Abraham:  Called to Wed

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God’s Covenant with Abraham

When we left Abram at the end of Episode #2, he had just returned from the daring and successful rescue of his nephew, Lot, along with the other inhabitants of Sodom and the surrounding cities.  Although, before he could return the captives and the loot taken in the raid, he was met by Melchizedek—the Priest and King of Salem—with whom he shared communion and to whom he gave tithes from the spoils of that war.  As a result of this worshipful encounter, when he was offered the recovered loot by the King of Sodom, Abram was fully prepared to turn it down, choosing instead to maintain his integrity and witness before the pagan king and the peoples of the land.

This temptation turned out to be the third in a series of Tests that Abram has been undergoing.  As we have seen in our study of him, God has progressively been revealing Himself and His plans for Abram and his descendants through a series of revelatory encounters—with each one involving a promise, and each one followed by a period of testing.  This chart summarizes Abram’s progress so far…

Abram’s Report Card

This, then, brings us to Abram’s next revelatory encounter in Genesis 15.  Although he doesn’t know it yet, throughout this process, God has been preparing him to become the Father of Israel, a role we will see him step into here in Episode #3 of his story, as he enters into a marriage covenant with God for his descendants–those who will eventually become the nation of Israel, the Wife of Jehovah.

With the lights now going down now in the theatre and the curtains slowly starting to rise, we hear the voice our off-stage Narrator once again, as he begins setting the stage for us…


Episode #3 of Biopic #1
Cast:     Narrator     God     Abram

Narrator:  Lot has just departed on his merry way to Sodom, leaving Abram shaking his head and wondering whether all his efforts to rescue and restore his backsliding nephew have not been totally in vain.  The king of Sodom has left, rubbing his hands over the recovery of all his goods, at no cost to himself and, no doubt, discussing with the secretary of his treasury what particular form of insanity possessed Abram so that he refused his share of the spoil.  Melchizedek has gone, leaving Abram with only a memory and a new appreciation of God.  Aner and Eschol and Mamre have gone, congratulating one another on their prowess in war and gloating over the rich profits they have reaped.  And Abram is left alone, somewhat depressed and a little fearful perhaps lest his unexpected display of military power might not stir the Canaanites into a league against him.  Moreover, he has probably been listening to the excited chatter of Lot’s children, which reminds him—he has no child of his own.  It is at this point that God, in His love and care, comes to talk with Abram about the building of his family…[1]

NarratorAfter these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying…

God:  Do not be afraid, Abram. I AM your shield, your exceedingly great reward.

Abram:  Lord GOD, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?  Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!

Narrator:  And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying…

God:  This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.

Narrator:  Then He brought him outside and said…

God:  Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them….So shall your descendants be.

Narrator:  And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.  Then [God] said to him…

God:  I AM the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.

Abram:  Lord GOD, how shall I know that I will inherit it?

God:  Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.

Narrator:  Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two.  And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him.  Then God said to Abram…

God:  Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years.  And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions.

Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age.  But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.

Narrator:  And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces.  On the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying…

God:  To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates—the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.

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The Critic's HatWith nothing further to add, this Episode comes to a halt, indicating that it is time for us to pull out our Critic’s Caps and begin our Review of it.  As always, we will be approaching this Episode from three levels…

  • The Earthly Level—where we will be looking for any Life Lessons that we can take away from it;
  • The Heavenly Level—where we will be looking for the Contributions it has to make to God’s One Big Story of Redemption; and,
  • The Eternal Level—where we will be looking for the Revelations of God contained in this part of the Story.

So, with these as our goals, let’s begin our Review by first going over…

The Most Important Points in this Episode

1. In our previous episodes, when God “spoke” to someone, it was not made clear just what form that took. But here, the Word of God came to Abram in a vision—making this the first mention of a vision in Scripture.  This kind of appearance is called a Theophany, and is a pre-incarnate vision of Jesus Christ.

2. With this visitation coming closely on the heels of his battle experience, God reassures Abram that he did the right thing in rejecting the spoils, and that whatever happens as a result of his “military offensive,” He would be Abram’s protector and provider.

3. Given that in each of his previous encounters with God, Abram was promised either a nation or descendants, when he meets with God this time, it only seems logical that the first thing he mentions is his lack of children—after all, how can you have descendants if you don’t have any children?

In response, the Lord promises him—for the first time—that his heir will not be his adopted servant but a son born from his own seed.  At this, he is told to count the stars.  Back in Genesis 12:14ff, God told him that He was going to make his descendants as the dust of the earth.  These two promises speak of Abram’s two seeds—his natural and supernatural descendants, with the natural being those who are born of the flesh—the Jews, and the supernatural descendants being those who are born of the Spirit—the Church.

4. The Lord’s self-identification as I AM is used here for the first time. Later, in John 8:56-59, Jesus stated unequivocally that He was the I AM.  In this particular confrontation with the Jewish leaders, when He told them…

…if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death…

…the Jews said to Him…Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and You say, ‘If anyone keeps My word he shall never taste death.’  Are You greater than our father Abraham, who is dead?…

Jesus answered…Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.

Then the Jews said to Him, You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?

Jesus said to them, Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.

5. Although Abram had believed God before—enough so that he packed up, left his homeland, and became a wanderer in the Land of Promise—this is the first time that it has been said that his belief has been accounted to him for righteousness. Why do you think that is?  

Unlike all of God’s previous promises to Abram, this is the first mention and direct promise that a son would be born to him, and that this son would also be in the lineage of the Seed promised to Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:15.  It was his faith in this promised Redeemer that is being counted or credited to him as righteousness.

6. In spite of the fact that we have just been told that Abram believed God, when God promises him the land again, he asks for a signwhy? Does this demonstrate a lack of faith?

No.  Back in Genesis 9:8-17, God gave Noah the Rainbow as a sign or reminder of their Covenant that He would never again destroy the earth by a flood.  So, in asking for a sign, Abram was asking what the tangible reminder of this Covenant would be.   We can regard the sign, then, as the equivalent of God’s signature on this contract.

Abram Prepares and Protects the Sacrifice

7. To this, Abram is told to prepare an offering/a sacrifice. Even though he very quickly obeys, there is a long delay before anything else happens—other than him having to chase away the What do you think these things might mean?

The delay was probably meant to indicate that the fulfillment of this Covenantal Promise would not be immediate; while the Vultures were meant to be a picture of the demonic forces that would be at work until then, trying to keep this Covenant from being fulfilled.  Later, in Luke 8: 5, 12, in the Parable of the Sower, Jesus used a similar analogy to illustrate this practice of the enemy

A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it…

Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.

8. After protecting the sacrifice all afternoon, when darkness falls, a deep sleep overtakes Abram and in it, he is shown in dream of the future of his descendants, where they will be afflicted in a foreign land for 400 years. This raises such questions as…

  • After giving the Land to Abram, why would God allow them to be taken out of the Land of Promise?

In later chapters of Genesis (especially chapter 28), we find that the corrupt culture of the Canaanites was beginning to impact the behavior of Jacob and his family.  To protect them from these negative influences—while giving the people of the land plenty of time to repent before bringing judgment upon them—God removed His People from the land and sequestered them in Goshen, the best land in all Egypt.

  • Why would God allow His Covenant People to be subjected to such suffering and affliction?

During the first part of their sojourn in Egypt, as the family of Joseph, the Israelites enjoyed special treatment and were being provided for by Joseph.  Even during the great famine, they were prosperous, not really needing to look to God for anything because their needs were being met by the government.  But, when a ruler came to power after Joseph, they lost their privileged position and were reduced to slavery instead.  It was then that they began to call upon the Lord again.  So, their affliction can be seen in one of two ways—as the means God used to restore His People to faith in and dependence upon Him, and as a picture of the persecution that the World routinely inflicts upon the People of God. 

Abram, on the other hand, was promised that he would live a long life and die in peace.

9. While he is asleep, the Presence of the Lord passes between the sacrificial elements. What do you think is significant about this?

In the Ancient Near East, when a covenant was made, it was ratified by first slaughtering animals and then creating a path between their divided carcasses.  Both parties would walk through these animals, pledging to fulfill the terms of the covenant

By cutting the animals in half during covenant ceremonies, the parties making the covenant were effectively saying, ‘Let this be done to us if we break the terms of this covenant…’

By being the one who passes between, Yahweh places the penalty of violating the covenant on Himself.  He is showing Abram how serious He is about His promises.’ [2]

God Ratifying the Covenant

In Summary…

…we have learned that…

  • For the first time, Abram has had a face-to-face encounter with Jesus Christ—an encounter of faith which has made Abram righteous in the eyes of God;
  • God allays Abrams’ fears about his past actions and assures him of a glorious future with a Son of his own to be his heir;
  • This Son of Promise will be the foundation stone upon which the nation of Israel will be built; and,
  • As a sign of this Promise, God “Cut a Covenant” with Abram in which He swears by oath that He will fulfill every promise He has made concerning Abram and his descendants.

Now, in conclusion, we need to ask ourselves..

1. What Life Lessons can we take away from Abram’s experience in this episode?

  • Everyone, no matter how important or insignificant they may be, must come to God in the same way—that is, through a personal faith encounter with His Son, Jesus Christ;
  • Once they stand righteous before God, He will cover their pasts, and protect and provide for them as they follow Him into the future;
  • God’s tests are not punitive but preparatory. They are designed to grow everyone in faith and in righteousness, and prepare them for their divinely ordained destinies.
  • Like Abram, Believers today are participants in a Covenant with God—a New Covenant, written in the very Blood of Jesus, in which the Spirit of God comes to live within them, writing God’s Laws upon their hearts and teaching them to live like Children of the Most High God.

2. What Contributions does this episode make to God’s One Big Story of Redemption?

This episode marks a pivotal point in God’s One Big Story.  Everything that has gone before has merely been preparation for this event—the cutting of the Covenant between God and Abram.  In reality, this Covenant is a Marriage Contract in which Abram betroths Israel—the Nation that will come from him—to God.

In the Ancient Jewish Wedding Tradition, which provides the format for the Story of the Bible, the three phases in a Jewish Marriage are…

  • The Negotiation or Arrangement Phase—in which the Bridegroom’s Father, the Bridegroom himself, or his Agent goes to the Father of a Bride and negotiates a marriage contract. If arrangements acceptable to both parties can be arrived at, and if the bride gives her consent, then the Bridegroom and Bride become legally betrothed or engaged.  At this point, the Bridegroom returns to his Father’s house and begins preparing a home for his Bride.
  • The Betrothal Phase—which usually lasts for about a year, is a time during which the Bridegroom is at work building a home and the Bride is busy preparing her wedding garments
  • The Consummation Phase—which includes the actual Marriage, its consummation, and the Wedding Feast that follows, only happens when the Father of the Bridegroom is satisfied with the work of his Son and gives him permission to go and get His Bride.

So, with the Marriage Covenant between God and Abram having been ratified by blood, the Negotiation Phase is now complete and God and Israel have entered into the Betrothal Period.

3. What Revelations of God does this episode give us?

As we have just learned, God is seen here as the Celestial Suitor, the Bridegroom who has just become betrothed to the Nation of Israel.  And, even though she isn’t even a reality in the natural as yet, in the mind and heart of her Beloved, she has been in existence since before the foundation of the world.

Here is a video that will help explain the Love Story behind the One Big Story of the Bible a little better…

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Early on in our study of Abram, we learned that he was called to Wander, Worship, and Witness, and in our last episode, we learned that he was also called to Warfare.  In our next episode—in Chapter 16—we will discover that he has also been called to do one of the hardest things ever—and that is, to Wait!

 

[1] John Phillips, Exploring Genesis (Neptune, New Jersey: Loizeaux Brothers, 1992), 132.

[2] Calvin Park, “Cutting a Covenant,” Bible Study Magazine, September 19, 2017, http://www.biblestudymagazine.com/bible-study-magazine-blog/2017/9/19/cutting-a-covenant

Some images used courtesy of Free Bible Images.

Fruit Doesn’t Fall Far from the Tree

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Now that we have learned a little something about the principles of Sowing, Reaping, and the Nature of the Two Trees that were planted in the center of the Garden of Eden, it is time for us to take a look at the part these elements played in the Cain and Abel story which was recently acted out for us in Vignette #4.  Keeping in mind the principles that we have learned since then—which were, that for any seed sown…

  • More would be reaped than was initially planted;
  • The harvest for that seed, though delayed, would always come once the fruit had fully matured; and,
  • The fruit produced as a result of it would always bear the image of the original seed…

…it should be easy for us to see how the seed sown by Adam and Eve, when they ate the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, reproduced itself in the lives of their children and grandchildren; bringing forth a harvest more bitter and deadly than anything they could ever have imagined.

Their Births

Although we aren’t told a lot about Cain and Abel, either in Genesis 4 or in the few related passages that speak of them, we are told enough to know that these two brothers were as different as different could be—with the first difference being seen in the way in which they came into the world.  Although they weren’t born into the same paradisaical situation that their parents had first experienced, still, the world which greeted them both must have a very beautiful one.  Cain was born into it first and, because of this, his birth elicited a far more ecstatic reaction on the part of their mother.

Adam and Eve with Sons

Adam and Eve with Sons

As you may recall, back in Genesis 3:15, when God provided animal skins as a covering for Adam and Eve’s sin, He promised that one day the “seed of the woman” would come and crush the head of the Serpent—an act of redemption and deliverance which would free Man forever from his bondage to sin and death.  We can well imagine that from Eve’s joy when a male child was born to her, and from the naming of him as Cain (meaning “gotten,” as in “I have gotten a man from the Lord”), both she and Adam looked upon this child as the “Promised One”—or, as the One who would someday deliver them from the curse brought about by their sin.

Abel’s birth, on the other hand, didn’t create quite the same stir.  There was no obvious excitement when he was born and, in giving him a name meaning “vapor, vanity, or breath,” it would seem that not too much was expected of him by his parents—that, maybe, in their eyes, he would never be able to measure up to stature of his older brother.

But, with both boys being raised in a generally pleasant environment by the same parents and, with them living in a world…

  • without any grandparents, aunts, or uncles to butt in (or to muddy up the family gene pool);
  • without any known sicknesses or diseases to afflict them;
  • without any governmental or police authorities to have to answer to;
  • without any schools, peer pressure, media or other cultural influences to lead them astray; and,
  • without any church or temple, bosses, or co-workers to be concerned about…

…it would be reasonable to expect that both of these young men would turn out to be equally fine specimens of humanity, wouldn’t it?

Their Vocations

The second noticeable difference between Cain and Abel was readily seen in their choice of vocations, with Cain, either willingly or out of necessity, choosing to become a farmer, and with Abel choosing the life of a shepherd. These were two completely different but equally demanding occupations, with the former requiring hard work to produce food from ground previously cursed by God; and, the latter demanding a twenty-four hour a day commitment to the raising of the animals which could be used for both sacrifices and clothing.  Although different, it would seem that these two livelihoods would prove to be mutually beneficial:  Cain could exchange some of his produce for the sheep he needed for sacrifice and for clothing, while Abel could use the produce he received to provide food for himself and his family.

Their Relationships

Of course, the major difference between these two brothers was in their opposing attitudes toward and relationships with God.  For, although both boys had been born into the same family, and were of the same spiritual stock—that is, in their original spiritual states, they were both products of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil; Cain, at the time of our story, was still proving himself to be fruit from that Tree of rebellion, while Abel, through his actions, was demonstrating that he had found his way to the spiritual Tree of Life, and had become part of its fruit.  For evidence of this, we need to look no further than at the offerings these young men brought to God.

The Offerings

We first learn of these offerings in Genesis 4:3-4a, where we are told that…

Cain and Abel at the Altar

Cain and Abel at the Altar

In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions.

At first glance, nothing seems to be amiss in this situation; Cain, from all outward appearances, is bringing God some of the fruits of his labor, while Abel is doing the same.  But, then, things take a decidedly different turn as we read in verses 4b and 5 that…

…the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.

Hmmm…here we have two brothers with two offerings, both being made at the altar and both at the appointed or designated time for sacrifice—what could possibly have been wrong with this picture?  What was it that set these offerings apart, making one but not the other acceptable to God?  Was it because of the differences in the offerings themselves, or was it something that went deeper than that?

Different Offerings?

I have heard a considerable bit of discussion about this over the years, with some people advancing the theory that, because there was no specific written instruction as to what the offering should be, the one which Cain brought should have been okay; with those holding to this opinion frequently citing the provision of grain offerings in the Mosaic Law to support their position.  However, the grain offerings included in the Law were Peace and Thanksgiving offerings that were to be made once a sin or a burnt offering (offerings specifically calling for animal sacrifices) had been made and accepted by God.  While we have no indication that any type of grain offering had been sanctioned by God or instituted as part of the worship ritual in Cain and Abel’s day, we can find scriptural justification to support the belief that the animal sacrifice brought by Abel was the type that had been mandated by God.

In Leviticus 17:14, it says that “…the life of every creature is its blood:  its blood is its life;” and, in Romans 6:23 that “…the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Since, in these passages, God declared that the life of a person is in his or her blood, and that the wages of his or her sin is death, then it would follow that the person who sinned would be required to die and offer up his or her life’s blood to atone for that sin.  Although this was, and still is, the demand of God’s holy law, God has added something of a proviso to it; and that is, as an act of His grace, God stipulated that another’s life—and blood—could be substituted for that of the sinner, on condition that the life and blood of the substitute be sinless, so that it could satisfy the righteous demands of the law.  This law of substitution is what made the sacrifice of innocent animals necessary, and is why this type of offering became the precedent for all those that would be made in the future.

With this precedent having been established in the Garden, and with parents who no doubt told their sons all about it, why would Cain have dared to bring any other kind of offering to God?  Although we are not told so here, fallen human nature being what it is, there are some things that we can surmise which might help to explain his actions:

  • If Cain had grown up believing that he was the Promised Deliverer, he may have adopted the attitude that he could do no wrong, and that no matter what he did, it would be okay with God.
  • If this was the case, he would have had an ego the size of all Eden, accompanied by an attitude of superiority, which would have made going to his younger brother for anything, especially a sacrificial lamb, simply intolerable.
  • Certainly, the fact that Abel was a prophet (something not mentioned here but revealed later on by Jesus in Matthew 23:34-35 and in Luke 11:50-51) wouldn’t have helped to improve the situation in any way. If, in times past, when acting as a prophet, Abel had confronted Cain about his arrogant attitude and preached repentance to him, it surely wouldn’t have endeared him to someone with Cain’s exaggerated sense of self-importance.
  • Cain may have also been harboring resentment toward God; possibly for having kicked his parents out of Paradise for such an “insignificant” offense as eating from the forbidden Tree, and thus denying him the privilege of growing up there. He could have resented having to work so hard to get the earth, cursed as it was by God, to yield its increase—especially when a life of relative ease was waiting to be had, if only he lived in the Garden.

…Or, Different Hearts?

Whatever else may have been going on behind the scenes, one thing we can know for sure is that the real issue between these two men was neither physical nor emotional but spiritual in nature, and reflective of the two very different heart attitudes of the brothers.  For proof of this, we need only to go to  Hebrews 11:4, where we learn that the truly distinguishing feature between their two offerings was faith, for…

“By faith, Abel offered up a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts.”

And why was faith the deciding factor here?  As it is explained so simply in Hebrews 11:6 and in 1 Samuel 16:7, respectively…

“…without faith it is impossible to please him [God], for however would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”

“For the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, the Lord looks on the heart.”

If a heart of faith was what was required to please God, then how did Abel’s offering reveal that?  Since “…faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Rom. 10:17),” Abel must have taken to heart the Word that he had received, most likely from his parents, which said something to the effect that “…without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins (Heb. 9:22)”—and then acting upon that Word, he offered up to God his best lamb as the substitutionary payment for his sins.

Abel Slain by Cain

Abel Slain by Cain

Cain, on the other hand, in his rejection of the same Word, and in his willful determination to do things in his own way, foolishly attempted to come to God on his own terms, rather than approaching God in the manner which had previously been ordained.  Such arrogant actions on Cain’s part resulted in God’s rejection of his offering, which provoked Cain to anger and to the subsequent murder of his brother, which led to a further curse being placed on his farming, and which, when he refused to repent, led to Cain’s separation from the presence of God, leading ultimately to a life of fearful wandering.  As for the true nature of Cain’s heart and actions, they were best described centuries later by the Apostle John, when he warned his readers in 1 John 3:12:  ““We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother.  And why did he murder him?  Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.”

Now, as we recall what we previously learned about the nature of the two trees—which was…

  • That the Tree of the Knowledge of Good an Evil was rooted in the in the same desires that motivated Satan to rebel against God, that it produced the SAP of Selfishness and Pride, and that its Fruit was all about Me and My Glory…
  • …while the Tree of Life was rooted in the same desires to do God’s will that characterized Jesus, its SAP being Submission and Praise, while its Fruit for God and His Glory

…then it should be plain enough for us to see that Cain, in his prideful reliance upon his own works at achieving righteousness, was the first and most perfect piece of fruit to fall from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil—becoming, if you will, a regular “poster child” for all those who would come after him, seeking to come to God on their own merits.  Abel, on the other hand, with the placement of his faith in the gracious provision of God—that is, in the one allowing for the substitutionary death of an innocent lamb to provide a covering for his sins—was the first and a most fitting example of the fruit to be produced by the Tree of Life.  The offerings that they brought to God, then, were merely outward demonstrations of these inner beliefs.

Of course, both of these trees will continue to bear fruit in each of the generations to come but our inspection of that fruit will have to wait until next time; the time when we will also complete our assessment of the story of Cain and Abel by looking for…

  • the Life Lessons that we can take away from their experiences;
  • the Contributions that their story makes to the One Big Story taking place on the Heavenly Stage above us; and,
  • any new Revelations about God contained within their story.

Until then, though, let’s join with Kutless and reflect on just…“What Faith Can Do.”

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