Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Believing the Impossible

Last week our lesson focused on Abram risking everything by faith, in his old age, in obedience to the Lord and moving his family and their possessions to a new land of promise (Canaan). Gen 12:1-9 Our study for this lesson is taken from Gen 15:1-6, 12-18. A number of events ocurred in the interim, some of which are detailed briefly. Soon after building an alter and thanking the Lord for his blessings, there was a famine in the land of promise. Abram took his family outside of the land of promise to Egypt for food. He then told his wife, Sarai, to say she was his sister. She was a half-sister, but this was a half-truth. Sarai was traded for her beauty to be in the Pharoah's harem. Abram received sheep, oxen, asses, and servants. But this was not within the Lord's will. Pharoah and all of his house were given plagues by God. Pharoah was wise and knew Abram had lied about his relationship with Sarai. He put Abram and his family, along with all of their newly acquired wealth, out of Egypt. Gen 12:10-20 Abram then travelled back to Bethel (House of God) and built the third altar to thank and praise God. Gen 13:3,4 The Lord had blessed both Abram and Lot with wealth. The herdsmen of each were the cause of civil strife between them. It was necessary that Abram and Lot separate their households. The call, promise, and blessings was for Abram, not Lot. Abram remained in Canaan while Lot dwelled in the plains close to Sodom, a city known for extreme wickedness. Gen 13: 2-12 In Gen 14:1-11 there was a war of four kings with the king of Sodom and his allies. Unfortunately for Lot, he lived too close to Sodom and was captured (vs 12). Abram became aware and armed three hundred eighteen of his trained servants. They rescued Lot and his goods, by night, along with the women and people. Abram was given a blessing from Melchizedek, king of Salem. He appreciated the blessing because Melchizedek gave "the most high God" glory for delivering the enemies in his hands. Abram ate bread and wine with Melchizedek and gave him a tenth of all that he had. However, he refused any reward for himself from the king of Sodom. He did not feel obliged to accept anything. Gen 14:14-24 We shall now focus on our lesson in chapter 15.

'After these things the word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.' Gen 15:1 After fighting in a battle of principalities and rescuing Lot, along with the women and people, without request for a reward or recognition, the word of the Lord came to visit with Abram in a vision. He called Abram by name, saying there was no need for fear, because He is "I AM". Whatever you need the Lord to be, He will answer "I AM". In this instance Abram needed Him to be his shield (protection). He had just come from battle and needed to be reminded that the Lord had been with him as his shield. "I AM". The "most high God, possessor of heaven and earth" (Gen 14:19) had delivered his enemies into his hands. "I AM". He had just refused the reward from the king of Sodom for himself, giving the reason that the king might say he made him rich. Gen 14:23 Abram needed the Lord, the Great I AM, to let him know that He alone was His exceeding great rewarder and His reward (prosperity). There is none other like Him.

'And Abram said, Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward, of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus? And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.' Gen 15:2,3 In response to the Lord's promise of protection and prosperity in verse 1, Abram voiced doubts. How could he enjoy the rewards if he did not have descendants or an heir to inherit his wealth? Both Abram and his wife, Sarai, were past the natural age of childbearing. God had already told him that He would make of him a great nation. Gen 12:2 But God had left him in the dark whether his seed would come from his loins or an adopted seed from his house. Abram believed God would accept the ancient custom that allowed a childless man to adopt someone to be his principal heir. He wanted to adopt Eliezer of Damascus and communicated this to the Lord as a solution to what he considered a problem. But God already knows what He is doing and has a plan. He does not need ours.

'And, behold, the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but, he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels, shall be thine heir. And he brought him forth, abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.' Gen 15: 4-6 Once again the word of the Lord visited Abram. This time He is responding to Abram's doubt in His promise. God responded very clearly. 'This (Eliezer) shall not be...' God did not like Abram's alternative solution that was an acceptable custom. Abram's nation was to spring forth from his own bowels, his own loins. God bid him to look toward the heavens to count the stars. Because the number of stars can not be counted, his seed would be just as innumberable. Abram believed the truth of God's promise. He had not realized the seed would come from his loin, but he had faith to believe it would happen. God was pleased in Abram's renewed faith. It was counted toward his right standing in God; i.e. upon this he was accepted of God.

After this, the Lord reminded Abram he had brought him out of Ur of the Chaldees (a land of wickedness) to give him a land of promise (Canaan). Abram then wanted a sign of inheritance. The Lord gave him specific instructions for preparation of a sacrifice. If Abram wanted God's favor for a sign, he had to obey Him in the customary preparation. The Lord had him bring a heifer, she goat, and a ram. Each had to be three years old in full growth and strength, without blemish. Abram was also to bring a turtle dove and young pigeon. Abram was instructed to cut the heifer, she goat, and ram in half and place the halves opposite each other with walking space between. This was customary (Jeremiah 34:18,19) for ceremonies to confirm covenants. Abram made preparations, as instructed, and as night fell he watched the meat of sacrifice and kept the fowls away. Gen 15:7-11

While watching the preparation and waiting for God, a very deep sleep fell upon Abram. 'And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, a horror of great darkness fell upon him. 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; And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.' Gen 15:12-14 The Scripture reads that Abram fell into a very deep sleep. It does not state that God came to Abram in a vision. The '...horror of great darkness...' which fell upon him was the complete submission before God within his sleep. The Lord makes Abram aware of information which may not have been pleasant to him except during this peaceful moment by the sound of His voice. The Lord had assured him of an inheritance for his seed. However, now He tells Abram the inheritance will not come soon. In fact, his seed shall become enslaved and serve another nation for four hundred years. God reassured Abram with a promise of deliverance of his seed. He will also judge the nation (Egypt) over whom held them captive.

'And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.' Gen 15:15-16 God prophesied to Abram that he would experience only peace until he is buried at an old age. He would not live to see the good land in the possession of his family nor any of their experiences. He would live and die at peace. The prophesy allowed him to know the wickedness of the Amorites was not ripe as yet to pluck them out of the land. So God would keep the promised seed away from Canaan until the fourth generation.

'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. 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:' Gen 15:17-18 Abram is still in the very deep sleep and is aware of the voice of God. The Lord initiated an ancient covenant-making ceremony. The agreeing parties would walk between severed animal carcasses, promising that if one of themm broke his word, then that person should be severed in pieces like the sacrificed animals. 'God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?' Num 23:19 It was not necessary for Abram to walk between the severed animals of sacrifice. This was an unconditional promise made by God. He was the one making the promise and He could swear by no greater than Himself (Heb 13:6). So it was God who passed between those pieces of carcasses. It was God who sealed His covenant with Abram. It was God who declared out of the smoking furnace, Egypt, the seed shall be delivered to be a people of inheritance. Deut 4:20 It was God who declared He would appear in a burning bush that could not be consumed to deliver the seed. Ex 3:2 God reassured Abram as to his seed and the boundaries of the land. The grant required ten (10) tribes to be cast out to make room for the seed of Abram. Gen 15:19-21 God's promises are just that...promises. No doubt!

Written by Deborah C. Davis

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