Leaving Stuff Behind to Cross to a New Place (Genesis 12, Exodus 19)

It can be difficult to leave things behind and start out on a new venture of faith. We all like comfort. We appreciate security. I recall the difficulty of leaving the beautiful house we built literally with our own hands in New Jersey in order to answer a call to move to Maryland in 1994. I could look out the window and see the school I went to as a child. Our four little kids had never known any other place. My elderly parents were less than a mile away. Lots of security! But I could still call them on the phone at any time, and it was only a three-hour journey to visit them. I could build another house, and there were lots of new people to meet.

A fellow named Abram was called by God about 4,000 years ago to leave everything and go to some unknown place that God said He would eventually show him. Just pack up Abram and do it! He was to leave his country and all the material successes he had accumulated. The command also was to leave his father’s house – surely meaning to disconnect from some security there. Yet that also meant to put behind idols and man-made deities, as Joshua much later spoke …

And Joshua said to all the people, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, “From ancient times your fathers lived beyond the River, namely, Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, and they served other gods”’ (Joshua 24:2)

Abraham responded in faith (though not initially, as the original call came when in Ur, not when in Haran – see Acts 7:2). But Abraham is ultimately commended for the faith he exhibited to get up at age 75 and follow God’s directive …

Hebrews 11:8-9 – By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.

But our point today and in this portion of our study is to look at what God was doing. There is nothing apparently special about Abram that commended him uniquely to God to be selected for this task. Perhaps there were some personality traits that would enhance his obedience, but even those abilities we would have to also see as the gift of God. Like Paul on the road to Damascus, it was the initiation of God that is the foundation of all the blessing to follow.

Here again we see the grace of God in the Old Testament and His heart to reach out to all of the world.

God chose to work specifically through one man and his family to bring about God’s great plan of redemption of mankind. And at the time of Abram’s calling, God made a covenant with him that involved promises that were personal, national, and universal…

Genesis 12:1-3 – The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.  “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

This is what we call The Abrahamic Covenant. And it was more than just a blessing on one man and his family, and more than the choosing of one nation. The biggest component was the final, universal promise for all the peoples on the earth. Of course this blessing would be the coming of Christ as the redeemer, and it is worked out over time through the selection of the tribe of Judah and the lineage of David.

God kept a focus on this throughout the Old Testament scriptures. If it was up to the Jewish nation to recall or consider how they were a blessing in any way to the rest of the world, it would have been forgotten. And this leads to a next point that demonstrates the forever heart of God for the world.

The nation of Israel was to live essentially as a missionary nation of priests (intermediaries) between God and the rest of the world. God had chosen Israel as His special people through whom to work, but they were to be His instruments of blessing to the rest of the world … not to just hold onto their faith for merely themselves …

Exodus 19:1-8 – On the first day of the third month after the Israelites left Egypt—on that very day—they came to the Desert of Sinai. 2 After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain.

3 Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: 4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”

7 So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the Lord had commanded him to speak. 8 The people all responded together, “We will do everything the Lord has said.” So Moses brought their answer back to the Lord.

Israel was to be a missionary nation. As they trusted in the Lord, and as other nations saw that there was no God like Jehovah, other peoples might desire to come and to know and follow the one true God. But Israel never really did much of anything of this sort. They clung to their God without testifying, and actually they were more likely to adopt heathen practices of idols and high places than they were to be missionary peoples.

So we don’t want to be like that. We want to be like Abraham and step out in faith. We should want to be willing to cross tracks and divides of all sorts – to be united with other diverse people who share our common faith, and to reach out near and far to the varied peoples of this world that they might come to know the one true God. This is God’s heart and passion, and we should adopt it as well.

Here is a picture Amy Hunt drew in church on Sunday. She takes notes weekly by listening and sketching the big idea in an artistic way – showing here the heart of God for the world.

In another note, this today is the 1,000th devotional post since we began doing these writings in 2013. You’ve read all of them, right? Remember that you can always search this page by Scripture reference or title and see what Chris and/or I wrote about it. We’ve commented on about one-half of all Bible passages in these posts.

Advertisements

Wait for it, Wait for it – Genesis 15:1-21

I don’t like waiting for things, and I don’t like making people wait for anything either. A period of waiting causes one to doubt whether something is really going to happen or not. Like, I’m still waiting for that Baltimore Orioles scout who saw me pitch four shutout innings against Rutgers 41 years ago to give me a call like he promised. I’m beginning to doubt if it’s ever going to happen, and I’m fearing I might have lost a few miles per hour on my fastball.

This week we are going to talk about someone who did a lot of waiting, and about a God who is not opposed to making his people wait. Our focus is upon Abraham as illustrative of the theme of declared or imputed righteousness.

To understand our primary passage of focus in Romans 4, we need to recall the background story of the man who is often seen as the ultimate paragon of faith — Abram, or as he was to be known, Abraham.

On most fronts, Abram’s life was going pretty well in Ur and Harran where he lived with varied extended family. There were no children for he and Sarah, but the rest of life was marked by success in material things and the accoutrements of life. We don’t know much of the nature of his faith prior to God’s selection of him, though we know he came from an idolatrous family. He may well have been that himself early in life, but God called him and continued to call him. And God’s calling is generally not much oriented to what a person offers, but is rather according to God’s pleasure in choosing whom he is going to use. It’s a grace thing for sure.

Abram was called (actually first at an earlier time when living in Ur), and the record tells us that he acknowledged God and obeyed, even though it meant a change from everything he knew as familiar.

Genesis 12:1 — The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

2 “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.

3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. 5 He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.

This 12th chapter of Genesis gives us what we speak of as the Abrahamic Covenant. God made three promises: that Abram’s name would be great, that he would make a great nation of him, and that all the earth would be blessed through him.

Cool!  So, you would think that at ages 75 and 65 (Sarah) that God would get right to work on that building a family thing, right? No time to lose, that’s for sure! But then another 11 years go by, and no family. Now we are in Genesis 15 …

15:1 — After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.”

2 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

7 He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

With no children, the custom of the day would be for the primary household servant to gain the estate as his own, in this case a guy named Eleazer. Here is an example where the original language in Hebrew throws in a play on words that has a ring of humor to it. The words for “household servant” and “son-heir” sound much alike and rhyme. It would be like saying, “this hired dude I’m paying now is going to be the retired dude who is paid ALL my stuff when I’m gone.”

But God said that this would not be so, rather it would be someone of his own posterity. Man, if it took extra faith 11 years earlier, it took 11 more years of faith to believe it now. But Abraham in verse six did believe, and it was put to his credit as righteousness — the “stuff” that is needed to be eternally in right relationship with God.

But Abram still heard no babies crying. He was wandering around with his sheep as a nomad, living in tents, with God telling him that he was going to inherit all of the land around him. So you can understand why, even while believing, Abraham would request an affirmation of his faith.

8 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

9 So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”

The act of cutting sacrifices into pieces and halving them was a means of verifying a covenant. Those making the promise would walk between the pieces of the carcasses, symbolizing that if they broke the covenant, they would end up like the chopped-up beasts. They were essentially saying that they were staking their lives, their everything, to the oath being made. And the torch of fire passing through was God giving his word to Abram.

The other details had to have been a mixed bag of blessing for Abram. Great things were going to happen, but he himself was not going to life to see most of it. God’s plans would not find fulfillment for generations … for centuries. And in terms of the universal promises that Christ would fulfill, it would be millennia; and honestly, that continues to today in the ongoing building of the church and Christ’s kingdom.

Yes, the life of faith has a lot of waiting. And the fact is that not everything about God’s promise to any of his people is ever fulfilled fully on this earth. God’s plans and God’s program are so much bigger, and to be a part of it at all is a greatest of blessings for us.

And the way that we are a part of it is by grace through faith. It was true for Abraham, for Moses, for David, for Peter and Paul, and for all of us today. Our faith is in the merit of a reality beyond this world, but by believing and trusting in it, that merit is applied to our spiritual account.

Father Abraham Had Many Sons (Genesis 12 + 15)

We wrote yesterday of the generations that stretched from Adam to Noah and eventually to Abram. And as Chris wrote on Monday, Matthew’s gospel delineated the generations from Abraham to Christ – demonstrating the Jewish rights of Christ through the tribe of Judah.

Today we look at this pivotal character of Abram – later named Abraham. In chapter 12 of Genesis we read of a promise of God to him that is called the Abrahamic Covenant. It is repeated in the second chapter we look at today – chapter 15 of Genesis.

God’s story of redemption will now be defined through his work in the life and lineage of one family—the family of Abraham, known soon as “Israel” through the descendants of his grandson Jacob.

The Lord’s Covenant with Abram in Genesis 12

12:1 – The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

2 “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. 5 He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.

6 Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.

8 From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.

9 Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.

The Lord’s Covenant with Abram in Genesis 15

15:1 – After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.”

2 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?”3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

7 He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

8 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

9 So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”

The Abrahamic Covenant had three primary promises:

  1. That Abraham’s name would be great. And indeed it is, as he is revered by the Jews, the Arab peoples, etc.
  2. That he would make a great nation from Abraham. Yes it did happen, and it continues to this day. His descendants have been as innumerable as the stars visible in the sky.
  3. That all the earth would be blessed through him and his descendants. And this is what has special interest to us, for it speaks ultimately of the coming of Jesus Christ and his work of redemption on behalf of the world.

So there is a physical family of Abraham, but also a spiritual family as well – those who are redeemed by the work of Christ. And that spiritual family consists of all of those who are God’s people from both before the time of Jesus and down to the present day. All salvation is based upon the price paid by Christ on the cross.

So indeed, Father Abraham had many sons; many sons had Father Abraham. And I am one of them and so are you … if you base your hope and trust in the payment of redemption (which is what the word means – to loose by paying a price). We are the fruits of redemption … the roots of which go back to Abraham, and even to the determination of God in the Garden of Eden to choose to save his lost creation.

Romans chapter 4 ties it all together…

16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. 17 As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.