GOD S COVENANT WITH ABRAM

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1 1 Dear Friend, this is a transcript of a sermon preached by Pastor Jeremy Tan from the pulpit of Amazing Grace Baptist Church Singapore. We are committed to expository preaching because we believe it is the most effective way to expose, explain and expound the Holy Scriptures. And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, [Jesus] expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke 24:27). Through careful systematic and sequential exposition, the preacher is able to declare unto you all the counsel of God (Acts 20:27), and Christians are blessed with a regular, well-balanced diet of God s Word. Expository preaching also helps us to have a high view of Scripture. We wish to extend a warm welcome to you to join us in our church services for a time of uplifting worship and helpful Bible study, which will bring rejoicing and refreshment to your soul. Do visit our church website at or write to us at GOD S COVENANT WITH ABRAM Genesis 15:7 21 There are two reasons why Genesis 15 is one of the great chapters in the Bible. The first reason is for its declaration that Abram was justified by faith (Genesis 5:6); and secondly, its record of God s covenant with Abram. This chapter also records Abram s two encounters with God, after his successful war against the four eastern kings and his meetings with the king of Sodom and Melchizedek, the king of Salem and priest of God Most High. After these things (Genesis 15:1), God drew near to Abram in a vision. This word translated vision is a term used for the revelation of God to His prophet; and in Genesis 20:7 God identified Abram as a prophet. God said, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward (Genesis 15:1). These are promises of protection and provision to Abram. However, he had a problem: how could God fulfill His promises of unnumbered descendants and their inheritance of the Promised Land without a son for him? All that Abram had for an heir was his servant, Eliezer of Damascus! But God said, No, Abram. He would not be your heir. You will have a son of your own flesh as your heir. Then God pointed him to the night sky. Abram, your descendants will be as numberless as the stars! So in Genesis 15:6, we have the great statement: Abram believed in the LORD, and he counted it to him for righteousness. This is the first statement in the Bible about justification by faith for sinners. Abram believed the promises of God at His word, and God credited, reckoned, counted, or imputed righteousness to him (all these terms have the same meaning). Now let me repeat what we have learned previously about faith. Faith itself does not save or give righteousness to the sinner. Faith is only the channel that leads to the object of faith. It is the reality of the object that counts. Faith is only as valid as the object of our belief. If the object is an idol, the utmost sincerity of faith in it avails nothing to the believer. For Abram, he was counted righteous because he trusted the word of the true and living God. This same principle of justification by faith applies to every person from Adam.

2 2 Now in Genesis 15:7-21, we see Abram s second encounter with God. In their first encounter, the subject is the Promised Seed. In this second encounter, the subject is the Promised Land. Now God will enact His covenant with Abram. The first readers of Genesis were the children of Israel, and from reading about Abram s life, they would have noted the parallels in the life of their patriarch and their own experiences. We will point out these parallels as we work our way through the passage. There are four main points in our study of Genesis 15:7-21. I. The Promise in the Covenant. Genesis 15:7 And he said unto him, I am the LORD that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it. God s introduction, I am the LORD that brought thee out, is almost identical to His introduction of the Mosaic Covenant to the Israelites. Exodus 20:2 I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. The two formative events in the history of God s covenant people in the Old Testament are Abram s exodus from Ur of the Chaldees and Israel s exodus from Egypt. Both of these exoduses were the sovereign acts of God. God also identified Himself with Abram and Israel by His sovereign grace. For the children of Israel, God said He did not choose them because they were the largest or greatest people on earth (Deuteronomy 7:6-8). Moreover in their history, Israel would break the commandments of God, vote against entering the Promised Land, worship idolatry, yearn for a human king to rule over them instead of God, kill the prophets of God, and also their Messiah. Yet the all-knowing God chose Israel and the only reason is His sovereign grace. With His introduction in Genesis 15:7, God reminded Abram that He had initiated Abram s journey to Canaan. Abram did not sign up for Canaan in the way that a person volunteered for the French Foreign Legion. In His sovereignty, God chose Abram and called him out of idolatry. Without the call of God, Abram would remain an idolater who worshipped the moon; and God led him to Canaan. This is the same truth for the salvation of sinners. God does not need our help to save sinners. In reality, human contribution is no help at all to God. We recall Abram s fiasco in Egypt. He had sought refuge and reprieve in Egypt from the famine in Canaan, and he lied to the Egyptians that Sarai was his sister. When Sarai was taken captive, God had to rescue them from the mess of Abram s own making! What about his war with the four eastern kings? Do you think a few hundred men could defeat vastly superior enemies? The numbers alone are overwhelming! Abram could have been killed by a hail of arrows raining down on him! Abram survived because God was his shield. God protected him. So with the reminder of His sovereignty, God said to Abram, I give thee this land to inherit it. Genesis 15:8 And he said, Lord GOD, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it? This is not the first time Abram had asked God a question. He had asked about an heir in Genesis 15:2. Now he asked a second question. But Abram did not ask questions because

3 3 he doubted God. God had already credited righteousness to Abram because of his faith. So his questions were not asked because of weak or wavering faith. Instead, Abram asked out of faith s interest. He wanted more information. Lord, how will I know that I am the inheritor of the land? God is not insecure that we cannot ask Him questions. It is no credit to us to follow blindly and not ask questions! Ask questions to learn, and our faith will be strengthened, and we will grow spiritually. Abram s question about God s promise leads us to the next main point in the narrative. II. The Presentation of the Covenant. God answered Abram by enacting a covenant with him. First, God gave him some instructions to prepare for the covenant ceremony. Genesis 15:9 And he said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon. The animals are all three years old because that is the prime age of sacrifice. Genesis 15:10 And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not. In Abram s day, a covenant or oath was confirmed by a ceremony in which animals were cut into two parts along the backbone, and then placed in two rows, one half on each opposite side. The two parties to the oath would walk together down the row between the sundered animals. As they walked together, they declared their solemn pledges to the covenant. It is from this ceremony that we have the expression, cutting a covenant. Only the animals were cut in two. Genesis 15: And when the fowls came down upon the carcases, Abram drove them away. 12 And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him. At sundown, the birds swooped upon the animal parts. This means that Abram s second encounter with God occurred the day after God had given him the vision and shown him the stars in the night sky. As the carrion-eating birds tried to feed themselves with the animal flesh, Abram had to fend them off. We observe that up to now, Abram seemed to be doing everything for the covenant. He got the animals, prepared them, cut them up, and now he was protecting the covenant from the birds. Many people think that they need to do this, that, or the other, to be justified with God; they think of what they must do for their salvation. But we have learned in Genesis 5:6 that Abram was justified by faith in God. We will see in the following verses that God enacted the covenant without Abram s participation. The birds that swooped on the animal pieces are possibly ravens, and these birds may be Satan s attempt to disrupt the covenant ceremony because God was working through Abram to bring forth the promised seed of the woman.

4 4 Abram had been busy at work all day, so he became weary and fell into a deep sleep. While deep in sleep, the horror of great darkness fell upon him. Why the horror? Why the great darkness? Aren t we enveloped in darkness when we are asleep? Of course we are, but in Abram s case, there is symbolism in his horror and great darkness. One commentator described Abram s terrifying darkness as a human emotion that is inspired most often by Yahweh s presence. (Victor P. Hamilton, quoted by R. Kent Hughes, Genesis: Beginning and Blessing, p. 231). Indeed, men become afraid when they find themselves in the presence of God, such as with Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-4), and with the apostle John on the isle of Patmos (Revelation1:16-17). As Abram fell asleep, God drew near to him. Later, the covenant with Israel would be inaugurated at Sinai in similar darkness (Exodus 19:16-18). This brings us to our next point, which is III. The Prophecies in the Covenant. God manifested Himself to Abram. Genesis 15: And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; 14 And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. God prophesied to Abram that his descendants, the children of Israel, would become strangers in a foreign land, which we know to be Egypt. In Egypt, they would suffer affliction as slaves for four hundred years. But why four hundred years? Exodus 12:40 informs us that the Israelites were in Egypt for 430 years. Is this a contradiction, or an error in the Bible? No, not at all. The four hundred years is simply a round figure that represents the four generations of Israelites in Egypt. We have a list of the four generations in Exodus 6: The first generation is Levi, a son of Jacob, who entered Egypt at the time of Joseph (v. 16). The second generation is Kohath, a son of Levi (vv. 16, 18). The third generation is Amram, a son of Kohath (vv. 18, 20). The fourth generation brings us to Moses and Aaron, the sons of Amram (v. 20). Indeed, God delivered Abram s descendants in the fourth generation (v. 26). Instead of seeing a contradiction in the four hundred years, the precise numbering of the four generations reminded Israel that God controlled human history, even every detail of it. God said in Isaiah 46:10 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: We can only know the past, and speculate about the future. We know about yesterday, but not what tomorrow brings. God knows the future; He is able to declare the end from the beginning because He planned it all. Events in history do not catch God by surprise because history is the unfolding of His sovereign purpose. According to the prophecy, Israel s captivity in Egypt would be long and bitter. But in the fourth generation, God would deliver Israel out of Egypt with great substance. The Egyptians would gladly give their treasures to the Israelites to have them leave quickly. In

5 5 Abram s exodus from Egypt, the patriarch also left the land of the Nile much enriched with substance and servants (Genesis 12:16). We notice also in Genesis 15:14 that God said, And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge. Pharaoh would stubbornly reject God s command to let His people go, given through Moses; and God broke Egypt s stubbornness with His judgment of ten plagues. With the destruction of the country though the plagues, God brought Pharaoh to his knees, and God reminded Israel and the world of His sovereignty. After giving Abram the prophecy of his descendants, God gave another prophecy that was personal to Abram. Genesis 15:15 And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. Instead of possessing the Promised Land, Abram would die in peace at a ripe old age. Instead of property on earth, he would look for an eternal home, a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11:10). Genesis 15:16 But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full. Here we learn another reason why the Israelites had to remain in Egypt for four generations. The Israelites had to wait until the fourth generation because the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full. Who are the Amorites? They are a group of inhabitants among ten that lived in Canaan. Genesis 15:19-21 give us the names of the ten nations in Canaan. What was the nature of their iniquity? In Leviticus 18:1-23 there is a list of sexual perversions that were endemic to the inhabitants of Canaan, such as homosexuality, incest, and bestiality. In Leviticus 18:24-28, God warned Israel about the perverse lifestyles of the Canaanites. Leviticus 18: Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you: 25 And the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants. 26 Ye shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations; neither any of your own nation, nor any stranger that sojourneth among you: 27 (For all these abominations have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the land is defiled;) 28 That the land spue not you out also, when ye defile it, as it spued out the nations that were before you. The perversions of the Canaanites were so vile that God said the defiled land would vomit them out. So after four hundred years in Egypt, Abram s descendants would enter Canaan and dispossess the Amorites and the other nations that lived there. Now, we must note that the Israelites did not simply take the land because they were God s covenant people. During the 400 hundred years that Israel lived in Egypt, God waited for the Amorites to have their fill of wickedness before He said, Enough is enough. Then He destroyed them in His judgment. God s simultaneous dealings with Israel and the Amorites brings us a lesson. We are often short-sighted and one-dimensional in our view of history and world events. We look at

6 6 the prosperity of the wicked and their propensity for evil, and we wonder why God is not acting swiftly to judge them. We echo the question of the martyrs in Revelation 6:10 who were slain for the word of God. They asked God, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? Friend, God is not unknowing or inactive. He is not slow to act. He chooses when to act, and He chooses when to wait. When God does something for us, He may be doing something else at the same time for another, such as when He waited four generations for both the Israelites and the Amorites. For one, He delivered; for the other, He judged. Friend, are you saved from your sins? Have you repented of your sins? Is God waiting for you to repent, or is He waiting for you to fill up the measure of your sins before He brings judgment upon you? Do not presume on God s grace and misinterpret His inactivity to mean that there is no judgment! God is longsuffering, but there is a limit to His patience. For us who are believers in Christ, we can take comfort and draw encouragement in the knowledge that God acts or waits with purpose, and so we rest in His sovereignty. Next IV. The Pictures in the Covenant. Genesis 15:17 And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces. The covenant ceremony involving the butchered animals signified to the parties that they would be cut up in the same way, if they broke their pledges. However we note that in God s covenant with Abram, only one party passed between the animal pieces. The party was not Abram; he was sound asleep, and God did not ask him to wake up and walk between the animals with Him. God alone passed between the pieces. God made the covenant and He confirmed it by Himself, without Abram s participation in the ceremony. This event is recorded in Hebrews 6: For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself, 14 Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee. By walking alone between the sundered animals, God testified that His covenant was unilateral, unconditional, and immutable. God put Himself under the covenant curse, should He ever break His promises to Abram. What amazing, gracious condescension for God to threaten Himself with the same end as the animals! Yet, the reality is that God cannot die. Since God also cannot lie (Titus 1:2), there is no danger of Him breaking the covenant and suffering the covenant curse. Therefore, God will fulfill His covenant with Abram. Now, the smoking furnace and the burning lamp reveal the presence of God in the midst of the animals. But what do they represent? First, the smoking furnace is the refining pot that is used to remove impurities for the refinement of metal or gold. The picture of the smoking furnace represents the refinement of believers in Christ. We read in 1 Peter 1:7 That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:

7 7 The purpose of trials that test our faith is to remove the impurities in our lives, so that we can better reflect Christ in our character and conduct. Likewise, there would be further tests to refine Abram s faith, and also tests for his descendants. Next, the picture of the burning lamp represents God as light. God is light, and in him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). The Lord Jesus declared in John 8:12, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. Walking with God in His light is contrary to living in sin, which is to walk in darkness. The burning lamp points to a similar experience that Moses had with the burning bush, from which God spoke to him (Exodus 3:2). For Israel, the people would be reminded that God led them out of Egypt through the pillar of fire by night and the pillar of cloud by day (Exodus 13:21). Next, God defined the land that He promised to Abram s descendants. Genesis 15:18 In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates: Notice here that God s promise to Abram s seed is not merely the tiny sliver of land that is Canaan. The land that God gave to His covenant people, the Israelites, covers the territory between the River Nile in Egypt and the Euphrates River in Mesopotamia, which is modern Iraq. Those who dispute the ownership of the land need to study God s covenant with Abram. No matter how many times the ownership of the Promised Land may change hands, or whoever may occupy the land in history, be they the Babylonians, Bedouins or the British, God had given the land in perpetuity to His covenant people. Any other claim to ownership or occupation is temporary. The chapter ends with these verses Genesis 15: The Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites, 20 And the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims, 21 And the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites. When Israel entered the land, God commanded them to drive out these nations but Israel disobeyed, to their own hurt. Our disobedience to God always leads to loss and suffering. Conclusion God s covenant with Abram in Genesis 15 is vital and pivotal to us all because everything that culminates in the Gospel of Jesus Christ begins here. God s covenant with Abram is unilateral, unconditional, and immutable in character. The covenant is unilateral in that God did not seek Abram s agreement to the terms. The covenant is unconditional because no merit is required on the part of Abram and his descendants. If it were conditional, the covenant would long have been broken. So God took responsibility for His covenant. Even if Abram failed or faltered, God will fulfill His covenant. Then the covenant is immutable because God does not change the terms of His promises. So how do we relate personally to God s covenant with Abram?

8 8 We learn that God is always faithful to His covenant. We are failures because of sin, but God took on the garb of human flesh through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and tasted death for the covenant-breaking children of Abram. On the cross, God paid the full price of the covenant curse with the death of His Son. Christ died on the cross for our disobedience to God and our offence against His righteousness. Just as God walked alone between the covenant pieces in the darkness, Christ died alone on the cross. When the deep darkness and horror of God s wrath was poured out against Him, Christ cried out from the cross, saying, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46). God s punishment for sin fell completely on Jesus, so that guilty sinners who trust in Him as their personal Saviour might be spared judgment and receive the blessings of their inheritance. Galatians 3: Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: 14 That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. According to Galatians 3:29, believers in Christ are Abraham s seed, and heirs according to the promise. There is a land waiting for Abraham s seed, but not an earthly one. Instead, it is the land that Abram went. Now let me ask you, are you seeking to cooperate with God for your salvation? If you want to do your part to be right with God, so that God can do His part to save you, you will fail because you are a condemned sinner who is unrighteous in the presence of God. Your part will only be like that of the sundered animals, under the curse of sin that brings eternal punishment in hell. Do you really want to take responsibility for your salvation according to what you do, or would you ask God to be the guarantor of your salvation? No sinner is ever saved by his own works, but on what God has promised to those who look to Him by faith. Salvation for sinners is through faith in Christ alone as personal Saviour. So plead with God for mercy and ask Him to be gracious to grant you faith and repentance, and God will save you from everlasting judgment through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Permission: We share our materials with you as a blessing from the ministry of our church. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format, provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be explicitly approved by Amazing Grace Baptist Church. Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: Copyright: Amazing Grace Baptist Church Singapore. Website: Used by permission as granted on website.

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