< What I Learned Teaching Sunday School: Genesis 15

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Genesis 15

Abraham’s life is divided into segments. The first was in Genesis 12 with God’s call for him to leave home and go to the “promised land”. The second was Lot’s separation and the consequences of all of that in Genesis 13 and 14.

In this next chapter God makes a covenant with Abraham concerning his seed, which God now promises will be the fruit of his own physical body. And through this seed all nations would be blessed.

This promise dates back to Genesis 3:15 when God gave Adam and Eve a promise and a prophecy concerning future deliverance from Satan and the consequences of their sin. The prophecy spoke of “two seeds”, the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. And God prophesied that one day the head of the seed of the serpent would be bruised (or destroyed) by the seed of the woman.

And of course the seed of the woman is Jesus. By the cross and His resurrection He delivered those who believe in Him from Satan’s power: sin and death.

Every woman who believed in God hoped from that time on she would be the one who would bear the man who would be that seed. Now in Genesis 15, God’s promise begins to take concrete form. The seed was going to come from Abraham.

And Abraham believed God even though he and Sara were way too old to have children. He chose to believe. That’s what faith is. We’ll see in Genesis 15:6 that because of Abraham’s faith in God’s promises God “counted this faith to Abraham as righteousness.” This is one of the most important verses in the Bible because that’s what happens to us when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior too! We take on Christ’s righteousness when we believe Him and that’s how God sees us from then on.

The people in the Old Testament who believed God’s promises about a future Messiah are saved just like we are who believe that Jesus is the Messiah.
Genesis 15:1-7 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:
“Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.”
2 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”
4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

7 He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

So in this passage the words “after this” show a new period begins in Abraham’s life. Then for the first time in the Bible we see a phrase that’s repeated throughout the Old Testament “The word of the Lord came to”. In our present day this might mean the recollection or the impression of some Bible passage brought to one’s mind in answer to prayer and a heart felt conscious response to it. Back then it might have been in a dream.

This marks a new phase of God’s revelation of Himself to Abraham. He tells Abraham not to be afraid and that He would be his shield.

Abraham had just won a battle against a very powerful confederacy. He may very well have been afraid of possible repercussions from his enemies. But God tells him here He’ll protect him.

Like Abraham we’re not to have fear. We can always be at peace. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” And “My peace I leave with you.” No matter what happens God has us in His hands. Nothing can touch our inner lives.

After saying He is Abraham’s shield He says He is Abraham’s “very great reward.” Abraham had just turned down rewards from the King of Sodom. Now God opens Abraham’s eyes to see he has a far greater reward, far deeper joy and satisfaction which God gives to him than he could ever have received from the king of Sodom. God will always give us back more then we give up for Him.

But Abraham is discouraged here. In reply to God’s promise of a reward, in effect he says, “It’s not money or riches I crave, but a child which You haven’t given me.” 10 years had elapsed since God first told Abraham he’d have a child in Genesis 12:7. He was only getting older!

Abraham poured it all out to God which shows us we can pray that way too! Let God know what you think, what you want, what you question! (He does anyway!) This is how you have a personal relationship with Him.

And God responds by telling Abraham the seed would come from his own physical body and that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars of the heavens. And that they would inherit the land of Canaan.

Genesis 15:8 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

Abraham is asking for a sign or confirmation here so he could be sure he hadn’t misunderstood God’s promises. We see in other instances in the Bible that asking for a sign is acceptable to God if it’s done in true faith. God answered this request by requiring him to transact a formal contract according to the ceremonial rites of that day.

Genesis 15: 9-11 So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

The technical word in Hebrew for the conclusion of a covenant is “to hew or cut” a covenant. In those days a written agreement was rare and men made their business transactions with solemn religious ceremonies. The contracting party was required to bring certain animals which were slaughtered and divided into pieces. These divided pieces, which represented the two parties to the covenant, were then laid opposite each other in such a way as to leave a path in the center along which both contracting persons walked. This represented the two parties to the covenant being made one.

Usually both parties passed between the divided sacrifices, but in this case God alone symbolized by the burning lamp and furnace passed through without consuming the sacrifices. God thus swore by Himself to fulfill the covenant. He took the responsibility.

Abraham’s part in this agreement was that of simply receiving God’s promise and openly expressing his faith as he obeyed God’s instructions regarding the ceremonial rite. He proved his faith in a practical way when he prepared the sacrificial animals.

We are called to act upon our faith too. This could be sharing the Gospel with someone. Or doing something you feel God wants you to do.

Listen well to this next part because God tells Abraham something that happens in Exodus 12 exactly like He said it would:

Genesis 15:12-21 12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”

Not only is this passage amazing because God clearly tells the Exodus story, but He also gives the reason for Abraham dying before they go into the Promised Land. “for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”  God gave these people 4 more generations. God’s justice as well as His patience is revealed in all His dealings with everyone. Full opportunity was given for the Amorites to repent and turn to God before God used the Israelites as his instrument of judgment upon an utterly depraved people. So just like in the days of Noah, God waited! Just like in the days of Sodom, He waited. Just like today, He is waiting! God waits before He gives His command for punishment and destruction until it is proved that repentance is refused and the reformation of a people is impossible.

The other really cool thing in this passage is the boundaries God sets around the land He promises to Abraham’s descendants.  From the northern reaches of the Euphrates River to the river of Egypt – broadly speaking from Syria to Egypt in the south. Egypt itself was not included. These borders were actually reached twice in the history of Israel: in Solomon’s reign in 1 Kings 8:65 and in Jeroboam II who restored the border of Israel from the entrance of Hamath into the Dead Sea.

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