Abram, The Friend of God – Genesis 12-15

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Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

August 12, 2007

Abram: The Friend of God

Genesis 12-15

Review

In brief, what have we learned so far in our overview of the Bible?

First, that it is completely reasonable to believe that the Bible is God’s revelation of Himself and His will to man and therefore we should study it so that we may know Him and follow Him.  (See: Why We Believe the Bible)

Second, that God is the omniscient and omnipotent Creator who can and did create the heavens and the earth and all that is in them in just six days as He said. (See: In the Beginning: God and The Days of Creation) We learned that evolution and the Genesis account of creation cannot be reconciled while also learning that evolution is not science but rather a philosophical system whose model of origins does not fit the actual data gathered from observation and testing in the real world. The physical realties are that evolution is in direct contradiction to the laws of physics including the Second Law of Thermodynamics; that the age of the earth is not in the billions or even millions but only thousands of years; that the geologic column exists only in text books and in the minds of men who continually try to force it to fit even where the actual formations are clearly contradictory to it; that the fossil record does not document even a single major morphological change of one animal type into another much less any type of “evolutionary tree.” It is as Bounoure, former director of the National Center of Scientific Research in France said, “Evolutionism is a fairy tale for grown-ups. This theory has helped nothing in the progress of science. It is useless.”  (See: The Importance of Creation)

Third, we have learned that God created man in His own image in being a person who is rational, emotional and volitional as well as reflecting all of God’s moral attributes in perfection – holiness, righteousness, love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, gentleness, kindness, self-control, etc. Man has an immaterial nature which separates him from the animals. God fashioned Eve from one of Adam’s rib and established marriage. Man was to be God’s regent on earth in subduing it and ruling over it. (See: God Created Man)

Fourth, we learned that though God placed Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden, an environment perfectly suited to them, they succumbed to Satan’s lies to rebel against God and disobey His one prohibition about eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. I should emphasize here that it was not the fruit itself that gave them this knowledge, but their sinful action that brought the knowledge of evil through their own experience of it. The consequences of their sin broke their relationship with God, began the process of physical death and brought them under God’s curses. Yet, in the midst of those curses was the hope that one day there would be one who would be the seed of the woman that would crush the serpents head (Genesis 3:15). There would be a future redeemer. (See: Sin & Its Consequences)

Sin reigned in the generations that followed. Even though the average length of life of those listed in Genesis 5 is 912 years, each of them still died. Sin also quickly multiplied. Cain murdered Abel. Lamech was also a murderer (See: The Spread of Sin) and by the time of Noah the “wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). God sent a world-wide flood to destroy man, but Noah, a descendant of Adam through the line of Seth, found grace in the eyes of the Lord and carried through him the promise of the future redeemer. Noah was faithful to do all the Lord commanded, He built the ark and through it he and his family along with a pair of all the different types of air breathing land animals survived the flood. (See: God’s Judgement & Grace – The Flood)

When they exited the ark, it was a different world. The land would not be as fertile, the relationship between man and the animals was changed for they would fear him and become a source of food for him, and the protective layer provided by the waters that had been above the heavens was gone. Man’s life span reduced exponentially in the generations that followed. One thing that had not changed was man’s bent toward sin. The bulk of humanity followed Nimrod’s rebellion and refused to disperse over the earth but instead built a city and a tower that was part of false religious practices. God intervened and confused their languages causing them to then spread out around the earth. (See: Man’s Continued Rebellion)

We ended our study last week with the genealogy that traced the line of hope through Noah and Shem down to Abram. We will pick up the story in Genesis 12. What we know of Abram from the end of chapter 11 is that he is one of three sons of Terah and that he lived in Ur of the Chaldeans. His brother Haran had died there and sometime afterward Terah, along with his son, Abram and his wife Sarai, and grandson, Lot, started out for the land of Canaan, but they only moved as far north as a placed named Haran. Terah then died there at the age of 205.

The Abrahamic Covenant

As Genesis 12 starts we find that God reveals Himself to Abram and gives him instructions as well as a three-fold promise. “Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; 2 And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; 3 And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

This is the core of what is commonly referred to as the Abrahamic covenant. First, to Abram and his descendants God would give a certain land. The details of the borders of that land would be told to Abram at a later time in Genesis 15. Second, God would make Abram a great nation. This would take the Lord’s intervention because though the name “Abram” means “exalted father” he was already 75 years old and had no children. Third, God would bless all the families of the earth through Abram. He would be the one through whom God would bring the promised redeemer. Finally, God would be Abram’s protector because He would bless those that blessed Abram and curse those that cursed him.

It is crucial to understand what God is doing here. Man was created to be bring glory to God by being His representative on earth. Man was to rule over it on God’s behalf. Instead, man sinned and failed to fulfill the position for which God had created him. Satan became the usurper who rules over the world in the present age, but that does not mean that God was done with man. God still had a purpose. Man was to proclaim God to all creation while waiting for the time when God would redeem man and restore him to his proper place. However, man following his individual conscience continued in sin and would not obey God. The early human governments which should have helped the situation did the opposite and man became more entrenched in his opposition to God. Yet, in the midst of all this God always had a remnant, the few that did seek to know and follow God and proclaim Him to others. The line of that remnant is what is traced through the genealogies from Adam through Seth to Noah and then through Shem to Abram. God now chose a particular man and a particular line of his descendants that would become a nation that were to be a blessing to all mankind by proclaiming God to them and through whom the promised redeemer would come.

We find in verses 4-9 that Abram did what God told him to do. He took his wife, Sarai (“princess”), along with his nephew, Lot, and traveled to the land of Canaan as far as Shechem. It was there that the Lord again appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land” (Genesis 12:7). Abram built an altar there and then traveled to a place between Bethel and Ai where he pitched his tent and built another altar to the Lord. Then sometime later he traveled further south into the Negev.

Abram in Egypt

In verses 10-20 we find about some of Abram’s character flaws as well as one of the ways in which Abram became very wealthy. 10 “Now there was a famine in the land; so Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. 11 And it came about when he came near to Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, “See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman; 12 and it will come about when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 “Please say that you are my sister so that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may live on account of you.” 14 And it came about when Abram came into Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 And Pharaoh’s officials saw her and praised her to Pharaoh; and the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. 16 Therefore he treated Abram well for her sake; and gave him sheep and oxen and donkeys and male and female servants and female donkeys and camels. 17 But the Lord struck Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. 18 Then Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19 “Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife, take her and go.” 20 And Pharaoh commanded [his] men concerning him; and they escorted him away, with his wife and all that belonged to him. We will end up seeing this same behavior later in Abram’s life and then again in his son, Isaac. Though Abram is known for his faith and his trust in the Lord, there were also times in which that faith was lacking, and this was one of them. He was afraid that the Egyptian might kill him in order to take his wife even though God had already promised that he would become a great nation. We often can be the same way. We find it easy to trust God in some areas, but when circumstances change we find our faith flees. Part of maturing in our walk with the Lord is learning to trust Him even when our fears are great. We will find Abram’s faith will continue to grow throughout his life.

God is gracious even when we fail. God blesses Abram despite his lack of faith and he returns from Egypt with great wealth. He goes back to the Negev and then to where he had been before between Bethel and Ai and returned to calling upon the Lord (Genesis 13:1-4).

Separation from Lot

In Genesis 13:5-13 we find that the great wealth that both Abram and his nephew Lot have now lead to some problems because the land could not sustain so many flocks and herds and their herdsman would end up in contention with each other. Abram came up with a plan to eliminate the problem. He takes Lot up to a ridge overlooking the Jordan valley and treats him as a favored son in giving him first choice of what land he would like to take. Abraham would take the land in the opposite direction so that there would be no strife between them. Perhaps this was also in part to keep being a bad witness before the Canaanites and Perizzites around them, but it was an act of great generosity. The Lord had already promised Abram land, a great name and to become a nation, so perhaps this is also a demonstration that he is trusting God to lead and provide for him.

The Jordan valley still appears as a well watered place today except for the immediate area of the Dead Sea. It would have been even more enticing then prior to the destruction of Sodom & Gomoorah. What could be more alluring to a herdsman than a valley full of green grass and plenty of water? Lot settled in the cities of the valley pitching his tents as far as Sodom, which even then was described as place with men who were “wicked exceedingly and sinners against the Lord” (Genesis 13:13).

The Lord then appeared to Abram and told him “Now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; 15 for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever. 16 “And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if anyone can number the dust of the earth, then your descendants can also be numbered. 17 “Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth; for I will give it to you.” 18 Then Abram moved his tent and came and dwelt by the oaks of Mamre, which are in Hebron, and there he built an altar to the Lord.

The Rescue of Lot

Lot is Captured – In chapter 14 we find that in the course of a war Lot is taken captive and Abram rescues him. The kings in the Tigris & Euphrates regions (Persia to Babylon) had formed a confederacy in which they benefitted themselves by subjugating other regions which included the lower Jordan valley which is referred to here as the Valley of Siddim . After 12 years of that subjugation the kings in the lower Jordan valley rebelled resulting in Cherdolaomer and the kings of Mesopotamia preparing for war and then coming in the 14th year to reconquer them. This eastern alliance conquered the areas to the north, south, east and west of the Valley of Siddim, possibly to protect their flanks and cut off any avenue of escape, before attacking them and re-conquering the area. Some of the kings fell in the tar pits that were in the area, a few escaped to the hills, and everything else was taken captive and carried off as the plunder of war. Among those captured were Lot and his family which had by that time moved into Sodom.

Lot is Recovered– One of the survivors of the battle made it to Abram and told him what had occurred. Abram is called the Hebrew here in verse 13. A name that means “one from beyond” and may have been derived from his forefather, Eber. Abram had an alliance with some of the Amorites that were living nearby and together they pursued them catching up at Dan which is just below Mt. Hermon. Abram was able to muster a force of 318 men from among his servants, but even if all his allies also had that many men they would have been badly outnumbered by an army consisting of the forces of five different kings. Abram employs a good military strategy of a surprise attack at night by a divided force. The enemy would be unprepared and would not be able to assess the size of force actually attacking them. Even so, the pursuit and attack would have been foolish if Abram did not have faith in the Lord to give him the victory. Abram defeats them, and chases them north of Damascus and then he brings back all the spoil and those captured including Lot and his family.

Melchizedek – In verses 17-24 we find that on the way back Abram is met in the Valley of Shaveh, which is just east of Jerusalem, by both the new king of Sodom and Melchizedek, king of Salem (which is later named Jersusalem). Melchizedek is also a priest of the Most High God which is the same God that Abram serves. Melchizedek brings out bread and wine and Abram gives him a tithe of the spoils. Hebrews 7 refers to this action as one of the reasons Melchizedek is superior to the Aaronic priesthood. It is unknown exactly who Melchizedek was. Some suggest a Christophany while ancient Jewish tradition has suggested this was Shem who lived 35 years after Abram’s death. Melchizedek blessed Abram and God Most High (El Elyon) who is credited with the victory.

The king of Sodom recognizes that the spoils belong to Abram and tells Abram to keep them but to return the people to him and their homes. However, Abram does not want the spoil for he had set out only to rescue his relative Lot and had sworn to the Lord not to gain for himself nor allow the possibility that the king of Sodom could claim that Abram became rich because of it. All that Abram did and all that he had was due solely to God. Abram returned all the spoil except for what was eaten by the troops and the share that would belong to Abram’s allies Aner, Eschol and Mamre.

Abram’s actions throughout this chapter demonstrate a man that had grown in his faith and had learned to trust God in situations that were very dangerous and could have been a cause of great fear. They also demonstrate a man that has learned that it is more important to give God glory than to try to gain it for oneself. His giving a tenth of the spoil to Melchizedek was part of his worship of God. Let me quickly add here that was no command, demand or compulsion for Abram to do this. The tithe given was completely voluntary. Paul’s comments in 2 Corinthians 9 tells us that is still the way the Lord wants us as Christians to give in worship of Him. Not of compulsion or necessity, but as each one purposes in their heart to cheerful give.

The Renewal of the Covenant

The Promise of Protection – In chapter 15 we find that God restates and expands His covenant with Abram. In verse 1 God tells Abram in a vision, “Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great.” God gave him two great reasons to not fear. 1) The Lord would be his shield – as proven in the recent battle. 2) The Lord would give him a great reward. But Abram’s main concern is having an heir.

The Promise of a Nation – The Lord’s earlier promise included becoming a great nation (12:2; 13:16). Was this supposed to be through his servant Eliezer? The Lord then restates the promise in verses 4 & 5 stating, “This man will not be your heir; but one who shall come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.” 5 And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” It would not be Eliezer, but a child that would come from Abram himself.

The Basis of RighteousnessGenesis 15:6 is one of the key passages in all of Scripture. “Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” This particular verses is referenced in Romans 4:3-6, 9, 20-25; Galatians 3:6-14; Hebrews 11:8 and James 2:23. The Lord did not grant righteousness to Abram because of any work he had done, but simply because he believed in the Lord. In other words Abram believed in the Lord and trusted Him to fulfill His promises and that was reckoned by the Lord as righteousness. It is this faith in God that also resulted in Abram being called the friend of God (James 2:23). Faith in the Lord and His promises is still the only basis by which a man can be made righteous before God today.

Man cannot cleanse himself from his sin. Man has no means by which He can put himself in a position in which God must accept him. Man cannot earn his way into God’s favor. God cleanses, accepts and grants His favor only on the basis of the conditions He has established. That condition is belief in Him. Understand though that belief, faith and trust are just facets of the same things. Belief is not intellectual assent. What you believe you place your faith in, and what you place your faith in you trust. James 2:20-26 point out that acting upon your stated belief is the fruit that proves the reality of your claimed faith. Claiming to believe and then failing to act upon that belief only demonstrates that the claim of belief was false for no trust is exercised in it.

The Promise of Land – In verse 7 God restates the promise concerning the land. “I am the Lord who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it.” Abram responds, “O Lord God, how may I know that I shall possess it?” This is not suggestive of a disbelief in God’s promise, but rather a seeking after an assurance. Abram still does not have children and he is looking for a confirmation of the promise. God responds by having Abram prepare for a covenant ritual.

9 So He said to him, “Bring Me a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, and laid each half opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds. 11 And the birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, and Abram drove them away.

Now all this seems strange to us for we make contracts by sitting down with lawyers who write things out for us in legal terms of obligations and responsibilities. In those days a covenant was made by taking an animal and splitting it in two. The halves would then be laid opposite each other. The covenant would then be made by those making the covenant stating its obligations and then both parties would walk between the two halves. The idea being that if the covenant is broken, what occurred to the animals should happen to the one who broke it. It is from this ancient practice that we get the phrases “cut a covenant” and “cut a contract.” I imagine if this was still the seriousness with which contract were made today there would be a lot less lawyers for there would be a lot less broken contracts.

The Prophecy of Future Captivity & Return – Abram has prepared the animals for the covenant ritual and was keeping the birds away from the carcasses until God returned to speak with him. That occurs in verse 12. Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror [and] great darkness fell upon him. 13 And [God] said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. 14 “But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve; and afterward they will come out with many possessions. 15 “And as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. 16 “Then in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.”

God causes Abram to fall into a deep sleep and then reveals to him what would happen 200 hundred and more years in the future. First, his descendants would go to a foreign land. Second, they would be enslaved there and oppressed for 400 years. Third, they would then leave that nation with many possessions after God judged it. Fourth, they would return to the land promised to Abram by God. The long delay was because the current inhabitants, the Amorites which are one of the clans of the Canaanites had not yet become so wicked that God would destroy them. Indeed not, since some of Abram’s friends were his Amorite neighbors. Abram would die in peace at an old age before all this would happen.

The Unilateral Covenant – As the night progressed God sealed the covenant with Abram. Verse 17 explains. And it came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, [there appeared] a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I have given this land, From the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates: 19 the Kenite and the Kenizzite and the Kadmonite 20 and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Rephaim 21 and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Girgashite and the Jebusite.”

The promise of the land is repeated with its borders spelled out. It would be from the river Euphrates all the way to the Mediterranean Sea and encompass all the lands settled by Canaan and his descendants south and west to the River of Egypt on the Sinai Pennisula. That would encompass all of modern Israel including the Gaza Strip, West Bank and Golan Heights along with parts of Lebanon, a lot Jordan, and a major portion of Syria. But the most important part of this covenant is the fact that the smoking oven and flaming torch which represented God passed between the pieces of the animals by themselves. Abram was not with Him. This is a unilateral covenant. It is dependent upon God alone and not on anything Abram would do or might fail to do. That land still belongs to the descendants of Abram. It is politically incorrect but true that the so called “occupied lands” of that area are not those in which the Jews live, but those in which non-Hebrews live. The land belongs to the Jews by God’s decree.

Conclusions

How sure could Abram be about this covenant being fulfilled? As sure as God is all that He claims to be for it was completely dependent on Him. It was God that chose Abram and made promises to him, not the other way around. God would accomplish His own will in Abram and his descendants. God will still keep His covenant and the lands will be returned to Israel in the future when the Messiah reigns on David’s throne.

The same is true for us today. How sure can we be that God will keep His promises to us concerning salvation from sin by His grace through faith in Jesus Christ? As sure as God is all that He claims to be for His promises are dependent upon Himself. Jesus will return for all who believe in Him and take them to be with Him forever.

Sermon Study Sheets

Sermon Notes – August 12, 2007

Abram: The Friend of God: Genesis 12-15

Review

It is _________________ to believe the Bible is God’s revelation to man

God created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them in _____________

God created man in His own image. Man is ______________, ____________ & ____________

Man was in a perfect environment for him, but _____________ bringing the world under God’s curse

The Genesis flood was a ______________ event

Man forced man to “fill the earth” by ________________________ at Babel

The Abrahamic CovenantGenesis 12:1-2

God promised Abram ___________, _______________, _______________ and to be his protector.

God chose Abram and his descendants to be: ________________________

 

Abram in EgyptGenesis 12:10-20

Abram goes to Egypt because ________________________

Abram does not tell the truth about Sarai because ________________________

Abram returns to Canaan with ____________________

Separation from LotGenesis 13:1-14

Abram gives Lot ______________ of the land

Lot choose ________________ and settled near ______________

God promised Abram _____________________

The Rescue of LotGenesis 14:1-24

Lot is Captured by ______________________________ because he was living in _____________

 

Lot is Recovered

Abram & his allies defeats the Eastern kings near ________ and chases them past Damascus

 

Melchizedek is king of ______________

Abram voluntarily gives Melchizedek __________ of the spoil, but he gives _____________ to the King of SodomThe Renewal of the CovenantGenesis 15:1-21

The Promise of Protection

 

The Promise of a Nation

 

Abram’s heir would come from _________________

Abram’s descendants would be as numerous as the ________________

The Basis of Righteousness (cf Romans 4:3-6, 9, 20-25; Galatians 3:6-14; Hebrews 11:8 and James 2:23)

Man can only come to God on the basis of ____________________ He has set

God accepts man on the basis of _______________ in ____________

Claiming to believe and then failing to act upon that belief demonstrates a ___________ faith

The Promise of Land – vs. 7-11

The Prophecy of Future Captivity & Return – vs. 12-16

Abram’s descendants would be oppressed for __________ years in a foreign land

The reason for the delay is that the ___________ of the Amorite was not yet full

The Unilateral Covenant – vs 17-21

The land promised Abram includes all of modern Israel plus parts of ___________, ____________, and __________ 

God walked __________ through the halves of the animals signifying ____________________________

KIDS CORNER

Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.

Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times Abram is mentioned. Talk with your parents about what it means that Abram’s faith in God was reckoned to him as righteousness.

THINK ABOUT IT!

Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. What have you learned so far in the Bible Overview series concerning the Bible? God’s nature? Creation vs. Evolution? The nature of man? The origin of sin? The results of sin? The nature of the flood? The origin of the nations? What are the four elements of the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis 12:1-2? What was Abram’s place of origin? What is the importance of God choosing Abram and his descendants? What were they choose to be / do? Why did Abram go to Egypt? Why was he afraid? How did God protect him and the Egyptians? How did Abram resolve the conflict between his herdsman and Lot’s? What did this demonstrate about Abram’s character? What did Lot’s choice and action demonstrate about his character? What land did God promise Abram in 13:12-17? How would this land belong to his descendants? Why is Lot captured when the eastern kings conquer the kings of the valley of Siddim? Abram musters 318 men from his household to pursue the eastern kings – what did this demonstrate about Abram’s character and beliefs? Who is Melchizedek? What are some of the possibilities? Why does Abram give him a tenth of the spoils? What does that teach us? Why does Abram give the king of Sodom the rest less what belongs to his allies? What would be the origin of Abram’s heir? In the ancient world, what was supposed to happen to the man that did not keep a covenant? What is the significance of Genesis 15:6? What is the basis of being accepted by God? What demonstrates God’s conditions have been met? When would the prophecy of Genesis 15:13-16 be fulfilled? What are the lands that are given to Abram in Genesis 15:18-21? Why does God pass through the animal halves alone? What does that signify? How much confidence can you have in God keeping His promises?


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