GENESIS – SERIES NR 14 : Lord, how will I know?
Scripture : Genesis 15
The constitution of God’s kingdom is: God makes a promise and man believes Him for it. And so with Abram the constitution was established. “Abram believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness”. That is the heartbeat of Genesis 15, and the heartbeat of the entire Bible. Everything stands or falls on this cardinal point.
Repentance and trust-in-God is the way in which a believer stands in a relationship with God. Trust in God (faith-confidence) is something which starts with God. For me to have faith-confidence, there first has to be a God who has crossed my path. Faith-confidence is the way I react to His love and His promise.
One can see how these things play out in Abram’s experience. Look carefully: It is the Lord God who took the initiative and stept into an encounter with Abram. “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward”. Can you see the way in which God approached Abram? With a commitment, a promise of grace. “I AM your shield (I put Myself between you and your enemy) and reward (not reward for performance, but a grace-reward). So, stop being fearful”.
Incidentally: We can immediately see how this promise from God spoke the language of the NT. Indeed we know that the Lord Jesus Christ has become the shield and lightning-conducter for everyone who would ever repent and believe on Him. He warded off from us the wrath and judgment of His Father. Now we may live without fear and receive the grace-reward of eternal life – by repentance and trust on Christ alone.
To return to Genesis 15:
Of course, fear is the heartbeat of a lack of trust in God. It is the disposition of the fallen sinful human nature. Any form of doubtfulness awakens fear. Fear reflects our human impotence and it is a motion of no-confidence in God. And it causes us to become weary of life.
Abram was exactly like that, a real person of flesh and blood! And he was wrapped up in his own circumstances. Therefore he felt as if God’s wonderful promise was directly OPPOSITE to his circumstances. He thought with his common sense, and asked: “Lord, it does not make any sense. How do these promises tally with my circumstances? My wife and I are getting on in years and where will descendants come from for me?” You can see that he was artlessly innocent. “Time is running out, Lord. Where will children come from for me? It is as though your maths do not add up.”
One can understand Abram’s struggle, not so? A person’s circumstances are always so tangible and concrete and provable. God’s promises feel abstract, vague and incredible. Therefore, Abram asked the question we all ask: “Lord, what will you give me so that I can be sure? With what can You help me to believe, please?”
The Lord did not immediately help Abram with a visible aid. Indeed He made it even more difficult for Abram, because He took him outside and told him to look at the stars in the sky. “You will have a son, Abram. Your offspring will be as numerous as the stars.”
Just think: Here was Abram. His wife and himself were already of an advanced age. Chance for a son was almost impossible. In sharp contrast with that: descendants as numerous as the stars!! That was rather difficult to swallow, not so? Abram looked at the stars, but he did not see any children and grandchildren. And he was not 21 years old! He could only see the stars. Between the promise of God and the fulfillment a lot of water would have to run into the sea! That is for sure! God’s encounter with Abram did not immediately change his circumstances.
And then, those golden words: “Abram believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness.”
In spite of his circumstances, Abram took God at His word.
Of course, we should remember that this encounter of God with Abram had a history. It was not just something which fell out of thin air. The Lord explained it to him that way. How He brought Abram out of Ur of the Chaldeans. There was a history of God’s gracious presence in his life.
And then Abram took God at His Word. That means: He transfered his trust over onto the faithfulness of God. That was final! And God regarded Abram as someone who was RIGHT with God! That is the meaning of righteousness. Abram was righteous in the eyes of God. He was not trying to be righteous. He WAS righteous!
But what God credited to Abram as righteousness was not the fact that Abram believed God’s promise. It was the content of the promise which Abram believed which God credited Abram with as righteousness! Abram’s faith-trust was not the reason that he was right with God. It was that UPON WHICH Abram’s faith-trust rested, that set him right with God. And where was it that his faith-trust rested? On the content of God’s Words of promise! And that content was in reality the Lord Jesus Christ! Because centuries later, Paul came and explained in Galatians 3 that the descendants God had promised Abram, would not be multitudes of people, but only one Person. And it was Jesus. When Abram believed God, Abram (unbeknown to himself) believed God for what Christ was to do on the cross. And THAT is what put Abram right with God!!
One could therefore say: It is not THAT one believes which puts one right with God. It is WHAT one believes which put one right with God. Our faith actually trust upon a definite content. And that content is the merit of Jesus’ substitutionay death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. THAT is what puts us right with God. And that is also what put Abram right with God – even though Abram did not know exactly what the true content of the promise was. He thought that it was only concerned with him having a large physical posterity. But God knew that the promise of a son and descendants was all about Jesus! And when Abram believed God, God credited it to him as righteousness! JESUS’ righteousness!
But now there is something we should pay close attention to:
The fact that Abram believed God, and that God credited it to him as righteousness, did not mean that Abram was strong and stable within himself. He was still very unsure and weak and shaky in his inner man.
That is why he again asked: “Lord, how can I KNOW that I shall gain that promised land?”
Although he believed God’s promise, in his heart he still needed some kind of a visible sign, an anchor. Something which is more visible and tangible than God’s invisible promise. Something visible that can underline and guarantee God’s invisible promise. He needed support. A strut.
And the Lord did not correct him. The Lord did not say to him: “You should be satisfied with My promise, Abram. My promise is sufficient. Why do you still look for a visible sign?”
No. Do you know what God did? He took Abram’s weakness into account and so He literally bent over backward to meet Abram half-way. Keeping in mind that we are dust, according to Psalm 103:14.
Then God decided to give Abram a visible covenant-sign. The result of His endless patience.
The ceremony that followed may sound very strange to us, but in the ancient Middle-East it was the usual procedure when a lawful contract was closed between two parties. It was a ceremony meant as visible support to a verbal promise. It was like a signature at the bottom of a contract.
It was therefore, not the Lord who thought up this ceremony. It was part of the culture and society of that time. The Lord only used it. He used something which Abram was very familiar with. But there was also a huge difference.
The ceremony worked as follows:
When two people closed a contract with each other, they killed animals, or used birds, and cut them in two. Then they placed the halves opposite each other on the ground to form a path. Then the two persons spoke aloud their undertakings towards the other, and walked down the path between the animal halves. With that they took an oath: “I promise to honour my side of the agreement. If not, then I give you the right to do with me exactly what we did to these animals.” Both parties showed proof that they accepted full responsibility for their respective commitments in respect of the contract.
But now look at this:
When God closed the visible covenant with Abram, the Lord took Abram’s responsibility upon Himself and Abram iwas completely passive. The Lord brought a deep sleep over Abram so that he was not able to walk between the halves of the carcasses. Then only the Lord walked between the carcasses. He walked on behalf of Abram also! The Lord took full responsibility of the consequences of the contract upon Himself. Abram’s also!
In reality, the Lord was saying to Abram: “If I cannot fulfill my promises, you – Abram – can do with me what we did to these animals. AND: If you cannot honour your side of the contract, you can do with Me what we did to these animals!”
Remember the Lord passed through the carcasses on Abram’s behalf also! “If you do not HONOUR YOUR SIDE, you can do with ME what we did to the animals”
It sounds almost insane, but in His inconceivable love the Lord undertook to take Abram’s responsibility upon Himself – unto DEATH. The Lord put His life on the line – to express it in human terms.
If one should look at Calvary through the lens of Genesis 15, we can see that God meant this ceremony/covenant-undertaking/covenant-sign very seriously. Because on the cross – in Christ Jesus – the sinner cut the Son of God in pieces… For the transgressions and sins of MAN! Yes, we know that it was the Father who gave His Son over to die on the cross, but it was the physical hands of SINFUL MAN that actually did it.
The passing through between the pieces of meat by only God was therefore fulfilled centuries later with Jesus’ death on the cross. “Abram, do with ME as with the animals should YOU not keep YOUR SIDE of the contract.” And what human can by any means keep it? No one. Because all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). The sinner CANNOT keep covenant with God. It is simply impossible. Therefore Jesus had to die. Because God walked between the carcasses on Abram’s behalf.
At Calvary Jesus did what Abram could not do. He took the place of the sinner. He bore the punishment for the breach of contract with God. God punished His own Son for man’s absolute inability to honour his side of the contract. THAT is the strongest proof of what God’s love really is.
But there is something more in Genesis 15.
The Lord gave Abram a surprising abridged view far into the distant future. The promises which the Lord sealed with Abram that day, were to have far reaching results to the far distant future. It would reach far beyond Abram. Abram struggled to comprehend that he would have a son, but the Lord told him: “My promise is not only applicable to your small world. It reaches far wider. Right up to the saving of My nation out of Egyptian slavery and the entry into the promised land. It also includes Bethlehem and Golgotha.”
And we – who are sitting with the entire Bible and look back on history – know that the Lord truly kept His Word. And we know that His promise to Abram will continue far beyond 2018 and our small world. It will continue up until the second coming of Christ, the completion of time, of hell and heaven and eternity.
We also know that the Lord’s method in working with His people has not changed at all. He still includes us in His promise of eternal life in/through Jesus Christ. With the demand to repent from our sins and trust on Christ alone. He still gives visible signs which accompany His promise – to support us in our faith. Like Abram we also ask: “Lord, how will I know that You will keep your promise?” Admittedly He no longer lets us cut animals in two. After the blood of Jesus was shed, blood will not flow again. But He gives the visible bloodless signs of water, bread and wine.
The signs say and declare only one thing: “Because you could not honour your side of our covenant, I vicariously paid with MY life in your stead. Now you are free. Then go forth and live as a saved person”.
Translated by Marthie Wilson