I am sure we all have made promises at some time in our lives. How many have been asked for a sign that you would truly keep your promise to them? What did you say or do to convince them that you would keep that promise? There are many ways to show that you are serious about keeping your promises. When a man and a woman are married they promise “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part.” What they are saying is the only way that their marriage can end is when one or the other physically dies. It’s a serious commitment to one another. Other ways that we show the seriousness of keeping promises is raising our right hand or putting our hand over our heart or putting our hand on the Bible. In the Bible, one of the ways they showed the seriousness of their promises was to put their hand under the person’s thigh when making a vow. In Genesis 24, Abraham wanted to make sure that Isaac got his wife from his homeland and not from Canaan. So Abraham had his servant put his hand under his thigh and swear an oath. The thigh was considered the strongest muscle in the body so by swearing an oath in this way it says that the actions of those individuals (represented by the hand) are placed under oath to trust in the strength of YHWH (represented by the thigh of the believer) to play a part in working to fulfill YHWH's promises.
Another way we may try to convince someone that we are serious about keeping our promises is saying, “cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye” or something to that effect. How many have you ever said that? Another way you may have convinced someone that youwere serious about your promises is the “pinky promise.” To make a pinky promise involves the interlocking of the pinkies of two people to signify that a promise has been made. How many have ever done that? If you didn’t know, the idea behind this gesture was to signify that the person who breaks the promise can have their pinky finger broken by the other. If you think that would hurt. The possible origin of the pinky promise may be Japan, where it is known as 'yubikiri.' They believed that if you break a pinky promise, you would have to cut off your pinky finger in return. In fact, the word 'Yubikiri', means “finger cut-off”.
Two weeks ago, Pastor Stuart, taught from the beginning of chapter 15 in which God reiterated the promise to Abram about having a child. God told Abram that he would have his own biological child, and that his offspring would number the stars in the sky. In this morning’s passage, God reiterates the promise to Abram that the land that has been promised to him and his descendants will one day be his. We will see that God’s promises do three things for Abram. They affirm Abram’s call which stimulates his faith, they assure Abram about the covenant which calms his fears and they anticipate the fulfillment of the promise giving Abram hope for the future. God will convince Abram that he takes his promises very seriously and he can fully believe that what he promises will happen. Today, we also can believe in the promises of God and can fully believe that what he says is true and will happen. Which brings us to our big idea this morning which is “God takes his promises seriously.”
Before we begin our study of the text this morning, let’s pray: Lord God, we ask that you pour out your Holy Spirit on us this morning. Open our hearts and minds to what you want to say to us and to what you want us to share with those we come in contact with this week. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
There are three points this morning. Our first point is Affirmation and is found in Genesis 15:7-8. This is what God’s Word says, 7 “He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.” 8 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”
As our scripture this morning begins Abram is still in the vision where the Word of the Lord came to him. We are told for the first time that it was the Lord who brought Abram out of Ur and the reason he did this was to give Abram the land for him to possess it. For the first time in Genesis the Lord calls himself “Yahweh.” This introduction would make it clear that Abram must take the speaker seriously. The Lord reminds Abram what he had done for him in the past and by identifying himself in this way it proved to Abram who God was and affirmed his call on Abram’s life. It is God who called Abram out of his homeland and into a foreign land which was promised to him. By reaffirming his call the Lord was stimulating Abram’s faith. But then we see Abram questioning what God has just said. This is interesting in light of verse 6 which says, “Abram believed the Lord, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” What has happened between verse six and verse eight? I believe the difference in Abram’s mind is that the promise of the land was different than the promise of a biological child. There were no major roadblocks for Sarai and him to have a child. She may be barren at this time but Abram could believe that God would open her womb when the time was right.
But as for the land, there were native peoples living there who already possessed it. Abram probably felt helpless to dispossess the native peoples and take over the land for himself. He is probably trying to wrap his head around how he and his descendants would be able to possess and enjoy this land. We notice that Abram calls God, “Sovereign Lord” which signals that what he is about to say is submissive but will also be bold. He trusts in who God is and what he was saying but wanted a sign because he couldn’t understand or see how it was going to happen. This does not mean that Abram didn’t have faith in God’s promise; he was just asking for a sign to confirm it.
We have seen God give signs to other people in the Bible such as Moses, Hezekiah and probably the most famous is Gideon who put out a fleece of wool so he would know it was God’s will to use him to deliver the Israelites from the Midianites. We also saw in our study of the Book of John that Jesus did signs. In fact we see these words in John 20:30-31 which tells us the purpose of John’s Gospel, “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” Asking for a sign did not constitute a lack of faith on Abram’s part. His call had already been affirmed by God and he was now looking for affirmation of the promise of possessing the land. Abram’s faith was not on shaky ground; instead his faith had been stimulated by God’s promises and was looking for a sign that would further grow his faith in God’s promises.
Faith is an important part of our Christian walk. In this day and age that we live in where people seem to be “losing” their faith left and right, we must allow our faith to be stimulated and to stay alive. One of the ways our faith is stimulated is by meditating on the promises of God and seeing how they are being fulfilled in our daily lives. That brings us to our first next step on the back of your communication card which is to “meditate on the promises of God, seeing how they are being fulfilled in my daily life and allow them to stimulate my faith.”
We will see in the next point that God doesn’t get angry because Abram asked for a sign. In fact God is going to give Abram a sign that assures him that the promise of the land is already a foregone conclusion. The Lord will perform a ritual that shows he is serious about the promises that he makes and Abram will know for sure that God will faithfully fulfill his promise to Abram. The second point is called Assurance and is found in verses 9-11 and 17. This is what God’s Word says, 9 “So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.” 10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.” And now moving down to verse 17 “When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces.”
God asks Abram to “bring” a three year-old heifer, and three year-old goat, a three year-old ram, a dove and a young pigeon. The words “bring” or “take” are often used to introduce a ritual such as a sacrifice. These animals are the same ones that God will command the Israelites to use for their sin, fellowship and burnt offerings. We see this in Leviticus 9:2-3 which says, “He (God) said to Aaron, “Take a bull calf for your sin offering and a ram for your burnt offering, both without defect, and present them before the Lord. 3 Then say to the Israelites: ‘Take a male goat for a sin offering, a calf and a lamb—both a year old and without defect—for a burnt offering, and an ox and a ram for a fellowship offering to sacrifice before the Lord . . .” Abram’s actions here are reminiscent of a sacrifice. Abram then prepares the sacrificial animals and places them on the ground according to God’s instructions. Next we see that birds of prey came down and try to drag the carcasses off but Abram drives them away. Abram driving the birds away could be symbolic of God’s future protection of his chosen people on the basis on Abram’s faith. It also seems to foreshadow the obstacles which Abram’s descendants would experience before entering into the Promised Land. Briscoe says, “God’s promises would be fulfilled but not without pain and trial for Abram’s descendants.”
Now I want to jump down to verse 17 where we see how the ritual was played out between the Lord and Abram and then we come back and pick up at verse 12. We notice that the sun had set and it was dark and a smoking pot and a blazing torch appeared and passed through the animal pieces. The smoking pot and the blazing torch represent the presence of God. This reminds us of the cloud by day and the fire by night which was the presence of the Lord protecting and guiding the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness. We notice that the Lord passes through the animal pieces but Abram does not. That is important because it meant that the fulfillment of the promise rested with the Lord alone. It was unconditional in that Abram did not have to do anything for the promise to be fulfilled.
What about this strange ritual? What does it mean? First of all this ritual would have been known in the ancient world and Abram would have certainly understood the meaning of it. Second, this ritual was used to formally seal a solemn agreement or covenant between two equal parties. By passing through the animal pieces you were clearly stating that if you did not keep your promise then you could be cut in two just like the animals had been. Kind of like the pinkie promise. Normally, if the parties were not equals the inferior party was the one who walked through the animal pieces. But here the superior party, the Lord, was declaring that if he did not keep his promise to Abram he could literally be cut in two (if it was possible for that to happen to God). God is showing immense grace to Abram here. Also this act alone would have proven to Abram and to those who heard the story later how serious the Lord was about keeping his promise to Abram. This was the sign that Abram needed that took all his doubt away and calmed all his fears. Gibson states, “By God’s willingness to go through this let Abraham know nothing could stand in God’s way of the fulfillment of his promises, for his own divine honor was at stake in this matter.”
The Lord also gives us many promises in his Word. Those promises should calm our fears and take our doubt away that he will do for us what he says in his Word. But a lot of times we doubt and are fearful about a lot of things. We see our prayers answered or God’s promises fulfilled in our lives over and over again but we still doubt and are afraid. I want to challenge not only myself but you as well to trust and not doubt that God’s promises are trustworthy no matter what. God takes his promises seriously. That brings me to our second next step on the back of your communication card which is to “believe the promises of God and allow them to calm my fears and take all of my doubt away.”
Our third point this morning is Anticipation and is found in verses 12-16 and 18-21. Here Abram finds out for the first time that he will not personally possess the Promised Land and also finds out how and why his descendants come to possess it. There is an anticipation and a hope for the future that Abram has even though he will not see it and the future of his descendants will be full of hardship. Starting with verse 12 this is what God’s Word says, “12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” Moving to verse 18, “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”
Abram falls into a deep sleep as the sun was setting and a thick and dreadful darkness comes over him. “Deep sleep,” “fear” and “darkness” all suggest awe-inspiring divine activity such as when God caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep in order to take out one of his ribs to form Eve. Abram’s dread comes because he was in the presence of the Lord. As human beings to be in the presence of an almighty and holy God should cause us to have a holy fear. The presence of the Lord is not something we should take lightly. Abram is told that his descendants would be strangers in a country that was not their own and would be slaves and mistreated for four hundred years. That would be enough to give Abram a sense of dread and bring darkness to his soul.
But God gives Abram hope for the future of his descendants. He says the nation that enslaves them will be punished and that his descendants will come out with great possessions. God doesn’t mention the nation that enslaves Abram’s descendants but we know it is Egypt today. We also know that the people of Israel asked for gold, silver and clothing from the Egyptians before leaving Egypt after the Passover and that the Egyptians were glad to give them those things and get rid of them. We see these words in Exodus 12:36, “The Lord had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians.”
God then calms Abrams fears about his own future. He promises him that he will go to his fathers in peace and be buried at a good or “ripe” old age. To go to his fathers in peace was a promise that Abram would live a good quality of life with a sense of contentment and fulfillment. He would also live to a “ripe” old age meaning he would enjoy a long healthy life. He would have a great quality of life until the end and be spared a future of hardship and pain. God’s promises gave Abram hope for his future. They also give us hope for our future as well. That brings us to the third next step on the back of your communication card which is to “believe the promises of God and allow them to give me hope for my future on earth and for heaven.”
Next we are told why the Lord will hand over the Promised Land to him and his descendants and why they have to wait for four hundred years. They are being given the land because of the sin of the Amorites. The Amorites are representative of all the Canaanite peoples. But the nation of Israel has to wait because the sin of those peoples has not yet reached its full measure. Their sin was so perverted that it was even an abomination to the earth. In Leviticus 18 it says that they will be vomited from the land. This really speaks to the patience, the justice and the holiness of God. He doesn’t just give the land to the Israelites without giving the Canaanites an opportunity to repent. If God had done that it would have been unfair and unjust of the Lord. The OT wars between the Israelites and the Canaanites were acts of justice not aggression and their judgment was mercifully delayed. It also shows the patience that God has for them as well. It makes me think of 2 Peter 3:9 which says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” God wants everyone to come to repentance no matter how evil they may be for a time. He is always going to do the right thing even if it means giving the Canaanites four hundred more years to repent and turn to him before giving their land over to his chosen people.
God then makes a covenant with Abram. This is the first mention of the word “covenant.” Before, these things had been promises to Abram not a formal covenant. Now Abram knows for sure that these things will take place. The Lord also gave specific boundaries of the land that Abram’s descendants would possess. This area was from the northern reaches of the Euphrates to the land of Egypt. The western boundary was the Mediterranean and the eastern boundary was the Jordan River. This area has been calculated by scholars to have been around 300,000 square miles which is an area bigger than the second largest state in the US, Texas, which is 261,797 square miles.
God also names all the nations that were presently living there. We notice that there are ten nations mentioned. We are reminded that the number ten in the bible signifies completeness meaning that that they would completely possess all the land that God has promised them. One more thing we must think about. God had told the Israelites that the land would be theirs as long as they didn’t do the same detestable practices that the Canaanites did. We know that they did not obey God and were also displaced from the land. According to scholars, Israel has never fully possessed the land promised to them by God. They have been close as an empire especially during the reign of King David and later under his son, King Solomon but have never fully possessed it as a homeland. One day when the Lord returns this promise will be realized. This should give us pause. There are some promises of God that will continue on no matter what we do such as he will never leave nor forsake us, but there are others that require obedience from us. I am reminded of our memory verse from Psalm 66:18, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” If we are not obedient to what the Lord commands us to do, then he will not listen to our prayers. The promise of listening to our prayers is conditional on not cherishing sin in our hearts.
God is the ultimate promise keeper. He always keeps his promises and we do not need to worry that he will. In our scripture this morning we have seen that Abram’s faith was stimulated when God affirmed his call. We saw that God calmed his fears by assuring that he would be faithful to his promises. And we have seen that his promises gave Abram hope for the future as he anticipated going to his fathers in peace and that his descendants could anticipate being able to possess the land once they came out of slavery in Egypt and hardship in the wilderness.
In conclusion I want read some verses from God’s Word showing how his promises stimulate our faith, calms our fears and give us hope for the future, today.
First, God’s promises should stimulate our faith. Hebrews 10:23 “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” 2 Thessalonians 3:3 says, “But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.” Deuteronomy 7:9 says, “Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.” We can rely on 100% of God promises to be fulfilled and that should stimulate our faith.
Second, God’s promises should calm our fears. There are so many verses that talk about not being afraid because God is with us. In Isaiah 41:10 it says, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Psalm 23:4 says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Hebrews 13:6 says, “So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” We can rely on 100% of God promises to be fulfilled and that should calm all our fears.
Third, God’s promises should give us hope for our future on this earth. Lamentations 3:21-23 says, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
But God’s promises should also give us hope for our future in heaven. John 14:1-3 says, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. Revelation 3:11 says, “I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.” Matthew 24:30-31 says, “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” Acts 17:31 says, “Because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” We can rely on 100% of God promises to be fulfilled and that should give us hope for our future on earth and hope for our future in heaven.
I pray that the promises of God found in his Word will encourage you this morning. As Gene and Roxey come to lead us in our final song of the day, let’s pray: Awesome God, we thank you for the promises that you have given us in your Word. We know that they are trustworthy and true. We pray that they would stimulate our faith, calm our fears and give us hope for our future here on earth and for our eternity in heaven as well. We give you all honor, glory and praise. In Jesus’ name, Amen.