supply you with employment, or to supply your needs in an economy that seems barren. It is not too hard for the Lord to save your unsaved loved one. It is not too hard for the Lord to empower you to overcome a sinful habit. It is not too hard for the Lord to grow healthy churches. It is no too hard for the Lord to provide spouses to those who desire to marry. And yes, it is not too hard for the Lord to open the wombs of those who otherwise cannot conceive. Though God has His reasons why He does not always respond to our prayers as we desire, the point to embrace—and the truth to be assured of—is that God is able; and that is sufficient. What He has promised, He will perform.

So, let’s run our prayer requests through the filter of His promises and then, with Sarah, we will experience the laughter of relief as we reflect that, indeed, “nothing is too hard for the Lord” (Genesis 21:6–7).

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