God uses the technique of review, rehersal, and remembrance to keep us on track. We can deal with doubt, and trials by going back to His basic promises.
This message is part of a 3 part series reviewing the family of Abraham and the covenant of faith. You can use these links to more easily find them on the site:
As followers of Christ we know we are in the midst of a new covenant… we entered into it at baptism… we reconfirm/renew it each year at the Passover.
Each year we grow in our understanding of what that covenant means… our growth and expansion of understanding is pleasing to God. Today we will look at how God used the process of covenant review in the life of Abraham.God ’s Covenant With Abraham
Genesis 12:1-3 Genesis 12:1-3 1 Now the LORD had said to Abram, Get you out of your country, and from your kindred, and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you:
2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing:
3 And I will bless them that bless you, and curse him that curses you: and in you shall all families of the earth be blessed.
American King James Version× this is the covenant Paul refers to in Galatians 3. It is a covenant graciously offered by God and based on faith… a willingness to believe what God says and then to act upon it. It is a covenant we now know had blessings built in for all people on earth (not just Israel). It is a covenant that looks forward to the coming of the Messiah… so that by faith in Him we might receive the promise of the holy spirit… the power of everlasting life… and share in the better promises of the new covenant.
You could say the new covenant is built on the foundation of this covenant of faith.
However, much time and many events take place between Genesis 12 and Galatians 3. God’s covenants and promises unfold, are expanded, and head in new directions.Physical Blessings For A Physical Nation
Abraham received his calling not long after the tower of babel incident. The people of the earth had a plan to pool their resources and challenge the authority of the Creator… to declare themselves a great nation and a mighty people. God put an end to that by confusing their languages… then proceeded to rollout a plan to create a TRULY great nation based on BETTER priorities and ways… the nation established by God… would be called Israel.
God begins by calling this man Abram. Abram was 75 years old at the time but still had many years of living to go. He left his father, people, culture, religion, and false gods to follow the living God.
Genesis 12:4-7 Genesis 12:4-7 4 So Abram departed, as the LORD had spoken to him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran.
5 And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came.
6 And Abram passed through the land to the place of Sichem, to the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land.
7 And the LORD appeared to Abram, and said, To your seed will I give this land: and there built he an altar to the LORD, who appeared to him.
American King James Version× Abraham demonstrates his willingness to step out and act on faith. God responds by expanding (or building upon) the basic promise of blessing by saying “this great nation you are to become will be given this choice land”. God adds concrete realities to the previous statements.
There is a drought in the land. So, Abraham travels to Egypt for the duration. While there he has some questionable interactions with the Pharaoh. Pharaoh tries to appease God’s anger by giving Abram all kinds of livestock, servants (great wealth) and then kicks Abram out. The upshot is: Abram is now rich.
Abram goes back to Canaan. Friction builds up with his nephew Lot. Abraham suggests they separate to different territories to keep the peace. Lot goes to Sodom where he gets into some serious trouble. Abraham comes to the rescue. After the conflict and settling of accounts we are introduced to Melchizadek.
Summary: Abraham has had some hits and some misses… all this is interesting and exciting… but Abram is getting old by now. The situation is looking bleak. What good is God’s promise of land and a great nation if Abram doesn’t have a child? Genesis 15:1-4 Genesis 15:1-4 1 After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am your shield, and your exceeding great reward.
2 And Abram said, LORD God, what will you give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?
3 And Abram said, Behold, to me you have given no seed: and, see, one born in my house is my heir.
4 And, behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, This shall not be your heir; but he that shall come forth out of your own bowels shall be your heir.
American King James Version×
So… when Abram is having some doubts, questioning the plan… how does God respond? He says “let’s go over our covenant again”. (Note: deal with doubt by going back to the basic NC promises, if you believe God’s promise of eternal life everything else falls into place).
Genesis 15:5-7 Genesis 15:5-7 5 And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if you be able to number them: and he said to him, So shall your seed be.
6 And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
7 And he said to him, I am the LORD that brought you out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give you this land to inherit it.
American King James Version× God reaffirms his promise of a child to whom all the promises and inheritance of the land will flow. He adds a promise that they will be a huge number of people (more concrete detail). Abram believes God can deliver on His promise, This is a big deal. Why? God wants people to believe what He says… its even more important than obedience!
Consider this: If obedience was all God wanted He could force you to obey! You could have no choice. But, God wants you to have freedom. He wants you to believe His words are life and then desire to walk in them. This is what Paul means when he says… by this faith we uphold the law Romans 3:31 Romans 3:31Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yes, we establish the law.
American King James Version×.
If you believe what God says, then you act in faith, you will obey… because you want to (from the heart).
Genesis 15: 8 Abram believes but still needs reassurance from God, which God provides by giving Abram a vision related to the covenant. Remember: Abram didn’t have a set of scriptures to read.
Genesis 15:9-21 Genesis 15:9-21 9 And he said to him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.
10 And he took to him all these, and divided them in the middle, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not.
11 And when the fowls came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
12 And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram; and, see, an horror of great darkness fell on him.
13 And he said to Abram, Know of a surety that your seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not their’s, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years;
14 And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.
15 And you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age.
16 But in the fourth generation they shall come here again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.
17 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.
18 In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, To your seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates:
19 The Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites,
20 And the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims,
21 And the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.
American King James Version× In this vision God adds details and builds upon the previous promises of the covenant.
- I will walk among your descendants after you die (the sacrificial animals; heifer, goat, ram, dove… represent Israel, Abram’s future children whom God walks between).
- God provides a prophecy that the children will become slaves in Egypt… but He will rescue them and Egypt will give them all kinds of riches on the way out. (probably more for future generations benefit than Abram’s)
- Provides a more detailed description of the land they will receive.
Sarah assumes she is barren. She gets desperate and comes up with a plan to get child through her maid, Hagar. She tells Abram to marry Hagar as a second wife and thereby conceive a child which Sarai can then raise as her own. This was a common procedure in the culture at the time (like surrogate motherhood)… Sarai and Abram are following social norms here rather than any directive from God.
Multiple wives goes outside boundaries of God’s original intent for the family. This creates tensionand trouble. They work their way through it and Ishmael is born. But, Abram has made some miss-steps. How does God respond?God Reaffirms Their Covenant Again
Genesis 17:1-2 Genesis 17:1-2 1 And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be you perfect.
2 And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.
American King James Version× the covenant is based on faith but presumes that this faith will be demonstrated by action! The Hagar/Ishmael episode was badly done… I want you to walk blamelessly…
Note: the word blameless here is taw-meem ; it means complete, whole, with integrity. For example; Moses used it to describe the counting of the 50 days of Pentecost (count until it is complete). Most often Moses used it to describe animals suitable for sacrifice (they are to be without blemish, no missing eyes, or limbs, no defects etc.).
So, God is saying “keep living your life under my watching eyes and be complete, whole, and without defects. You’ve made some mistakes… let’s review the covenant again. Note: if you have had some miss-steps, go back to the promises of your covenant with God. Remember why this stuff matters.First, God’s Part of the Covenant :
Genesis 17:3-8 Genesis 17:3-8 3 And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying,
4 As for me, behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations.
5 Neither shall your name any more be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made you.
6 And I will make you exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come out of you.
7 And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your seed after you in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God to you, and to your seed after you.
8 And I will give to you, and to your seed after you, the land wherein you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.
American King James Version× ok, here’s what I (YHWH) am going to do. Goes over the main points: lots of descendants… lots of land. I want you to change your name to Abraham to provide a constant reminder of this. Also, God adds some additional information… this covenant with your descendant will be everlasting.
Genesis 17:9-14 Genesis 17:9-14 9 And God said to Abraham, You shall keep my covenant therefore, you, and your seed after you in their generations.
10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your seed after you; Every man child among you shall be circumcised.
11 And you shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant between me and you.
12 And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of your seed.
13 He that is born in your house, and he that is bought with your money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.
14 And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.
American King James Version× God already reiterated to Abraham that the goal is to live blamelessly. God now adds circumcision to the covenant.
- Abraham and all his male descendants are to be circumcised. The covenant with its blessings and its expectations is not simply between God and Abraham… but also with all his descendants.
- Circumcision is also a sign of the everlasting nature of this covenant (verse 13)
But wait… didn’t God put an end to His covenant with Israel?
430 years later God would enter into a covenant with Israel at Sinai. That covenant was do be based on the condition of obedience rather than God’s grace. It is a very detailed agreement: huge amount of info about what was expected of Israel, lots of detail about the blessings they could expect, lots of detail of the consequences they would face if they disobeyed. We read about that covenant in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
We know from history that Israel failed to obey, broke the covenant, reaped the consequences. That covenant is no longer in force… it has been replaced with what we generally call “the new covenant”.
Galatians 3:15-18 Galatians 3:15-18 15 Brothers, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man cancels, or adds thereto.
16 Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He said not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to your seed, which is Christ.
17 And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot cancel, that it should make the promise of none effect.
18 For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.
American King James Version× the previous commitments and promises God made to Abraham (and his descendants) still stand.
These covenant promises made to Abraham and sons are not conditional… they are not “if you obey”… then… X. God wanted to see obedience… He wanted Abraham to practice blameless living… becoming complete and mature spiritually. An individual could opt out of the covenant by refusing circumcision.
Romans 11:28-29 Romans 11:28-29 28 As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the father’s sakes.
29 For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.
American King James Version× the descendants of Abraham are still a special people with a special role and a special future in God’s plan. They still mark themselves by circumcision.
However, the covenant promises God made to Abraham didn’t contain the promise of eternal life. That better promise is accessed by entering into the new covenant in Christ… being baptized into His death… receiving the holy spirit.
Spiritually speaking Israel are in the dark during this age of the Church. But after Christ’s return Israel will be the first among nations to gain access to the spiritual blessing of that new covenant.
Jeremiah 31:31-37 Jeremiah 31:31-37 31 Behold, the days come, said the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:
32 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they broke, although I was an husband to them, said the LORD:
33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, said the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
34 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, said the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
35 Thus said the LORD, which gives the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divides the sea when the waves thereof roar; The LORD of hosts is his name:
36 If those ordinances depart from before me, said the LORD, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me for ever.
37 Thus said the LORD; If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, said the LORD.
American King James Version×, Jeremiah 32:40 Jeremiah 32:40And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me.
American King James Version×
Israel will be the first of the nations to be judged by tribulation when Christ returns… and the first to be restored when Christ establishes the rule of God on earth. God will once again establish Israel as a model nation through whom He will teach all peoples. God remains true to the everlasting covenant!Actions & Events (Genesis 18-21)
- God reiterates His promise that Sarah will bear a son for Abraham, Sarah laughs in disbelief
- Abraham carries out the instructions to circumcise.
- Abraham pleads for Sodom and Gomorrah - demonstrates mercy in the face of judgment (in my opinion the shining moment of his walk with God)
- There are some dubious dealings with Abimelech (similar to Abram’s dealings with the Pharaoh)
- Finally, Issac the son of promise is born - which leads to more family tension
More ups and downs… Abraham shows great spiritual maturity, he finally receives the promise of an heir. But still has some of the same bad habits as before. How does God respond?God ReAffirms His Promises… and Tests Abraham’s commitment.
Genesis 22:1-2 Genesis 22:1-2 1 And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said to him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.
2 And he said, Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and get you into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I will tell you of.
American King James Version×
God plucked Abraham and offered him purpose, blessings and hope. Abraham believed and responded in faith, he did what he was asked. But he also had his lapses. There were times when he relied on his own craftiness, or what seemed right in his own eyes. Perhaps these played into the long-drawn-out timeline through which the promises were revealed and fulfilled… perhaps they played a part in this final recorded episode of Abraham’s life.
Genesis 22:3-14 Genesis 22:3-14 3 And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and split the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went to the place of which God had told him.
4 Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off.
5 And Abraham said to his young men, Abide you here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.
6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together.
7 And Isaac spoke to Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?
8 And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.
9 And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar on the wood.
10 And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.
11 And the angel of the LORD called to him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I.
12 And he said, Lay not your hand on the lad, neither do you any thing to him: for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son from me.
13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.
14 And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovahjireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the LORD it shall be seen.
American King James Version× verse 8 - Abraham had faith that whatever it was God could work it out. Verse 12 - God learned what He wanted to know… “are you all in?” Can you lose something, someone that you love and believe My power to restore them once more at the appointed time?
James 2:21-26 James 2:21-26 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son on the altar?
22 See you how faith worked with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
23 And the scripture was fulfilled which said, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
24 You see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?
26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
American King James Version× Abraham got through it by maintaining the same faith that got him there in the first place
Hebrews 11:17-19 Hebrews 11:17-19 17 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,
18 Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall your seed be called:
19 Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from where also he received him in a figure.
American King James Version× Abraham got through this trial by faith in God’s ultimate power over life. The mental anguish was not worthy to be compared with what God has in store for those who love and obey HIm.
How did God respond? Genesis 22:15-19 Genesis 22:15-19 15 And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham out of heaven the second time,
16 And said, By myself have I sworn, said the LORD, for because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son:
17 That in blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply your seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is on the sea shore; and your seed shall possess the gate of his enemies;
18 And in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because you have obeyed my voice.
19 So Abraham returned to his young men, and they rose up and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham dwelled at Beersheba.
American King James Version×
You may have been tested and tried with unanswered prayer, a long delay of a hoped for blessing, you may have experienced lapses, moments of doubt, perhaps you have been asked to give up someone. Or something, you love.
In all these things believe that God can, and will, provide you with that which is even better… the promise of life. Respond in faith, seek to walk in a manner that is blameless.
God has entered into a covenant with you that is bigger and better that what was offered to Israel. But He still uses the technique of recalling, rehearsing and reaffirming. He calls you once again this year to reaffirm and rehearse the promises of that covenant at the Passover.