Genesis 12, 15, & 17
We have spent the last four weeks talking about the acts of creation in the first few chapters of Genesis. Today we continue our series God’s Story From Beginning to End as we shift from the first of two parts of Genesis. The first part deals with the origins of humanity (creation, sin, judgment, salvation, and religion). Today we begin with the second part that deals with the origins of the nation of Israel beginning with Abraham (A.K.A. Abram) concluding with Joseph.
Today we will begin in chapter 12, but we should know A LOT takes place in chapters 4 through 11… (Cain murders his brother Abel), Noah and the flood (God destroys the world via a flood and makes a covenant to never flood the earth again), and the Tower of Babel (Man tries to reach God in their own abilities). There is also a genealogy tucked in chapter 11 and gives the lineage of Noah’s son Shem and stops at an individual named Abram, the son of Terah, his wife Sarai, and their nephew Lot.
We are told that Abram was born in the city of Ur of the Chaldeans. The results of archaeological investigations demonstrate that Abraham came from a great city, cultured, sophisticated, and powerful. The landscape was dominated by the ziggurat, or temple tower, and the life of the city was controlled by a religion with a multiplicity of gods. The chief deity was Nannar, or Sin, the moon god, who was also worshiped at Haran. Upon leaving Ur of the Chaldeans, they intended to set out for Canaan but ended up settling in Haran.
Genesis 12:1 - 7
Vs 1: The call - Abram was commanded or called by the LORD to leave his country, clan, and family and go to a land that God will show him. Abram was called to leave the familiar and go out to the unfamiliar. God calls Abram out of his comfort zone. From the onset this call doesn’t make much sense. He is calling Abram to leave his elderly father, his family, his possessions, and his heritage. Sometimes God calls us to do things that don’t necessarily make sense. It is good to be reminded, though, that when he does, he has a purpose. He may not reveal the details or his plan up front and we are called to respond in faith. This is what Abram did. It is also good to be reminded that when God calls us to do something that may not make sense at the time it is always for his sake and his glory. He is a good God, He will bless when He calls, but He doesn’t guarantee it will be an easy and smooth transition.
Vs. 2 – 3: The Covenant – God makes a promise to Abram. He says he will make Abram into a great nation (this is key since he has no children, and his wife is barren). From this initial promise God starts to build his covenant people. It is in this moment God establishes with Abram the blessing of making him a great nation that will bless the world. In contrast to the attitude of those in Babel who wanted to make a name for themselves God declares that HE will make Abram’s name great. He will bless (or make famous) Abram and his family. God’s blessing of Abram will be an example to all nations of the divine blessings of the one and true God. The blessings that others will receive will come from how they treat Abram and his family. God will bless those who bless Abram, and he will curse those who dishonor him. God shows favor to Abram. Ultimately in due time the whole world will be blessed because of God’s blessing to Abram.
Why did he choose Abram to be a vessel of blessing to all nations? This is yet another picture of God’s grace. God chose Abram, because in his sovereignty he was going to accomplish great things through him. This promise or covenant had nothing to do with Abram. God did not see spectacular characteristics in Abram that made God come to this conclusion. God calls Abram to leave and makes a promise to Abram that he will bless him and his family. Abram certainly couldn’t fully know what that blessing was since he had no children and really no land. All he had was the promise of God and this was enough
Vs 4 – 5: Obedience - Abram is 75 years old at the time of his calling and sets out as he called. He takes his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all their possessions. They head to the land of Canaan. Abram’s obedience was clearly connected to his faith. Galatians 3:6 – 9 says, “In the same way, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” The real children of Abraham, then, are those who put their faith in God. What’s more, the Scriptures looked forward to this time when God would make the Gentiles right in his sight because of their faith. God proclaimed this good news to Abraham long ago when he said, “All nations will be blessed through you.” So all who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith.”
The response of Abram is key. He did not have to go. He had a choice. He could have pulled a Jonah and went the opposite way. The faith of Abram is great because he had nothing to go on other than God’s promise to bless him and his family.
Vs 7: Meeting with God –The Lord appears to Abram (theophany) and re-iterates the promise to give the land to Abram’s offspring. It is here that Abram builds an altar of worship and most likely offers a sacrifice to the Lord. Both building an altar and offering sacrifice were expressions of faith in the promise and were integral to the worship of God.
Genesis 15:1 - 18
Vs 1 - 3: God reaffirms his promise to Abram and says, “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.” Abram responds by acknowledging God’s sovereignty. Abram replies and acknowledges “O sovereign Lord…” He declares God to be sovereign and acknowledges He has made a promise to Abram, but he still has no children and he has no land. He was essentially a childless wanderer. It should be noted that in the ancient world childlessness was an absolute tragedy because there was no heir to the family, there was no one to look after the parents in old age and no way to preserve and continue the lineage of the name. It almost seems as though Abram is ungrateful for all God has done for him because God has given him victories, possessions and the promise of blessing and still complains to God because he doesn’t have any children.
In his complaint he says the only one who can rightfully claim to his inheritance is one named Eliezer of Damascus. It is believed Eliezer was a servant from Damascus. So what Abram is saying is that if he has no children then he would eventually have to adopt Eliezer as his son so he may be the rightful heir.
Vs 4 - 6: God tells Abram that Eliezer is not the intended heir, and Abram will indeed father a son from his own loins, he will be a son that is his own flesh and blood. God restates the promise he made to Abram (later to be known as Abraham); this promise was God giving Abraham a son through his wife Sara (naturally) and one day he (Abraham) would be known by all as the Father of a great nation (Israel). God proclaims that his ancestors would be as many as the stars in the sky. Abraham had no idea how God was going to accomplish his promise because at the time He made the promise Abraham was in his mid-eighties and he had no natural son with his wife Sara. He then tells Abram to go outside and shows him his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky. This is a symbolic way of saying that his descendants will be many and countless.
Abraham believed and God counted it to him as righteousness. According to theologian and author Gordon Wenham, “righteousness might well be paraphrased as God-like, or at least God-pleasing, action.” The righteous were not condemned but acquitted (this thankfully applies to us today… However Jesus is our righteousness). Abram’s faith saved him. He believed God was trustworthy and his faith was a God pleasing action.
Vs 8 - 11: Abram asks God for a sign to show that He will keep his promise. Sometimes this can be read that Abram lacked faith, but nowhere does the author suggest he did, in fact this was a common response and Scripture doesn’t seem to condemn individuals for wanting to be reassured by God. Gideon asked for a fleece, Moses asked for a sign, and Thomas demanded to see the nail prints in Jesus’ hands and feet. God commands Abram to bring a three-year-old heifer, a female goat, a ram, a turtle dove and a pigeon. These were all acceptable offerings to God. Abram cuts the heifer, goat and ram in half but does not cut the birds. He separated the halves and set them opposite each other.
Vs 12 – 16: “Abram fell into a deep sleep and a terrifying darkness came down over him.” He was in the presence of God Almighty and this was an awe inspiring and frightening thing.
The Lord speaks a prophecy of Abram’s ancestor’s exile to Egypt. They will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years and they will be slaves and sojourners (Egypt and desert). God will protect them during this time and he will punish the nation that oppresses them. His ancestors will leave the country with many possessions. As for Abraham he will have passed from life to death when this happens. It will be a future event but for now Abram will live a good long life.
Vs 17 - 18: In the evening the Lord makes a covenant with Abram. “A smoking firepot and flaming torch” represent or signifies the presence of the Lord passing through the halves of the animals. We must note that this was a one-sided covenant. Traditionally It was typical for both parties involved in a covenant to pass between the offerings signifying they will keep their end of the deal. Wenham writes, “This act is then interpreted as an enacted curse. “May God make me like this animal, if I do not fulfill the demands of the covenant.” In Genesis, of course, it is God himself who walks between the pieces, and it is suggested that here God is invoking the curse on himself, if he fails to fulfill the promise.” The cut pieces of the animals could symbolize the nation of Israel and God passing through them could show that He would be with his people.
The covenant is a promise made by God alone. It is one sided which means He will do what He has promised. He tells Abram that his offspring will possess the land the from the river of Egypt (many believe this to be the eastern branch of the Nile) to the river Euphrates.
Genesis 17:1 - 7
Vs 1 - 3: Abram is 99 years old. We are reminded that nothing is impossible with God… even at the ripe old age of 99 God is still going to keep his promise of a child to Abram no matter the circumstances.
The Lord appears to Abram. In this encounter we see a sequence of events.
Vs 4 – 5: God’s covenant with Abram includes a name change. Abram means “exalted father”, but his new name Abraham means “father of multitudes.” Names in the Bible have significance. In ancient biblical times a name expresses the character or the perceived parental destiny of a child. Children are always named at birth and rarely would someone have a name change mid-life and even more rare to change a name at this late stage of life. Thus, this name change is more than a hopeful destiny of Abraham. His name change is a divine guarantee of Abraham’s future. The name change was not made by his human parents but by the divine Father. God says, “Your parents named you ‘exalted father’ but I am renaming you ‘Father of multitudes.’” His name change serves as a reminder of God’s covenant. Every time Abraham spoke or heard his name, He would be reminded of the promise of God to make him the Father of a multitude of people.
Vs 6 - 7: “I will make you extremely fruitful…” Notice this is a divine act. God will make him fruitful. The child and descendants to follow will not be accomplished by natural means. Abraham will have a child and many descendants to follow, and it will happen supernaturally. “Abraham will be given divine power to achieve this fertility…” God will make him fruitful. God will intervene. God will make Kings come from Abraham. We continually see that it is God who is going to make all this happen. This is a great reminder and example for me and for us. Healthy growth in one’s life and multiplication (in nations, families, and churches) come from God. God declares the covenant will be extended to Abraham’s descendants (Israel). The covenant is eternal; it will never expire resulting in God being their God throughout the generations and for all eternity.
In conclusion, I would be remiss if I failed to parallel God’s covenant with Israel to His covenant with us through Jesus Christ. When Jesus partook in the last supper with his disciples, he declared a new covenant has been established by his blood (i.e., Matt. 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25). This is a promise you and I can firmly hold on to. Through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary the work of God is now finished. Jesus has become the perfect sacrifice thus becoming our righteousness. We are not declared righteous by any act we perform but we are declared righteous based upon the finished work of Jesus Christ. Abraham believed God in faith and this was accounted to him as righteousness, thus our faith in Jesus Christ accounts for our righteousness as well.
Jeff has been in full-time ministry for thirty years. He currently serves as Executive Director at Anchor House Ministry at SeaPort Manatee in Palmetto, FL and he is a part-time Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Southside in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored A Lent Devotional (A Spiritual Journey to Lent) an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). All three are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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