************ Sermon on Genesis 15:1-6 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 6, 2012
"Abraham's Struggle to Believe"
One of Satan's prime strategies is to tempt us right after we have hit a spiritual high. Think of the experience of Elijah. One day he was on the mountaintop, exposing the prophets of Baal as frauds and demonstrating that the Lord is the one only true God (1 Kings 18). The next day he flees for his life and prays for death when he hears Queen Jezebel wants to kill him (1 Kings 19:4). Think of Peter. One day Peter boldly declared he would never fall away from Christ even if everyone else does (Mt 26:33); however, that very night Peter disowned Christ three times.
In our Scripture reading today we see that same struggle in the life of Abraham. We see Abraham come crashing down after a spiritual high.
I Abraham's Spiritual High
A Did you notice the opening words of our Scripture reading this morning? One word in the Hebrew translated in our Bibles as "After this." "After this." Meaning what? Meaning these words are pointing us back to the events of Genesis 14.
Do you remember what happened in Genesis 14? Abraham, in a daring military operation, rescued Lot and the people of Sodom. What Abraham did that day was as bold and as daring as the killing of Osama bin Laden by our Navy Seal Team. Abraham risked life and limb to rescue Lot, someone who did not deserve to be rescued. What faith, what bravery, what courage, what love.
When Abraham returned home the king of Sodom gave Abraham a business proposition: "Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself" (Gen 14:21). But Abraham declined. He declined the temptation to grasp the Promised Land in his own strength. He declined the temptation to receive the Promised Land from a heathen king.
Instead, Abraham accepted the bread and wine offered to him by Melchizedek, the king of Salem. Melchizedek blessed Abraham and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. A tenth of the flocks and herds. A tenth of the gold and silver. A tenth of the camels and jewels. Abraham gave this tenth to Melchizedek as priest of God Most High. Meaning what? Meaning Abraham was giving a tenth, a tithe, to God Himself. Meaning Abraham was acknowledging that victory came from God's hands and not his own hands.
B "After this" God speaks to Abraham, "Do not be afraid, Abram." (Gen 15:1).
"Do not be afraid." Why does God say this to Abraham? Obviously, Abraham was afraid. Of what? Of what was Abraham afraid? We need to go back to Genesis 14 again. Remember the powerful enemies Abraham made when he rescued Lot? He made an enemy of Kedorlaomer, the king of Elam and the head of the powerful four-king alliance that attacked Sodom. Abraham made an enemy of Amraphel, the king of Shinar, another of the four kings; you know Shinar as Babel or Babylon; this up and coming city and kingdom is identified throughout the Bible as the enemy of God and His people. Abraham also made an enemy of the king of Sodom when he ignored his proposal and went, instead, with the bread and wine of the king of Salem.
Was Abraham afraid? You bet he was afraid. He knew first-hand the wickedness of the king of Sodom. And, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, Scripture makes a point of telling us the four kings came from the same general area as Abraham – in Mesopotamia – so there is every reason to suppose Abraham either knew them or knew about them. Abraham knew how swiftly and ferociously the armies of the four kings could move. Abraham knew their blood lust. Abraham knew their greed and their pride. So, yes, Abraham was afraid.
Why else was Abraham afraid? Or, maybe I should ask, of who else was Abraham afraid? Abraham was also afraid because he was having an encounter with the living God. We are told in verse 1 that "the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision" (Gen 15:1). The word of the LORD. That is, the word of Yahweh. The word of the Source of all life and all being. The word of Him Who created the heavens and the earth. The word of Him Who established the covenant of works when He gave the command not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The word of Him who pronounced judgment on sinful man. The word of Him Who established the line of Shem as the line of the Promised Seed.
Abraham was afraid because of an overwhelming sense of awe in the presence of God. The normal reaction to an encounter with God, the living God, is fear (cf Gen 21:17; 26:24; 28:17). God is so holy and so awesome that mortal sinful people can only tremble in His presence. We see this same reaction when Adam and Eve hid from the sound of God walking in the garden of Eden in the cool of the day (Gen 3:8-10); when Gideon met the Angel of the Lord (Judges 6:22); when Isaiah realized he had seen the King, the Lord Almighty (Is 6:5); and, when Zechariah saw the angel who announced the birth of John the Baptist (Lk 1:12). And, think of Moses' audience – the children of Israel traveling through the wilderness on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land. They were afraid, deathly afraid, of the presence of God when they were camped before Sinai (cf Ex 19:16-19).
This is the God Who spoke to Abraham in a vision in Genesis 15. "Do not be afraid, Abram."
C Why shouldn't Abraham be afraid? Listen to what God says:
(Gen 15:1) "Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward."Now we know why Abraham does not have to be afraid. God is his shield. A shield is used by soldiers to protect themselves against the spears, javelins, swords, and arrows of the enemy. Abraham's shield is the Lord. Unlike most shields which guard or protect only from one direction, the Lord's protecting care is all around Abraham. God is his refuge and strength.
And God is His "great reward." The King of Sodom offered Abraham all of Canaan on a platter. But Abraham said no. His reward is the Lord Himself – to know Him and to be known by Him, to love Him and to be loved by Him, to walk with Him and to talk with Him, to serve Him. Abraham's reward after defeating the four kings is not a piece of the earth but a living, loving relationship with the King of heaven and earth!
Maybe you are scared of someone or something. Maybe you are over your head in debt and are scared of losing your house or business. Maybe you are scared of being without a job. Maybe your fear is poverty. Maybe your fear is Alzheimer's or dementia as you get older and your body and mind gives out and your kids take over. Maybe your fear is failure – as a student, as a mother, as an athlete, as a husband or wife. Maybe you fear that the dumb or sinful things you have done in the past with catch up with you. Maybe your fear is illness or cancer or heart-attack or stroke. Maybe your fear is gossip and slander and loss of pride. Maybe your fear is alcoholism or addiction.
Whatever your fear, let yourself be assured by the words of God to Abraham: "I am your shield, your very great reward" (Gen 15:1). In Christ, God protects you and loves you and cares for you. In Christ, you are safe, eternally safe, and no one can snatch you out of His hand (cf Rom 8:37-39).
"Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward" (Gen 15:1). What an awesome thing that the King and Lord of the universe stooped down to talk to Abraham. How awesome and glorious it is to get a vision and a message from the Lord God Almighty.
II Abraham's Doubt
A So, Abraham was riding high. He had rescued Lot. He overcame the temptation to grasp the Promised Land in his own strength. He had an encounter, a vision, a message from the living God.
After this Abraham comes crashing down. Abraham recalled God's promises:
I will make you into a great nation.
I will bless you.
I will make your name great.
And you will be a blessing (Gen 12:2).
To your offspring I will give this land (Gen 12:7).
All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever.
I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth (Gen 13:15-16).
Abraham recalled all of these promises, each of these promises, and they seemed no closer to fulfilment than when God first said them. There appeared to be a gap, a big gap, between promise and fulfilment. There was a gap between promise and reality. Because Abraham still had no offspring. And, Abraham owned not even the smallest parcel of ground in the Promised Land. For Abraham, as with Moses' original audience in the wilderness, there was a gap between promise and reality.
You know, I am sure, that we experience the same gap during every election cycle. Our politicians make all sorts of promises. But once they get into office and once they run for re-election they try to explain why there is a gap, a large gap, between promise and reality.
We have come to expect this gap when it comes to humans. We make promises as husband and wives when we get married but when the rose-colored glasses come off we realize there is a gap between promise and reality. We make promises as parents when our children are born and baptized; but again there is the gap between promise and reality. We make promises as church members when we publicly profess our faith. We make promises as office bearers. We make promises to our customers and colleagues and friends and family. But always there is the gap.
Abraham knew that people always let you down. Take his nephew Lot, for instance. Where is Lot after Uncle Abraham has rescued him? He is back in Sodom, in wicked Sodom. Lot has been given a second chance to think things through about where to live and what to do with his life. And, again, he chooses Sodom. How disappointing.
But does this mean that the Lord, too, fails to live up to His promises? Abraham looks at God's promises about land and descendants and he is left with doubts and questions. Abraham's complaint goes something like this:
"God, you tell me not to be afraid. You tell me you are my shield and reward. Well, then, where are the children and land you promised me? It kind of looks like I need to make Eliezer, my servant, my heir." (Paraphrase of Gen 15:2-3)How quickly Abraham came down from his spiritual high.
Do you know what Abraham had to do discover? Abraham had to discover that God fulfills promises in His way and in His time. And that is not necessarily the same as in our way and in our time. So Abraham had doubts. And Abraham had fears. And Abraham's faith began to feel small. And Abraham's grasp on God's promises began to slip.
B We see Abraham attempting to take matters into his own hand – just like he did when he went to Egypt to escape famine and just like he did when he claimed Sarah as his sister rather than his wife.
Okay, God, he was saying. I want you to do it my way. If I cannot have a cuddly Abraham Junior then I want You to make Eliezer the heir of the promise.
Is this any different than what I read in the newspaper this past week? It was under "Dear Abby" – which is not a section I normally read. Parents wrote to Abby about their son who came out of the closet. They expressed love for their son and they wondered how God really views gays and lesbians. Much to my dismay I read the following answer:
I believe that entrance to heaven is based upon a person's character, not his or her sexual orientation.Abby, like Abraham, is denying the doctrines of grace. Like Abraham, she is looking to human efforts and human worth rather than God.
C Yes, Abraham's doubt is disappointing. However, there is also something good we can say. Abraham was not content to live in the here and now. Abraham was not content with earthly riches and power. Abraham was not content with the good life. He wanted more. He hungered for more. He longed to see God's purposes and promises fulfilled.
Everyone of us should have the same hunger as Abraham. It should not be enough for any of us to have a comfortable and prosperous and healthy life. We should want more. We should hunger for more.
What are your goal and hopes for the future, congregation? Will it be enough to say, "Life is good"? Will you be satisfied with material prosperity? Or, do you hunger and thirst after righteousness? Do you burn to see the Kingdom of God come in all its glory? Do you wait and pray for the return of Christ? Because that is what is at stake here. Abraham was not simply looking for an heir to inherit his possessions. He was not simply looking for an heir to carry on the family name. Rather, what Abraham wanted to see was the promised seed of Genesis 3:15 who would crush the serpent's head. Abraham wanted to see the seed through whom all peoples on earth would be blessed (Gen 12:2-3). Abraham wanted to see the seed through whom the promised Savior would come.
On this Preparatory Sunday let's end in the same place as Scripture.
Our kind and gracious God listened to Abraham. He was patient with Abraham. He repeated His promises. Like a teacher, God knows that if you keep saying the same thing often enough, eventually you get through.
So, how does Abraham end up? What does Scripture say? Listen to verse 6:
(Gen 15:6) Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.The form of the Hebrew verb translated as "believed" points to a repeated or continuous action. In other words, faith was now Abraham's normal response to God's revelation and God's promises. Abraham had faith that God could and would do what He had promised, no matter what.
I talked earlier about the gap between promise and reality. Abraham received all sorts of promises but so far none of them seemed to be coming true. Genesis teaches us that it is faith that bridges the gap.
Let me repeat this: it is faith that bridges the gap between promise and reality. When we think about it, we realize Abraham still faced the same obstacles. He was still almost a hundred years old and his wife was almost ninety. How can such an old couple have a son? How can God do what He promised? It is faith that bridges the gap between what is promised and what is reality.
Like Abraham, we too face obstacles that stand between us and the fulfilment of God's promises. We may think our sin is too great for us to be saved. We may think nothing ever seems to change and this old, sinful world will just keep on getting worse. We may think the promise of a new and better life in a new and better body on a new and better earth will never happen. Like Abraham, our response is to be faith. Not faith in ourselves. Not faith in our deeds. Not faith in humanity. Not faith in some inner force or power. But faith in God and Christ.
Faith bridges the gap between promise and reality because faith looks entirely to God and Christ. And in Him we find a righteousness that is not our own but is credited to us.
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