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.

Fridays’ Gift…

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Friday’s Gift in celebration of His Truth, My Voice’s second birthday is a re-posting of…

“Time Out for a Vision Check at Booth #4.”

So far, during our extended stop-over at the Welcome Center of the Word, we have taken time out for:

Eye exam

It’s Time for a Spiritual Vision Exam

Now that we have taken care of these first few essentials, let’s make our way on over to Booth #4, where we will also take some time for a vision check.  Why a vision check?  Well, before proceeding any further into the Land of Revelation Knowledge, and so that we will be able to behold all of the beautiful truths waiting for us up ahead, we need to make sure that our ability to see them will not be impaired in any way.

I am pretty sure that when most of us hear the word “vision,” our thoughts automatically turn to our physical eyesight, or our ability to see the material things that exist in the natural world around us.  But our physical eyesight isn’t the kind that we need to be concerned with on this trip; the type of vision that we need to check, and possibly even correct, is our spiritual vision.

To better understand what I mean by this term, let’s pause briefly for another one of our DOTS—better known as a definition of terms.  Referring once again to my trusty pocket dictionary, I have learned that:

  • Spiritual—is defined as of, relating to, consisting of, or affecting the spirit:  incorporeal;
  • Incorporeal—is defined as having no body or form; and,
  • Vision—is defined as the act or power of seeing.
Vision: Seeing the Unseeable

How Can We See the Unseeable?

So then, if we put the three of these individual definitions together, this will produce the kind of collective definition that will be most meaningful to us—and that is…

Spiritual vision is the act or power of seeing that which has no body or form.

This seems like a relatively simple and straightforward definition, doesn’t it?  There is only one problem with it, though—just how is it possible for any of us to see “that which has no body or form?”  Or, to put it another way, how are we supposed to see that which is unseeable with our physical eyes?

For the answers to these questions, I think we need to look no further than the following Vision Check Questionnaire:

Question #1:  How can I get or know if I have spiritual vision?

If you have experienced the New Birth, then you already have spiritual vision.  That’s because, when you were born again and the Holy Spirit quickened your previously dead spirit, He also opened the “eyes” of that spirit so that you would be able to “see” the things that He, over the course of time, would be showing you.  Unlike our physical eyesight which (barring any impairment by accident or disease) begins to function soon after our births, our spiritual vision frequently takes some time to develop.  So, even if you are not aware of its existence right now, this does not mean that it isn’t there. A good illustration of someone in the Scriptures with undeveloped spiritual eyesight can be found in Mark 8:23, where Jesus healed a blind man who had been brought to him at the village of Bethsaida:

And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?”  And he looked up and said, “I see men but they look like trees, walking.”  Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again, and when he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.  (For more on seeing men as trees, please check out some of our earlier “tree” reflections, particularly Of Trees and Tapestries.)

Question #2:  Why do I need to see spiritually?

Since God is Spirit, the only way that we can “see” Him is through our spirits.  This is exactly what Jesus told the woman at the well in John 4:24, when He stated, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

The Apostle Paul went on to explain this principle in more depth in 1 Cor. 2:7, and in the verses that follow:

But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory…these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.  For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.  For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in Him?  So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.  Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.  And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truth to those who are spiritual.  [For] The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

Question #3:  What is needed for me to begin seeing with spiritual vision?

The Eye of Faith

The Eye of Faith

To begin seeing with your spiritual vision, you need to develop eyes of faith because, as we are told in Hebrews 11:6:  “…without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”  And, as for what faith is, according to Hebrews 11:1ff, it is “…the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen…by faith we understand that the universe was created by the Word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”

Question #4:  Where do I get the faith I need to see things that are spiritual in nature?

The only place to get this kind of faith is in the Bible for, as we are told in Romans 10:17: “…faith comes from hearing and hearing through the Word of God.”  It is as we study the Word of God that the Holy Spirit begins speaking to our spirits, making known to us the things about God which would otherwise remain unknowable to the natural mind of man.  He does it by using the things in the world that we can see to explain to us the things in the spirit world that we cannot see.

Question #5:  What are some of the things that will impair my vision?

Sin is one thing that will limit what we can see with our spiritual eyes.  In Matthew 6:22, Jesus warned us of this when He said:

The eye is the lamp of the body.  So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

Because they are the portals to our innermost beings, our eyes will determine the amount of light, or enlightenment, which will be sent to our spirits.  If our eyes are clear, the light will flow through them in abundance; however, if they are darkened or clouded over by sin, no light of understanding will be able to penetrate, and our spirits will remain in darkness.

Open Bible

No Word, No Vision

Another contributing factor to poor spiritual vision is our negligence when it comes to the study of God’s Word.  Since the Word is the source of our faith, and faith is what it takes for us to see spiritually, then logically, No Word = No Vision.

Disease can also be an impediment to our ability to see things clearly, and the disease that is most often at fault is something that I call Spiritual Myopia.  By definition, myopia is the condition in which visual images come to a focus in front of the retina, resulting especially in defective vision of distant objects.  When we apply this definition to our spiritual vision, we learn that Spiritual Myopia is really spiritual nearsightedness or our inability to see distant objects clearly—with the distant object in this case being the Big Picture of God’s plans and purposes for mankind.  This disease can afflict anyone at any time–with even the most devoted students of the Word falling victim to it–causing them to get so lost in the many smaller details and stories of the Bible that they often fail to see the really Big Picture that God wants to show them.

Question #6:  What can be done to improve or correct my spiritual vision?

To be sure that your vision remains clear, you must:

  • Be vigilant in guarding your heart against sin;
  • Stay in communion with God through a regular program of prayer and Bible study; and,
  • Learn to identify and eliminate any spiritual farsightedness which may be hindering your ability to see through your eyes of faith.  To do this, you must learn to expand your spiritual vision by exploring new ways of looking at the Bible; ways which will allow you to see the broad, over-arching story that God wants us all to know.

Because this process of learning new ways of looking at the Bible is so crucial to the development of our spiritual vision, it is something that we will be undertaking throughout the remainder of our journey through the Land of Revelation Knowledge.  It is a process by which we will learn to:

  • Distinguish between story and structure—for when we do, we will find that there is One Main Plot to the Bible;
  • Think corporately—for when we learn to view the people in the Bible collectively, we will find that there is a very small but specific Cast of Characters there;
  • Acquaint ourselves with God’s Principles of Explanation—for when we understand that God’s method of explanation is to use the known to explain the unknown, it will be easy for us to identify the recurring Theme or Motifs running throughout the Bible; and,
  • Interpret the text on multiple levels—for when we do that, we will discover the Different Levels of Truth that the Bible reveals to us.

The very best part about all of this, though, is that once we learn to view the Bible in these new ways, not only will we able to see God more clearly, but the study of His Word will become a true delight to us; no longer being something that we have to do and becoming, instead, something that we really want to do!

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