Five dead animals, a smoking fire pot, a flaming torch, and the eternal covenant of God - Part 4
Series: My Preaching Bucket List
May 07, 2017
Five dead animals, a smoking fire pot, a flaming torch, and the eternal covenant of God
Genesis 15:1-21—Part 4
Wow, can you believe it? We are now in part four of a series of messages on an OT text few have spent time studying and most have never heard preached.
But, oh how rich it is. Makes me think of a gift my wife gave me not too long ago: a jar of marbles. It sits on a shelf on my office. She gave it to me because of something I said in a sermon one Sunday.
“Every Bible text is so filled with truth that deciding what to preach is like choosing one marble out of a jar full.”
I said that? Really? Even though that came from me, it’s true. And certainly here.
By now, if you’ve been with us for every message in this first installment of My Preaching Bucket List, you know the background for Genesis 15 and how it revolves around a man named Abram (later to be called Abraham), but just in case here’s one pastor’s genius take on it.
God says, ‘I’m going to send you out,’ and Abraham says, ‘Where?’ God says, ‘I’ll tell you later. Right now just go.’
Then he says, ‘I will give you a land,’ and Abraham says, ‘Where?’ and God says, ‘I’ll tell you later. Just wander.’
Then he says, ‘I’ll give you a child,’ and Abraham says, ‘How?’ and God says, ‘I’ll tell you later. Just wait.’
God says, “I’m going to bless all the families of the earth through you.” And Abraham says, “How?” And God says, “I’ll show you later. Just trust me.”
And Genesis 15:6 tells us that…
Genesis 15:6 (ESV) — 6 And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
There’s that verse again, the OT verse with a very NT vibe. The one that tells us the way to God has always been the same, by believing in his promises. It’s the way you come to God and the way you rest in God.
Look at what the writer of Hebrews wrote concerning our man Abraham…
Hebrews 6:13–20 (ESV) — 13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” 15 And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. 16 For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. 17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.
The promises of God, given through Jesus, are the anchor we tie our souls to.
But here lies a problem you may have already wrestled with. You know God is trustworthy. You know God will deliver on his promises. But you also know yourself. You are not so trustworthy.
I was talking to one of my daughters the other day and she said something pretty insightful and profound. In looking at her life she realized most of her problems had to do with choices she made. She said, “When it comes to my future, to making a life for myself, it’s not so much what’s out there that’s the problem. It’s what’s in here. I’m my own worst enemy.”
Maybe this is what Paul had in mind, when he wrote to the Romans…
Romans 7:15–24 (ESV) — 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
Even as Christians we struggle with trusting God, with obeying God. This is a big problem. How can I be in a right relationship with God knowing he will keep his promises 100%, but also knowing I am my own worst enemy and will fail him over and over again?
Some of our brothers and sisters in the faith base their relationship with God on this struggle. They live in the anxiety that if they don’t acknowledge and confess every failure, every sin, God won't accept them. They exhibit a high level of righteousness (at least to the observer), but their obedience is tied to fear of God not love for him.
One time a dear lady shocked me with her passionate belief that if a Christian were to sin one minute and die the next without confessing that sin, they were destined for hell.
If that’s true. Why even try?
Genesis 15 addresses this problem in a mighty way. Let’s look at it.
Genesis 15:7–11 (ESV) — 7 And he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” 8 But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?”
I think what Abraham displays here is a desire to believe in such unbelievable promises, much like the man in Mark 9 who brought his sick boy to Jesus and when asked if he believed Jesus could heal him replied, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” He did.
9 He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. 11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
This is where things get weird. Imagine if God told us to do this. The problem is we are looking at it from our culture and time’s perspective. If we go back and approach it from Abraham’s culture and time, it makes perfect sense.
Abraham certainly wasn't thrown off by it. When God said get the animals, he knew exactly what to do (like when we give the wives the checkbook). It wasn’t strange to him because it was familiar to him.
Ancient documents discovered, contemporary to Abraham’s time, record a ceremony almost exactly like what we see here in Genesis 15.
When two parties, particularly a king and servant, wanted to ratify a covenant or promise, they took a donkey, cut it in half, and then walked through the parted remains together. This signified if either party broke the covenant provisions, may he become like the dead animal. It was a symbolic but graphic way to convey the seriousness of that covenant.
We see something very similar in Jeremiah 34, where the leaders of Jerusalem had promised to release their slaves but went back on their word…
Jeremiah 34:17–18 (ESV) — 17 “Therefore, thus says the Lord: You have not obeyed me by proclaiming liberty, every one to his brother and to his neighbor; behold, I proclaim to you liberty to the sword, to pestilence, and to famine, declares the Lord. I will make you a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth. 18 And the men who transgressed my covenant and did not keep the terms of the covenant that they made before me, I will make them like the calf that they cut in two and passed between its parts…”
We finally found a home to rent in Pleasant View. In order to rent that home, we had to do more than just say, “We want to rent that home.” We were required to sign a lease. That contract laid out all the provisions of the rental agreement, some had to do with the owner and some had to do with the renters.
It also included consequences for breaking the lease’s provisions. By signing it we promised to keep it’s provisions and so did the owner. That’s how we enter into contracts today.
I like our way better.
So Genesis 15 is an account of what we understand as a contract but more technically a covenant. Let’s keep going…
Genesis 15:12–16 (ESV) — 12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. 13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”
God here foretold the bondage of the Israelites (Abraham’s descendants) in Egypt and Moses’ delivering them. And how they would eventually return and inhabit the land.
Now here’s where we need to pay close attention…
Genesis 15:17–18 (ESV) — 17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.
Smoking here is same word used in Ex 19…
Exodus 19:18 (ESV) — 18 Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly.
And fire is the same used in…
Exodus 3:2 (ESV) — 2 And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed.
Exodus 13:21 (ESV) — 21 And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night.
There’s no question, the smoking fire pot and flaming torch represent the Lord God. And now, verse...
18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram…
OK, here it is. This is what this whole series has been leading up to. Did you notice something unusual, something striking about this covenant ceremony?
God went through ALONE. In other words, he passed through for both of them. In so doing he placed the responsibility of keeping the covenant solely on his shoulders. He was saying, “I am going to give you land, seed, and blessing, and there is nothing you can do to stop it.”
God knew Abraham wasn’t able to perfectly and completely trust Him, so God took it all upon himself.
God made a blood covenant with Abraham that is connected with another blood covenant…
Luke 22:14–20 (ESV) — 14 And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. 15 And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. 18 For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”
Jesus’ own blood sealed this new covenant. He endured the ceremony alone. The implications are the same. Do you see how Genesis 15 is intertwined with the Gospel of Jesus?
Listen to what Tim Keller says about this…
This is the gospel. Salvation and the Christian faith is not a cooperative effort. It is not, “God helps those who help themselves.” It is not a partnership. God comes through and says, “I will take upon myself the curse of the covenant for both of us. Abram, may I be cut off if I don’t do my part of the bargain, but Abram, may I be cut off if you don’t do yours. Abram, I will bless you even if it means …” And it did. “… that I would have to die.”
Don’t you realize, centuries later, darkness came down again? You read about it in Mark 15:33, where it says, “At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land … And at the ninth hour Jesus cried … ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ ” … Abram had no idea what it was going to cost God to make the promise he did.
Isaiah says about the Messiah, “For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.” His immortality did become mortality. His immutability did suffer mutation. The impossible became possible. God died. God was cut off. God was trampled into the dust. The darkness came down on him.
Conclusion: This answers Paul’s question in Romans 7…
Romans 7:24–25 (ESV) — 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!…
God knew Abraham would never be able to shoulder the burden of entering into a covenant with Him. He also knew the Israelites would never have be able to keep the law and the covenant given through Moses.
God knew none of us would ever be able to enter into covenant with him and keep up our end. That’s why he enacted a new covenant, the blood covenant given through Jesus that looks back to Genesis 15.
Just like with Abraham, this new covenant is eternal, unchanging, unbreakable and there’s nothing we can do about it even if we wanted to.
John 10:27–29 (ESV) — 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.
This is what we anchor our soul to. This is what leads us into deeper obedience not unbridled sin. We don’t live out our relationship with God through Jesus in fear (like many of our brothers and sisters) but in gratitude.
This strange story of a five dead animals, a smoking fire pot, and flaming torch, gives us great comfort knowing we can rest and trust in the eternal covenant of God given us through Jesus.
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