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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/baldivis/
 
Title:The LORD confirms His oath to Abram by way of a covenant
Text:Genesis 15:7-21 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Covenant faithfulness
 
Preached:2016-08-07
Added:2016-09-19
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

2014 Book of Praise

Bible Translation NKJV

 

Psalm 108:1

Psalm 25:2

Psalm 105:1,2,3

Psalm 105:4

Hymn 73:3,4

 

Read:  Genesis 15; Revelation 21:1-7

Text:  Genesis 15:7-21

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Revelation 21 has some wonderful promises of how God shall and will do many things.  Verse 3:

“And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people.  God Himself will be with them and be their God.’”

Verse 4,

“God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying,  There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

Verse 6,

“I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.”

And verse 7,

“He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.”

And in order to underline these promises, God said in verse 5,

“Behold, I make all things new.” 

And,

“Write, for these words are true and faithful.”

But are these words true and faithful?

In a world of broken promises, how can we be sure that God will keep His?

It has been almost 2000 years since the promises of Revelation 21 were given, 2000 years of waiting.  2000 years of pain and death and sorrow.  And we really don’t know how much longer we will have to wait.  And so we might ask, how can we be sure?  How can we hold on to God’s promises when trouble overwhelms us?  How can you hold on to God’s promises when your own family falls apart?  How can we hold on to God’s promises when everything seems to turn against you?  Have you ever heard yourself asking, “Yes, God, I believe your promises, but how can I know that You will give what You have promised, that You will do what You have said?”

That was Abram’s problem in Genesis 15.  In Genesis 12 the LORD had given Abram some wonderful promises, promises that He repeated in chapters 13 and 14.  But Abram was getting older and nothing had seemed to change:  he still had no children and no land.  And so when the LORD spoke to Abram in Genesis 15:1, Abram asked Him,

“Lord GOD, what will you give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”

And the LORD responded by telling Abram to go outside at night and to count the stars, saying, “So shall your descendants be.”  And Abram believed in the LORD and He accounted it to him for righteousness. 

But then in verse 7 we learn that Abram wants something more.  First God said in verse 7,

 “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.”

But then Abram said, “Yes, but how shall I know this?  God, give me a sign that you will do exactly what you promised!  Show it to me!  Make it real for me!”

Will God really do what He had promised Abram?  Could Abram be sure of this?  What if it depended on Abram?  On Abram’s strength?  On his faith?  On his righteousness?  What if Abram’s faith was to waver?  Would God give up on His promises?  How can Abram be sure that the LORD would indeed give him this land?  And so Abram asked in Genesis 15:8,

“Lord GOD, how shall I know that I will inherit it?”

And we also have these questions, don’t we?  We want to know that God will do what He has promised.  We want to be sure, and we want to be able to hold on to this even when things seem to be going so badly wrong. 

And God knows that.  And in His mercy for Abram and for us, the LORD made a covenant.

I preach to you the Word of God under the following theme:

The Lord confirms His oath to Abram by way of a covenant.

  1. The covenant made.
  2. The covenant sealed.

 

1. The covenant made.

When Abram asked God in Genesis 15:8,

“LORD God, how shall I know that I will inherit [this land]?”,

God told him to do something that for us would have sounded very odd.

“Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.”  (Genesis 15:8)

For us that would have sounded very odd, but for Abram this made sense:  the LORD wanted to make a covenant, a binding promise with Abram.   In Abram’s day, when two men made a firm and binding agreement, they would make – or, as it literally says in the Hebrew language, they would cut -  a covenant.  So for example, if two kings promised to help one another in times of war, in order to declare their commitment to their agreement in the strongest way possible, they would get some animals just as God had commanded Abram.  These animals would then be killed, they would be cut in two, right down the middle and then laid out in two rows with a blood-soaked path in the middle.  Then the two kings would get up and walk along that path, between the animal parts and in this way they would say: “We will do all that we have promised today. But if either one of us breaks his promise, let him be cut in half like these animals.  And let his blood fall to the ground and the eagles and the vultures eat his flesh.”  And it would be well understood: if two people made such a covenant, there would be no going back on their word. 

And now God tells Abram that He is ready to make such a covenant.  That’s incredible.  That was a gracious thing for the LORD to do.  There was no need for God to do this of course: His Word was enough.  But the LORD chose to take a common covenant-making ceremony and use it to confirm on oath to Abram that He would do all that He had promised. 

Abram understands this, so when God told him to get these animals, he took them and cut them in half.  Genesis 15:10,

“Then 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.”

The birds, being much smaller, would simply be killed, with the turtledove on one side and the young pigeon on the other.  And so everything was ready, the covenant could now be made.

Abram was ready.  He was ready to have God’s promises confirmed to him in the most vivid and in the strongest way that he knew how. 

But was he really ready?  Was Abram ready to make a covenant with God?  A covenant is basically a promise, a promise that can never be broken.  And a covenant made by waking between animals cut in half was a promise that you would keep your word even if it meant your death.  But could Abram make such a covenant with the LORD?

What would happen when God came to walk between the animal pieces?  It is one thing to do this with another person, but how can you make such a covenant with Holy God?  How would this work?  Would Abram have to walk with God between the animal pieces?  Was this a mutual agreement being made here, where God would only have to keep His word for as long as Abram kept his?  It that was the case, then perhaps this covenant making ceremony wasn’t such a good idea!  If that was the case, then this covenant was bound to fail! Because Abram was a sinner.  If God’s promises depended on Abram keeping his, then Abram could never enter into a covenant with him.  All Abram would be doing was placing a death wish on himself.

And the same applies to us. Imagine if you were to make a covenant with God, a covenant in which God promises to give you many good things and that He would be with you forever.  But then imagine if all God’s promises – also His promises that He gave in Revelation 21 about wiping every tear from our eyes, about making all things new, about Him being our God and you being His child, imagine if all these promises depended on you.  On you being strong in yourself.  On you never falling into sin, on you standing firm in your faith every day of your life?  Can you do that?  Would you dare to make such a covenant, such an agreement with God?  I do not think so.  If God’s covenant depended on us entering into an agreement with Him as equal partners, If God’s covenant depended on us doing anything by our own strength, we would be in deep trouble.

But then what should Abram do?  If God wants Abram to walk with him between those animals, what should Abram do?  Abram can not promise to do what he can not do!  If that was the case, it would be better if Abram did not receive those promises.  It would be better if that covenant was never made.

Abram would have to wait, however, to see what the LORD would do.  After Abram prepared the animals, cutting them in two and placing them opposite each other to make a path between the parts, the LORD did not come right away.  And so Abram waited.  He waited to see what God would do.  But the Lord did not come, the sun made things hot and the animals began to smell.  Soon birds of prey, vultures, attracted at the sight and smell of the dead animals began to circle overhead.  And seeing what they thought to be an easy meal, the swooped down to feast on the carcasses.  Abram gets up, he shouts at them and chases them away.  This goes on until finally the sun goes down.  Abram becomes tired, he goes into a deep sleep and he gets the sensation of horror and of great darkness.

It was taking a long time for God to come and to make this covenant with Abram, and it was hard for Abram to first chase away the vultures and then experience those feelings of darkness and horror.  But the LORD sent these things for a reason:  this was picture of what was to happen.  The LORD would do all that He had promised, but Abram and his descendants would have to wait.  That waiting would be hard and Satan– like those vultures – would try to destroy all hope that God’s covenant promises would come to reality.  But when trouble comes Abram must stand firm in his faith.  He has to withstand the attacks of the evil one, just as he had to chase away those birds.  It is not easy to wait for God.  It seems like a long time to wait for God to fulfill His promises.  But God will come and He would do what He had promised.

It is important for us to understand this.  When we experience difficulty, when there seems to be no way out and no end to the grief, we become discouraged and we ask, “Where is God?  And what about His promises?”  But we too must stand firm, waiting for the LORD and trusting that He will do what He promised.

And then God spoke to Abram and He said to him in Genesis 15:13,

 ‘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.’”

Trouble would come and it would go on and on for four hundred years!  People would be born, they would grow up, they would marry and have children and they would die.  And nothing would change: they would still be in slavery.  But “know certainly” Abram, that God would do what He had promised.  For as long as His descendants were slaves in Egypt, they had the hope, the promise, that one day the LORD would punish the Egyptians for what they had done, and He would bring His people out of there with great possessions. 

  And then the LORD went on to say in Genesis 15:15

“Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age.”

Abram himself would live out the rest of his life in peace and in that sense he would be blessed.  But Abram would die in the hope of what was still to come.  It would be in the fourth generation, more than 400 years before Abram’s descendants would return to Canaan and the land would be theirs.  For, the LORD said, “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”  The time was not yet ready for the inhabitants of Canaan to be driven out and destroyed.  After all, there were some such as Melchizedek who still acknowledged the true God and worshipped Him.  But the time would come when God would deliver His people from slavery and give them the land just as He had promised.  “Abram:  look at those animals that have been killed: the heifer, the goat, and the ram.  Look at those animals that have been cut in two, down the middle, and, along with the birds, placed in two rows with a path between them.  You know what this represents, Abram: it represents a covenant.  It represents God’s oath to you and your descendants that He will do what He has said, He will bring to pass all that He has promised.”

 

2. The covenant sealed.

The story continues in Genesis 15.  Until now, Abram had brought the animals, cut them, placed the pieces in a row and he had waited.  Then when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram and horror and great darkness fell upon him.  And then God came to Abram and spoke to him.  But until now no one had walked along the blood-soaked pathway between the cut-up animals.  Until now the covenant had not yet been sealed.  But now comes verse 17.

“And 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.”

A smoking oven, or as other translations call it, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch appeared.  Just as the LORD would later appear to His people on Mount Sinai in the midst of fire and smoke, so He now came to Abram.  And represented by those fiery symbols, the LORD came and He passed between the pieces.  And in that way the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying to him,

“To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates – the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”

And so the LORD confirmed His oath to Abram by way of a covenant.  God Himself was in the smoking oven and the burning torch.  God Himself walked between the pieces of cut animals.  God Himself made a covenant to confirm His promises and to strengthen Abram in his faith.

But what about Abram?  Did Abram walk between the animals with God?  Does Abram join God and make a covenant with Him, relying on his own strength to keep it?  No, he does not!  It was God, and God alone, who passed between the pieces.  A human covenant could never be sealed in such a way; a covenant between men would require both men to walk along the path, between the pieces, together.  But it was God – and God alone – who sealed His covenant promises.  For the LORD to uphold His covenant promises would not depend on Abram but it would depend on the certainty of God’s Word.  Whatever happens, God would fulfill His promises.  He will be God to Abram and He would be God to Abram’s descendants; He would give the land of Canaan to Abram’s children no matter what!

But Abram himself would not see this.  Abram would die long before the land was given to His descendants, long before God’s promises would all come to pass.  But Abram has received God’s covenant promises.  Abram can believe that whatever happens, no matter how great the darkness might be, no matter what troubles would come, The LORD would do what He had promised.

And that is what happened.  After Abram’s descendants went down to stay in Egypt, they became slaves for 400 years.  The darkness came, the vultures swooped and the devil was asking “Where is God now, where are the things that He has promised?”  But the LORD remembered His covenant.  Exodus 2:23-25 says,

“Now it happened in the process of time that the king of Egypt died.  Then the children of Israel groaned because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry came up to God because of the bondage.  So God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.  And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God acknowledged them.”

And the LORD brought them out of there – with great possessions – and He led them to the Promised Land.

But that was not all.  For when God’s people Israel were in the Promised Land, they turned their back on the LORD and rejected the covenant He had made with them.  And so the darkness returned.  The enemy came and the LORD sent times of drought and famine.  And later God’s people were taken from the Promised Land and carried off to Babylon.  But even then the LORD did not forget His promises.  Even then He vowed that a remnant, a small number would return.

And return they did!  And in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah the people turned back to God and they served Him.  But then, 2000 years after Abram’s life on earth trouble came to God’s people once again.  The Romans ruled over the land, and the leaders of Israel, the Chief Priests, the Scribes and the Pharisees, did not care for God’s people.  But God did not forget His promises – all His promises – to Abram.  And it was at this time that God sent His Son.  God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to fulfill all of God’s covenant promises.

But when Jesus came, so did the darkness.  When the chief priests came to arrest Him in the Garden of Gethsemane the Lord Jesus said them in Luke 22:53,

“this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”

And they took Jesus, they beat Him and they nailed Him to the cross.  And then as He hung there, deep darkness and terror came upon him and the city of Jerusalem for three hours.  This was a darkness that was so great that our Lord cried out to the Father,

“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

And at that time it appeared as though the darkness had won, it appeared as though the light would not overcome it.  But that was not the end!  When the darkness came and it appeared as if all was lost, the Lord came down like a smoking oven and a burning torch to redeem His children!  The Lord Jesus bore the terror of God’s wrath against sin until the darkness was over, He said, “It is finished” and He died.  And it was in that way that He fulfilled all of God’s covenant promises.  It was in that way that He opened the road so that Abram – and we – can be with God forever!

And now Christ’s work is finished and He has returned to heaven.  And He is there, and He will stay there until the last day, seated at the right hand of the Father.  But He has promised to return.  He has promised that He will make all things new and that all our pain and all our tears and even death itself will be gone forever. 

But that was 2000 years ago, and we are still waiting.  And the waiting is getting harder.  Troubles come, the darkness presses in on us from all sides, and we wonder if it will ever end.  And the devil asks, “Where is your God now?  What is He doing?  What use are His promises to you now?”

But then remember God’s covenant!  Remember that He confirmed His oath to Abram by way of a covenant, and remember that He has established His covenant with you!   You have been baptized as a sign of God’s covenant, a sign and a seal that He will do what He has promised.

And that should be enough!  That should be enough for us to trust God and to take Him at His Word.  But God knows that we are weak.  He understands the discouragement that we so quickly feel.  And so He has given us another sign, the sign and seal in the Lord’s Supper.  And when He instituted the Lord’s Supper just before He died, the Lord Jesus took the cup and He said,

“This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is poured out for you.”  (Luke 22:20)

And He says, “Take.  Drink from it, all of you.”

And so it is that as you eat the bread and drink from the cup of the Lord’s Supper, that God is saying, “My child, do not be afraid.  You have many troubles and the darkness is great.  But remember that I am with you and I will take care of you.  Look at this cup!  Think about the blood of the covenant, the blood of Jesus Christ, the blood that was poured out for the complete forgiveness of all your sins!  And not only are your sins forgiven by His blood, but because Christ died and rose again, you can be sure that God will fulfill all His promises to you.  And our Lord will return, just as He has promised!

The LORD will fulfill His promises.  He has confirmed that He will do so, on oath, when He made His covenant with Abram.  And He has confirmed it, on oath, when He made His covenant with you.  It is true: troubles will come and the darkness is deep.  But trust God!  Stand firm in your faith and  put your hope in Him.  He will do what He said.  He will fulfill His promises and bring you to be with Him forever and ever!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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