Calvary Chapel – Leesville, SC – Worship Service June 17th, 2020
Calvary Chapel – Leesville, SC – Worship Service June 24th, 2020
Q – Why did God give us His Word?
A – The purpose of God’s Word is to reveal and explain for mankind God’s plan of salvation by the birth, sacrificial death on the cross, and resurrection of Jesus the promised Messiah.
Q – How does the book of Genesis fit into this overall purpose of God’s Word?
A – Genesis begins with the story of God’s creating the universe and mankind, and continues with the tragic story of mankind’s rebellion against God’s command in the Garden of Eden which brought evil and death into the universe, and therefore the need for a Redeemer whom God promised would come through the offspring of Eve to restore mankind into proper fellowship with God. The remainder of the book covers God’s choosing of a specific people – the Nation of Israel – through whom this Messiah – Jesus – would be born into the world.
In Genesis 3:15 we find the promise of the Messiah first given in the Garden of Eden – that the Redeemer would come through the line of Eve. So far in our study, we have found that promise narrowed down through Noah’s son Shem to one specific man – Abram – whom God called to the Land of Promise for this purpose. Here in Genesis 15, we find that promise narrowed further to one of Abram’s sons whom Abram’s wife Sarai would bear to him in their old age.
REMINDER – Before we return to our study, it is important to remember that the text of Genesis was first written down by Moses hundreds of years after the events occurred. Certainly, we must always remember the words of the apostle Paul written to Timothy – “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God…” (2 Timothy 3:16a), so we can rest assured that the words written down by Moses are true and God-breathed. Yet, because of the time lapse, and because Moses was able to record the events of Genesis with the benefit of hindsight, we find here and there in the account seeming inconsistencies that we will try to explain case-by-case as we study through the book.
Genesis 15:1-5 – God Promises Abram an Heir
1After these things the word of the LORD [Genesis 15:1 – NKJV
יְהֹוָהYHWH] came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”
As always, whenever we study a passage that begins with “After these things…” it is beneficial to consider exactly what things went before. In this case, the passage refers to Abram’s rescue of his nephew – Lot – from captivity after the defeat of the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Battle of the Valley of Siddim. Recall that after rescuing Lot and returning the captured booty to the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abram encountered Melchizedek – the King and Priest of Salem (שָׁלֵם Shalem – peace) to whom Abram gave a tenth of the spoils. Throughout God’s Word, the roles of priest and ruler are normally vested in separate persons. There are three exceptions:
- Jesus – While He was being questioned by Pontius Pilate, Jesus confirmed that He is a King, but that His kingdom is not of this world (John 18:33-37). The book of Hebrews repeatedly calls Jesus our great High Priest. In so doing, the writer of Hebrews (likely Paul) quotes the messianic prophecy of Psalm 110 which says of the coming Messiah – “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:4) This psalm also declared that the Messiah will rule and judge (as a king does).
- Melchizedek – He is called the King of Salem and a priest of the most high God (Genesis 14:18).
- Christian believers – In the Revelation of Jesus Christ, the apostle John declares that Jesus the Lamb has made His saints “kings and priests.”
Melchizedek had no history or genealogy, and was called a priest and king. Therefore the “man” who gave Abram bread and wine, and to whom Abram gave a tithe of the spoils on his return from rescuing Lot was most likely a pre-incarnate appearance of the LORD Jesus – a christophany.
After those events, Lot returned to Sodom, and Abram returned to his tent at Mamre near Hebron where the LORD appeared to him once more in the vision recounted here in Genesis 15.
ASIDE – Notice that the word LORD in Genesis 15:1 is printed in all capital letters in most English translations. The Hebrew word here is יְהֹוָה YHWH – often pronounced Yehovah or Yahweh. The word in Hebrew means “the One who is.” This is the Name God gave to Moses speaking from the burning bush.
13Then Moses said to God, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” 15Moreover God said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.’Exodus 3:13-15 – NKJV
In obedience to God’s command at the burning bush, Moses returned to Egypt to lead the children out of their captivity there. After Moses’ first interview with Pharaoh, God reiterated His “introduction” and His promise of the land of Canaan as an inheritance for the Israelite people.
1Then the LORD said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh. For with a strong hand he will let them go, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land.” 2And God spoke to Moses and said to him: “I am the LORD. 3I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty [Exodus 6:1-4 – NKJV
אֵל שַׁדָּי‘el Shadday], but by My name LORD [יְהֹוָה YHWH] I was not known to them. 4I have also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage, in which they were strangers.
The original pronunciation of the Name has been lost, because the ancient Hebrew texts did not record vowel sounds, and the Jews considered the Name so holy they would not dare to utter it aloud. Abram, and his descendants did not know the LORD by His Name until Moses learned it at the burning bush. Remember though, it was Moses whom God chose to write the Genesis account, so we find this Name throughout the Old Testament beginning with Genesis 2:4 even though the people whose stories we read in Genesis didn’t use this Name themselves.
2But Abram said, “Lord GOD, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!” 4And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.”Genesis 15:2-4 – NKJV
We see here Abram’s frustration and even perhaps bitterness at having no son. We are told that when he returned from Egypt he was very rich in silver, gold, flocks, and herds (Genesis 13:1). Yet Abram had no heir of his own to whom he could leave these riches. Instead, he had named one of his servants as his heir. In order to grasp the level of exasperation the childless couple felt, consider the timeline of their story.
- Abram was seventy-five when the family left Haran for Canaan (Genesis 12:4).
- God’s Word doesn’t specify how many years passed between the journey from Haran and God’s promise of an heir to come here in Genesis 15:4, but consider how many events took place in the meanwhile – the famine from which they fled to Egypt, the departure of Lot to the plain of the Jordan, Abram’s rescue of Lot from captivity after the defeat of the five kings in the Battle of the Valley of Siddim.
- As we will see in the next chapter, Abram and Sarai grew impatient for God to fulfill His promise of an heir by Sarai. Therefore, we tend to think unkindly of them without really considering how long they had waited. The fact is though, that Abram’s son Ishmael whom Sarai’s Egyptian maidservant – Hagar – bore to him wasn’t born until sometime after this promise from God in Genesis 15 that Sarai would bear Abram an heir. Abram was eighty-six when Ishmael was born – eleven years after the family left Haran (Genesis 16:16).
- It would be a further thirteen years before God renewed his promise of an heir by Sarai, renamed them Abraham and Sarah, and established the covenant of circumcision among the Hebrew people (Genesis 17).
- The promise would only be finally fulfilled with the birth of Isaac when Abraham was 100 years old, Sarah was 99, and Ishmael was 14 – a quarter century after God’s initial call upon Abram to journey from Haran to Canaan (Genesis 21:5).
Whenever we find ourselves frustrated at God’s apparent slowness in fulfilling His promises, we would do well to remember this story of Abram and Sarai. Yet we can certainly trust that God’s promises are true. He will fulfill each of His promises in the time that He already knows is perfect for every one of them. In today’s chaotic society, we are tempted to despair that Jesus has not yet returned to establish His promised kingdom. Instead of anguishing in our impatience, we need to remember the encouraging words of the Apostle Peter.
8But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.2 Peter 3:8-9 – NKJV
In these desperate times in which our world currently languishes, let us not despair as those who don’t know the LORD must. Rather let us encourage one another, and diligently seek those with whom God had called us to share His Gospel. The time is certainly short, so we must remain steadfast and loyal to our calling.
23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.Hebrews 10:23-25 – NKJV
5Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”Genesis 15:5 – NKJV
What a blessing this was for Abram. It frankly makes me a little jealous of him. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have God take us by the hand and walk with us in the cool of the evening. Abram needed this reassurance of God’s faithfulness to fulfill the promise of an heir – and not just an heir but a legacy of ongoing fertility in the generations afterward. The illustration God uses here that Abram’s descendants would be as numerous as the stars is a common one in God’s Word. A brief search on the word “stars” reveals at least ten times the stars were used as an illustration of something innumerable. Interestingly, even in ancient times people recognized that although the number of stars isn’t infinite, it is beyond the capability of mankind to count them. Even in modern times with automatic detection and counting technologies, the task is beyond our abilities. For one thing, we have learned that the number of stars is constantly changing as new stars form, and old ones fade away. Yet we can rest assured in what our ancestors acknowledged in their humility, but people today in our arrogance increasingly deny – that God who created them all is able to number the stars.
He counts the number of the stars;Psalm 147:4 – NKJV
He calls them all by name.
While God’s blessing of Abram with the promise of offspring is all very nice for Abram, why is it of interest to us? Of course it is because God’s plan since before the beginning of creation has been to bring forth Jesus the Redeemer who cleanses mankind from sinful unrighteousness and restores us into fellowship with the living God from among Abram’s descendants.
“And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed;Genesis 26:4 – NKJV
Genesis 15:6 – Righteousness by Faith
6And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.Genesis 15:6 – NKJV
This verse is the crux of the passage. Furthermore, the principle written here is the crux of God’s Word overall, and in fact the central lesson of life itself! Those who have been reading my Bible studies for a while, or heard me preach know that I return again and again to the plain fact that all of us – in particular Abram here in this passage – are wholly without any righteousness of our own. Indeed as Isaiah points out, our words and deeds that we are tempted to deem righteous “are like filthy rags” because in comparison to our perfectly holy God, “we are all like an unclean thing” (Isaiah 64:6). Nevertheless we are told here in Genesis 15:6, that because Abram believed God’s promise of the coming of an heir, God credited that faith as righteousness to Abram, not due to anything Abram did or said, but purely by God’s own grace in His perfect knowledge of the sincerity of Abram’s belief.
So it is with us. Even the very best person on his or her very best day still falls woefully short of the standard of perfect righteousness ordained by God. Yet God loves us all so much, He has made a way for us to be joined with Him in fellowship despite our unworthiness. Our perfectly holy God cannot abide with any unrighteousness whatsoever. Yet despite our own inherent unrighteousness, God conceived from before the beginning of creation His plan of redemption and salvation for mankind by allowing Jesus to take upon Himself our unrighteousness and exchange it for His own perfect righteousness that He grants to anyone who will simply believe in His resurrection! Like Abram, our belief is credited to us for righteousness.
1“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, Because the LORD has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 2To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, 3To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.” 4And they shall rebuild the old ruins, They shall raise up the former desolations, And they shall repair the ruined cities, The desolations of many generations. 5Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, And the sons of the foreigner Shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers. 6But you shall be named the priests of the LORD, They shall call you the servants of our God. You shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, And in their glory you shall boast. 7Instead of your shame you shall have double honor, And instead of confusion they shall rejoice in their portion. Therefore in their land they shall possess double; Everlasting joy shall be theirs. 8“For I, the LORD, love justice; I hate robbery for burnt offering; I will direct their work in truth, And will make with them an everlasting covenant. 9Their descendants shall be known among the Gentiles, And their offspring among the people. All who see them shall acknowledge them, That they are the posterity whom the LORD has blessed.” 10I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, My soul shall be joyful in my God; For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11For as the earth brings forth its bud, As the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth, So the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.Isaiah 61 – NKJV
This is the passage that Jesus read out in the synagogue at Nazareth after He returned from forty days of temptation in the desert by the evil one following His baptism (Luke 4:16-30). After reading it, He said, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” The passage is obviously a Messianic prophecy. The people in the synagogue tried to seize Him and throw Him over the edge of the cliff on which Nazareth is perched. Clearly, they recognized that Jesus was claiming to be the Anointed One first promised by God in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:15). To the people of His home town, Jesus’ claim to be exactly who He is was considered highest blasphemy worthy of death. But it was not yet Jesus’ rightful time to be sacrificed so that He could fulfill what was written about Him here in Isaiah 61 hundreds of years before. Recall also that when John the Baptist sent messengers from prison to ask whether Jesus is indeed the Anointed One or whether we should await another, Jesus responded by quoting this passage.
Genesis 15:7 – God Renews His Promise of the Land of Canaan to Abram
7Then He said to him, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.”Genesis 15:7 – NKJV
Recall from our studies of Genesis 12 & 13 that God had already promised the land of Canaan to Abram and his descendants. In our study of Genesis 13, we spent a little time talking about that promise, and its applicability to the present day political situation in the land. This is now the third time that God reiterates His promise. This time, God also reminds Abram of His calling him out from the land of his birth in what is now southern Iraq. God also calls Himself by the name יְהֹוָה YHWH by which we have learned Abram himself didn’t call God. This may be one of those instances in which Moses who wrote this text some 600 years after the event added the Name to the text due to his having the benefit of God’s having introduced Himself to Moses by this Name at the burning bush. Nevertheless, since Moses was certainly being inspired by God’s Spirit to write this text. We must presume that God actually said exactly what is written here whether or not Abram himself understood the Name that God used at the time. Furthermore, Abram must most certainly have recognized the power of God being displayed in His reminder of His calling of Abram and His guidance and protection provided to Abram on the journey and through the years afterward up to the time He gave Abram this promise in Genesis 15:7. The implication for Abram was that since God is “the existing One,” and God has the power and foresight to first call Abram from Ur and then guide, bless, and protect Abram through his life since that calling, then God also has the power to fulfill the promise of the land to Abram as an inheritance.
Genesis 15:8-11 – God Prepares to Formalize His Promises to Abram by Covenant
8And he said, “Lord GOD, how shall I know that I will inherit it?”Genesis 15:8 – NKJV
We need to be very clear here. Recall from Genesis 15:6 that Abram truly believed the promises of God and that Abram’s faith was accounted to him as righteousness. In asking God for a sign of proof that he will inherit what God promised, Abram didn’t speak out of disbelief. God certainly knew this. God is able to examine the innermost “secrets” of people’s thoughts and motivations as He reminded Samuel on the day he anointed David to be king of Israel.
…the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”1 Samuel 16:7b – NKJV
God, who is able to see into our hearts, knew that Abram wasn’t asking for a sign out of doubt in the promise, but out of a childlike need for reassurance. In the same way, God knew Mary’s heart when she asked the angel Gabriel who had appeared to her to foretell the birth of Jesus from her womb, “…How can this be, since I do not know a man?” (Luke 1:34b). Mary didn’t ask this question out of disbelief in the prophecy, but out of genuine curiosity as to how God would fulfill it. Contrast this with the story of Zacharias (Luke 1:5-22) who was struck temporarily mute because in his heart he disbelieved Gabriel’s announcement of the coming of his son – John the Baptist.
9So He said to him, “Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. 11And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.Genesis 15:9-11 – NKJV
To us, this command of God may seem bizarre, and even somewhat disgusting. But Abram completely understood God’s intentions, and what was about to take place. In ancient middle-eastern cultures it was customary to formalize agreements between two parties with a special form of animal sacrifice. The sacrificial animals were killed, divided in half, and the two halves of each were arranged in a line with enough space between them for the two contracting parties to walk side-by-side between them. As a matter of practicality, the smaller animals (the two birds in this particular case) were placed opposite each other whole rather than divided.
The agreeing parties would then pass between the two lines while declaring aloud in turn the things each party was expected to do in fulfillment of the covenant. Thus the people present as witnesses were made aware of the details of the covenant to which they could testify if any dispute about the terms of the agreement ever arose. Furthermore, the sacrifice of the animals as an offering to God made Him a witness to the agreement as well. Of course, since God Himself was to be one of the parties entering into this particular covenant with Abram, the formalization was modified somewhat as we are about to see.
God Foretells the Suffering of Abram’s Descendants to Abram in a Vision
12Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him. 13Then He said to Abram: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. 14And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. 16But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”Genesis 15:12-16 – NKJV
Clearly the deep sleep that fell upon Abram wasn’t any ordinary kind of sleep, because God was able to speak this prophecy to Abram while he slept. In all honesty, I have to admit I had a lot of trouble coming to grips with what the horror and great darkness that fell upon Abram means. In the online sermons I listened to about it, some of my favorite Bible commentators simply read the verse and moved on to the prophecy itself without saying anything about the trance that Abram fell into. The great eighteenth century commentator Matthew Henry gives a clue.
Remember that Abram had asked God in verse 8 for some sort of sign of confirmation that he would inherit the land of Canaan. Yet God knew that Abram himself would not be the one to inherit the land but rather his seed – the heir that God promised at the beginning of Genesis 15, and the subsequent generations that would spring from Abram’s heir. Yet the history of this people would be full of persecution and sorrow which continues even to the present day. Perhaps God gave Abram a vision of the Nazi holocaust, the great pogroms of the Russian empire in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the persecution of the Jewish people under Stalin. Of course that’s all speculation, but the road of Abram’s descendants from the time of God’s promise to the eventual inheritance of the Promised Land has undeniably been one of suffering, persecution, and outright genocide. God gives one specific prophecy of an instance of this persecution – the enslavement of the children of Israel in Egypt following the death of Joseph. Here in Genesis 15:14, God also foretells of the great plagues by which He would judge the nation of Egypt, and the subsequent mass exodus of the Israelites from Egypt to return to the land of promise.
Of course Moses – the writer of Genesis – had experienced some of that history first-hand, and gives us a general summary of it here in this passage. Moses also wrote a detailed account of this history in the book of Exodus. Notice also that of all the various ‘-ites’ mentioned in this passage, the Amorites are singled out. Just before his death, Moses himself took part in the battles which drove these people from their lands in the mountains east of the Jordan valley from inflow of the River Arnon into the Dead Sea in modern day Jordan north as far as Mt. Hermon on the border between the state of Israel and Syria (Deuteronomy 3:8). The tribes of Reuben and Gad and half the tribe of Manasseh received the conquered lands of the Amorites as their eventual inheritance in the Land of Promise (Numbers 32, Joshua 22).
Nevertheless, we read here in Genesis 15:15 that God assured Abram he would not experience these persecutions himself , but would live to be a good old age. In fact, Abraham lived to be 175 (Genesis 25:7).
God Formalizes His Promises to Abram by a Covenant
17And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces. 18On the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying: “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates— 19the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, 20the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”Genesis 15:17-21 – NKJV
This is the third covenant between God and mankind we find in the Bible. The first, was God’s blessing of Adam – having placed him in the Garden of Eden to tend it, and given him all of the trees and plants in the Garden for his food, providing that Adam was never to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Of course we know that Adam and Eve rebelled against this command of God, and by that sin they introduced suffering, death, and all of what we collectively know as evil into the creation (Genesis 2 & 3). God’s second covenant was given to Noah after the great flood. God promised that He would never again destroy all life on land with a flood. He placed His rainbow in the sky as a sign of this covenant (Genesis 9).
With this third covenant, God uses the symbolism of the ancient Middle Eastern tradition of “cutting” covenant we discussed earlier in connection with verses 9-11. Although the form of the covenant was similar to that traditional form, Abram was not required to promise anything at all to fulfill the covenant. Recall from verse 6 that Abram believed God’s promises, and his belief was counted as fulfillment of his part of the “bargain.”
Clearly the “smoking oven and burning torch” which passed between the pieces of the sacrificial animals in Abram’s vision were symbolic of God’s formal commitment to fulfill the promises He made to Abram in this chapter. This was the actual sign of that commitment that Abram asked about in verse 8. The exact meaning of the specific symbols God used to show His commitment to the covenant have been the subject of great debate. Many different opinions have been expressed by many godly men about them. We won’t take the time to delve into them in any detail. I personally find most of them plausible, but none of them strikingly compelling. The interested student of God’s Word can find a detailed and balanced discussion of the topic at NeverThirsty.org here.
Verses 18-20 reiterate and summarize the promises that God made to Abram with this covenant. In modern parlance, “the River of Egypt” is of course the Nile, and the River Euphrates that runs through modern Turkey and Iraq is still called by its ancient name, first mentioned as one of the four rivers flowing out of the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2:14. As I mentioned in a previous study, the children of Israel have never yet in all their history fully possessed the Land of Promise, given by God to Abram’s descendants here in Genesis 15. Nevertheless because – like Abram – we fully believe in the promises of God, no matter how long He may take to fulfill them, we rest assured that someday the Israelite people will fully possess the Land promised to them by this covenant.
Invitation – The New Covenant
Throughout God’s Word, we find covenants between God and man. In many cases – as here in Genesis 15 – it is only God who is committed by these covenants to any specific actions in fulfilling them. In the few cases where people are bound to some active duty in the covenants, history shows that mankind has frequently let down our end of the bargain. But as Peter pointed out in 2 Peter 3:8-9, God has never yet failed in any of His promises, and we can rest assured He never will.
But all of the covenants we find in God’s Word are only there to point us to God’s final covenant with us declared by Jesus on the night He was betrayed.
Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.Luke 22:20 – NKJV