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God's covenant with Abram

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 by Jacky Wilson

Today’s Bible reading is about God’s Covenant with Abram who, as we know, will later be called Abraham. There are a number of Covenants of great significance in the Bible: the Noahic (No-ay-ic) Covenant, the Abrahamic Covenant (which we will be looking at this today), the Mosaic Covenant, the Davidic Covenant, and the New Covenant.

So our Bible passage opens with “… after these things...,” We might be asking: "What things?" In the previous Chapter, A-bram chased the kings of the north out of the land and rescued his nephew Lot from their clutches. Abram is then blessed with bread and wine by the King of Salem, whose name is Melchizedek, Priest of the Most High God, to whom Abram in turn then gives a tithe of 10% ('Salem' is later renamed 'Jerusalem'). Melchizedek tells Abram that the dramatic deliverance was not because of Abram’s power and influence, but because of the blessing of the Most High God.

But Abram’s bold move to subdue the northern kings has also left him worried, he is fearful that they may return. So as he sits there worrying, the Word of the Lord comes to him in a Vision: “Do not fear, Abram, I am your Shield, your very Great Reward.” and affirms to Abram that the kings will indeed not return. In fact, Abram has nothing to fear for the Lord will not only protect Abram, but He will also bless Abram as He has promised. As Abram hears God’s reassuring words, it takes his mind back to an earlier promise of God. That promise made to him when he left Ur, to provide Abram with both an inheritance and an heir. The promise also affirmed that he would have nations come from him.

But Abram here is thinking: "I am not getting any younger, and Sarai is long past child-bearing age." So while Abram is confident in God’s promise of an inheritance, he is questioning whether the possibility of an heir is still on the table. Beginning with this chapter and continuing until the end of Abram’s life, the story focuses on the other half of God’s promise… the seed.

Abram said, "Lord God, what will you give me seeing I go childless, you have given me no offspring, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”

According to the custom of the day, in the absence of a son and heir, the inheritance of the estate belonged to the oldest servant born in the house. God then answers, and it never fails me how God’s timing is exactly right on time; God takes longer to answer our prayers than we would prefer, but His timing is nevertheless always perfect. We all know in our heart of hearts that God is faithful, but like Abram, when much time has passed, we begin to doubt, often because we ourselves or a friend or family member has broken a promise, or not kept our word.

Do we see God like that sometimes? We do. But God’s promises are always fulfilled - however long they take to arrive.

So how does God respond? "And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, 'This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.‘ And He took him outside and said, 'Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.' And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.’”

Back in Genesis Chapter 13, God also tells Abram that he would have descendants so numerous they would be like the dust of the earth. So God repeats to Abram that Abram would have an heir from his own body. It is evening, so God tells Abram to leave his tent and go outside. As Abram leaves the tent, God tells him to look up towards heaven and count the stars and says to him, "… so shall your descendants be."

Have you ever been under a night sky with no lights around? Let us now imagine the glory of the universe on display before our eyes. Everywhere you look, you see stars. Even in the darkest places, as you gaze, even more stars appear. There seems to be no end to them. You can understand the impossibility of counting so many stars. Hopefully, an experience will have blessed you as awe-inspiring as this. I know I have been blessed gazing up into the clear night sky in the desert in Israel, and in a remote spot in Ireland, where my Sister-in-Law lives. We truly have an awesome God.

There are certainly many questions that come to mind, when we think about what must have been going through Abram’s mind as he pondered God’s words: „How can such a thing happen? Will it be by Sarai or someone else? And how long will it be before the first child comes? As Abram wrestled with these things, scripture tells us, "...BUT Abram, believed in the LORD; and He accounted it to him for righteousness."

One of, if not the most important verse in the Old Testament. Abram believed the Lord’s promise to make his descendants too numerous to count. And because Abram believed God’s promise concerning this future event, and placed his trust in God, God credited Abram’s faith to him as righteousness. He trusted God and God blessed Abram by counting his faith as righteousness.

For the first time in Scripture we see belief or trust, justification, and righteousness in a single statement. And this statement is foundational to all that we understand about how God is at work to save men from sin. Abram was following God, step by step, as we all do, and his walk with God was imperfect - but even so, Abram took God’s promise concerning the future and made it his own.

He began to look forward to that future, to anticipate it, to see it as if it was already a present reality. This is the definition of faith, a belief in the future so sure and unwavering that we accept it as if it were history.

In the book of Hebrews 11:1-2. - It says. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men and women of old gained approval. “According to the author of Hebrews, the definition of saving faith involves both an object of faith and the content of faith. The object of faith is always the same: God’s promises. The promises of God hold hope for the future. They ask us to accept something that seems impossible on the face of it. For Abram, the foolish promise he received was to have a multitude of descendants when he had yet to bear even one child naturally. The only way to accept such a promise is if you have a faith that goes beyond rational human reasoning. It must come from a supernatural source!

Cutting the covenant

Abram now wants assurance of how he will inherit the promise, and God instructs him to bring a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtle dove, and a young pigeon. Abram then brings all these before God and cuts them in two down the middle, placing each piece opposite the other; but he does not cut the birds in two. In verse 11 we are told that when the vultures come down, Abram drives them away. The vultures represent an attack on the covenant promise between God and Abram, distracting and drawing away Abram’s attention if they can. On this night at dusk, Abram seems supernaturally overpowered by a deep sleep and a great and dreadful darkness falls upon him. In a dream, he sees the future of his people who will be held in captivity for 400 years. But through all this, despite all the troubles, opposition and attacks on his faith and trust in God’s promises, Abram is promised that he will die in peace and shall be buried at a good old age.

The sun has now gone down, and it is completely dark a smoking pot and a burning torch appear and then pass between the sacrificial pieces that Abram has prepared. We know that a smoking pot with a flaming torch was used in Mesopotamian rituals to ward off evil. But here it seems the smoking pot and flaming torch are not symbolic of Abram’s efforts to ward off evil but are actual representations of God himself moving between the pieces. Remarkably, it is the Lord Himself who is moving between the halves alone, which invokes a curse upon Himself should He break the terms of the covenant. This covenant is a commitment of the one Party! God is placing Himself on the line, His Name, His reputation, and His Being. So God makes the covenant with Abram an action that can be considered complete, instantaneous, and valid in the here and now. The Lord unconditionally promises that Abram’s descendants will possess the land. The promise becomes increasingly definite as the reality becomes increasingly implausible to the ageing Abram — until Isaac is born!

At the beginning of this Bible Passage, I mentioned the great significance of the five Covenants which show us how we can see the covenants progressively build upon one another forming a spine of sorts to the redemptive work of God. God preserved the world through Noah, initiated redemption through Abraham, formed a special people through Israel, promised a shepherd-king through David, and then fulfilled all his covenantal promises through Jesus. With each covenant, God’s promises and plans to save the world through the seed of the woman become clearer and clearer until we finally see that redemption can only come through King Jesus.

***From this historical passage from the Bible how do we today apply this to our lives.

First, we need to totally believe in God’s word and His promises as Abram did. We need to trust that God will fulfil that promise, not wavering, but standing on the promise, even when it is hard to believe, or we cannot see how it will come to pass. Let us hold onto and remember God’s word stands and He will come through for us.

We are saved today by grace, so let us strengthen our faith on a promise in God’s word, like the Saints of old, like Abram, whose faith was strengthened on the promise of many descendants will come from him. Remind God of the promise or scripture that God has given you and believe and trust in it.

Put on the full armour every day which is found in Ephesians 6 that God has given us, especially remembering the shield of faith to stop those arrows of the evil one from getting through to us. Put on the breast place of Righteousness, Jesus’s righteousness. Let us choose to be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.

I am going to lead us in a prayer now - let us be still

Holy Spirit, we welcome you - fill this place with your presence -

Father in the name of Jesus, thank you that you are here amongst us…

“Jesus asks a question” - Are you struggling today with what we see and hear going on in the world around us, or we ourselves are going through a difficult or challenging time with our personal situations?

Then let us close our eyes, as we now come individually into the presence of the Lord - and ask God to renew our trust in Him, and to give us His peace. For us, whose faith might feel a bit shaky, let us ask God to renew and deepen our faith and to remind us that He has already put Himself on the line for us, as He did for Abram, and as Abram we need but trust Him and walk with Him step by step into the fulfilment of His promises. Lord Jesus, come now in the power of the Holy Spirit and meet us in all our needs, restore us, instil a renewed, deeper trust in You, to the glory of your Name.

In Jesus Name. Amen

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