As preached by Timothy O'Day.
"God keeps His promises."
We receive faith by faith...
1) God's promise to provide a dwelling place with him (13:2-18).
2) God's promise to conquer all that threatens his people (14:1-24).
3) God's promise to provide these gifts despite uncertainty (15:1-21).
A Faithful God for the people of Faith
July 23, 2023
This past week, you all exercised faith in a number of ways. If you used an alarm clock, you placed your faith in that clock actually working and waking you up. If you handed off a project to a coworker, you exercised faith that he or she would get the job done. If you went to the gas station and place your payment through the keypad, you exercised faith that the pump would then fill your tank with gas instead of water.
These are all, in a sense, acts of faith albeit reasonable acts of faith. In day to day life, faith is inevitable. There are numerous spoken and assumed promises that we latch onto by faith and walk toward.
What makes the faith worthwhile in all of these situations, though, is not the strength or sincerity of the faith; what matters is the reality of the promise of which the faith lays hold. Your faith can be so strong that the pump will fill your car with gas that you do not even think of it as faith, but the strength of your belief that the car will fill with gas does not make the tank fill with gas. The reality of the promise of the gas station is what fills it with gas. The reality of the promise is what makes the faith effective and beneficial. Without the reality of the promise, the faith would just disappoint.
In looking at Genesis 13:2-15:21, we see this dynamic played out. Promises are abundant, but only God’s promises are real. Therefore, only faith in God’s promises provide actual benefit. In these chapters, the narrative continues to follow Abram and leads us to see that God keeps his promises no matter the circumstances. God made specific promises to Abram in Genesis 12:1-3—that he would give him descendants, land, and bless him with a great name. We saw in chapter 12 that Abram’s faith wavered in this promise, yet God remained faithful to keep it. What we see in Chapters 13-15 is that even more challenges arise to theses promises, but Abram responds in faith.
But why should we care if God keeps his promise to Abram? We should care because the promises God makes to Abram are the means by which he will bless all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:3). In other words, these promises supply the inkwell for the gospel message; they are the color palette for the masterpiece that is the good news. These promises blossom into the gospel of Jesus Christ. And, just like Abram, we receive these promises by faith. These chapters, then, are not just history for us to know but instructions for us to follow. What instructions do we see in these chapters?
We receive by faith…
1. God’s promise to provide a dwelling place with him (13:2-18)
Genesis 13:1 narrates Abram’s return to the land that God promised to him. Through God’s faithful kindness to Abram, disaster was averted in Egypt and, despite his faithlessness, God blessed Abram with wealth—which aligned with his promise to Abram in Genesis 12:1-3. This new situation of abundance is narrated in 13:2. As a result of God’s kindness to him, Abram’s faith in God is strengthened, which is seen in verses 3-4 in that Abram returns back to where he started and but his first altar expressing his faith. In that place, he called on the name of the Lord. This is what makes this land so special: there Abram communes and walks with the Lord.
Verses 5-7, though, express conflict that arose after this. Abram is now wealthy, but Lot has also grown in his possession of flocks and herds. Lot is blessed by his association with Abram, which is what God promised when he said that he would bless those who bless him. Because of their mutual wealth—and because others lived in the land as well—conflict arose between Abram’s men and Lot’s men. There was a competition over where the animals would graze and places to water the animals as well.
Abram Moves by Faith, Not Sight
Abram’s response is to play the role of peacemaker in verses 8-9, which is a display of his faith that God will give to him what he has promised. Abram does not need to fight for the land because God has not told him to fight for it. Rather, God has promised that he will give it to him. Thus, because of his faith, instead of fighting, Abram—who is older and superior—treats Lot as an equal and gives him first choice of where to graze.
Lot Moves By Sight, Not Faith
But how does Lot respond? He is the opposite of Abram. Lot responds in verses 10-13 by looking at the Jordan Valley and noticing that it is well watered “Like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt,” and in seeing this provision chooses that region for himself. How did he base his choice? By sight and not by believing God’s promise. There are several bull horns in these verses that alert us to the fact that this is the wrong choice to make. Did you notice that there are two statements about the wickedness of this region? At the end of verse 10 there is a reference to the fact that Lot separated and went into this region “before etc LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah,” which is a reference to what will take place later on. And why did the Lord destroy Sodom? Verse 13 gives the answer, “Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD.” And, as we see at the end of verse 12, Sodom is where Lot ended up moving his tent. Not only do we have these references in these verses to alert us to the fact that Lot was acting foolishly, but we even have the overall symbolism of moving east in the book of Genesis. To go east is to move away from the presence and promise of God. In this action, Lot has not esteeming Abram as God’s chosen vessel of blessing the nations. And in not esteeming him, he finds himself moving away from God’s promises and, as we will see later on, moving away form his security.
What is Gained By Faith?
We are told twice, once in verse 11, and again in verse 14, that Lot and Abram separated from each other. What did Lot separate from when he separated from Abram? God’s promise, which he reiterates to Abram after Lot leaves. In verse 14 God calls Abram to lift up his eyes and look in all directions to see the land that the Lord will give him and his offspring. Not only will he give the land, but he also promises offspring as numerous as the dust of the earth. Then, in verse 17, God calls Abram to walk the breadth of this land that he has promised to him. This is reminiscent of a custom in the ancient world for a king to symbolically walk through the region of his domain, surveying all that is his. After doing this, we see in verse 18 that Abram settles at Hebron and builds another altar to the Lord, signifying his faith that God will keep his promise and give the land to him and his descendants.
How Can We Walk By This Same Faith?
Do you see what faith in God’s promises does for Abram in these verse? Faith empowers Abram to be generous. He does not claim or demand from Lot what the Lord has promised to give. Instead, in trust, he makes peace with Lot and treats him as an equal because he believes God will keep his promise.
We also see that the great obstacle to this faith is sight. Lot’s eyes are drawn away from the prosperity that he gained by being with Abram by the potential of the Jordan Valley. In the same way, there are things that can draw your eyes away from God’s promise. The potential that he sees in the valley blinds him to the reality of the wickedness in the valley. Be warned: your eyes can make you think that you are running toward prosperity and gain when you are actually venturing toward the gates of hell. There are so many shiny and glittering treasures in this world that call for your attention, but in the end they fade and their real cost was distracting you from the beauty and glory of God.
Rather than living by sight, you should keep the promises of God on your mind. Abram was promised in 13:15 that the land would be given to him and his descendants “forever.” There are two ways to read this promise: a limited way and an expansive way. The limited way is to say that the exact parcel of land promised here is to always belong to the physical descendants of Abram. That is to say, ethnic Israel is to always have the promised land. But Paul speaks of this promise in an expansive way. In Romans 4:13, Paul writes, “For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through he law but through the righteousness of faith.” Did you catch that? He does not say that Abraham and his offspring were promised merely a piece of land but rather the whole world? What Paul is picking up on is that the promise is not limited to this piece of land but that the promise begins with this piece of land. The world is actually promised to Abraham’s offspring. Yes, his biological descendants did inherit the promised land, but his promised offspring—Jesus Christ—inherits the land and all of the earth. And we become children of Abraham, and heirs with Christ, when we united with Jesus by having a faith like Abraham’s.
Here is what all of this means: when you are united to Christ by faith, God has given you the world. Not merely this broken world but the new heavens and earth that he will usher in at the return of Christ. Like Abram, we await by faith the promised world to come.
But in order to have that world, we await by faith God’s act of disarming all threats against us. That’s what we see Abram await by faith next.
We receive by faith…
2. God’s promise to conquer all that threatens his people (14:1-24).
The next threat to God’s promise to Abraham arises in chapter 14. This chapter is all about kingship as the word “king” is used 28 times. Verses 1-4 set the stage by telling us that 5 kings in the Siddom Valley rebelled against 4 kings, headed by Chedorlaomer. At some point Chedorlaomer had exerted dominance over these other kings and forced them to pay tribute to him. The 5 kings did this for a time, but after 12 years they rebelled. As a result, Chedorlaomer and his vessel kings came against these five kings.
Verses 5-7 express the strength of these 4 eastern kings as these verses tell us that these kings defeated mighty peoples on their way to address this rebellion by the 5 kings.
Verses 8-12 then tell us how helpless the 5 kings were against the 4 eastern kings. The battle isn’t even describe aside from saying that the 4 kings and their armies fled and all of their people and possessions were captured, including Lot and all that he owned.
Abram Responds in Faith
How does Abram respond? If you recall in Genesis 12:2, God promised to make Abram’s name great. This isn’t merely promising that Abram will be remembered but has royal overtones to it, for kings have great names. When Abram hears that Lot has been taken captive, he does not simply mourn and wonder how he could compete with mighty kings. Instead, he he led forth his trained men, 318 of them, along with the men of his allies that are not numbered. This tells us two things right off the bat: first, God really has increased and blessed Abram. He is not merely a poor itinerant herder of sheep. His operation requires him to have over 300 trained men working for him. These men are also probably married and have children. That means he supports and has enough property to need possibly around 100 people (counting men, women, and children). Secondly, it shows us that he trusted God’s promise to make him great and protect him. It is in this trust that Abram pursued, surprised, and defeated these 4 kings that had defeated everyone else.
Abram’s Faith After Success
But rescuing Lot was not Abram’s only act of faith. After his success, he is faced with two options of kingship in verses 17-24. In these verses, the king of Sodom (who is unnamed) and the king of Salem, named Melchizedek, come out to meet him. Melchizedek comes bringing bread and wine and blessing Abram, saying in verses 19-20, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” Later on, in verse 22, Abram speaks of YWH, the LORD, as God Most High, which leads us to see that Abram is not the only worshiper of the one true God. Melchizedek is a worshiper of the true God credits God with Abram’s victory. As a priest of God, Abram renders tribute to God from the spoils by giving to Melchizedek.
In contrast to Melchizedek, whose first recorded words to Abram are “blessed be Abram,” there is the king of Sodom, whose first words are “give me…” In verses 21-24, the king of Sodom tries to stipulate terms to Abram as if Abram was his inferior. In making this offer, the king of Sodom sought to wield authority over Abram and make him great by enriching him. But just as Abram had no interest in demanding land from Lot, he was not interested in demanding greatness from the king of Sodom.
How Can We Walk By This Same Faith?
You may begin by faith, but temptations will arise to call you away from trusting God. It is easy to imagine a scenario where Abram thinks that God’s provision of making his name great comes through the spoils offered to him by the king of Sodom. Christians face this same temptation to acquire by earthly means only what God can give.
God promises peace for those who come to him in faith (and the peace the surpasses all understanding), but this is by coming and waiting on him in prayer. Yet the world calls out to us, if you just had this gadget, this kind of relationship, this amount of money, this kind of job, then you would be happy and peaceful.
Or God promises in proverbs 28:13 that “whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” Yet the fear of being rejected by people keeps us from confessing and forsaking sin. So we hid sin thinking that it is a short cut to prosperity because people will then like us.
In Matthew chapter 4, Satan tempts Jesus in an attempt to divert him from the cross. His message to Jesus could be boiled down to this: If God really counted you as his beloved Son, then he would not make you suffer all of these things. You do not need to suffer all of these things. Bow down to me instead and I will give you glory.” He offered what sounds like a short cut, but it is really a dead end. There are so many things in this world that promise you a short cut to satisfaction, but they are really just dead ends. The Father had a path for his beloved Son that was purposeful and meaningful. When you place your faith in Christ, you too can know that his path for you—even if it is at times filled with difficulty and waiting—is meaningful and purposeful.
But it is hard to wait. Thankfully, God is gracious to help us as we wait, which is what we see in Genesis 15.
We receive by faith…
3. God’s promise to provide these gifts despite uncertainty (15:1-21).
In chapters 13-14, Abram is walking by faith. But there are two issues that weaken his faith: his childlessness and his lack of ownership of any part of the promised land. God directly assaults each of these issues in this chapter. In verses 1-6, he addresses the issue of Abram’s childlessness. In verses 7-21, he addresses the lack of ownership of land.
Abram’s Faithful Doubt and Justification By Faith
Abram has been walking by faith, yet he still does not have an inch of land or one child. The word of the Lord comes to Abram in 15:1 and he is told “Fear not Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” In one sense, these words are very reassuring. Abram has just attacked 4 very powerful kings who may come back to fight him—so he desperately needs a shield! Abram just gave up all the spoil from what must have been a costly conflict, so God better provide him a reward! In terms of the situation that has developed in chapter 14, these are reassuring promises.
But they are still just promises. Abram has yet to see them come about in the most tangible ways: a son and land to inhabit. This is why Abram says in verse 2, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” He goes on in verse 3, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” Abram’s words here are what I will call “faithful doubt.” He is believing God’s promise but struggling to see how it will come about. It isn’t an accusation that ends a conversation; it is a question that deepens communion with God. This kind of communion with God and others is what grows faith, while stifling questions and faking happiness kills it.
It is such communion with God that leads to an incredible moment between Abram and the Lord. The Lord tells him that his own son, not this adopted servant named Eliezer, shall be his heir. Then he tells him to go outside and number the stairs—if he is able to do so. With this visual, he tells him that his offspring will be so numerous that no one will be able to count them. Then we come to verse 6,
“And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Upon seeing the stars and hearing God’s promise again, Abram believed God’s promise and, by this faith, God counted him as righteous before his eyes.
What’s happening in this moment with Abram? Meredith Kline says it well, so I will just quote him: “To believe the promise of an heir from dead sources was the faith equivalent of believing the gospel of justification and kingdom inheritance through he resurrection of Jesus, our sacrifice, from the dead.” Now let me put that differently. Abram and Sarai were, for human intent and purposes, a dead source. They were so old that no child could come from them. So when Abram heard God’s promise and believed it, he was believing that God could bring from the bodies good as dead life. This faith is the same as faith that believes God’s promise that we will inherit the kingdom by Christ being risen from the dead.
Being counted as righteous does not mean that Abram becomes perfectly righteous in this moment. As we will see in the very next chapter, Abram still fails in many ways. What happens is that righteousness is imputed to Abram. This is different from infused righteousness. Imputed righteousness means that righteousness is credited to Abram. This is different from infused righteousness which means that one is permeated with righteousness.
Like Abram, righteousness can be imputed to us by faith. As Abram was presented with this specific promise from God, he believed and was credited as righteous before God because of his faith. In the same way, when you hear the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the good news that even though you are a sinner, God the Son, the second person of the trinity, took on flesh and lived a life of perfect obedience (the life you and I should have lived) and died a substitutionary death on the cross, bearing God’s wrath for sin (the punishment we deserve for our sins), and rose again from the grave so that whoever believes in him would be saved from sin, then you will be counted as perfectly righteous before God.
God Accommodates His Promise to Abram
In verse 7, the issue turns from a child to the land. In verse 8, Abram simply asks, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it,” speaking of the land that God has promised. In response, God calls Abram to bring out a heifer, a female goat, a ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon. It is telling that the Lord does not tell Abram what to do with these animals. Abram just knows what to do. This is a giveaway that what he was doing was common and well known at the time. In the ancient world, when one made a covenant it was actually referred to as “cutting a covenant” because you would cut animals into two parts, setting the halves close together to make a walk-way in-between them. Then the parties of the covenant would walk between the pieces as if to say, “If I do not keep my covenant promises, then what was done to these animals be done to me” (See Jeremiah 34:18 for a comparison).
But notice what happens next: Abram fell into a deep sleep. While asleep, Abram had a dream in which two things happen: first, a prophecy is given to him about his descendants. They will sojourn in a foreign land and will be servants there for four hundred years, but they will come back with great riches to possess the land. This is God foretelling Abram what will happen to the people of Israel in Egypt.
Then, in verse 17, we read that a smoking fire pot and a flaming torched passed between the pieces. Then, in verse 18, we read that “on that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram.” The smoking fire pot and flaming torch might seem mysterious at first, but remember that Genesis is supposed to be read along with the rest of the Torah—Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. In Exodus, there are two things that typically accompany a theophany—a manifestation of God’s presence—smoke and fire. Here, then, the smoking fire pot and the flaming torch represent, if you will, the legs of God passing through the pieces of the animals in order to make a covenant with Abram. This means that God assured Abram by ratifying his promise to give his descendants the land by making a covenant with him.
What does this show us? God is so committed to blessing the world through Abram that he is willing to do in order to do it. But how could God die? This is what we see in the gospel: the Son of God took on flesh and blood in order to obey and suffer as a man.
What Obstacles Stand in Your Way to Receive God’s Promise?
There are obstacles that stand in the way of you receiving God’s promise, but in Jesus Christ God is committed to overcoming them. Really, the greatest obstacle to receiving God’s blessing is your sin. But he is so committed to blessing his people that he gave his Son to bear the penalty of sin on the cross so that you may be blessed.
Hear his invitation from Isaiah 55:1-2, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.”
Why can you come without money and still buy? Because Jesus paid it all. His body was broken so that yours may not be; his blood was shed so that yours would not be. How can this forgiveness of sin be yours? How can your sin be counted to him and his righteousness to you? By faith. That is God’s promise. Will you receive it?
As we come to the table, we celebrate this promise by receiving it through faith.