Every single thing and every single person has a beginning, save one Person and that is God Himself who has no beginning and no end, who is eternal. But everything has a beginning, an origin. And the book of Genesis is the book of origins. We have seen the origin, the beginning, of the creation of the universe. We've seen the beginning, the origin, of mankind. The origin of marriage. The origin of sin in the Garden of Eden. We've then seen God's origin of salvation: how He immediately went to work with His plan known to Him from the beginning of the world to bring a Savior into the world, who would, in the words of Genesis, "crush the head of the serpent". To do that, it was in God's plan to begin a nation and we have the origin of the nation of Israel. That's really in the scope of our consideration in Genesis chapter 15, really in the life of Abram. Abram, a pagan worshiper who lived in Iraq, Ur of the Chaldeans, called by God to leave his hometown and go to a land, the land of Canaan inhabited by Canaanites, chiefly the Amorites.
He was called to go there. When he obeyed God's command, an invitation to come and be blessed in that land, it began what we call the patriarchal era or the patriarchal stage of history. From around 2165 B.C. to 1804 B.C. is this patriarchal stage where we look at Abram, who became Abraham, his son Isaac, Jacob, and the twelve tribes. As they began--that's the patriarchal era. So we're finding the beginning of the nation of Israel. That's important to God's plan because they will become the receptacle for the Messiah, the Jewish Messiah, who fulfills Scripture to come and be the Savior of the world. All of that is found in Genesis and that's what we're uncovering as we do it chapter-by-chapter. Tonight we're in chapter 15 of the book of Genesis.
In chapter 14 we saw that Abram began a very heroic rescue operation. You see there were these four kings who went to war with five kings. Four kings in the North, they formed a coalition. Now when I say kings from the patriarchal era, they were really like mayors, mayors of a city. They controlled a town; they were the king of the town. But they would form coalitions and become nations. Four kings from the lineage of Ham against five kings from the lineage of Shem. So we have the Hamites versus the Shemites. And it's different than the Hatfield's versus the McCoy's. This was an area the four kings dominated and had for twelve years these five kings, Semitic kings, paying money, tax money, tribute money, to these four kings under the headship of one guy named Chedorlaomer.
In the thirteenth year of that taxation agreement, the five kings revolted against the four which caused the four, under the leadership of Chedorlaomer, to come and take siege of those five. And boy did they clean house. They took spoils of war with them, they rounded up people, hostages, and they took them captive. Caught in the crossfire of this international conflict was the nephew of Abram named Lot. He gets taken as part of the captives; he's a refugee, a P.O.W. So what does Abram do? In an unprecedented and tremendously courageous effort, he takes 318 army men, they're really servants in his household, he gives them weapons and he says, 'We're going to war, boys!' And he raids the coalition of the four kings at nighttime and, in an unprecedented victory, is able to win the battle, take back the spoils, including Lot, and let the captives go free. When returning from that battle, he meets with an unusual king: the king of Salem called Melchizadek. Remember him? He's the monarch of Salem; the mysterious monarch named Melchizadek, if you want to remember him that way. He's the king of Salem. When Abram meets Melchizadek, Melchizadek gives him bread and wine and Abram pays tithes to Melchizadek; gives him money honoring him. If you will, worshiping him. In the very least, Melchizadek is a type of the Lord Jesus Christ. Some believe it is actually the Lord Jesus Christ as a theophany: a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ in the Old Testament. I'll let you argue that and debate that or take whatever position you want.
So he meets Melchizadek, the magnificent monarch of Salem, but he also meets another king and this is where we left off and this is all important to chapter 15 verse 1. The second monarch is King Bera of Sodom. Now I'm really thrilled to be going through this because just yesterday I was on the phone to one of our fellow church members who is, right now, excavating biblical Sodom: Dr. Steven Collins. And he's now in his fifth season uncovering that city, the city of Sodom, where King Bera was. So Abram meets the king of righteousness, that's what Melchizadek means, and let's call Bera the king of rottenness. He's the king of Sodom. So the king of Salem and the king of Sodom are met. The king of Sodom, that corrupt city, corrupt, it says, before the Lord, King Bera offered to give to Abram a sum of money. Sort of as a reward; a thanksgiving reward for fighting the battle, letting his people come back to Sodom and bringing back the spoils of war. Abram declines the reward, 'I don't want it. I don't even want a token. I don't want anybody to say that Abram was made rich by somebody else.' So he refuses the reward and that's all important to the first verse of chapter 15.
"After these things". And by the way, if you were wondering, we're not going to make it through chapter 16, because if I don't say that you might get worried around the end of chapter 15, 'I know Skip and he might just plow through 16,' but I won't do that. This is too important a chapter to go fast in. "After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision". And notice what he said: "Saying, "Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward." Isn't that beautiful? I refuse the reward of man. I don't want anybody to say that you made Abram rich. God says, 'Don't be afraid. I am your protection. I am your exceedingly great reward.' Why did God begin by the phrase, 'Don't be afraid'? I think it's pretty easy to answer that. It's probably because Abram was afraid. See you don't walk up to someone and go, 'Now don't be afraid,' unless you sense that they are fearful. So far in Genesis, I have told you every time we come to a first mention of something, I tell you the first time it's mentioned. Here's the very first mention of a familiar biblical phrase: "Do not be afraid" or "Fear not". You'll find it about 70+ times in the Bible. This is the very first time we find it. "Do not be afraid" or "Fear not".
It begs the question: what would Abram have to be afraid of? Let me give you a few suggestions. Number one, you notice that it says, God spoke to him in a vision. Have you noticed that so often in the Bible when an angel appears or the angel of the Lord appears or the Lord appears Himself or there's some kind of a vision that people get fearful? They see an angel and they freak out and so the angel has to immediately say, 'Now don't be afraid'. Because they're scared stiff. 'Don't be afraid'. When Daniel had the vision in chapter ten of that book of the angel giving him messages of the future, he said, "I grew weak and my face took on a deathly pale". He just became so fearful. When John, in Revelation chapter one gets a vision of the glorified Lord, that beautiful picture of the resurrected, the risen, the resplendent Christ, it says, "When I saw Him I fell on my feet as a dead man". It was just too much. And I suppose that to get a vision from God, where you're hearing His voice and seeing something would be a fearful experience. So number one, it could be that. That he saw the vision and he was afraid at seeing that. It was unusual; it was noteworthy. And so God just begins by saying, 'Hang loose, buddy. Don't be afraid.'
There's a second reason that he could have been afraid at this point. Number two, he had just been victorious in a battle, he had been very courageous, and I have talked to lots of people who have been in battle who have been able to muster up a certain amount of courage even when against the worst kinds of odds. Only after the victory to be afraid and in deep depression. It's interesting, it seems like at the needed time, the courage and strength is there but afterwards, when there's a moment to let down and rest, the person becomes fearful, depressed. Psychologists call it post-traumatic stress. And it's even found in the Bible sometimes. Elijah, who was able to draw sides in a contest against the prophets of Baal and Ashtoreth, you remember in 1 Kings 18. Afterwards, when Jezebel chases him down into the desert, he is depressed and he's just sort of hanging out under a broom tree and says, 'Ok. I just want to die now.' Boy, how different from the Elijah we saw on Mount Carmel--the warrior of God. But afterwards, depressed. It could be that the battle just took a tremendous toll on Abram and now he's in the doldrums. He's depressed. So the Lord is comforting him: 'Don't be afraid'.
Here's a third possibility and I lean toward this. Abram, at this point, exhibited the fear of man. The Bible says the fear of man brings a snare. He just victoriously fought a coalition of four powerful kings who had been able to subdue five cities for twelve years. And when those five cities rebelled, the four kings were able to completely wipe out, in terms of power, strength, and battle, five kings. Now Abram, with 318 men, was victorious. But perhaps he's thinking, 'What if Chedorlaomer decides to retaliate like he did when those five kings refused to pay tribute to him? What if he comes back? I only have 318. I know the Lord was with me; I know I was victorious. But I may not be the next time--could be all over.' Also, he had just been with Bera the king of Sodom, who wanted to give him some spoils of war. He refused the spoils of war, refused to take the money. And in so doing was refusing a possible future alliance that he could have. A shield, the old writers used to call it, the shield of that city to protect Abram in case he was ever attacked again. He just basically said, 'I don't need your protection'. Thus, the Lord said, "I am your shield". I'm your protection and I'm your exceedingly great reward. So that is probably what is going on. He's just afraid of retaliation at what might happen because of the things that have already happened.
You should know something about fear and you probably already do. It is one of the most destructive emotions that you can ever manifest. Destructive. It can paralyze you. Something else about fear: it's irrational, isn't it? It defies your logic and your reason. You'll look at a situation and go, 'I can look at this logically,' and you work your way through it and reason your way through it, but sometimes the emotion can eclipse the logic and you're just afraid. It's irrational. University of Wisconsin put out an interesting study some years back saying that 40% of the things we are afraid of will never happen. That we live a portion of our lives as servants to the emotion of fear over things that will never, ever happen. It's irrational. So for whatever reason he's afraid, the Lord gives him a beautiful promise. "Do not be afraid," that's the commandment. "I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward."
"But Abram said, "Lord God, what will You give me". I just want you to follow and notice this conversation. Abram, don't be afraid--I'm your protection, I'm your reward! What are you going to give me? "Seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" Then Abram said, "Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is not my heir!" And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, "This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir."
The chapter begins with Abram in fear. He's in panic mode. How does God deal with his panic? Follow it carefully. God gives him a promise. He's panicked, so God gives him a promise: 'Don't be afraid. I'm your shield, your exceedingly great reward.' How does Abram respond to God's promise? With a perplexity. So we go from panic to promise to now perplexity: 'What are You going to give me--I don't have any children!' And he mentions this guy Eliezer; I'll get to that in a minute. This is very important and this is understandable because go back with me to chapter 12. Chapter 12 verse 2. God says to Abram: "I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing."
To be a nation you have to have what? Kids! This guy has no kids. He didn't even have a kid--a child. And God makes this beautiful promise, 'Yeah, you know a nation will come out of you!' We follow that further down to verse 7: "Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, "To your descendants [plural] I will give this land." And there he built an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him." Again descendants are mentioned; children; offspring; many of them. Go to chapter 13 verse 14: "And the Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him: "Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are--northward, southward, eastward, westward; for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever. And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered." All of these are wonderful, glorious, gracious promises. But so far that's all they are. Promises. There are no children. 'God, where's the kids? These are really cool promises. Thanks for being my shield and my reward. I don't have any kids yet!'
And by the way, the clock is ticking. Put yourself in Abram's sandals. When God called him in chapter 12, when he left Haran, he was 75 years young. In chapter 16, we're told he is 86 years old. So in chapter 15, the chapter we're presently at, he's probably around 85 years old. It's been ten years. 'I was old then; I'm still old. In fact, I'm older. Where are the kids?' These are beautiful promises, but there are no children. And then he points, he goes, 'The only heir that I have is Eliezer of Damascus.' Now this is interesting. Who did Abram take with him because his brother had died? Lot. So in effect, Abram adopted Lot as his own, raising him. Now he's raised by now and he's out on his own, but according to the law of that era and that geography, Lot would have become the heir of Abram. He doesn't mention Lot; he mentions a guy named Eliezer of Damascus. Now here's a thought that you might find interesting, that some of the commentators bring out. Damascus was known as the commerce capital of the world at the time of Abram. And it is thought that Eliezer of Damascus was a man in charge of one of those houses of commerce or banking house. So that to say the phrase 'Eliezer of Damascus' is like saying in our vernacular 'Bank of America,' 'Wells Fargo,' 'Bank of the West'. So he might be simply saying this: 'Look Lord, these are great promises and I love your words and the vision is really cool. And I'm really appreciative for all of the wealth that I have and all this land You promised. But what good does it do to have the wealth and the land and the promise without the kids? And when I die, the bank's gonna get it anyway. Eliezer of Damascus. It might all go to them because of the tie-in.' It could refer to that, possibly.
'What will You give me?' he asks. In verse 3, I love this. I love, love, love how this flows. "Then Abram said, "Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir! And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, "This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir." So the chapter begins in panic, fear, right? He's fearful--Abram's fearful. The fear, the panic, is met with a promise of God. Abram hears the promise of God and offers a perplexity to God. 'Ok, cool, but I don't have any children.' Now how does God deal with his perplexity? With a promise! Not an explanation. This is beautiful. God didn't say, 'Ok, look. Dude, this is why it's taking so long. This is why I'm waiting. I'm going to explain to you what I'm doing and why this has just taken years and years and years. Here's the explanation. Here's the reason.' God gives no reasons. God gives no explanation. God gives another promise. You know why? When we're really down and out, you can't live on explanations. What you really need are promises. That's what gives you hope. I want to give you an example. I will never forget the afternoon I came home from church, came to my house to find that my young son who had been playing on top of a wall, fell down and cut his tongue almost in half with his teeth. So he's leaned over a bowl, the bowl is filled with blood, and Lenya looks at me and says, 'Do you think he's going to have to go to the hospital?' Nathan's eyes are looking at me when she asks the question--he does not want to go. And I said, 'Absolutely. He needs to go.' So we take him to the hospital. The doctor took one look at him and, do you think the doctor looked at Nathan and said, 'Now Nathan let me explain to you what has happened. That anterior dorsal surface has been incised, damaging and bringing trauma to the lingual nerve and the parasthesia that you feel…' Do you think he did that? He didn't give him an explanation or a reason. He gave him a promise. He said, 'Nate, look at me. A few stitches, that's all, and you'll be fine in two weeks.' That's what he needed. That's what we live off of. Not explanations: promises.
Here's the perplexity. God answers it with a promise. Now something about this promise. It's sort of the same promise but a little bit different. It's exactly the same only different. Let me explain. He repeats the promise, basically. He takes the same promise and He repeats it to him again. This shows me that God is loving and patient; He's not harsh with Abram. He didn't go, 'Abram, you idiot! You doofus. I mean, how many times do I have to tell you this?' He's very patient with him to repeat the same promise He has been telling him for ten years. He repeats the promise. That's gracious.
Haven't we come across a promise that we've forgotten? And God is gracious enough to remind us of that. We re-read it in the Word and go, 'I remember that. Ok, Lord, I got it.' And we walk out and the very next day we've forgotten it. And then we might, in a week, read something else and it's that same promise but a little bit different and go, 'Oh yeah. I'm reminded of that.' Several years ago when I was in college, I was running out of money. I was unable to buy groceries but I did have a little bit of groceries in the cabinet. Hamburger Helper is what I lived on in those days because it was easy. And I could cook a pot of Hamburger Helper and it would last all week, or two weeks, you know? I'd cook it, eat a little bit, leave it on the stove and come back to it the next day and heat it up and eat a little more and keep it on the stove with tinfoil. It'd last me a week or two. But I'd run out of Hamburger Helper and one time in particular when I ran out of everything, no money, no Hamburger Helper, I had peanut butter. That's what I had: peanut butter. And a little bread. And so I made peanut butter sandwiches, and then I rationed it down to just a slice of bread with peanut butter and jelly on top of that. Then the bread ran out and so it was spoonfuls of peanut butter. By the way, only Skippy Peanut Butter--I'm just kidding. So just peanut butter. All the while I'm reading the Bible, getting really worried, reading the Bible, getting worried. One day I go to the mailbox. It was just after tax season and my IRS check came in the mail. And when I saw the check from the IRS, I jumped up and I shouted like, 'Hallelujah!' Everybody in the neighborhood probably thought, 'This guy's nuts.' But I was so excited--the IRS came through! And you know, I had been listening to a Bible study tape and reading the Word and something came to my mind. Now wait a minute. How do you know that the check is really good? And I'm thinking, 'What do you mean really good? It's from the government! It's a government check; it's got to be good. Government checks can't be bad.' And it was like the Lord said, 'Boy. When you read the promise in My Word last week that I would take care of you, you didn't jump up and down and get all excited. One check from the IRS and you're all excited because you believe their promise. What about My promise?' Busted, man! Busted.
But God is gracious to repeat the promise. Second thing God does is clarify the promise. He clarifies it. He says, 'Now Abram, listen carefully. You're going to have, in your own body, from your own body; a child is going to come.' It's like God comes down to his level and says, 'Abram, let me tell you a little bit about the birds and the bees. This is how children work. They're not like heirs in a banking situation or a servant situation. From your own body, this heir is going to come.' So God repeats the promise; God clarifies the promise. The third thing, notice, God expands on the promise.
Verse 5: "Then He brought him outside and said, "Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them." And He said to him, "So shall your descendants be." God takes him out on a clear, Middle Eastern night, before there were great cities and before there were great electrical displays that are in our cities, so that you don't have light pollution. Those were the days. You could look up in the sky and you could be anywhere almost and see this brilliant display. And probably it was the time of month where either it was a waning or a waxing crescent of the moon. So the moon was dim, the stars were shouting in their brightness, and He goes, 'Now check that out. Just look up. That's going to be like your kids; you won't be able to number them.'
I'm going to suggest that you do the same when you are feeling down and out and forsaken by God and you haven't seen God's promises. Just take a little drive, get out of the city, go to the mountains or out toward the west side and just stop the car and look up and realize: Dad did that. The One that I am trusting in; the One that I am placing my faith in did that. And sometimes it's the uplook that gives you the better outlook as you realize what God can do.
I love studying and considering the universe. I always have. Because when Abram looked up in that sky, he saw only a very tiny minute portion of the galaxy that we call the Milky Way galaxy. See, it's where we live; it's our home; it's our address in the universe. And it's just one of billions of universes, but we live in the Milky Way. But the Milky Way galaxy is, by our standards, quite large. It's ten thousand light years by a hundred thousand light years in dimension. Relatively flat, but ten thousand by a hundred thousand light years. That means, light traveling at 186,000 miles per second, it will take 100,000 years for it to get from this end to that end of one galaxy where we live. Just one. If you could travel at the speed of light, just think of this for a moment, you could travel at 186,000 miles per second. You could circle the earth 7 ½ times in one second. You could sail past the moon in 1 ½ seconds. If you wanted to go all the way to Venus, it would only take you 2 minutes and 18 seconds to get there. You keep going 4 minutes and 30 seconds, you'll sail past Mercury. 7 ½ minutes you'll reach the sun. But if you want to go from one end of your galaxy to the other, it will take you 100,000 years going 186,000 miles per second.
And Isaiah 40 talks about God as if to say, 'How big is your God?' Isaiah said that God can measure the universe with His fingers--the span of a hand. God looks at the Milky Way galaxy, we go, 'Whoa! 100,000 light years.' God goes, 'Wait. Once you go 100,000 light years, you haven't even gotten out of the yard yet. Because I have billions and billions of other galaxies.' And yet God looks down at all the galaxies and goes, 'It's only about that big to Me.' So every now and then it's good just to get perspective because we get so narrowly focused. Just to look up and go, 'Wow. God did that. God can handle my situation.' So He expands on the promise, He clarifies the promise, and He repeats the promise.
Verse 6, key verse: "And he [Abram] believed in the Lord, and He [the Lord God] accounted it to him [Abram] for righteousness." Once again read that verse. It is one of the key verses in all the Bible. In fact, circle it, underline it, memorize it. At least memorize it. "And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness." Now the word 'believed' is in the Hebrew amen. God made a promise and it's like Abram said, 'Amen! Right on, I believe that!' This is so important because there is a result that comes from Abram just listening to God's promise after He repeats it, clarifies it, expands on it, and he just goes, 'Ok. I believe that promise. I believe it.' Because the result is God allows that small act of faith to be counted to Abram as righteousness. Now I'm making a big deal out of this. You know why? The New Testament makes a huge deal out of this. In Romans chapter 4, in Galatians chapter 3, and in James chapter 2, those three places, this story and this verse is highlighted as the pivotal verse to explain the major doctrine that if you're a Christian, you hold to dearly. Justification by faith. That we're not saved by good works, we're not saved by keeping rituals, we're not saved by belonging to some Christian organization. We are saved, made right with God, purely by believing God. Like Abram who believed before the Law of Moses was existence, who believed before circumcision was existence, who certainly believed before there was baptism or churches or any of that. He just believed.
That's so important you got to look at just one of those passages. Turn to Romans chapter 4. What Paul is doing is answering a question. Here's the question: How was Abraham the father of faith, he is called, the father of those who believe, how was Abraham justified, saved, made right with God? Was it by his works, was it by keeping the Law, was it by being a religious person, was it by trying hard and being sincere? Because once we find the answer to that question, we'll be able to answer the second question: how are we made right with God, how are we saved? By the keeping of the Law? By knowing all the Law? Or does it come by faith? Verse 1 chapter 4 of Romans. So he begins: "What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness."
You know how most people think that we're saved? Most people think that salvation is sort of like putting a frog in a pan full of milk. Here's that poor frog in the milk and the milk is slippery and he can't get out of the pan because the sides are too high, so he's struggling and paddling and paddling, but if he paddles long enough he churns that into butter. And by his hard work, over a long period of time, the frog will be able to get on top of a hardened surface--the butter now--and jump out. That's how people think we're saved. And so what Paul is saying, because it is what happened to Abraham, is that's not what happened. He just simply said, 'Amen! I believe that. I really, in my heart, believe that promise.' And God said, 'That's all that I will require to make you right with Me; to give you a relationship with Me.' It's justification by faith, not by works, lest anyone should boast. You know how boring heaven would be if Abram or anybody else got there by working hard and being zealous and being religious? How boring heaven would be! You'd have to listen to that for billions of years. You know what those conversations are like on earth! Imagine in heaven!
No, we're all going to, 'I'm here by His grace! He did this! That Man with the five wounds--that's how I'm here.' There are only two basic religions in the world; there are only two. Every belief system can be divided into one of two systems. I don't care how many cults, I don't care how many different religions, and different expressions, and different books--it can all be divided into two separate categories. One is the religion of human achievement: I do, I work, I practice, I pray. The second category is the salvation by divine accomplishment. That's this. Jesus did it all on the cross. Paid the debt we could never pay. And He says, 'Do you believe that?' From your heart, in your heart, believe, which means to adhere to, commit to. But it begins by saying, 'Yes. I believe. Are you willing to do that? Because if so, I will take all of what Jesus did and I will apply it to your account.' By the way, the word 'accounted' in Romans 4 is a banking term. It means to put something to the credit side of your ledger.
So look at your life this way. Here's a picture of your life. You've got two columns: one is the debit side, one is the credit side. On the debit side, it's our sins and it fills it all up. We've all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. On the credit side, on your own, what do you have to put there that will balance out all of the sin? A lot of people say, 'Church. Sincerity. Good works. Rituals.' And God will say, 'I'm sorry. You can pour all sorts of stuff into that category and it won't balance out the debt side. The debit side is too great. You can never, by your own, cancel out the debt.' So God says, 'I've got the solution. I am willing to count all of the sins ever committed by every person and I know what they are and I am willing to declare that anyone and everyone can be made right with God by putting what My Son did to their account. And all they have to do is believe that that's the One God sent. Believe in their heart that God raised Him from the dead and they will be saved.' So Paul really makes a big deal out of this in Romans 4 and in Galatians 3 and also, James will mention it in chapter 2.
But I need to get back to Genesis if I'm going to finish one chapter tonight. "And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness." So just remember this: this is way before the Law of Moses, this is way before he could circumcise his children. He hadn't done any good works. He didn't do any ritual. All he did is go, 'I believe that.' To us it would sound crazy. God said, 'You're righteous with Me.' Verse 7: "Then He said to him, "I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it."
Question: why in the middle of a dialogue is God introducing Himself? In a normal conversation this would seem out of place. If I'm talking to you and we've already had introduction and I've talked to you for years and we're talking one day over lunch and I go, 'My name is Skip.' You'd go, 'What? Did you just have a stroke?' Why an introduction? They know each other! This is important. You're going to find this a lot in the Bible. You're going to find this in normal conversations after introductions have taken place that God will just sort of say, 'Now I am the Lord who did this and will do that.' It's called the autocarigma of God, or the self-proclamation of God. Anytime God wants to underscore a point. It's like me grabbing your face and going, 'Look me in the eyes. Right now I want to tell you who I am and what I can do for you.' That's what God is doing. It's the autocarigma, the self-proclamation. 'I want you to know, Abram, who I am. Who is talking to you and what I'm able to do.' And that's what He does here in verse 7.
Verse 8: "And he said, "Lord God, how shall I know that I will inherit it?" Ok, now, right about now you're thinking, 'I don't get Abram. I don't get this dude. God makes a promise to him and he goes, I don't have any kids. And then God makes all these promises and he goes, how will I know?' You're thinking, 'This is not the man of faith.' Well, let me complicate it even a little further. I want to just sort of stack the deck against me before I answer that. Do you remember the father of John the Baptist in the New Testament? His name was Zacharias. He was in the temple; he was the guy who would burn incense at the altar of incense. And it was his turn to do so and he goes in and sees the Angel of the Lord, it's Gabriel, he doesn't know it yet, standing there, kind of hanging out at the altar as he's going to light incense. He's afraid and the angel says? 'Don't be afraid.' And he says, 'Your wife Elizabeth is going to have a child and you're going to name him John and he's going to bring joy to your household and he's going to go before the Messiah and the power of the Lord and turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the children to the fathers.' And he listens to this and he has an apparition and Zacharias goes, 'How do I know that this is really gonna happen?' And the angel says, 'Ok. You want a sign, do you? You won't be able to talk for nine months until your son is born.'
Now I don't know what life was like in the household of Zacharias and Elizabeth, their conversations, but I do know that statistically, women do outnumber men when it comes to their words. So now he can't even answer anything back and he would go home and he'd be listening to Elizabeth. So nine months go by because the angel said, 'You didn't believe me--you doubted me.' So what's the difference between what happened with Zacharias in the temple to Gabriel who got punished for it and Abram who says, 'How will I know this is gonna happen?' This was not unbelief for Abram. It was not unbelief; you know why? Because we're told so in verse 6: 'He believed God and God accounted it to him for righteousness.' So it's not an act of unbelief. He is simply looking for pragmatic solutions because ten different Canaanite nations, Amorites, etcetera, have settled in the land of Canaan. It is outnumbered. How is this going to happen? 'How am I going to take over a land that is already occupied by all of these people groups?' That's the question. But he believed. 'Ok, I know I'm going to have a baby. I know it's going to come from my own body. I believe that. But how's this all gonna work in this land with this nation and all of these nations?'
So here's the answer, verse 9: "So He said to him, "Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon. 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." Now I'm going to warn you: what you're about to read sounds like it comes out of The Twilight Zone. It's in the Bible, it is a weird story, and I read this and I picture Rod Sterling in the background. You know, 'Picture if you will… bloody carcasses slain in the desert. An aged man looks on. He has just entered the Twilight Zone.' What is this all about? Here's a hint at what's going on; I'll kind of give you the goods before we read it. It's called a covenant. If you look ahead in verse 18: "On the same day the Lord made a covenant." A pact; an agreement; a testament.
Let's read it. You'll see what they did in those days: "And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him. Then He said to Abram: "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. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete. 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."
Today if you and I want to make a contract we might shake hands in agreement, we might sign a document. In a court of law you might have to put your hand on a Bible and say, 'I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.' In those days, they cut animals in two and put them in a path, in a road, and the people walked between them. The people making a covenant walked between the carcasses of animals. And because there was shedding of blood, it was more solemn an oath. And as the two parties walked between the pieces of the dead carcasses of animals, they would state the terms of the contract. They would say them out loud. Why the dead animals? As if to say, 'If you or I either break our end of the bargain, may that happen to us.' Let me read a portion of an ancient Hittite covenant from around the same period of time. They took in this covenant, sinews, or tendons of animal, and salt and threw it into a pan of hot fire, and here's what they said and I quote: "Just as these sinews split into fragments on the hearth, whoever breaks these oaths shows disrespect to the king, let these oaths seize him and let him split into fragments like the sinews." And so they would do that after cutting the animals in two. That's how covenants were made in ancient Canaanite Hittite days. And so the animals were cut. By the way, some people think that the idea at a ceremony, you know when you cut the ribbon that is in front of something, you take a scissors and you cut the ribbon, comes from the cutting of the covenant from way back when.
Anyway, he does it. Abram cuts the animals but he waits a long time. Seemingly it's early in the morning. You know, you gotta kill a cow and cut a cow in half and lay one half of the cow here and one half of the cow there. Holy cow, it took a long time! So they did that and then you had to take a three-year-old ram, a male sheep, which has never been gelded. You would take these animals--it took some time to dress them and cut them. So he presumably did it early in the morning. And then he waited. And he waited. And he waited. And the sun got hotter and the carcasses started to stink and decompose and birds start to come down. That's what the story says. So Abram now has to get up and shoo the birds away and he's like looking at his sun dial on his wrist and he's going, 'Man, I've been waiting a long time! How come God isn't telling me anything? Where's God?' And he waited and he waited until it got dark. And he's falling asleep and he's falling under this depression and dread again.
Finally God shows up--when it's dark and he's exhausted. Question: why did God wait so long after giving him a command to cut the animals, why did God wait so long to show up? Here's the answer, I believe. To make Abram so exhausted that he was unable to participate in the covenant. He had to watch it. So he's watching as this burning torch just starts drifting between these bloody carcasses. He's just going, 'Whoa! I thought the vision was heavy--this is really heavy!' And a smoking oven, a fire pot with smoke coming out of it, a burning torch. They're just sort of hovering and moving. But all of that was symbolic of the presence of God. A burning torch was always a symbol of God's presence, the cherubim that guarded the Garden of Eden with a flaming sword, the children of Israel were directed by a pillar of fire by night, all of these are symbols of the presence of God. God waited for Abram to be so exhausted that he couldn't participate and here's why. God was making a unilateral covenant: a promise of the land not contingent upon Abram keeping or doing anything at all. God was saying, 'I'm going to bless you. I'm going to make your name great.' And now God is saying, 'I'm giving you a land and it's not a bilateral covenant where you keep your term and I keep my term. It's a unilateral covenant. It's My promise and I'm declaring it.' And so that Abram wouldn't be able to participate in this, he's just exhausted. And God does it all.
It's hard to wait on God. You know it's true. You hate waiting on Him. We all have in our minds a time table when we think, 'This would be the perfect time for God to do something.' And God, you discover, has His own time table and we don't like it. And sometimes He will let it drag on and on and on until we're just so exhausted and then God does something and you go, 'Well, I never could have done that on my own.' That's the lesson you need to learn. Now I worked my way into a corner; I worked my way into a problem with this one. Because if we have a covenant that is an unconditional covenant. Here's the problem: in a few books, when God has promised them and promised them, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the twelve tribes, the land called the land of Israel, God makes another covenant. The covenant of the Law of Moses in which God says, 'If you obey Me, you can stay here. If you disobey Me, I'm kicking you out.' Does one covenant cancel the other covenant? How can you own the land unconditionally but occupy the land conditionally? That's the big problem and I'd love to answer that but it's 8:30 so that was a set-up for next week. We're not able to even finish the chapter except to read the rest of it and just pick up on a few thoughts as we tie in the next chapter.
"On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying: "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 the turn-out-the-lights. All these –ites are there and we'll pick up on this as we get into chapter 16 next time.