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From Martin Luther’s Commentary on Genesis, Volume 3 of Luther’s Works (CPH, 1961):

Other sins — such as wrathfulness, impatience, and drunkenness — naturally bring shame because of their foulness. Those who indulge in them know that they have sinned. Consequently, they blush. But vainglory[1]and trust in one’s own wisdom or righteousness is a sin of such a kind that it is not recognized as a sin. Instead, men thank God it, as the Pharisee does in the Gospel (Luke 18:9-14); they rejoice it as in an extraordinary gift of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it is an utterly incurable and devilish evil.

From this evil God preserved saintly Abraham by subjecting the glorious conqueror (see Genesis 14) to such an affliction that it is necessary to comfort him with a divine word. Although, as I have said, the nature of the trial is not certain, yet the circumstances prove that it was so severe that Abraham was utterly disheartened.

Perhaps Abraham was troubled about his offspring, as his words indicate. God had promised him the land of Canaan and an eternal blessing; but since Sarah was barren, and the hope of children was almost entirely denied, he thought: “Why is it that God, who is so merciful toward you, does not give you a son? Perhaps you have offended Him, and He has changed His mind.”

I dare not maintain that this was the affliction. Accordingly, I am going along with the general rule: that God makes His saints sad again after they have been gladdened, lest they become proud and smug; that after they have been made alive, He leads them down to hell, in order that He may lead them back from there. But if our surmise as to the specific and individual nature of the affliction now under consideration is not correct, we are not in error with regard to the general pattern.

The words “Fear not, Abram” are absolutely clear. They show the saintly man did have great fear and the very affliction of mistrust.  Otherwise why would God add: “I am your Shield; your shall be very great”? Therefore, Abraham thought: “Perhaps has chosen someone else, since He will fulfill this promise; and knows whether this very victory is everything He has promised you?”

When God withdraws His hand, the flesh creates for itself an odd dialectic and rhetoric. Against these battering-rams, so to speak, with which Abraham’s heart is pounded the Lord erects three grand bulwarks: “Fear not, Abraham, I am your Shield, your reward shall be very great” (Gen.15: 1)

[1] Definition of vainglory. 1 : excessive or ostentatious pride especially in one’s achievements. 2 : vain display or show : vanity.

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