"Cutting" the Abrahamic Covenant. Genesis 15:7-20
We know that the only source real dependency and day to day stability is the Lord Jesus Christ, that God is the same today, yesterday and forever. So that the solution to our fear in all the problems that we face is in the character of God. This is what we see when we come to Genesis 15:7, "And he said unto him, I am the LORD that brought you out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give you this land to inherit it." The first point that the Lord is making is a reference to His own character. Remember that in this chapter we have an ongoing dialogue between God and Abraham. But what under girds this conversation are two doctrines. The first is that man is oriented to fear apart from God, and the second is that God is faithful and dependable, and when man trusts God there is stability in the life.
What the Scripture shows is that doctrine is important, that imputation, the crediting of Christ's righteousness to the believer, is the ultimate foundation for all stability in life because that is where our salvation begins. That was the starting point of stability for Abraham, Genesis 15:6. The verb that is used in that verse, "he [had] believed in the Lord," is from the Hebrew verb aman, and it has as its root the idea of that which is steadfast or stable, putting focus on that which is unshakeable. And so we have this idea of faith. Faith isn't this wishy-washy kind of thing that modern man claims it is, that after you get past all empirical knowledge and all human reason and just you can't have any certainty, then you just sort of make this existential leap of faith, and so faith isn't really knowledge. Human viewpoint systems always juxtapose faith to knowledge. But the Bible doesn't, the Bible sees faith as another form of knowledge, it is the evidence of things not seen, the assurance of things hoped for. It is as sure and certain as anything we might see, but because the source is God we know that we have a certainty that goes beyond even the knowledge to be gained from empiricism. Doctrine really matters, it really makes a difference in life, but we have to learn how to think it through. So that when we go through life and get hit with these things that blind-side us and suddenly we are aware of the uncertainties and vagaries of life in ways that we haven't been before, and all of a sudden we realize how tenuous things really are, we have to have the mental discipline to go back to the Word and say, Okay what is my starting point? The starting point, first of all, is God and His character. That is what God is saying to Abraham in verse 7, "I am Yahweh, who brought you up out of Ur of the Chaldees." He reminds Abraham of how he has trusted Him in the past. It is not just this sort of empty faith in faith, it is not just believe me in a vacuum. It is, See, I have a track record, Abraham; I am the God you trusted when you left Ur of the Chaldees and went to Haran. I am the God who continued to provide for you. All of the other things in Abraham's life that have transpired since then have been overseen by God. There is a promise there related to possession. God brought Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees for a purpose and He is going to accomplish His purpose. The same thing is true for us, that God has saved us to accomplish a purpose.
So when we think about fear we should recognize, first of all, that the solution for all fear is the begin with the character of God. We need to just work our way through the essence of God—His sovereignty, righteousness, justice, eternal love, etc. When we think about the fact that God is eternal and our problems are temporal, then our problems begin to shrink in size. When we think about omniscience we realize that God knew about all of these problems from eternity past. We know that God is omnip[resent, so we know that He is just as much present with us today in the midst of a crisis as he was yesterday when everything was going well. God is omnipotent, which means He is more powerful than any problem I can face. So the next time we hit something that is a crisis and feel that sin nature want to shift into the fear mode and the panic mode, the place to start is a focus on the character of God. Read the Psalms sometimes. It is amazing how many times when we read the Psalms David starts off with what theologians call a lament, he is focusing on his problem. That's where we all are, we start off focusing on that problem, that self-absorption, the problem is bigger than us, woe is me, etc. Then as David presents the issue before God he begins to talk about God as his rock, his fortress, God has the one who has worked in his behalf in certain situations in the past. And as you go through the psalm you can see David's attitude shift as he moves his focus from the problems to the God who is greater than the problems.
We have to recognize that Jesus Christ controls history. We have seen this in Hebrews 1:2, He is the one who made the ages. This is indicated by the purpose clause that God brought Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees to give him the land to inherit it. That is future tense. Abraham never possessed the land in his lifetime. The writer of Hebrews refers to that in Hebrews chapter eleven because Abraham constantly looked forward to that city that was built without hands. He never got there in his life so he knew eventually there would be a resurrection and he would eventually possess it. But we can only have that level of certainty when we recognize that Jesus Christ controls history, but He also superintends the circumstances of our lives as individuals. God has this remarkable way of bringing circumstances to bear in our lives that put the pressure right on that sin nature arrogance that easily besets us. God has that ability to bring to bear in our lives just the right circumstances, problems and tests that are specifically designed to challenge our sin nature in its area of operation where we are most likely to succumb to sin, because He is trying to teach us at that point to trust in Him and not to rely on our comfortable sin nature reactions.
Just as God brought Abraham out of Ur for a purpose, God saved each of us for a purpose. He has a purpose of bringing us into conformity with the image of Christ, so there is a design behind the apparent chaos of our lives at times: that no matter what happens, no matter how unplanned things may be, we know that Jesus Christ is in control.
We also know that there will be times of testing, times of adversity, times of hardship. We can count on it. Nevertheless, God is in control. No matter how chaotic things may seem, no matter how unjust things may seem at times, no matter how irrational life may appear, we know that ultimately there is a purpose and a reason and a guiding hand behind everything.
The issue has always been to teach us doctrine, to give us opportunities to evaluate the doctrine that is in our soul, to see what we learn, to watch Him provide in the midst of those circumstances.
But the greatest hindrance to success when we get into any test is always arrogance. We get caught up in our own circumstances, we obsess on the details of our lives, our own plans, our own agendas. What happened in the garden was that Adam chose an alternative plan than God's. When he ate the fruit he suddenly realized how flawed his reasoning was. He comes face to face with his own inability to control the details of life and he sees the chaos that he has brought into his life. But at the same time there is this fear and anxiety that we can't accomplish the agenda that we have, but in arrogance we hold on to that agenda; we just don't want to release it, so we get into operating on the arrogance skills.
The arrogance skills include five aspects. The first is self-absorption. We just focus on our own plan, our own agenda. When we get hurt we focus on our hurt. When we are disappointed we focus on our disappointment. When somebody maltreats us or doesn't respond or behave the way we think they should, or if they reject us, whether it is real or perceived rejection, what happens is that we focus on that rejection, that hurt, how they failed us. At the very center of the pain is this focus on who we are. That leads to self-indulgence. If we are absorbed with our agenda then we focus on that agenda, and that agenda becomes more important than Bible doctrine. It is incredible how few people as Christians really come to understand that once they become saved, if they are positive, doctrine becomes their life. It is not just something they do on occasion. But we have to learn to think doctrine, we have to learn to think biblically. It is an overhaul of our life, not just something we pick up by going to Bible class once a week or listening to a tape every now and then, or showing up when we don't have something better to do.
So we start indulging our own agenda. Before long that leads to a certain blindness and we get into self-justification. We rationalize our behavior and we are experts at this. Every single one of us becomes an expert at rationalizing and justifying our sin patterns—to the point that by the time we have reached our teenage years most of us a pretty blind to the sin patterns in our own lives. They are so comfortable, those are our habits; that is how we make things work, that is how we handle uncertainty and insecurity, and how we handle the environment around us.
Then we start believing this we are then in self-deception. In self-deception we don't know how to accurately apply the Word. That is why spiritual growth takes time. The more we grow the more we realize all of the different layers of self-deception we have in our life.
The next arrogance skill is self-deification. We put ourselves in the place of God. We have fulfilled the temptation that caused Adam's original fall. The serpent said, "If you eat of the fruit you will be like God." As we get into self-absorption and when we are cranking on our arrogance skills we get caught up into a complex of mental attitude sins. Mental attitude sins are the most devastating of all the sins that we get involved in. Other sins are simply the manifestations of what is going on inside the soul.
In self-absorption, what happens is that we start generating mental attitude sins. Mental attitude sins all flow out of arrogance. Arrogance is the primary orientation that drives the list patterns inside the sin nature. These mental attitude sins develop in several different areas. There are four complexes. First there is the fear complex. Fear is motivated with the sense that our security, our stability, our future, our physical safety is threatened, our emotional safety is threatened, our future plans and hopes and dreams are threatened. Fear often goes along with several other mental attitude sins such as worry, anxiety, and dread. We obsess that things can go wrong. So fear links up with worry, anxiety, dread, and then often if we feed it and don't deal with it instantly in terms of confession and application of doctrine, claiming promises, then it can develop into a general pessimism about life. As fear develops we think that things are just going to go wrong, and when things do go wrong it is just a self-fulfilling prophecy and we are convinced that everything will go wrong. And yet the Scripture constantly challenges the believer to hope. Hope is positive; hope is a confident expectation of a glorious future. That doesn't mean that we have our heads in the clouds somewhere, thinking that everything is just going to be wonderful, but the believer has a true realism because of understanding of the world, the cosmic system, and what is going on, but at the same time he knows that God is in control and can have an optimistic confidence in the midst of negative circumstances. It is a true and real confidence based upon Bible doctrine.
Fear often operates at core level, along with anger or frustration. When people feel like their life is threatened or their agenda is blocked, they don't get their way, how do they respond? They get irritated. If irritation is not dealt with through application of doctrine it leads to anger. When serious things occur in life that prevent us from achieving our goals, whatever they may be, then fear can develop into anger.
Another complex of mental attitude sins that often plague us are related to envy. Jealousy and envy develops from a covetousness, lust for material things, lust for money, lust for the things that money can buy, like the status, the prestige. The materialism classified in the Bible as covetousness and greed are linked with idolatry in two passages: Colossians 3:5 and Ephesians 5:5. When we are operating on material lust and money lust that is putting money and material things in the place of God.
Then comes the vengeance complex. This is what happens when we perceive that someone rejects us or maltreats us, and perhaps they actually have, but instead of relying upon God to handle things from the Supreme Court of Heaven we give in to revenge, we nurture thoughts of hate and malice, we look forward to certain ways that they will suffer so that we can enjoy their suffering because of the suffering that they have brought into our own lives. We become resentful when they seem to do well and we don't.
There is the bitterness complex. There is a progression here. We go from fear and anxiety and it is often expressed in one direction toward the envy complex. In another direction that can be expressed in the vengeance complex, and then when nothing seems to happen or this state of affairs goes on and we continue in carnality, nurturing our mental attitude sins, then what happens is bitterness. Bitterness destroys the soul. Bitterness generates even more intense hatred. We become resentful of others, and negative and pessimistic about others' happiness or success. We become resentful of those who are applying the Word and seem to have stability in their lives. We become angry at God and angrier at other people, and then we begin to blame others for personal problems.
At the core of all this is that we are just absorbed with our own live, our own problems, our own circumstances and our own failures. And we are blaming everybody in the world but ourselves and our own volition. God never promised us a life without problems, heartache, or difficulties, but He said in the midst of those difficulties and disappointments He would teach us where the real source of security and happiness and stability was to be found; and that is in His character. So that is what we see going on at the foundation of this passage in Genesis 15. God is reminding Abraham of His faithfulness. He reiterates the promise of a seed in the first five verses, and then starting in verse 7 He is reiterating the promise of the land, that no matter how uncertain and unstable things may appear at times for Abraham, He was giving this land to him to possess it, to inherit it.
Genesis 15:8, "And he said, Lord GOD, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?" It is interesting that God has just made this promise, twice He has stated it, and Abraham wants a little confirmation. Just give me something just a little more stable than just your word! God in His grace doesn't rebuke him. He always meets us where we are. God in His omniscience knows the threats that are going to come into Abraham's life and so He gives him confirmation. This confirmation is such that even now, some 4000 years later, we still know that this is true. We still know that the promise, though not fulfilled, will eventually be fulfilled. God is going to establish a contract with Abraham on a legal basis. It is set up according to the standards of the ancient world.
Genesis 13:9, "And he said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon." There is a problem in this passage. The first problem has to do with the meaning of the word "three" in the Hebrew. Among the Rabbis from the time before Christ up through the Talmudic period there was intense debate over whether or not this was three-year-old animals or whether it was three animals. What the debate was over was that it was unusual to find a three-year-old heifer (an un-bread female calf). So it is very unusual to find a three-year-old heifer. But what is interesting is the animals that are used here. The word used for the heifer is a Hebrew word which is different from the word used for the red heifer. The heifer was also used in a couple of different sacrifices, specifically in the cleansing ritual in Deuteronomy 21:1-9 when there had to be a cleansing of a town when a murder had taken place. In order to cleanse the area they would sacrifice a heifer. The heifer could also be used as a peace offering—Leviticus 3:1, but it was not to be used for a burnt offering and it was prohibited from that is Leviticus 1:3. So it was used for a peace offering but not for a burnt offering or for a sin offering. In 1 Samuel 16:2 it is used for a peace offering.
The next animal that is mentioned is the female goat [etz]. In Numbers 15:27 the female goat was used for a sin offering, and it is interesting that the male goat was used as a scapegoat offering. A third animal mentioned in the ram. It is used for a trespass offering in Leviticus 5:16, 17; used for a burnt offering in Leviticus 8:18; and as a peace offering in Leviticus 9:4. It is tempting to go to these animals and say that each one of these represents a different dimension of these offerings that are later described in Leviticus. But that is not the point. Remember that these events took place in about 2000 BC. The revelation related to the different categories of the Levitical offerings doesn't take place until about 1400 BC in the regulations for the Mosaic law. Tempting as it is, the point is not to break down these different animals and try to say that each one represents a different dimension of salvation. In their totality they represent every class of animal though that is used to represent salvation. So rather than going in and saying the heifer represents a cleansing offering and try to tie that to confession, or that the female goat represents a burnt offering (none of that has been revealed yet), the best thing to do is take each one, including the turtledove which was a substitute sacrifice used for the poor, as well as the young bird translated "pigeon," and see that all of these together represent the total work of Christ on the cross. Even though the work of Christ on the cross is yet future, all the sacrifices of the Old Testament foreshadow the work of Christ on the cross. The fact that some of these animals, for example the ram, could be used for either a trespass offering or a burnt offering or a peace offering, tells us we can't go in here and say it is one of the other. So the whole picture here is one of the future redemptive atoning work on the cross, and it is Christ's work on the cross that becomes the ultimate foundation for all of the covenant promises that God makes in Scripture. So the foundation for the covenant is the work of Christ on the cross as pictured in these sacrifices.
So Abraham brings all these to God and he cuts them in two. There is some debate among scholars that this is the origin of the idiom that you find in the Hebrew language for entering into a covenant. It is called "cutting a covenant." The verb that is used is the Hebrew word which means to cut. So it is tempting to say that in this ceremony where there is a sacrifice and the animal is cut in half that that is where the word came from, and it could be. The practice was that where two people were entering into this covenant they would take their sacrificial animals, cut them in two, one half representing each of the parties in the covenant, and lay them side by side, and then the two people who were entering into the covenant would walk between the animals. What is being pictured is the seriousness of the contract. In effect, what they were saying was. May this be done to us if we break the contract. That is why it is sealed in blood.
Genesis 15:11, "And when the fowls came down upon the carcasses, Abram drove them away." There is an assault on this covenant. Unclean animals, the vultures, come down on the carcasses and Abraham drives them away. This is a picture of the fact that there will constantly be attacks on the Abrahamic covenant down through history, but God is going to provide a solution.
Genesis 15:12, God causes Abraham to go to sleep. It is not up to Abraham to secure the covenant, God is going to secure it. "And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him." This is a recognition of all of the assaults that would come against the Jews down through history, the assaults against the Abrahamic covenant, the demonic assaults that would seek to destroy the Jews. While Abraham is in this state God speaks to him.
Genesis 15:13, "And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years." There are going to be problems, tests, hardships, and assaults. But what God is going to do through him and his descendants isn't going to just happen over night. It is not some simple thing, there will be these problems. So we have this prophecy related to the bondage in Egypt.
Genesis 15:16, "But in the fourth generation they shall return here: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete." This shows God's grace to the Canaanites. He gives them time again and again to turn back to Him. So for four hundred years He will keep the Jews out of the land until the Amorites have fully demonstrated their sin, depravity and perversion. The essence of this passage is somewhat challenged. It seems to be conflicting with a couple of other passages in the New Testament. Here we are told they will be in bondage for 400 years and there is one other way of expressing this in the Scriptures. In Acts 7:6 there is a reiteration of this where Stephen said, "And God spoke on this wise, That his seed should sojourn in a strange land; and that they should bring them into bondage, and entreat them evil four hundred years." The issue is, what is the starting point and the end point of this 400 years? The starting point of the 400 years has to do with their bondage; it is 400 years of bondage.
So they were going to be in bondage for 400 years. This means that if we were to chart this out we know that in 1446 BC we have the Exodus. Prior to that there are 400 years of bondage, so it was about 1846 when the bondage occurred and they go into slavery. Then there were thirty years before that, and this takes us back to the last time in Genesis when the Abrahamic covenant is confirmed to Jacob. This gives us 400 years of bondage plus another thirty years. Why are we brining that other thirty years in? Because there are other passages in the New Testament that mention 430 years, and the Old Testament as well. For example, Exodus 12:40, "Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years." The prophecy was 400 years, but remember, Genesis 15 says they would be in bondage for 400 years. Exodus 12:40 just says they would be in Egypt 430 years. So they were there for thirty years before the bondage began. Then in verse 41, "And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, even the selfsame day it came to pass, that all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt." This is reiterated in Galatians 3:17, "And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later…" Later than what? Later than the last confirmation of the covenant. So what we see is that the Scriptures clearly support each other and there is no contradiction when it comes to the numbers. There s one other passage that relates to this, Acts 13:19, 20, "And when he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Chanaan, he divided their land to them by lot. And after that he gave unto them judges about the space of four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet." The phrase there is "about 450 years." If we add this up again we have 400 years in slavery, 40 years after the Exodus in the wilderness with the Exodus generation, and then we have seven years during the time of the conquest. That comes to 447 years, and remember the passage said "about 450 years," so it is a divinely inspired approximation.
Genesis 15:14, "And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance." That was exactly what happened. They left Egypt with the spoils of Egypt.
That is the first part of the prophecy, it has to do with the destiny of his people. The second part has to do with Abraham's own stability. Genesis 15:15, "And you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age." Notice how God directly addresses the issue: "Abraham, don't be afraid." Then He tells him, "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of …." Then he tells him the future: "You will go to your fathers in peace." God is comforting Abraham in the midst of this contract with the certainty of God's provision.
But He reminds him (v. 16) that they will return here. They are going to meet hardship, they will be out of the land, you will die in peace, but they are going to come back. The question for us is to determine how this contact was fulfilled. Was it fulfilled literally or allegorically? Were these numbers precise or were they just spiritualized? They were precise. We see from other passages that the numbers were to be interpreted literally. God is showing us this early in Genesis that prophecy should be interpreted literally and not in a figurative or spiritual manner.
Genesis 15:17, "And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces." These two elements, the smoking oven and the burning torch—there is fire here and light, and this is a picture we see many times in the Old Testament of the holiness of God, of His integrity. And it is his character that secures the covenant.
Genesis 15:18, "In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates." At no point did the Jews control all of that land. Just as God promised this in a contract it will be fulfilled literally in the future. We know that Abraham must be resurrected to come back and possess that land, and we know that eventually God will restore the Jews to that land, and that is why this has been the centerpiece of a battle for 4000 years, because Satan is seeking to prove that God's character can't be trusted and his goal is to try to break the Abrahamic covenant. One of his tools for doing that is anti-Semitism.