When I Am Afraid Part II
Text: Genesis 15
Proposition: When God cuts a covenant it is for much greater scope and significance than we can see, the details are His, the Promises are ours.
Introduction: Last week we talked about how even when there’s success and victory there can still be fear. We looked at how God spoke to Abram about the fear that was there even after a successful military rescue, a fear that could only be removed with the deep assurances of God’s intervention and love for him. We looked at that phrase from 1 John 4:18 that says “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” God assured Abram that He would not only protect him but that Abram would have a son, and that son would have children and the descendents of Abram would be as certain and as many as the stars of the sky. It says in verse 6 “And he believed in the Lord and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” The tense behind that word believed refers to belief in this moment and a belief that was ongoing. From this moment on Abram knew that he would have a son, a family, a heritage, he just didn’t know how. I suppose that many times when we are afraid the how of God’s care for us is where we seek for details. We believe He knows us by name, that He will be a shield for us, that He cares for us as His very own children…but how will He do it. In the backs of our minds we seem to think that if only I can know the ‘how’ of what God will do then I won’t be afraid anymore. God doesn’t always give us the details of how He will protect us or even direct us but in the account we are about to read we can glimpse the scope and significance with which He works. Let’s read Genesis 15:8-21.
I. When God Makes a Covenant He Wants To Know We Are “All In”.
God tells Abram to go and bring a three year old heifer, a three year old female goat, a three year old ram, a turtle dove and a young pigeon. Three years old meant they were mature creatures, valuable and precious to Abram. The request was clearly understood by him that these were not for sacrifice they were for the establishing of a contract or covenant. It’s why he cut them in two and laid them out on the ground with enough space for two persons to walk side by side down the middle of all the split carcasses. Both persons in the covenant would walk together down the middle of the carcasses saying in effect, ‘May this be done to me if I break the covenant we now make’. In fact the term ‘to make’ covenant, literally means ‘to cut covenant’, to establish a contract of promise. All this began to take place because Abram had asked ‘how?’ The answer to how began with a cost to Abram, the answer to how would mean that Abram would say to God, I’m all in. That degree of seeking after God is bound to look kind of strange to people standing on the sidelines. The herdsmen, his wife, the servants, they all likely saw Abram set up this somewhat familiar covenant, but Abram was the only one they could see. They watched as he kept the vultures away from the exposed flesh through the noonday heat, vultures like the birds of the air that steal away the word of God from us. I don’t doubt that when we say to God, “I’m all in”, not everyone is going to understand what we are about. But that too is part of our faith, it doesn’t rest on people’s approval, it rests on God.
II. The Perfect Timing of God Is How He Refines Perseverance.
You’ve heard the phrase, ‘Timing is Everything’, and in many respects it’s true. Both comedy and tragedy are timing dependent, economics and politics are all about timing. Your car engine is designed around a system of timing for the engine to run smoothly. Sometimes timing has a brief context, like Abram having to keep the vultures away all the while expecting God is just about to do something. Then there’s the timing that seems so extreme to us, so far above our understanding. Abram had asked how he could know for sure that his people would inherit this land. God’s response to this ‘how’ question was to bring an emotional response to Abram, a deep sleep in which he felt horror and great darkness. The ‘How’ will be accomplished through a time of great suffering and a feeling of utter hopelessness, a great darkness. God’s timing of this will last 400 years as Abrams offspring serve another nation as their slaves. It is about 2100 BC as God tells Abram about this captivity, around 1700 BC Israel escapes from Egypt . Four generations from now Abrams family will return here to the land that they then inherit. The reasons for this great delay, for this perfect timing, are put in a simple phrase, “for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” The Amorites were a desert people that conquered the areas of Babylon and then moved west to take over Canaan. From the Amorites came many peoples one of whom were the Canaanite culture. The Amorites used a harsh system of mutilations and death in order to maintain law. God counted the deeds of the unrighteous as not only that which they were accountable for but also as that which He would only tolerate for so long. As the Amorite culture declined and became more godless the Israelites increased in number, even though they were a nation of slaves in Egypt. It was as though God was using Egypt to be a womb in which to grow the nation of Israel, 400 years in utero. Through all these details we see a perfect timing, whether it’s a short term until the sun goes down or a term so long we can barely imagine it. Perfect timing it seems is both an assurance and a test, accomplishing the purposes of God, included in which are perseverance and faith.
III. The Covenant Love of God, A Perfect Love, Casts Out Fear.
There is one more verse we need to look at closely in this passage, it’s verse 17. We know that to cut a covenant meant that two parties were binding themselves in agreement, an ‘All In’ kind of agreement. We know that Abram was thinking that he would be one of those two parties that walked between the parted halves. Now we see that Abram watches as two others move between the parted halves. They are described as “a smoking oven and a burning torch”. There is no explanation given other than the context. So here is what we can conclude:
1. Two persons were required to ratify the covenant, since Abram is the one whom the covenant is with, one of the two that passes between the halves does so on his behalf.
2. The smoking oven and the burning torch together represent God in the two Persons of the Father and the Son. The burning oven, the refining fire that could look like ovens of Egypt, may symbolize the Father’s presence. The blazing torch, perhaps like the pillar of fire that led Israel out of Egypt and kept them from Pharaoh’s attack, may symbolize the Son of God Jesus Christ, the Strong Deliverer.
3. The two persons of the Father and Son ratify the covenant meaning that there is no work required on Abrams part for all this to take place. The belief of Abram is what righteousness comes from, not the efforts of Abram.
4. It was just after Abram felt horror and a great darkness that he saw the glory of God cut covenant and heard the boundaries of the Promised Land, God’s land that He would now give to Abram forever. “To your descendents I HAVE GIVEN this land…”. Is it possible that on the cusp of great horror and great darkness Israel will receive the land given to her. One of those horrors and great darkness was Egypt, another was the Nazi regime, but the boundaries of the land are yet to be entered into fully. Is the principle here the fact that the land belongs to God, not to Israel nor to any other nation and as Israel moves with faith, a faith in Jesus Christ that equates to righteousness, as a nation, that this gift of land will be realized.
5. The fact that God passed through flesh in this covenant points to a future time when God will most certainly enter into flesh to establish an eternal covenant, One that is based on His blood, One that creates heirs in the kingdom of God, One that readies a Great promised Land, One completes that righteousness in mankind forever…by the life, death and resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. This love of God to send His only Son to die for us, to take our place in the covenant, this perfect love casts out fear.