Summary: God made a contract with us, and we had no role in it, except to receive the benefits. It is a covenant of grace. A Palm sunday sermon.
Abram had just won a great victory. His nephew, Lot, had been taken captive, along with his entire family, servants and goods, by four kings and their armies; and with 318 men, Abram had chased them down, defeated them, and brought back the hostages.
Then in a separate victory of sorts, Abram had refused to compromise with the king of Sodom, refusing to accept any material thing from him, and had turned and worshiped the Most High God in giving tithes to Melchizedek.
As we come to chapter 15, we find Abram in a fugue. It’s not uncommon. Any police officer, any soldier who has been in battle, anyone in competition sports will tell you that the day following a great victory over an enemy or an opponent will often be marked with a sense of depression. It’s the downer after an adrenaline rush.
Elijah experienced this after his victory over the priests of Baal on Carmel. He hid in a cave and felt sorry for himself.
So here, at the opening of chapter 15 of Genesis, we find God graciously offering words of encouragement to Abram.
Now we can’t be critical of Abram. He’s 500 miles away from home, having followed God’s leading to come to where he is. He is old, he has no children; no proper heir to inherit his wealth. He has just made himself an enemy of every political force in the region, and even though he saved Lot and his entire family, Lot has apparently moved right back into Sodom, as is made evident in chapter 19.
So Abram has a right to be a little discouraged. But friends, we can take great encouragement from the opening verses of this chapter today, as we realize that it is not our present circumstances that gauge the success of our life. It is whether we are making Godly choices as we go, and honoring Him with faith and obedience.
Because to the faithful and obedient child, His promise is the same as to Abram that night. “I am a shield to you. Your reward shall be very great”.
Now another symptom of Abram’s depression is evident here, we know, because in response to God’s words of encouragement Abram bemoans the fact that he has no heir.
God has already promised in chapter 13 that Abram’s descendants would inherit the land God had brought him to, and Abram had demonstrated his belief by building an altar there to the Lord.
So he is not expressing doubt here. He is seeking encouragement. So his Lord gives him encouragement. And here I’d like to quote C. H. MacKintosh:
“Here, the God of resurrection is presented ‘to us also’ as the object of faith and our faith in Him as the alone ground of our righteousness. If Abraham had looked up into heaven’s vault, spangled with innumerable stars, and then looked at ‘his own body now dead’, how could he ever grasp the idea of a seed as numerous as those stars? Impossible. But he did not look at his own body, but at the resurrection power of God; and inasmuch as that was the power which was to produce the seed, we can easily see that the stars of heaven and the sand on the sea-shore are but feeble figures indeed; for what natural object could possibly illustrate the effect of that power which can raise the dead?” Notes on Genesis - C.H. MacKintosh, Revell 1850, reprinted 1951
This brings us to our primary area of focus today. God has promised, Abram has believed, and as we’re told both here and in the fourth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans, he has been declared right with God by his faith.
Now Abram asks a question in verse 8 in our text that on the surface could be seen as an expression of doubt. But not in the context of the culture of Abram’s day. He’s simply being a shrewd businessman, and he is asking for a contract. A covenant. Not because he believes God will change His mind at some later date, but so that Abram, as he waits, in his weaker moments, will have something to hold on to.
Something to look at or remember and encourage himself that the promise is true, even though it tarries.
Believer in Christ, by His own glory and excellence, “…He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises…” II Peter 1:4
And so that we might not lose hope, but be encouraged to hold on and wait patiently for them, He has made a covenant with us also. That is what we will see typified in these following verses today.
Let’s read these verses to have them fresh in our minds. (9,10)
“So He said to him, ‘Bring Me a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.’ Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, and laid each half opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds.”