Genesis 6:5-7, 11:1-9, 12:1-3, 15:1-21
Dr. S. Lewis Johnson continues his exposition of God's plan for mankind through history with the example of the Tower of the Babel and the call of Abraham.
[Prayer] class with a word of prayer. Father we thank Thee for the privilege of studying together. We thank Thee for the word of God. We thank Thee, especially, for those portions that we have been studying because we recognize within our hearts and within our minds the significance of these sections of the word of God, the beginning. And we thank Thee that in the early days of the divine revelation Thou didst to make claim the great principles by which that ought ordering the universe and still ordering the universe in our day. We thank Thee for the creation and what it has meant this marvelous display of divine power. And we thank Thee, Lord, for the revelation of the fall of man because it enables us to understand so much concerning the world in which we are placed and so much concerning ourselves. We thank Thee for the promises that Thou didst give first to Adam and Eve and didst through the following centuries expand and develop. We thank Thee for the opening prophecy in Genesis chapter 3, verse 15, of the coming of the woman’s seed who would make it possible for us to be restored to the knowledge of the true God in heaven and to enjoy the forgiveness of sins and the hope of eternal life.
Now, Lord, we pray Thou bless our study this evening, enable us to grow in the knowledge of the Scriptures but especially in the knowledge of Thee, in our Lord Jesus through the Holy Spirit our triune God.
And we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
[Message] This is the third in our series of studies in “The Divine Purpose in History and Prophecy” and tonight we’re going to look briefly, just briefly, at the flood and then at the Tower of Babel and devote most of our time to the promises that God made to Abraham. In a sense, that is where the story of the Scriptures and the redemption in Christ has its fullest and earliest beginning. So let me read a few verses now that have to do with the flood, then some verses that have to do with the Tower of Babel, and then we’ll look at Genesis 12 and 15.
So if you have your Bibles turn with me to Genesis chapter 6, we won’t read the whole story of the flood or the whole story of the Tower of Babel but I’ll try to pick out those verses that express the point that I want to make later on and in a sense sum up the significance of these events. Genesis chapter 6 in verse 5.
“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth and he was grieved in his heart. So the Lord said I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air for I am sorry that I have made them.”
Now turn over to chapter 11 and we’ll read the account of the building of the Tower of Babel, chapter 11 in verse 1.
“Now the whole earth had one language and one speech and it came to pass as they journeyed from the East that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and they dwelt there. Then they said to one another come let us make bricks and make them thoroughly. They had brick for stone and they had asphalt for mortar and they said come let us build ourselves a city and a tower whose top is in the heavens. Let us make a name for ourselves lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth. But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built and the Lord said Indeed the people are one and they all have one language and this is what they begun to do. Now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. Come let us go down and there confuse their language that they may not understand one another’s speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from over the face of all the earth and they ceased building the city. Therefore, its name is called Babel because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.”
Now turn over to Genesis, chapter 12, verse 1.
“Now the Lord had said to Abram ‘Get out of your country from your family, from your father’s house to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and I will curse him who curses you and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’”
You’ll notice one thing about these promises to Abraham is the fact that the Lord repeats a number of times ‘I will.’ “I will show you the land, I will make you a great nation, I will bless you, I will bless those who bless you, I will curse those who curse you. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” One notices the sovereign note, the sovereign tone of the Lord God in those promises. Now, chapter 13 maybe it would be good for us to read verse 14 through 17 because here we have characteristically an expansion of the promises that were given in chapter 12. Now, the Lord said to Abram after Lot had separated from him.
“Lift you eyes now and look from the place where you are Northward, Southward, Eastward, and Westward for all the land which you see I will give to you and your descendants forever. And I will make your descendents as the dust of the earth so that if a man could number the dust of the earth then your descendents shall be numbered. Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width for I give it to you. Then Abram moved his tent and went and dwelt by the terebinth trees of Mamre which are in Hebron and build an altar there to the Lord.”
Now chapter 15, one of the really important chapters of the word of God. “
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision saying, ‘Do not be afraid Abram I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.’ But Abram said ‘Lord God what will you give me seeing I am childless and the heir of my house is Eleazar of Damascus.’ Then Abram said ‘Look you have given me no offspring, indeed one born in my house is my heir.’ And behold the word of the Lord came to him saying, ‘This one shall not be heir but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.’ Then he brought him outside and said, ‘Look now toward heaven and count the stars if you are able to number them.’ And he said to him, ‘So shall your descendents be.’
This word descendents, incidentally, is a translation of the Hebrew word that means seed, and seed is the common term in the Authorized Version, many of our versions have had that down through the centuries really. So if you keep in mind descendents, seed, the same thing you won’t be confused.
“And he believed in the Lord and he accounted him for righteousness. Then he said to him, ‘I am the Lord who brought you out of the Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to inherit it.’ And he said, ‘Lord God how should I know I will inherit it.’ So he said to him, ‘Bring me a three year old heifer, three year old female goat, a three year old ram, a turtledove and a young pigeon.’ Then he brought all of these to him and cut them in two down the middle and placed each piece opposite the other but he did not cut the birds in two. And when the vultures came down on the carcasses Abram drove them away.”
It’s characteristic of the Bible later on for the birds of the heaven to represent satanic influence. Perhaps that’s the point there but it’s not important in the light of the whole story at this point so we’ll pass that by with that simple comment.
“Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram and behold horror and great darkness fell upon him. Then he said to Abram, ‘Know certainly that your descendents will be strangers in a land that is not theirs and will serve them and they will afflict them four hundred years and also the nation they will serve I will judge. Afterward, they shall come out with great possessions. Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall return here for the iniquities of the Amorites is not yet complete.’ And it came to pass when the sun went down and it was dark behold there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces, that is the pieces of the animals. On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram saying, ‘To your descendents I have given this land from the river of Egypt to the great river the river Euphrates, the Kenites and the Kenizzites and the Kadmonites and the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Girgashites and the Jebusites the divine purpose in history and prophecy.”
Well, we are dealing now with the patriarchal age and its typically summed up, I believe, in Romans chapter 5, when the apostle writes in verse 14 of Romans chapter 5, “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses.” And then in verse 21, “So that as sin reigned in death.” That really sums up the patriarchal age; death reigned from Adam to Moses. The fall is followed by the flood which if you read those chapters that had to do with the flood Genesis chapter 6 and 7 and 8, you learn of course that the flood is a kind of monument to divine judgment upon human sin. And it is very interesting of course to realize that when you read something like this that you are reading things that the Lord Jesus himself read, no doubt as a boy, and reflected upon in his early life because in his Olivet discourse he makes reference to this. He says in Luke chapter 17, verse 26 and 27, “And as it was in the days of Noah so shall it be also in the days of the son of man, they ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage until the day Noah entered the ark and the floods came and destroyed them all.” So the flood then is simply a monument to divine judgment and human sin.
The Tower of Babel, it would be nice of course to stop and deal in great detail in this and if you are interested in the details you can look, at least, what I would say about them in the series on Genesis when I dealt with these in much more detail. What we are doing in this particular series is to get the high spots and catch the overall message. The Tower of Babel that follows, same thing can be said about that so far as the tape ministry is concerned. The Tower of Babel is a second monument that touches the theme of corporate rebellion continuing throughout the divine revelation because as you know Babylon becomes one of the great themes of the word of God. You think about the Bible and the chapters devoted to Babylon you’ll see how important it is. For example, Isaiah chapter 13 is directed towards Babylon, it has to do with Babylon. Chapter 14 also has to do with Babylon. Isaiah chapter 47 is a chapter that deals with Babylon, Jeremiah chapter 50 and chapter 51 deal with Babylon. When you come over to the New Testament you have Revelations chapter 16, chapter 17, chapter 18, and chapter 19, the latter part of chapter 16 and the beginning of chapter 19 devoted to the great city of Babylon.
The Bible has a lot to say about Babylon. It has things that suggest not simply that it was an historic city, in fact, there are some who believe that Babylon will be rebuilt at the present day. When Saddam Hussein when it was known that he was rebuilding Babylon as a tourist interest, biblical students began to speak on the topic of rebuilding of Babylon. There is some justification for believing that. But at least the Bible has a great deal to say about Babylon and perhaps Babylon historic that is not simply the past but also the future if it is rebuilt. At least it has a lot to say about Babylon in prophecy and some parts of the Bible that had to do with Babylon perhaps are to be understood in a symbolic fashion.
One thing the Bible does make plain is this that there are two powerful forces in the last days. One of them is an ecclesiastical power and the other is a political power a worldwide federation of nations according to the Book of Revelations and other parts of the Bible. And so these two great forces that is the political power and the ecclesiastical power have relationships with one another and the term Babylon is, of course, significant for that time. The thing of course the Bible reveals that is interesting to us at this time is the fact that what we have in Babylon is a kind of confederated sin of man — man gathering together and as a kind of society of Satan constructing the Tower of Babel as a unified expression of mans willfulness and rebellion against the Lord God.
So what we have in Babylon in Genesis chapter 11, is a theoretical structure that is basic to political religious faiths even today. So what we see there building for ourselves a tower, making a name for ourselves all in one place precisely opposite the command of the Lord God which was to be scattered over the face of the earth, be fruitful, multiply fill the earth what they’re doing is the precise opposite. They are gathering in one spot to make a name for themselves perhaps to even have their own messiah because, ultimately, the way that man acts is parallel to the way that God acts except mans actions are the actions of wickedness and rebellion. God’s actions are the actions of forgiveness and divine grace. So what we then have in Babel is another monument to the sin of man.
It’s surprising, I think, that in our day we have so little recognition of the evidences of the fall that one finds in Genesis 3, in Genesis 6, 7, and 8, in Genesis 11 and throughout the rest of the Bible. If there is one thing that stands out is the fact of man sin. What are the evidences of the fall? Let me just give you a few of them in case you have any doubt about it. In the first place there are universal traditions of the fall in ancient history. In the second place there is the strange persistence and endurance of evil, as a matter of fact, many people think it’s growing today. The system of education which testifies that man has a nature which makes him a menace to society if he’s untrained. There is an ancient story about Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who had a visitor to him home, who in the course of conversation with him said he thought that children ought not to be disciplined but they ought to be let free. And Coleridge is supposed to have let him come see his garden of tangled weeds and said that this was his attempt to let the garden chose for itself. What we see today in our society is something like that in our children. Don’t believe that is true.
Well just about a week or so ago there was a very interesting article in the Wall Street Journal “Cheating Epidemic at a Top High School Teaches Sad Lessons.” This is really a top high school, Taylor Allderdice, in the Pittsburg area, prominent school. The people are proud to publicize the fact that from this school go many students to the Ivy League colleges, so of the highest of the colleges. They not long ago gave the extra effort award to Lee Grinberg; TV station KDKA gave it a kind of a historic thing. It’s one more accolade in the school’s sixty-five year history of scholastic distinction. When Mr. Grinberg went up to receive the award the students booed over the audience. It was known that he and almost every other one of the students was a cheater and actually had not won the award at all. So link the article two pages on the cheating as being epidemic there, the principle changing grades, the teacher tell him not to do it but he does it. They don’t change them just from C’s to B’s from C’s to A and things like this. I think somewhere in this article that sometime back cheating was estimated to be happening in twenty percent of the student body but now its run up to about seventy percent.
I also in some of my scholarly reading also the Wall Street Journal noted in just a few days back an article on “Counterfeit Bills Confounding Detectives at the Fed and Sleuths at the Secret Service.” It seems that one hundred dollar bills are being counterfeited and they are so good that even the Feds cannot really tell whether they are counterfeit or not. And although I think there are some little thing but everybody else is unable to do it so they spread all over the East. You probably read about it in the papers. But what interested me was the comment that was made by a Secret Service agent at the end. He said, “As long as the current counterfeiters are just producing one hundred dollar bills, probably, they will get along and no one will be able to catch them. “But,” he said human nature usually gives the Secret Service a break in a case like this and these are the words that the agent said, “Most people since Mr. Ebert are pretty greedy.” That’s so interesting they just look forward to the day when the sin nature will manifest itself, they’ll not be satisfied with a lot of hundred dollars bills they’ll work on the five hundred and the thousand dollar ones and maybe the ten thousand dollar ones then they may get caught.
So not only do we have all of these reasons for believing in the sin of man but all government bears witness to the fact that human nature must be restrained. Conscious also bears witness to the fall and the universal presence of evil no matter where you go evil is present there because we carry it with us.
Now, I want to turn to the story of Abraham in chapter 15 of the Book of Genesis. The first six verses record his justification. In fact at this point the general history of mankind has come to an end and now primary attention is going to be directed to the land of Shem. We had a note that that might be true in chapter 9, verse 24 through 27, where Noah prophesied and I’ll read the prophecy because you’ll note that Shem comes up for attention here. When Noah awoke from his wine he was a sinner too, one thing that the flood did, it destroyed a lot of sinners but it did not destroy sin and the one thing that was the object of the judgment for sinners, we’ll that worked. But the ones that remained brought their sin into the period of time after the flood. So Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his younger son had done to him. And in chapter 9:25 he gives his famous prophesy, “Cursed be Canaan a servant of servants he shall be to his brethren” and he said “Bless be the Lord the God of Shem that made Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Jacob and may he dwell in the tents of Shem and may Canaan be his servant.” The important point here is the point that Shem is the object of the divine elective choice and that appears there.
But now, chapter 15, we come to Abraham and Abraham of course is of the line of Shem and now the elective choice is going to be narrowed down to Abraham and to his seed. The seed of Genesis chapter 3 in verse 15, was a seed as so far as that prophesy is concerned would be coming from the whole of the human race, but after Noah has made his prophesy that Shem would be the line from which the promised seed would come not the identification is made that the family of Abraham is the family from which the seed shall come. Of course, the important thing most of you in this audience as I look out, you’ll notice that the seed ultimately is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And so he’s from the human race. He’s from the Semitic division of mankind. He’s from the Abrahamic family. You will also, we will learn later on the story of David and the Old Testament, a further narrowing down of the Messianic promises.
Now we come to Abraham. My old Bible teacher used to call Abraham the greatest human character in the Bible. But one of the important things about it is not so much Abraham’s greatness and he was a great man of faith he is the illustration of what a man of faith really is. The most significant thing about him is the covenant that God made with him and the covenant that God made with him more or less settles all of the eschatology that the Bible will ultimately unfold the Abrahamic covenant. How important that is if we are going to understand the future as the Bible sets it forth.
These promises that were given to Abraham in chapter 12 of a seed, of a land, and certain other things were given to him were expanded in chapter 13, verse 14 through 17, they were expanded geographically, they were expanded numerically. Think of that his seed shall be as the dust of the earth. What does that mean? Well ultimately it means that God’s elect are so many that they cannot be numbered. Could you number the dust of the earth? What a magnificent figure that is the dust of the earth Abram’s seed, Abram’s people who are God’s elect people.
When we think of the election of God we do not think of a small group of people who are unaware that there are others who are going to be in heaven too as we are often told the jokes about people who don’t know the Bible tell us. But they are as the dust of the earth they are that many they are innumerable. Later on in the Book of Revelations we are told that the great multitude in heaven that have come out of the great tribulation is so great that no one can number them. So let us not think that God is small in his elective purposes. These promises are expanded experientially as far as Abram is concerned because he is told to talk up and down in the midst of the land so that these people might see what God has given to him.
So in the light of this now the chapter begins with a promise that is given to him after he has engaged in a military victory in order to bring back Lot and has met Melchizedek, the king of Salem, we read in verse 1 in chapter 15. After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision saying do not be afraid Abram I am your shield your exceedingly great reward. He refused the gifts of the king of Sodom and God said this is what I’m giving you. How often it is the gifts that the world gives us cannot be compared to the things God gives to us. But Abram got the promises on his mind and so we read here that he’s unsatisfied by this general idea of I’m your shield, your exceedingly great reward. But Abram said, “Lord God what will you give me seeing I go childless and the heir of my house is Eleazar of Damascus?” The idea of having a Damascene as his seed and the inheritor of the promises is something he could not understand and so he said look you promised me great promises to my seed but I don’t have any seed. So God responds that the promises are not promises that are going to be given to a legal seed but they are going to come from the midst of him – memauchach – the Hebrew text says, from your inmost being, your body.
So the word of the Lord came to him verse 4, “This one should not be your heir but one who will come from your own body.” And Moses then describes the faith after God brought him outside told him to look toward heaven and count the stars if you are able to number them. There is another figure of how great the elect of God are they are like the stars in the heavens. And then God said to him. “So shall you seed, also shall your descendants be.” The 6th verse is undoubtedly one of the greatest verses in the whole of the Bible “And he believed in the Lord and he accounted it to him for righteousness.” It’s the first occurrence of the word believed, “He believed in the Lord.” It’s striking that in the Bible often the first occurrences of words gives us a clue to their ultimate meaning through the whole of the Bible and this is certainly an instance of that. Notice too that his faith is personal faith, but it’s also propositional faith. Now, what do I mean by that? I mean simply this that while it’s Abrams personal faith it’s directed toward a particular proposition, in other words it’s a doctrine that he believes. That’s great to have a personal faith but you ought to have an intelligent faith that you can express in a proposition. The Bible is a book of propositions.
You often hear people say I’m not going to get off on this, I know you think I’m going to do it, I’m not going to get off on it, those particular people who say I am not interested in doctrine I’m interested in a person. It sounds so great for exhortation but so wrong, so unbiblical. Now if a person said I’m interested in a doctrine but I’m also interested in a personal relationship, well hallelujah, that’s what the Bible teaches. But to draw any kind of disjunction between the personal faith and the doctrinal faith or the belief of a proposition, propositional faith is to destroy the Bible, destroy the teaching of the word of God. To make the individual who doesn’t want to study the Bible thinks also he doesn’t have to study the Bible. That’s what’s also so bad about it. All I’m interested in is a personal faith in the Lord. God has given us sixty-six books, I have forgotten how many chapters, all these chapters are designed by God to be a rule of life for us. Now how can we omit the reading of God’s word as a whole and satisfy ourselves with a few little personal reflections that may have been given to us which have been repeated over and over again by the preachers that we found ourselves willing to listen to.
So he believed a personal faith, a propositional faith. And you’ll notice that the reckoning to him of the righteousness of God is not done because he has done some legal work, some cultic work, but simply believed that’s all, he believed. We have so often said that faith is composed if we are to analyze it of knowledge, knowledge of certain propositions, assent to them, and trust in them, those three things, knowledge, assent, and trust. Occasionally, you’ll hear people say we’re not interested in that kind of Latin theology. Well all right use English words. Knowledge, assent, and trust I don’t have to say notitia, assensus, fiducia means the same thing. Knowledge, assent, and trust we have to know something, we assent to its truthfulness, and we rest in it, trust ourselves to it. He believed.
I’ve told this story so often but when I was in the insurance business back when I used to work. I went to hear Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer and he talked on Genesis 15, verse 6 and he made reference to this verse, “And he believed in the Lord and accounted for him for righteousness.” At the time I didn’t know any Hebrew, I didn’t know Greek, I didn’t know any Hebrew, and Dr Chafer didn’t know any Hebrew much either but he knew this fact and I didn’t know that at the time I thought he was a Hebrew scholar maybe. But he said this word “belief” is a word in that in the Hebrew text is a word from which we get amen. He was talking about “aman” verily, verily I say “aman.” It’s true the Old Testament Hebrew word “aman” does mean to believe. And so he then went on to say what did Abraham do when God said to him, “So shall thy seed be.” Abraham “amened” to God, that’s all he did he “amened” God. That is, he knew a proposition, he assented to it, and he gave himself to it. That’s what saving faith is.
I must confess, occasionally, in some of the controversies I hear today the Lordship salvation controversy particularly, I’ve found that some individuals want make faith out to be such that there is no real trust within it. On the other hand, those who criticize want to add to what faith in the Scriptures is certain things that individuals must do and confound sanctification with justification. The Bible says that if I believe in Jesus Christ I shall be saved. And so, consequently, if I know who he is what he has done and I assent to that and I’ve trusted Him, what that statement expresses in truth, I have salvation. And what I do thereafter is try to grow in the knowledge of our Lord and sanctification.
So Abram believed the Lord and we read he accounted it to him for righteousness. He reckoned it to him for righteousness. This is the source of the Biblical doctrine of imputation. God put Abrams account, righteousness, righteousness that satisfied him. That’s what happens when you believe in Jesus Christ. He puts to your account righteousness. It’s like someone depositing a check into your account at the bank lovely thought isn’t it. This is lovelier. To think that when I believe in Jesus Christ there is deposited in my account in heaven the righteousness of God satisfying Him. That we learn later Christ is the accomplisher. So he reckoned it to him for righteousness, incidentally, that term reckon is used in the Old Testament of the priestly judgments when individuals brought their sacrifices then the priest acting for Lord God reckoned to them the benefits of the sacrifice. That’s precisely what happens to us when we believe in Christ, righteousness, a right standing before the Lord God.
Now I must give you just a little bit of theology. I’ve been talking about theology you understand that I must give you a little bit of theology very quickly because our time is flying. Rufus Rushdoony is a very strange Christian man. I know him. He’s the one who is responsible for the pushing of theonomy a strange doctrine surprising so many particularly reformed people have become entangled in theonomy. It is utterly unbiblical in the final analysis. But, nevertheless, Mr. Rushdoony is a Christian man and their are certain things about him that are true to the word of God and one of them is that he does believe that we should study the Bible. And we should be looking for the theological meaning of Scripture. Some years ago he made a statement that I think fits our day so well. He said “It’s ironic that an age so dedicated to the necessity of precision in its increasing technological life should be insistent that precision of faith and creed constitutes some kind of hidden menace. Why should not we as Christians be as concerned about the faith and how we believe and how we express and as the fellow who has a computer before him and has manuals all about him and seeks to understand the use of that instrument? Why should we not? This is even more significant, in all of our three eighty sixes, four eighty sixes or whatever that we are putting our fingers on constantly.”
So let me just make a few statements about the permanent principles that are sent forth here. The ground of our justification, well Abraham’s justification finds its ultimate ground of course in what Christ does on the cross on Calvary. His justification routes three systems of truth, one Pelegianism that we are justified by what we do. Romanism that we are justified by engaging in the carrying out of sacramental treadmill in which we get salvation gradually and don’t ever get it finally until we’re out of the flesh that we are in now and are in purgatory, and eventually get out that, maybe because some other people are giving money to the church to get them out.
And Arminianism which believes that the first step in man’s salvation is taken by himself and not by God and that God cannot do anything for him until he takes the first step which is the act of free will by which he turns to the Lord. The fundamental principle of the justification is the unmerited love and favor of God. It’s God’s grace. That’s way we are saved, principally. That’s why we are saved principally, that’s the principle as we look at the Christian religion. The fundamental principle is its system of grace. In fact, that’s what God is doing here he, in a sense, is telling us what all history is going to be like so far as salvation is concerned. It’s by grace that we are saved, unmerited love and favor.
Look, if we could be saved by what we do then why did Christ die? Christ’s death doesn’t make any sense, it’s nonsense. God, as G.C. Berkouwer liked to say, God would be guilty of throwing himself away because he’s the one who sends Christ to the cross, untimely. If that’s not essential for our salvation God, Dr. Berkouwer said, would be guilty of throwing himself away. Dr. Louis Sperry Chafer used to say God would be guilty of the greatest blunder in the history of the universe to permit his son to be crucified if that’s not the ground, the necessary ground, and fundamental principle of our salvation, the means of our justification. Well Abram has told us he believed in the Lord and he accounted it for righteousness. Faith is the means by which what Christ has done becomes ours. It’s not a work, it’s that by which we receive the work that Christ has done.
Now the rest of this chapter is so important. What happens is that Abram has taken into covenantal relationship, or deeper covenantal relationship that has significance for ultimate blessings the land, the new earth, and the new heavens, intermediate blessings the coming of the Messiah, his posterity who are in the line of the coming of the Messiah, the messianic family and of course some nearby blessings approximate blessings which are a privilege of communion with the Lord God and being primary person through whom God is dealing with man throughout his life.
So we have this marvelous ritual that the Lord is responsible for, he calls upon Abram to carry out a formal covenant sacrifice. Listen to what he says, “‘I am the Lord God who brought you our of Ur of Chaldeans to give you this land to inherit’ and Abram said, ‘Lord God how should I know that I shall inherit it?’ And so he said to him, ‘bring me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.’ Then he brought all these things to him and cut them in two down the middle and placed each side opposite the other but he didn’t cut the birds in two. And when the vultures came down upon the carcasses Abram drove them away.” It’s obvious that Abram knows the custom of the sacrifice he had made to the Lord God because his faith is a faith that works, you know, that’s the saving faith.
Mr. Spurgeon has an interesting paragraph when he talks about how since he preaches works, since he preaches faith, those that believe in works criticize him for crying down good works. We would say saying evil things about good works. He says “There are some who say those people,” that’s Spurgeon and his crowd, “cry down good works. Do we? If you bring them as a price to purchase salvation we do cry them down. All our righteousness are as filthy rags and as somebody said rags have the best of it for their worth more than our righteousness.” I love that statement, the rags are worth more, get the best of it, because they are worth more than our righteousness. We do say that. “But though we cry down good works as a crown of confidence we wish to abound them more and more to the glory of God.” And so Spurgeon here together with this chapter would comment I’m sure on Abrams’s faith as being working faith, so he obeys the Lord God.
And then there is a kind of prophetic prologue that is given in verse 12 through 16, “Now when the sun was going down a deep sleep fell upon Abraham and behold horror and great darkness fell upon him then he said to Abram ‘Know certainly that your descendents will be strangers in a land that is not theirs and will serve them and they will afflict four hundred years and also the nation whom will they will serve I will judge,’ obviously a reference to Egypt, ‘and afterward they will come out with great possessions. Now as for you, you should go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age but in the fourth generation they shall return here for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.’”
Now this, I looked up this word, theophany. Theophany means the appearance of God, theos and the latter part of that is a root that has to do with a very that means to appear. But the theophanic, the theophanic act is when we read in verse 17, “It came to pass when the sun went down and it was dark that the hole there appeared a smoking oven and burning torch that passed between those pieces.” This is the first time since the Garden of Eden that there is a symbol of the glory of God, a cylindrical fire pot, a fiery torch streaming forth, perhaps the pieces that are the pieces of the animals stand for Abraham’s seed, that vast number of people down through the years who shall be brought to the knowledge of the Lord. And so notice what we read in verse 17 we read “It came to pass that when the sun went down and it was dark behold there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces.”
Now if the smoking oven and the burning torch are representative of God, I would not be surprised, because if you remember back in the earlier parts of the Bible we have the Lord represented in that way when Moses was at Horeb what happened? God appeared to him in the burning bush did he not? On Mt. Sinai again smoke and fire. And so that is symbolic of the presence of God. I don’t think there would be anybody that would doubt this that what Abram is seeing and what is being set forth here is that the pieces of the animals are set out and then when the time comes for people who are going to make a covenant together for usually covenants were covenants people made with one another two people involved. In this case, one person only went down between the pieces of the covenant and Abram was not invited to follow. How important that is. What kind of covenant then is this? This is an unconditional covenant. That is, God guarantees that he will fulfill the terms of the covenant, he guarantees it. Now, if you say to me well, of course, we must believe, yes that’s true and God guarantees that his seed, Abram’s seed, will believe because that faith is the gift of God itself.
Do you see, my friend, what this means? That God is guaranteeing the salvation and ultimate blessing of Abram’s seed. No one else passes between the pieces of the animals. I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking well do others believe that too like Dr. Johnson? Everybody knows you’re a Calvinist, at least everybody around this place knows but what about the other people? Now I would like for you to say if Dr. Johnson says it, it must be it. But, unfortunately, there are not too many dumb people like that around, much better for you to study the Bible for yourself. But let me show you. Kyle says, one of the great Old Testament commentators, “For although a covenant always establishes a reciprocal relation between two individuals yet in that covenant which God concluded with the man the man did not stand on an equality with God but God established a relation of fellowship by his promise and his gracious condensation with the man who was a first purely a recipient.
Lukel ,another Lutheran commentator, “In fact in the instance under consideration God binds himself to the fulfillment of certain obligations.” Abram is bound to no obligations whatsoever. God’s priority is a prominent feature of covenants of this type. What other covenants are of this type? Davidic covenant, new covenant, new covenant ratified consummated by the Lord Jesus Christ himself, by his own blood. You didn’t help in the ratification that was an unconditional covenant. This is an unconditional covenant. Stygers, another commentator on the Book of Genesis, “It is clearly a unique and divine action of Yahweh the promise resting on his faithfulness for accomplishment. And even some of the liberals agree with us, Von Raut, a great German commentator contemporary, fairly contemporary with our last generation, “The ceremony proceeding without words and with complete passivity of the human heart.” Hermann Ridderbos says, “In the making of the covenant with Abraham 2, Genesis 15, the fulfillment of the law is in symbolical form made to depend wholly upon the divine need.” Abraham is deliberately excluded, he is the astonished spectator.
So Abram looks, sees the pieces of the animals knows a covenant is being ratified, sees the symbol of the presence of God, the smoking oven the burning torch, passing between the pieces. He is not invited to follow. He is astonished by what he sees, and as he reflects upon he undoubtedly comes to realize what this represents is Gods sovereign promise to Abram and to his seed. “And his seed are all,” Paul tells us, “we believe in him.” Here we are sitting. The year is 1992 and we and these young people if they are believers too, we are included in the mind of God when in symbol he passed between those pieces. We are part of Abram’s seed because we are believers in Him. That’s what Paul tells us in Galatians 3.
Now if we stop right here, we wouldn’t say everything that needs to be said. I want to look at the Promised Land. “ On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram saying, ‘To your seed I’ve given this land, from the river in Egypt to the great river Euphrates.’” Vast possession that is given to Abram and to his seed inclusive all the people that are mentioned there.
Now this is one of the great themes of the Bible. I don’t have time to look, we’ll look at it later on in our series but I’m going to just look at passage of the New Testament in order to show that the theme of what we have here is a theme that pervades all of the Bible not simply the Old Testament but the New Testament as well. Luke chapter 1in verse 54 and 55 here in Mary’s Magnifcat. What do we read talking about the Lord God he has helped his servant Israel “In remembrance of his mercy as he spoke to our fathers Abraham and his seed for ever, Abraham and his seed forever.” Verse 72 and verse 73 in Zacharias’ Benedictus, “That we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us to perform the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant both which he swore to our father Abraham.”
In Acts chapter 3, he repeats the promise after Pentecost it’s still there. The promises that God gave have not been repealed. They have never been perfectly fulfilled, they have not been repealed, and they are still in the word of God. And if you say well what about the New Testament, look what Bible did the New Testament people have? They had the books of the Old Testament. Did they have anything that said that the promises from the Old Testament are no longer valid? Just the opposite, they argued on the basis of the Scriptures, the truth that they believed in. We often, I’ve said this so often but it ought to be remembered, it’s sometimes said, “If it’s not said in the New Testament, but we can dispense with it, no it’s just the opposite.” It is not denied in the New Testament, like for example, the New Testament will tell us that we don’t have to observe the Levitical ceremonies, and then it’s still valid, still valid. It’s the word of God and we’re to believe it.
So the promise, the most solemn sanctions, this great sacrifice, these promises are never repealed, never perfectly fulfilled to this point, their fulfillment lies in the future. I know there is a passage in during the reign of Solomon that seems to suggest that the children of Israel did, for a time at least, have the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promises. But the promises are given in the Bible for a homeland eternally, a homeland eternally not for a few years of almost possession. And the prophets who wrote long after the references in 1 Kings still talk about the future fulfillment of the Abrahamic promises. They didn’t interpret it that way at all.
Times up we’ll have to stop. If you hear and you have never believed in Christ, of course, I hope that you can turn to him, that you would give yourself to him in the act will that will make you one of the seed, one of his descendents, and you’ll enjoy the righteousness of God which Jesus Christ has purchased by his saving death on Calvary’s cross. When the fires of divine judgment fell upon him that you and I might have forgiveness of sins.
Let’s bow together in a word of prayer.
[Prayer] Father we are so grateful to Thee for this great chapter, for these great truths which pervade all Thy word. Impress then, Lord, upon our hearts and minds and give us faith and trust in them. And then, Lord, we know that throughout the Scriptures Thou dost make it very plain that when we come to trust in Thee, the Holy Spirit, the third person of the triune God comes to dwell within our hearts to lead us on to a closer
relationship with Thee. Lord, o may we truly come to enjoy that. And more of it as the days go by. For the glory of Thy name.
We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.