Thursday, October 18, 2018

Genesis 15:1-21


When God appears to Abram in a vision saying that his reward shall be great (15:1), Abram questions how that could be the case considering he would have to adopt Eliezer among his household as heir (15:2). In the ancient world the greatest tragedy imaginable was childlessness because no one would remain to carry on the family line.

Yet, the Lord tells Abram that his descendants shall be greater than the number of stars in the sky (15:5). Genesis 15:6 subsequently stresses a truth that transcends the moment. We read, "Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness."

Below under TAKE TIME TO REVIEW, I quote from Gordon J. Wenham to highlight just a little bit of the theological magnitude associated with Genesis 15:6 and its connection to our being justified by faith alone. In this blog entry, however, I wish only to comment on a few characteristics about Abram's faith and its connection to us.

1. Faith and Feelings:

In our culture when we introduce ourselves, one of the first questions anyone asks us is: "What do you do?" It is something of an identifier. 

It might prove a bit uncomfortable if I were laid off as a teacher and someone asked me what I did. If I said, "I'm a teacher," what would likely be his or her next question - "Oh, where do you teach?"  

In Abram's culture, a primary identifier often accompanied your actual name. Consider that Abram means "Exalted Father." Then, in Genesis 17:5, the Lord expands his name to Abraham, meaning "Father of a Multitude."

When Abram introduced himself, I doubt it absurd that someone might ask, "Tell me exalted father, how many children do you have?" I imagine it could prove awkward to say, "Well, actually, none." Or, "You must have a lot of children father of a multitude?" Only to say, "I have but one" (cf. Gen. 16:16).

Could you imagine how the meaning of his name and the circumstance of his life might have impacted his sense of being? Still, in Genesis 15:6, Abram does not let his feelings dictate his faith; rather, his faith shapes his feelings.

Put it like this: You are a singer who is at risk of losing your vocal chords. Or you are a parent dealing with a son who has a drug addiction. Or you are a single woman who has always wanted to be married with children. 

In various circumstances of our lives, it is easy for the way we feel amid uncertain or trying situations to dictate whether we trust God or not. Things look bleak, so we doubt and perhaps try to take control of matters for ourselves. 

But at least in Genesis 15:6 Abram's faith is to say, "Even though things don't seem to add up right now, I will not live discouraged but will stand on the promises of God." The quality of Abram's faith in Genesis 15:6 is the precursor to why we call him the Father of our Faith. 

Indeed, all who would place their faith in the coming Messiah (Old Testament) followed by all who will place their faith in the resurrected Messiah (New Testament) are children of Abraham. His descendants outnumber the stars!

2. Promise and Patience:

The Lord's promise to Abram is not just for many children; it is also for a land. That promise is made through a covenant that God establishes with Abram (15:18), of which circumcision becomes its sign (cf. Gen. 17:10-11). 

The covenant with Abraham finds its completion in the New Testament era, only the sign of baptism replaces the sign of circumcision (cf. Col. 2:11-12). The land of promise is not Canaan but the Celestial City (cf. Heb. 11:8-16). 

In establishing the Abrahamic covenant, God tells Abram that his descendants would have to wait to enter the land of promise. Along the way, before possessing it, they would encounter obstacles and hardships and suffering (15:13). One day, though, the people of promise would enter into the place of promise.  

Jesus Christ fulfills the covenant made with Abram/Abraham. Abram was promised a seed in the miraculous birth of Isaac, through whom the nation of Israel would emerge. Isaac's birth was but a precursor to the true seed - the miraculous birth of Jesus Christ, from whom a spiritual nation of a royal priesthood emerges (cf. Gal. 3:16; 1 Pet. 2:9).

While those in the physical lineage of Abraham would eventually inherit the land of Canaan for what would prove to be a season, those who place their trust in Christ (the spiritual lineage of Abraham) will inherit a celestial land of promise for eternity. However, before possessing it, Christians can expect along the way to encounter obstacles and hardships and suffering in this life. The promises of God require patience. 

3. Example and Encouragement:

Not all examples are positive. Abram was a man in process. 

In Genesis 16, Abram lets his feelings dictate his faith, rather than vice versa. He loses patience in the promise and tries to assume control of matters himself by agreeing to take Sarai's handmaid Hagar for a wife and conceiving a son by her. In Genesis 20, Abraham lets fear overtake his faith, rather than vice versa. He lies to the foreign king Abimelech - not acknowledging Sarah as his wife - instead of trusting the Lord's protection. 

In this way I conclude by suggesting that we should let both the positive and negative examples of Abraham's faith be an encouragement to us. At times we will be stronger in our faith; other times we will be weaker. 

Our Father in the Faith was not a giant in the faith from the start. His faith constantly grew - through moments of unyielding trust and after times of undeniable doubt. His faith was not perfect, and neither will ours yet be. The moments in our lives when we lack patience in God's promises or when we grow fearful in our predicaments should not deter us from the ongoing journey.

The character of Abram's faith should thus teach us three practical lessons: (1) let your faith in the promises of God dictate your feelings rather than your feelings amid uncertain moments dictate your faith, (2) the fulfillment of God's promises for God's people require patience, and (3) do not allow times when you fail in your faith fool you into believing that you cannot continue to grow spiritually and serve God significantly. 


Right now in my faith journey, I need to believe God for:



from Best Devotional Commentary - "One of our problems is that we are always looking down. Essentially, we are looking at ourselves, and that leads to doubt. We look at ourselves and say, 'I don't see how I can do that. I don't see how I can believe what God is promising.' If we were in Abram's shoes, we would say, 'I don't see how I am going to have children at my age.' The problem is that we are looking at ourselves. We are not the one who gives the promises. God is. So we need to stop looking down and start looking up. We need to have our minds stretched by God's greatness. ...
     The ultimate question in life is whether you believe God. It is not a question of whether you believe in God. Many people say they believe in God. There has to be a God, in their opinion. But this does not mean anything to them. The real question is whether you believe God, who makes these promises, and whether you live by what God has promised. Has God spoken? If so, has God spoken clearly? If God has spoken clearly, can God be trusted to do what He has promised? Wise is one who answers yes to those questions and lives by faith in those promises" (Boice).  

from Best Academic Commentary - "Abram is a model for all his descendants to imitate: whatever their circumstances, they must have faith in God. The importance of faith is underlined by the following clause, 'it was counted to him as righteousness' (v. 6). Righteousness is a guarantee of salvation, of acquittal in the day of judgment. It involves conformity to God's will set forth in the law. Here, however, faith counts for righteousness: it is the response of believing obedience to the word of God, not righteous deeds, that counted for righteousness. To be sure, such faith, when genuine, issues in righteous deeds, but that it is not what the text says: faith counts for (instead of) righteousness.
     It is therefore natural and right for the NT writers to refer to this text in describing how salvation is available in Christ. Paul stresses that faith for Abram meant believing in God's promise of a child, an attitude to God that preceded his acts of obedience (Rom. 4). While Genesis implies that the sons of Abram must be men of faith, Paul turns the words around and explains, 'it is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham' (Gal. 3:7)" (Wenham).

from Best Preaching/Teaching Commentary - "The principles in this chapter are essentially the same for any age. Today people become the people of God by faith as well, and their faith brings righteousness before God (Rom. 4:3; Gal. 3:6). To New Testament believers God has also made great promises (Heb. 9:15, et al.), but those promises seem to be greatly delayed in the face of suffering and death (2 Peter 3:9). By His covenant which He made by His own blood, however, our Lord has guaranteed that His Word is sure and that neither death nor oppression can destroy His promises (Heb. 7:20-25; Rom. 8:31-39)" (Ross).

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