Learning to walk is certainly not an easy task. We probably don’t remember our own first steps as we learned to walk for the first time, but many of us have witnessed the great tumbles and falls as we’ve watched our own children try to take their first steps. It can be a bit painful to watch sometimes to see them fail, but at the same time its so exciting when they get it right! There’s always cheers and celebrations as your babies take those first steps. It’s such a milestone in their lives – being able to walk changes everything – life will never be the same again!
I think the same could be said about learning to walk with God. Certainly, we all have our share of stumbles and falls as we try to keep in step with God – learning to trust Him and to walk in his ways. We’ve experienced the bumps and bruises when we fail to trust and to follow God like we should. But most of us have also experienced the thrill of those first successful steps. Certainly, as a church we celebrate when people take those first steps of faith – because their lives will never be the same again! Learning to walk with God changes everything!
And so that’s why, for the past several weeks, every Sunday morning we’ve been learning to walk. Not physically of course, but learning to walk with God. We’ve been taking a look at the example of Abram as he learned to walk with God some 4000 years ago. And it seems that the process of learning to walk with God hasn’t changed all that much over the years.
There is so much in Abram’s life that we can relate to today – and I think that will be all the more evident as we look at our passage this morning.
Today we’re going to pick up our story of Abram in Genesis chapter 15. Now if you missed last week’s message, let me give you a quick recap. Last Sunday Greg told us about this great battle between 9 different kings – which included the King of Sodom. Now of course, Sodom (you’ll remember) was the city where Abram’s nephew Lot lived. Well, long story short – the King of Sodom lost the battle and as a result, all the people and goods of Sodom were carried away – including Lot and his family.
When Abram heard about this, he rallied his allies and chased after the army that had carried Lot away, defeated them, and recovered all that had been taken.
After winning the victory, Abram was on his way back when he was met by this guy named Melchizedek – the King of Salem and a priest of God most High. He shows up and he blesses Abram. And Abram in return, gives Melchizedek one tenth of all he owned.
And this interaction between Abram and Melchizedek is all kinda strange because as far as story goes, Melchizedek wasn’t even involved in any of these battles – this is the first time he’s ever mentioned, so what’s he got to do with any of this this? And why is Abram giving him 10% of his stuff?
And then as a further twist to the story, the King of Sodom – who was directly involved – tries to give Abram all the goods that Abram had recovered, but Abram won’t accept any of it – He doesn’t want to become rich at the hand of the King of Sodom.
So instead of receiving payment or reward for his heroic rescue, Abram instead gives 10% of all his stuff to this guy Melchizedek who doesn’t even seem to be involved… So it’s all a little unusual and mysterious – but the bottom line at the end of the story is that God is pleased with Abram – and Abram is determined to walk with God.
And so that brings us now to chapter 15 – and we’re going to start at verse 1. Let’s read it together:
Some time later, the Lord spoke to Abram in a vision and said to him, “Do not be afraid, Abram, for I will protect you, and your reward will be great.” Genesis 15:1
Now the Bible doesn’t specify exactly why God is bringing this encouragement to Abram, but it would seem that God is reassuring Abram in the light of the events that just happened. Perhaps Abram is worried that, even though he defeated those kings and rescued Lot, who’s to say they won’t regroup, call in some reinforcements and come after Abram again? That’s a legitimate concern so perhaps Abram’s a little fearful about that, and so perhaps this is why God speaks to Abram in this vision and tells him not to be afraid because God will protect him.
Furthermore, God also tells Abram that his reward would be very great. Perhaps God says that because Abram didn’t accept any of the spoils of war from the King of Sodom. Abram actually took a loss to honour God by giving the King of Salem (the priest of God) 10% of all he owned. And so maybe God is honouring Abram because of that – by promising him that his reward would be great!
Now of course, that’s all a little bit of speculation. I think those are some logical assumptions, but we’re not really given the details of why exactly God showed up when he did and why he said what he said to Abram. But what I find interesting is Abram’s response to God. Look at verse 2.
2 But Abram replied, “O Sovereign Lord, what good are all your blessings when I don’t even have a son? Since you’ve given me no children, Eliezer of Damascus, a servant in my household, will inherit all my wealth. 3 You have given me no descendants of my own, so one of my servants will be my heir.” Genesis 15:2-3
It’s interesting to see in Abram’s response that safety and protection and this great reward didn’t seem to be the thing that Abram was most concerned about. Abram’s biggest concern was that he still didn’t have a son.
And you can understand why. All of God’s previous promises to Abram – that he would be a great nation, that he would inherit the Promised Land, that all people on earth would be blessed through Him – all of those promises hinged on Abram actually having off-spring that would continue his family line. But so far, Abram was still childless.
And he kinda comes across as being pretty discouraged about this, doesn’t he? It’s like he’s frustrated and maybe even angry at God. He says…
“O Sovereign Lord, what good are all your blessings when I don’t even have a son? Since you’ve given me no children, Eliezer of Damascus, a servant in my household, will inherit all my wealth. You have given me no descendants of my own, so one of my servants will be my heir.”
There’s almost an accusatory tone to his words. Twice he says to God “You have given me no children – You’ve given me no descendants of my own.”
It was the one thing that Abram wanted more than anything – and God had still not yet given any children to him. Abram was probably about 80 years old by now and God still hadn’t come through on his promise of a son. You can certainly see how Abram may have been discouraged. How he could have begun to doubt God. Was God going to keep his promise or not?
And maybe some of us can relate. Maybe you’ve been waiting for a long time for that one thing – and God hasn’t come through yet. Maybe it’s that job you’ve wanted, maybe it’s to have that special someone in your life, maybe it’s an opportunity or a breakthrough of some kind, maybe you’ve been waiting for God to change someone’s heart – whatever that one thing is, but so far, God hasn’t come through.
In those situations, it’s easy to become discourage. To become frustrated. Even to get angry at God. After all, we know it’s within His power to do something about it – so why hasn’t he done it already!?
We can probably relate the frustration that Abram felt. But look what God says in response to Abram. verse 4
4 Then the Lord said to him, “No, your servant will not be your heir, for you will have a son of your own who will be your heir.” 5 Then the Lord took Abram outside and said to him, “Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!” Genesis 15:4-5
And I love that God didn’t chew Abram out for his little outburst. He didn’t belittle him for having doubts or for being frustrated. And of course, at the same time, He also didn’t explain why He had not yet given Abram a son either.
Instead, God simply reaffirmed his promises. He said to Abram “You will have a son of your own – and your descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky.”
He didn’t say how. He didn’t say when. He didn’t explain the delay. He just reaffirmed his promise.
And that’s probably a good strategy for us too, as we struggle with discouragement or doubt or even being angry at God. We can look to the Word of God for reaffirmation of His promises. Now we may not have specific personal promises from God like a guarantee of children or inheriting a certain land like God’s promises to Abram, but there are all kinds of promises in the Bible that do apply directly to us. We have all kinds of guarantees.
One of my favourites is Romans 8:28.
28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
When things don’t seem to be going the way I think they should be going, I find this is a great reminder to me that God has got everything under control and that he can take even the worst circumstances and flip them around for good.
Another promise I often take to the bank is Matthew 6:31-33.
31 “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. Matthew 6:31-33
God has promised to take good care of us. Now of course, this is a conditional promise – I have to do my part – which is simply pursuing God and living how he wants me to live – but if I do that, God has promised that He’s going to take care of all my needs. That’s a good promise!
Let me give you one more. Romans 8:35…
35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35-39
That’s pretty awesome stuff! Those are fantastic promises! And those are just three of my favourites – there’s all kinds of other promises that God has guaranteed for us. And so I would encourage you, if you’re feeling frustrated or discouraged, or even if you’re angry at God – open up your Bible and read through some of these promises.
God may not explain how he’s going to do it. He may not explain when he’s going to do it. He may not explain why he hasn’t done it already. But God will always keep his promises.
Even for an old guy like Abram. 80 years old and still no children – but God promised him a son and as incredible as it seemed, Abram believed God. Verse 6 says…
And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith. Genesis 15:6
This is actually one of the key verses of the entire Old Testament. This is the foundational principle of Christianity. Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith.
Sometimes we think of a righteous person as someone who does righteous things – someone who does what is right. But that’s not completely what righteous means. To be righteous means to be right with God.
Doing right things doesn’t make us right with God. In fact, there’s a verse in Isaiah 64 that says:
We are all infected and impure with sin.
When we display our righteous deeds,
they are nothing but filthy rags. Isaiah 64:6
What this verse is saying is that if we are trying to be right with God by doing right things, it’s never going to happen. Our sin taints even our best good deeds. It soils them like filthy rags. There are no good things we can do to be made right with God. We can only be right with God by putting our faith in Him – by believing and trusting Him just like how Abram believed and trusted God. Romans 10:9 makes this very clear:
9 If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved. Romans 10:9-10
So like Abram, we can only be made right with God through faith. The righteous things we do will never accomplish that for us.
Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith.
And that takes us to the second part of Abram’s conversation with God in this chapter. After God reaffirmed his promises to Abram, and Abram believed that God would do as he said, the conversation continues in verse 7.
7 Then the Lord told him, “I am the Lord who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as your possession.”
8 But Abram replied, “O Sovereign Lord, how can I be sure that I will actually possess it?”
It’s interesting to see here that even though Abram believed God, he still wanted to have some confirmation. He wanted some kind of sign or some evidence or something – some way to know for sure that God’s promises would come true. And I don’t think his faith hinged on that evidence, but a little evidence would go a long way towards giving Abram that inner assurance. And so God, in his kindness, offered Abram that assurance. Verse 9
9 The Lord told 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.” 10 So Abram presented all these to him and killed them. Then he cut each animal down the middle and laid the halves side by side; he did not, however, cut the birds in half. 11 Some vultures swooped down to eat the carcasses, but Abram chased them away. Genesis 15:9-11
Now I’ll pause here because this is sounding kinda strange to us. How is this assuring in any way to Abram? What’s up with all the animals cut in half and laid out side by side?
Well, what’s going on here is the equivalent of signing a legal contract today. Today we confirm our promises with lawyers and witnesses and signatures on paper. By signing those contracts, we are saying that we are willing to be taken to court or financially penalized if we do not follow through on our part of the deal.
Well back then, people confirmed their agreements with this ritual involving these dead animals. They would kill and cut these animals in half and place the halves oppose each other. Then the two parties would walk through the middle between the halves – saying in essence, “If I do not hold up my end of the bargain, then may I share the same fate of these animals. If I break my promise, then may what happened to these animals, happen to me.” That was the idea here.
So God told Abram to get things ready for this ritual. God was going to “sign the contract” so to speak. And that’s what Abram did. He killed and cut the animals in half, laid them out and waited for God to show up. God apparently took a little while because Abram had to chase away the vultures that came while he was waiting. But then we read in verse 12.
12 As the sun was going down, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a terrifying darkness came down over him. 13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. 14 But I will punish the nation that enslaves them, and in the end they will come away with great wealth. 15 (As for you, you will die in peace and be buried at a ripe old age.) 16 After four generations your descendants will return here to this land, for the sins of the Amorites do not yet warrant their destruction.”
So there’s lots of interesting little tidbits in there that we could talk about, but here’s the first part of that assurance that Abram was looking for. God revealed to Abram exactly what would happen to his ancestors. They would become slaves in a foreign land for 400 years, but eventually they would come out with great wealth and would return to the Promised Land. And of course, this is exactly what we read later on in Exodus as Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt with all the Egyptian’s wealth after 400 of slavery. But that’s not the only sign God gave Abram. Continue reading in verse 17.
17 After the sun went down and darkness fell, Abram saw a smoking firepot and a flaming torch pass between the halves of the carcasses. 18 So the Lord made a covenant with Abram that day and said, “I have given this land to your descendants, all the way from the border of Egypt to the great Euphrates River— 19 the land now occupied by the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites.” Genesis 15:17-20
And again, I know I’m skipping some of the interesting tidbits, but I just want to point out one really important part of this passage. Notice how Abram saw a smoking fire pot and flaming torch pass between the halves of the carcasses. Without diving too deeply into the symbolism of these items, it’s pretty clear that they represent God Himself. God’s presence is often seen throughout the Bible as fire – think of the burning bush that spoke to Moses or the pillar of fire that led the Israelites through the wilderness. We often see God represented by fire.
So it’s God Himself who is passing between the halves of these animals. God is saying, may I become like one of these animals if I do not fulfill my promise to you, Abram. God is putting his own life on the line – as it were – as a guarantee. That’s a pretty strong promise!
When we try to make a really strong promise, we might “swear on our mother’s grave” or we might “cross our heart and hope to die” – but God is making the ultimate guarantee right here. This promise is as sure as his own existence.
And what makes this promise even better, is that God was the only one who signed this contract. He was the only one who passed between the halves. Abram never did. It was a one-sided promise. God was going to take on all the obligations and all the responsibilities to make this happen. What Abram did or didn’t do was not a factor in whether or not God would carry out his responsibilities. God’s would keep his promise and Abram’s actions (whether good or bad) were irrelevant.
And that is such picture of the Gospel. When it comes to the promise of Salvation, Jesus has done it all. It was Jesus who lived a sinless life. It was Jesus who took our sin. It was Jesus who paid our penalty when he died on the cross. It was Jesus who rose to life again. We didn’t have anything to do with it. Our good deeds didn’t cause it and our bad deeds don’t cancel it. Our part is only to believe it and accept it. Salvation is a one-sided promise that we receive simply by faith.
And God’s promise to us is also guaranteed – again by the presence of God Himself – again symbolized by fire. You’ll remember that on the day of Pentecost, God sent His Holy Spirit to indwell every believer – and this was symbolized by tongues of fire that appeared and settled on each one. Well, Ephesians 1:13 says…
When you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. 14 The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him. Ephesians 1:13b-14
The Holy Spirit, God’s own presence within each one of us, is the guarantee of our Salvation. He is the assurance of our Hope – the Hope of eternal life with our Saviour.
I am so thankful for God’s one-sided promise. I am so glad that I don’t have to do x-number of righteous things to be made right with God. Jesus did it all – and I just have to believe and accept it. And even better, I never have to doubt that I truly am saved. I never have to doubt God’s promise of eternal life with him because I have the guarantee of the Holy Spirit living within me. His presence assures me that nothing will ever separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.