Some time afterward, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: Do not fear, Abram! I am your shield; I will make your reward very great.
But Abram said, “Lord GOD, what can you give me, if I die childless and have only a servant of my household, Eliezer of Damascus?” Abram continued, “Look, you have given me no offspring, so a servant of my household will be my heir.” Then the word of the LORD came to him: No, that one will not be your heir; your own offspring will be your heir.
He took him outside and said: Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so, he added, will your descendants be.
Abram put his faith in the LORD, who attributed it to him as an act of righteousness. He then said to him: I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as a possession.
Who was the first person to gaze into the heavens and wonder at the stars? I presume that almost every person in human history has done so, but the story of God’s Covenant with Abraham (Abram) paints a beautiful image of one of the first people to receive an intentional call by God to stargaze. In this moment of contemplation, Abraham is told that what he sees is to remind him of God’s Covenant with him. If I were Abraham, it would have reduced me to tears to think that God’s promise would be so superabundant, so unthinkably fruitful, that the analogy which would best demonstrate this relationship between God and I would be the uncountable population of stars (and the grains of sand on a beach). The experience of this convergence of the natural world with God's supernatural Covenant must have changed Abraham’s view of his life and the night sky forever.
Considering modern astronomy, this metaphor of God’s Covenant is even more striking. In the time of Abraham, the naked eye would strain to count the thousands of visible stars on a dark night in the Middle East. In our modern times, our astronomical tools reveal the billions (if not trillions) of stars and galaxies, deepening the visual sea of wonder we call the universe. If the words spoken to Abraham were presented with Hubble Telescope images of deep space, how much more would Abraham both understand and be humbled by the extent of God’s love for him?
This brings us to an important point of emphasis: God’s promise was not only for Abraham, but for all of humanity. Just as Abraham gazed into the heavens and contemplated the promise God made with him, we gaze into those same skies and remember our share in this Covenant. Do we see ourselves as part of the fruitfulness of God's promise to Abraham? When we gaze into the night sky, are we reduced to a feeling of insignificance before the grandeur of the universe or do we see the perpetual promise of love given to us by God? Do we find ourselves feeling alone and distant from God as we look to the heavens or are we open to an “Abraham experience,” seeing the night sky as a kind of sacramental of God’s closeness to us?
Night Reflection: On a clear night, go out to a dark place where you can appreciate a clear night sky. Read Genesis 15, place yourself in Abraham’s shoes, and then look up. Try to count the stars if you can, gaze in wonder at what you see, and see in this sign of the stars a constant reminder of the love God had for Abraham, the love God has for you, and the love God has for every person who has ever existed and will exist.
Question for Discussion: How does the study of astronomy affirm your faith and bring you closer to God?