Five dead animals, a smoking fire pot, a flaming torch, and the eternal covenant of God - Part 1
Series: My Preaching Bucket List
April 02, 2017
Five dead animals, a smoking fire pot, a flaming torch, and the eternal covenant of God
Genesis 15:1-21—Part 1
Genesis is the book of beginnings. It tells the origin story of the human race in chapters 1-10, with it’s creation and fall, multiplying and destruction, and then repopulating. Genesis answers the question Where did we come from and why are we here? It also answers the question Why are things the way they are?
But in chapter 11, there’s a distinct narrowing of focus. It lists the nations descended from Noah’s son Shem and focuses even further on one of his descendants named Terah.
Genesis 11:27–32 (ESV) — 27 Now these are the generations of Terah. Terah fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran fathered Lot. 28 Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his kindred, in Ur of the Chaldeans. 29 And Abram and Nahor took wives. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah. 30 Now Sarai was barren; she had no child. 31 Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan, but when they came to Haran, they settled there. 32 The days of Terah were 205 years, and Terah died in Haran.
If you payed attention, you noticed the focus narrows down even more to a fixed point: Abram, who will later be named Abraham, who is the father of the Israelites.
Genesis gives us the beginning of the human race and the beginning of the Hebrew race. It answers the question where do we come from, but more specifically, where do the Hebrews come from?That’s why everything, and I do mean everything, from chapter 11 on centers on the origins of God’s chosen people.
Which brings us to the call of Abram in chapter 12…
Genesis 12:1–9 (ESV) — 1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”
Abram was called by the one true God out of a pagan nation who worshipped the false moon god, called to just pick up everything and leave for a land he would show him. And with that came a promise…
2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” 4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5 And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, 6 Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. 8 From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord. 9 And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb.
Again, if you payed close attention, you noticed God promised Abram three things:
- Land - the land of Canaan. Problem was, it was presently occupied.
- Offspring - problem was, Abram and Sarai had no children, they weren’t spring chickens anymore, and weren’t getting any younger.
- Blessing - God said that in Abram “all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Problem was, how could all the families of all time that ever lived on the earth be blessed by this guy from Ur?
Abram didn’t let those problems keep him from obeying and even building an altar to the one who had called him away from all he knew. That, by the way, signified an abandonment FROM all his former ways and and an abandonment TO this new relationship with God.
A lot happened following this. Abram went to Egypt and lied about his wife to pharaoh because she was so beautiful. Then in chapter 13 he and his nephew Lot (who left Ur with him) separated. Abram stayed in Canaan while Lot went east and settled in Sodom.
Then in chapter 14 Lot got into trouble when Sodom was overcome by enemies. He, his family, and their possessions were carried away. Uncle Abram went all rambo and rescued him with 318 of his own trained men.
At the end of chapter 14, Abram was blessed by the mysterious figure Melchizedek, who was both king of Salem and a priest of the most high God, which is interesting because the priesthood hadn’t been established yet.
And now we come to chapter 15, where we want to be…
Genesis 15:1 (ESV) — 1 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”
This chapter is often rushed through or overlooked by preachers and teachers, probably because it contains some pretty strange stuff, as you’ll eventually see. But it may be the most important text in all the OT for Christians. I would even go so far as to say when God told Abram “fear not, I am your shield, your reward shall be very great,” in a way he was saying it directly to us.
It will take us three or so messages to navigate it, but by the time we are done I believe you will find great truths and comfort here. So let’s put on our floaties and jump in to the deep end of the pool.
In 15:1 God came to Abram in a vision and reminded him of the promise made in chapter 12 (land, offspring, blessing).
Genesis 15:2–3 (ESV) — 2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.”
Remember, one of Abram’s problems with God’s promise of offspring was he had no children, and it didn’t look like that was going to change.
His only choice was to pass down his inheritance to a member of his household, who wasn't a biological heir, a servant named Eliezer. This was a custom in ancient times for the childless.
In that day and culture, there was no greater heartache than being childless and having no biological heir. I don’t think Abram was complaining here, just pouring his heart out to God. And God responded…
Genesis 15:4–5 (ESV) — 4 And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” 5 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.”
Boom. What a revelation. What an answer to Abram’s question, “What will you give me?” God said he would give him his very own son to be his heir. And not only that, from his son would come so many descendants, he wouldn’t be able to number them.
In ancient times there was no greater joy than having children, and no greater joy especially than having a son carry on the household name. And on top of that to know from this son would come a multitude of descendants? Abram probably danced a little jig.
What comes next we want to pay close attention to. It is perhaps the most important verse in the OT, maybe the Bible, for the Christian. We should highlight it. Memorize it. Meditate on it.
Genesis 15:6 (ESV) — 6 And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
Abram’s faith was remarkable. He believed in God’s promise of land, offspring, and blessing even though the land was occupied, even though he had no offspring and wasn’t likely to, even though he couldn’t imagine how all the families of the earth could be blessed through him.
But what was even more remarkable was God’s response to his faith. He counted it to him, or put it into his account, righteousness, as being right before God.
The Bible is very clear about the natural, universal condition of mankind…
(This is not in your notes but a corresponding NT verse is at the end).
Psalm 53:2–3 (ESV) — 2 God looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. 3 They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.
The psalmist David told us something that human history bears out. No one is good, no one is ultimately righteous before God. And that is what God requires to be in relationship with him.
But here in Genesis 15:6 we are told that Abram was made right before him, he was made good in God’s eyes. Was that righteousness, or rightness with God, credited or counted to him because of his obedience? NO. His performance? NO. His bloodline? NO. It was because of nothing other than his belief.
This verse tells us the way man is made right with God has never been works; it has never been the keeping of the law. It’s by faith, by believing in His promises.
The writer of Hebrews takes us back even farther than Abram (Abraham as he will be called), explaining faith has always been the way to God.
Hebrews 11:1–13 (ESV) — 1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. 4 By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. 5 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. 6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. 7 By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. 8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. 11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. 13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.
Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham were all made right with God, pleased God, not by works of the law (which hadn't been given yet) but by faith in the revealed promises of God.
One commentator writes:
This clarification is a landmark in our understanding of faith: “And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (15:6). No other Old Testament text has exercised such an influence in understanding faith and on the New Testament itself. … Abram is not described as doing righteousness, but his faith was credited as righteousness. Abram, who was originally destitute of righteousness, was now counted as righteous through faith in God. … “… above all, his righteousness is not the result of any accomplishments, whether of sacrifice or acts of obedience. Rather, it is stated programmatically that belief alone has brought Abraham into a proper relationship to God.”
This understanding is revolutionary! Circa 2000 b.c., Abram was declared righteous because of his belief. This declaration was in profound accord with the [pre-flood] fathers Abel, Enoch, and Noah. Furthermore, the principle has remained operative… [through] the entire old-covenant era and is the foundation of the new covenant.
Conclusion: We’ve got to stop here, but note what the commentator said at the end: Genesis 15:6 is the foundation of the new covenant. He’s talking about the new covenant initiated by Jesus and his life, death, and resurrection.
What happens here in Genesis 15:6 points backwards to Abel, Enoch, and Noah, but it also looks forward thousands of years to Jesus and all those who would be made right, be made righteous before God. We are just getting started, folks. Next time we’ll explore the implications of this verse even more.
Before we close, let me ask you a question. How are you approaching God? By being good? By keeping the Commandments?
By loving God with all you heart, soul, mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself?
How’s that working out for you? Rephrasing them doesn’t make them any easier to keep, does it? Especially when Jesus tells us that being angry at your brother or sister without a cause is the same as murder, and lusting after someone in your heart is the same as adultery.
God knew we’d never be able to live the law out. That’s why he calls us to believe in the promise given through Jesus…
John 3:16 (ESV) — 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
That doesn't mean whoever keeps his law, whoever obeys his commands, it’s whoever believes in the promise of eternal given through Jesus.
The obeying of his commands follows belief; it doesn’t precede it. Abraham is a case in point.
Whose works are you relying on to be counted righteous before God? If it’s your own, your in trouble.
Romans 3:10 (ESV) — 10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one;
But if it’s Jesus’ there is no need to fear, God is your shield, and your reward will be very great.
Paul, in writing to the Ephesian Christians reminded them and us that…
Ephesians 2:8–9 (ESV) — 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
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