************ Sermon on Genesis 15:6-21 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 13, 2012
"God's Covenant Walk"
I Abraham's Faith
A The opening verse of our Bible reading this morning, Genesis 15:6, is the first reference in the Bible to Abraham's faith. How important is this verse? It is the John 3:16 of the Old Testament. It is a verse everyone should know and most everyone should recognize.
"Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness" (Gen 15:6). It is only five words in the Hebrew original, but what a wealth of meaning they contain. There are three key words: believed, credited, righteousness.
B The first key word is "believed." Abraham "believed" God, which literally means Abraham said, "Amen, God!" Or, as the bumper sticker puts it, "God said it; I believe it; that settles it." The Hebrew word translated "believed" means "to lean your whole weight upon." Abraham leaned wholly on the promise of God and the God of promise.
Here is a reminder that we are not saved by making promises to God but by believing the promises of God. That is the whole point of the Gospel of John, which was written to tell people how to be saved (John 20:31). In John's Gospel, the word "believe" is used nearly 100 times. We are told salvation is the gracious gift of God, and it is received only by faith or belief (cf Eph. 2:8–9).
Abraham "believed" God. Which makes me ask, what did he believe? Let me remind you of God's great promises to Abraham:
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).
A son coming from your body will be your heir.
Your offspring will be like the stars of the sky in number (Gen 15:4-5).
All of these promises Abraham "believed." But his belief was not in the promises. His belief was in the God of the promises.
C The second key word is "righteousness." What is righteousness? Those with it are in a right relationship with God. Those with it, live up to God's demands. What does God demand? God demands perfect righteousness. God demands complete obedience.
What was Abraham's greatest need? Righteousness. Righteousness was Abraham's greatest need. As both baptism and the Lord's Supper reminds us, this is also the greatest need of people in our world today, for "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). And, "There is no one righteous, not even one" (Rom 3:10).
It is not enough to be "religious." It is not enough that Abraham built altars and called upon the name of the Lord (Gen 12:7,8; 13:18). It is not enough that Abraham prepared for the covenant ceremony of our Bible passage by bringing and cutting in half a heifer, a goat, and a ram (Gen 15:9-10). Likewise, it is not enough for us to attend church, to pray, to read our Bibles, to have family devotions, and to give money to the church. Abraham was NOT righteous in God's sight because of religious exercises.
Likewise, it is not enough to have works. And we can point to Abraham's many good works. It was a good work to leave his country and people and father's house at God's bidding. It was a good work to separate from Lot in such a kind and generous way. It was a good work to rescue Lot and all the others from the hands of the four kings. It was a good work to turn down the offer of the king of Sodom. It was a good work to give Melchizedek a tenth of all that he had. Yet none of this made Abraham righteous in God's sight. If Abraham, after years of holy living, was not justified by his works, then neither are we.
D The third word is "credited." How did Abraham receive his righteousness? He believed the Lord, and righteousness was imputed to him. "Impute" means "to put or credit to one's account." On the cross, our sins were put on Jesus' account when He suffered the punishment that belonged to us (53:6). And, when you trust or believe in Jesus, His righteousness is put on your account (2 Cor. 5:21), and you stand righteous and forgiven before a holy God.
E Last time, in looking at Genesis 15:1-6, we looked at Abraham's doubt and fears. We heard Abraham's complaint that he was stuck in the gap between promise and reality. We heard Abraham wonder if he had to settle on his servant, Eliezer of Damascus, as his heir.
So, how is this complaint different from what Abraham asks in verse 8? God repeats His promise about the land and Abraham asks,
(Gen 15:8) "O Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?"Does this question indicate unbelief right after Scripture tells us about Abraham's faith?
This time, Abraham's question does not indicate unbelief; rather, it is a request for a sign, a token of assurance. Abraham was asking for something tangible in which God showed He would be true to His promises. It is like when a man and woman are engaged to be married; at that time, the man is expected to give an engagement ring as a sign, a token of assurance. Abraham was asking for an engagement ring.
Think about Abraham's circumstances. God promised to give him "this land to take possession of it" (Gen 15:7). But what are we told about the land so far? We are told, "At that time the Canaanites were in the land" (Gen 12:6). We are told about pagan kings and their cities in the land (Gen 14). In today's passage we are told about the Amorites and their sin (Gen 15:16). And, we are given the names of ten nations that inhabit the land:
(Gen 15:19-21) [it is] the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, (20) Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, (21) Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.We can go so far as to say that Abraham, thanks to his military efforts, reestablished the Canaanites in the land.
Abraham was confident that God would give him the promised son, but give me a sign, O Sovereign Lord, that you are going to give me the land that right now is in the hands of ten pagan nations, ten powerful pagan nations.
I repeat, Abraham's request was not asked out of unbelief but out of faith.
II God's Sign
A In response to believing Abraham's demand for proof, God counters with a simply awesome display. "You demand a sign, Abraham? I will give you one to remember!" What God gave to Abraham was totally awesome. What God gave to Abraham overawed Abraham and squelched his desire for anything else.
In verses 10-17, Scripture describes for us a typical covenant ceremony of the ancient Near East. Generally, a location was chosen with a trench or a small gully. Animals were cut in half, and the halves were placed opposite each other on both sides of the trench. The blood and fluids would run into the trench or gully. The contracting parties in the covenant would then walk in the mess of blood and fluids, between the carcasses, and vow promises to each other. They would also call upon themselves the fate of the dead animals if they were to break their promises – that is, they asked to be cut in two like the dead animals.
Now, as God commanded, Abraham brought a heifer, a goat, and ram. He cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other. Abraham knew what was coming next. Abraham knew that he and God would then walk between the carcasses, in the river of blood and fluids, making promises to each other, and calling down curses upon themselves if those promises were not kept. On His part, God would promise a son and a land to Abraham. As for Abraham, he would promise righteousness and obedience.
B Scripture tells us that at this point Abraham, as the sun was setting, "fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him" (Gen 15:12). It was a terrible sleep. An awful night. Why?
Because Abraham knew something. Abraham knew something about himself. Abraham knew he couldn't and wouldn't keep the covenant. Abraham knew he was imperfect. Abraham knew his faith could be stronger. Abraham knew his sin.
Abraham knew what would happen if he walked down the channel filled with blood and fluids. Abraham knew what would happen if he walked between the animal parts. Abraham knew what would happen if he did the covenant ceremony. Abraham knew he would surely die. Abraham knew he would be cut in two like the heifer, the goat, and the ram. Abraham knew he was not worthy to walk through the trench with God. In fact, Abraham knew he could not so much as dip even one toe into the trench.
So, Abraham was scared and terrified. A thick and dreadful darkness came over him.
C What happens next? Listen to what Scripture says in Genesis 15:17.
(Gen 15:17) When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces.It is God Who appears as a smoking fire pot and flaming torch thus revealing His glory. The Israelites listening to Moses can identify with this. The smoking fire pot and flaming torch is similar to the pillar of fire that God used to guide the Israelites to the Promised Land (Ex 13:21-22).
The God of glory walks between the pieces. By Himself. The God of glory walks in the trench of blood and fluids. By Himself. The God of glory makes promises. By Himself. The God of glory calls down curses. By Himself.
By Himself. By Himself. It is all by Himself.
Telling us what? Telling us that it is God's covenant to make and to keep and to break. Telling us that it is all of grace.
This grace does not abolish Abraham's responsibility. Abraham was still obligated to love and serve God and be obedient to Him. However, Abraham was shown that though he fail and fall and be disloyal, God will still keep His end of the bargain.
The full significance of what God did for Abraham is not seen until the New Testament. There, in Christ, the covenant of grace reaches its highest expression. In Christ, God keeps the covenant promises and suffers the covenant penalties. By Himself. For it is Christ Who perfectly obeyed the law in our place and it is Christ Who also bore the curse of the law in our place.
And, as a token of assurance, He gives us two signs: baptism and the Lord's Supper.
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