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Abram Believed God

Date: Apr. 29, 2018

Author: Michael Mark

Genesis 15:1-21

Key Verse: Genesis 15:6

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

Our lives are built on trust.  Without trust we cannot build, we cannot grow and we cannot thrive.  You trust that your parents will take care of you.  You trust that your school is teaching you valuable skills and knowledge.  You trust that your job will pay you for an honest day’s work.  You trust that the dollar that is in your wallet can buy you goods and services.  Trust is foundational to life, and all of this is a reflection of the Creator who made the universe.  Trust is a reflection of God’s attribute of faithfulness.  He has built life on trust, ultimately to teach us that we ought to trust in him.  But because of sin in the world, trust has been corrupted.  It is still the driving force in the world, but trust has been diverted away from God.  Instead people trust in money, other people, and other things like sports teams to find satisfaction.  That song by Journey, “Don’t Stop Believing,” were they singing about “don’t stop believing in God?”  No, the song was used to remind everyone “Don’t stop believing in the White Sox,” who did win the World Series in 2005.  Wow, some of you were like 4 years old then.  Joking aside, sure, faith does add meaning to life.  It’s fun to root for your home team and see them win.  But we can learn from this passage the grave importance of believing in God.

We are now about 5-10 years into the life of Abram after he was called to leave his father’s household and go where God told him to go.  Last week we saw Abram defeat and rout 4 powerful kings who swept through the Middle East.  On his way back he met Melchizedek and worshipped God with him.  Here he also rejected the spoils of war the king of Sodom offered to him, so that he cannot say “I made Abram rich.”  Now look at v.1, “After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid, Abram.  I am your shield, your very great reward.’”  Perhaps now Abram was back at home, worshipping God at the altar he built, when the word of the Lord came to him in a vision.  Something was troubling Abram, and God knew what it was, so he came and said, “Do not be afraid.”  Abram was scared about something.  Perhaps he was afraid of retaliation by the 4 kings he defeated, who might come back with stronger armies.  He might have been afraid of his neighbors, who might suspect him now as a powerful foreigner who might want to take their land.

In this passage we see God telling Abram who he is twice.  The first time here he says, “I am your shield, your very great reward.” God was telling Abram he would be his protector, like a shield.  If you look at the footnotes in some of your Bibles, the word shield could also be translated as sovereign.  Shields at the time also represented kings, the defenders of the nations.  So God could also be telling Abram that he is his Sovereign King, and will protect him.  He also says “your very great reward.”  Abram was very wealthy in livestock, silver and gold already, but God said to him, “I am your very great reward.”  Abram’s rewards were not in his already great possessions, God himself was an even better reward.  God did not only say, “I am your reward,” but he said “your very great reward.”  God is an exceedingly great reward.  What God is to Abram, he also is to us.  He is our shield, our sovereign and protector.  Is God also your very great reward?  Is God more than enough for you, or do you desire the things of this world over God?  Are you, or can you be completely satisfied in God?

Look at Abram’s response in v.2, “But Abram said, ‘Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?’”  What? Is Abram asking for more?  God just said “I am your very great reward,” but Abram said, “what can you give me?”  What is going on here?  This is the first time recorded in the Bible where we see Abram speak back to God.  In previous chapters we see God telling Abram where to go or what to do, and Abram obeying.  He may have spoken with God during these years, but here are his first words and they are complaints!  Not only does he complain, but he almost accuses God of failing on his promise in v.3, “And Abram said, ‘You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.’”  “God, you did not give me what you promised.”  Before we blame Abram too much, let’s look at his circumstances.  Abram was now about 80-85 years old, and he believed God would make him a great nation, and that the world would be blessed through him.  He believed that in order to make this happen, he needed a son.  But here he is in the land of Canaan.  His life may be in danger because of what he did.  On top of that, he is over 80 years old, and it has been 5-10 years since God made the promise.  He’s not getting any younger. 

So Abram is worried about the promise.  He wants the promise.  Abram is not asking for a child for his own self.  More than that he desires the child in order to fulfill God’s promise, and he is fearing this will not happen.  He spoke quite irreverently with God.  But I think because Abram desired the God’s promise, he wasn’t rebuked, but rather comforted as he was corrected.  But let that be an encouragement to us to take our burdens to the Lord.  To cast our cares upon the Lord, and even voice our frustrations with him.  He is patient and understanding.  There have been times I’ve shouted at the Lord, sometimes privately, because I was angry about something, only to feel ashamed that God worked it out later.  Since then I have learned it’s better to trust God, and bring your cares to him politely, in any case be encouraged to take your worries, anxieties or problems to God, who is a heavenly Father to you and will listen.

Look at what God says to Abram in v.4-5, “The word of the Lord came to him: ‘This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.’ He took him outside and said, ‘Look up at the sky and count the stars – if indeed you can count them.’  Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’” God comforted Abram and reiterated his promise.  He rejected Abram’s notion of his servant being an heir, and reaffirmed that Abram’s heir would be one of his own flesh and blood.  Then God took him outside.  I picture God gently leading Abram as if to show him an amazing surprise. He says, “Look up at the sky and count the stars – if indeed you can count them.”  God was about to say something only God could say.  It was God who populated the skies with billions upon billions of stars.  He pointed out the fact that the stars were limitless, uncountable.  And then he told Abram, “So shall your offspring be.” Wow.  The God who put zillions of stars in the sky, many of them hundreds or thousands of times bigger than the earth, could surely populate the world with zillions of children.

Can we all please read v.6, “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” This verse seems like a side note, modestly inserted in here dividing the chapter in two.  It seems like it can be easily overlooked or passed up. “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”  Next verse.  But thanks to Paul, who devoted an entire chapter to it in the book of Romans, Ch. 4, we now know what a deeply rich, monumental and pivotal verse this is. This verse sums up Abram’s life, but it tells us so much more about how salvation works.  What does it mean that “Abram believed the Lord?”  According to Rom 4:21, Abram was “fully persuaded that God had the power to do what he had promised.”  This can be another definition of faith (the primary is one given in Heb 11:1).  What is faith?  What is believing in God?  It is being fully persuaded.  Fully persuaded, that God had the power to do what he had promised.  Abram was fully persuaded.  Are you fully persuaded that God has the power to do what he promised? This whole chapter is about God persuading us that he can and he will keep his promises, as we’ll see soon.

Now the second part of v.6 “and he credited it to him as righteousness,” teaches us about how God’s salvation works.  First, of course, it is by faith.  Then comes the credit.  What does it mean to credit?  Some people love the word credit.  Some people love credit cards.  Um, that’s not the greatest concept credit, but here are better ones:  Everyone loves to see credits on their statements. Imagine $1000 credit on your tuition bill, or $50 credit on your cell phone bill.  To credit means to add to your account.  Now to be credited with righteousness, means to add righteousness to your account.  I know you might be thinking, what value is righteousness?  I can’t see it.  I can’t touch it.  I can’t put it in my wallet.  But let me tell you, righteousness is probably the most valuable thing in the world. It is more valuable than silver or gold. Listen to what Prov 22:1 says, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”  What is righteousness?  It is honesty, integrity, virtue, goodness, good morals, ethical, good principles, honor. I think you might agree with me that these things are much more valuable than silver or gold.  What good are riches that are gotten dishonestly?  Maybe they’ll taste good at first, but they’re sure to become bitter soon.  How can you enjoy life, without any trust?  Is it better to have an honest employee, or a crooked one?  But righteousness has an even greater value, because it is not only good for this life, but the life to come.  In fact, you cannot even get into heaven without righteousness.  This is why everyone should scramble to get righteousness, though it is only found in one place.  Are you righteous?  Righteousness is first of all pure.  You either have it or you don’t.  When you stand on the scales before the Judge of all the earth, what shall He find? For those who don’t have righteousness, they may see “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin,” as Belshazzar saw in the book of Daniel.  Tekel: You have been found weighed on the scales and found wanting.  As Paul has told us, “for all sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Where then can we find righteousness?  Where then can we get this righteousness credited to our accounts?!  Never fear, for God has given us good news.  Paul writes, “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed – a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”  Notice there is no righteousness of man.  There is only the righteousness of God, which comes from God, that we can receive, and Abram shows us how to receive it: “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited to him as righteousness.”  Paul explains to us in Rom 4:23-25, “The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us,” – me and you – “to whom God will credit righteousness – for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”

Did you know that these words in v.6 were written to you also?  And in whom is it that we must believe?  We must believe in God who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.  God who raised Jesus from the dead is the object of our faith.  How is righteousness credited to our account?  Because our sins were credited to Jesus’ account.  Jesus took away all our sins by paying for them with his shed blood and death on the cross.  If he had stayed dead, the power of sin would still be at work.  But he rose from the dead, declaring that the eternal debt of sin has been paid in full, and offers everlasting righteousness to those who believe in him.  Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will receive the righteousness that is from God as your treasured possession, and you will be righteous in the sight of God. That’s what’s most important. Through Jesus, you are declared righteous in the sight of God, the King and Judge of the heavens and the earth.

Are you still not persuaded yet that God can keep his promises?  Let’s continue with v.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.” This is the second time God describes himself in this chapter, so this is the second time God is strengthening Abram’s faith.  Notice here that it is the Lord that brought Abram out.  Likewise it is the Lord who calls out of darkness into his marvelous light. And it is the Lord who gives, and he is giving Abram this land.  Look at Abram’s response in v.8, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”  Abram’s asking a question again, but this time, it is not complaining.  This time, this question is from faith.  He is not asking in doubt, but he wants a token from God, some sign to strengthen his faith.  I read an article on how to help a child deal with a parent leaving for work, for example.  For younger children, giving something like a T-shirt will reassure them and give them something to remind them of you when you are gone.  For older children, a photo or a favorite toy might work. Similarly, Abram is asking for something from God to hold on to and give strength to his faith.

God kindly obliges to Abram’s request.  He tells Abram to bring a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a pigeon.  God is about to prove to Abram he will keep his promise by entering into a covenant. Today, when a covenant is made, a lawyer or the parties involved will sign a contract.  In Abram’s time, some covenants were made by cutting an animal in two, and walking through them.  Those that walked through them agreed that if any of them break the covenant, they should be like the animals they walked through.  Abram obeyed God’s request and he may have been familiar with these types of ceremonies, so everything was prepared to establish the covenant.  God would confirm his promise in a covenant to assure Abram that he would do as he said.  Have you ever written some coupons or IOUs as gifts?  Like write a coupon to vacuum the floor, or do the dishes, and give them to your parents or your spouse?  God, the Creator of heaven and earth, does not need to be accountable to anyone.  But in his humble grace he goes through a solemn ceremony of covenant making that people in Abram’s culture would be familiar with.

Look at v.12, “As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.”  I’m not exactly sure when Abram fell asleep – if it was after God had said all these things, or before.  Maybe he had seen the darkness come about, and the darkness, though terrifying, would help Abram and the reader understand that God would give a gloomy prophecy. God prophesied that Abram’s descendants would be slaves and mistreated.  This was fulfilled in Egypt.  Imagine what was going through Abram’s mind, as he hears how his children, his numerous descendants, children of the promise, would be mistreated. This might have also been helpful to Moses’ readers, written around 400 years after this prophecy.  The Israelites, the foretold descendants of Abraham, may have wondered why they were going though such suffering in Egypt and in the Wilderness, but God knew. 

We can learn a couple lessons about what faith in God looks like from this prophecy.  Sometimes faith requires trusting in God, even when things are going bad.  Abram’s descendants would be in slavery.  Sometimes things don’t seem to be working out in the moment, but God is in control. Even the Israelites would eventually come out with great possessions, and the nation that enslaved them would be punished.  When Christians face persecution, or if you yourself are going through a difficult time, trust in a patient and just God.  Perhaps you are being trained, made able to sympathize with others in the same situation. Or God is patient with a sinner so that they may repent.  God will reward richly all those who persevere. Perhaps in this sinful world, God is dealing with everyone individually and all at the same time.

Sometimes faith requires patience to wait through a delay.  When God told Abram he would give this land to take possession of it, Abram did not have possession of it at the time.  In this prophecy God even told him he would not live to see even his descendants take it.  God said in v.15 Abram would go to his ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age.  It would take 4 generations for God to give the land to Abram’s descendants.  But what was Abram’s faith?  Heb 11:13-16 tell us he was still living by faith when he died.  He did not receive the things promised; but only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.  He was longing for a better country – a heavenly one.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called his God, for he has prepared a city for him and all those who live by faith.  Sometimes God may not have answered your prayer yet.  But eventually all things, all you will want and need and hope for, will be given to you.  Some people want instant gratification.  Some people just want worldly comfort and riches.  But God is interested in giving us eternal and spiritual riches, though he does not neglect our earthly needs.  One preacher summed it up best, his name is Jon Lands, I just heard him on Sermon Audio: “Faith is not getting what you want from God. Faith is accepting what God give you when he gives it.”  That is trusting God.  It is accepting what he gives you, when he gives it to you.

Finally, we see God passing between the pieces, in a smoking firepot and blazing torch.  These are symbolic of God, like the pillar of fire in the wilderness, and also how God is the blazing light in deep darkness.  But notice, where is Abram?  He is in a deep sleep.  God had put him in a deep sleep so that he would go through the pieces himself.  God made this a covenant of grace.  Abram was not required to do anything, but God bound himself to do as he promised, or may he be like the pieces on the ground.  God swore by himself that he would give Abram’s descendants the land between Egypt and the Euphrates, and the 10 tribes that occupied them.  It was a lot of land promised to one man, but the Lord would do it.  God confirmed the covenant, and not only should this strengthen Abram’s faith, but ours as well, because we are Abraham’s descendants, and these promises also belong to us.

Jesus said “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  You believe in God; believe also in me.  My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am going. (John 14:1-4)”  Do you believe in God?  Is he your shield, your King, your protector, and is he your very great reward?  Abram believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.  Believe in Him who raised Jesus from the dead, and you will be credited with righteousness, a perfect purity, a prefect love, and a perfect peace, and a deposit guaranteeing eternal life and an inheritance that will never perish, spoil or fade, kept in heaven for you.  Be fully persuaded that Jesus has the power to do what he had promised.

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Seek Righteousness, Seek Humility

Zephaniah 2:1-15

Key Verse: 2:3

  Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land,
    who do his just commands;
  seek righteousness; seek humility;
    perhaps you may be hidden
    on the day of the anger of the LORD.

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