This sermon is number 1 in a series of 3
Covenants - Part 1
"The Abrahamic Covenant"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2010 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
Well, good evening to you all. Tonight we're beginning to look at the subject of 'Covenants'. Now, this is a vast subject, and so all I hope to do tonight is to give you a general introduction to the subject of Covenants, and then narrow it in specifically to 'The Abrahamic Covenant' in Genesis 12, Genesis 13 and Genesis 15. Next week, God willing, we will look at 'The Old Covenant', which is the Mosaic covenant, and then the final week we will look at 'The New Covenant' - and hopefully we will glean something not just for your head, but for your heart, as we study this vast subject.
Now, if you want a portion of Scripture to turn to initially, though we will not be reading it just now, it would be Genesis chapter 12 - so you might like to turn to that. Let us pray just before we begin: Abba Father, we thank You for Your holy word, and Lord there is so much vastness and depth to it that we at times shake before it. We feel like the little child that is just dipping his toe into the shore, and there lies before us vast depths that we have never, nor will ever plumb. Yet, Father, we thank You that You have told us through the Lord Jesus that the Holy Spirit would come and would lead us into all truth. We just claim that now, and ask for minds that - as Paul prayed for us - would be opened and enlightened to receive Your truth; not just minds open, but hearts open. Lord, we long for a divine encounter, we long to meet God. So, Lord, hear us; and I commit myself to You now, Lord, in weakness, and I ask for Your grace and Your help now in Jesus' name, Amen.
Now, I know that there are a great deal of experts in Scrabo on this subject of covenants, you've been studying it in the last number of months - or maybe it's years now, I don't know - but particularly among the ladies. But you will know, if you have been doing such, that there are eight covenants, main covenants, in the Bible. Very simply put, a covenant is just an agreement or contract. It's rather crude to call it that, but that's basically what it is. There are eight covenants, agreements, contracts, in the Bible, and they start in the Garden of Eden. In Genesis chapter 2 we have what is called 'The Edenic Covenant'. Really that related to how God told man to populate the Earth, be fruitful and multiply. He was also there - and this is interesting in the light of our study this morning, and I was saying this to someone after the meeting - that from the very beginning, the inception of creation, God begins to devolve His sovereignty and dominion in measure. He gives man dominion, basically makes him a manager over creation, and he names the animals and so on. But man failed on his side of the agreement in this Edenic Covenant, and the story - I'm sure you know - is that he disobeyed God in Eden with the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the consequence of breaking that Edenic Covenant was that death came upon all creation.
So man failed in his side of the agreement in the Edenic Covenant, and so that necessitated that another covenant come to the surface. So God brings what we know as 'The Adamic Covenant' in Genesis chapter 3. After the fall now, and in this Adamic Covenant Satan, the cause of a great deal of the trouble in the universe, is cursed. You know he is cursed, the serpent was cursed to writhe upon the ground, and then also with the curse of Satan, a Saviour is promised - and in Genesis chapter 3 we have the first promise of Messiah. Then man is told that he must work the ground to bear fruit from it and to live off it, and he is also told that, having spent his whole life working the ground, when he died as a consequence of sin he would return to it as dust.
Now, humanity got so corrupt, even after the Adamic Covenant, that God repented - that's what the Bible says - that He had made man, and He sent a flood to destroy every living creature. After Noah and his family settled on the new Earth, so to speak, 'The Noahic Covenant' was formed between God and Noah and mankind in general, Genesis chapter 9. Now, basically the Noahic Covenant is a reassertion of the Adamic Covenant - everything that that was - but it may well have been that Noah and his family thought that the flood and the judgement of God had in some way changed the agreement that God had initially made with Adam. But that was not the case, and so the Noahic Covenant is essentially the Adamic Covenant with a few differences - one being the need for human government to subdue sin, the need for man himself to get a rein on society. Also within the Noahic Covenant was the promise that God said He would never judge the world again with a flood - and, of course, the sign and symbol of that covenant was the rainbow in the sky.
Now those are the first three covenants that we read of in the Bible: the Edenic Covenant in Eden, the Adamic Covenant with Adam, and the Noahic Covenant with Noah. The first three of the eight covenants of the Bible are what we know as 'universal covenants', that means they are generally made between God and the whole of mankind. Now that's important, because thereafter we enter into a different type of covenant that God starts making, we would call them 'theocratic covenants'. Now, you know what 'democratic' is, it's the rule of the people - well, 'theocratic' is the rule of God. Not only does man need to get a grip on society, but God in His heart intends to get an influence upon the population of humankind. So theocratic covenants pertain to the rule of God on the Earth. The first one that we will look at a little bit later is 'The Abrahamic Covenant', made with Abraham. The next is 'The Mosaic Covenant' that God made with Moses on Mount Sinai. Then there is what has been known as 'The Palestinian Covenant', or better 'The Land Covenant', where God's people are promised the land of Canaan. Then there is 'The Davidic Covenant', which relates to the throne, the kingly throne, the monarchy in Jerusalem - and then there is 'The New Covenant' in Jeremiah, and we'll be looking at some of those, as I've already said. But all the theocratic covenants - this is important - that relate to God's rule among men, every single one of them was made with the nation of Israel.
Now, I shared some vital rules of interpretation this morning as we looked at Romans 9, and I'm glad that some of you came back after that this morning! One that I didn't mention is that, in all scriptures that we interpret, we must ascertain who is being addressed, who someone is speaking to, and particularly when it is God doing the speaking - and especially when it's got to do with promises that God is making, that is, covenants. It's vital to understand who the two participants are. Now, we can be assured God is one, but who is the other? Who is being addressed? Who are the participants? Now listen carefully: there are eight covenants in the Bible, and five of the eight were made with Israel, and the other three - the first three that were mentioned - were made with all mankind.
Now that's important, but generally speaking the understanding of covenants in the Bible is vital for at least three reasons. First of all, generally speaking, the eight covenants of the Bible give us a framework for understanding the whole message of Scripture. You could say that the story of Scripture is divided into covenants. Paul told Timothy to rightly divide the word of truth, and in a sense covenants are a way of doing that. But specifically, covenants also give us a key to interpreting many disputed prophetic Scriptures. When I speak of that, I'm touching really on who the addressees of these covenants are - and there's a great deal of confusion when we come to prophetic Scripture, Scripture about the future, as to who these apply to. When we understand the covenants correctly, we have a key, if you like, to opening up many prophetic Scriptures. But not only is there a general application and a specific, in relation to prophetic Scripture, there is also - and may I say this is the most important - a personal application of covenant truth, because the whole doctrine of covenant reveals something intrinsic to the character of God. Let me repeat that: covenants reveal something intrinsic to the character of God - that is, His faithfulness, His utter and complete faithfulness to His promises.
Now, the reason why this is the most important aspect to covenant in application is that this is a revelation of the heart of God. Let it be said that Genesis through to Revelation, the whole Bible, is a revelation of the heart of God. Often the trouble that we have in evangelicalism, particularly conservative evangelicalism, is that we miss the wood for the trees. We get so taken up with the doctrines and the scriptures, and putting the pieces of the jigsaw together, that we miss the fact - as the hymn writer put it: 'Beyond the sacred page, I seek Thee Lord'. All truth and all doctrine is meant to lead us to God, and help us to get to know our God more. If we get to know our Bible more, and we get to know covenant more, and we don't get to know God more - can I say: we have wasted our time, utterly!
So, whilst we will not be bypassing our minds these weeks, I do hope that you will not have a heart bypass in this sense, that you miss what covenant has to say about God. Now, let's look at covenants in more detail. There are two types of covenant, as I'm sure some of you will know, in these eight. There are conditional covenants and there are unconditional covenants. Let me explain those: the conditional covenant is what we call a 'bilateral covenant', that simply means that there is a responsibility on the two parties in the covenant to do something so that the covenant is fulfilled bilaterally. In the Bible that is characterised by a formula where God proposes to man: 'If you will, then I will'. In other words, 'If you fulfil your side of the bargain', if you like, 'I will fulfil mine'. So the blessing in a conditional covenant is secured by obedience, a fulfilment. Before God will meet His conditions, man first must meet his.
Now, two out of the eight covenants of the Bible are conditional: the Edenic Covenant, way back in the beginning, that man broke and sin came upon all the Earth, and we're still in the consequences of that; and the second conditional covenant where man had to fulfil something before God did something is what we will look at next week, the Mosaic Covenant, the covenant of the law, the old covenant - and man broke it, and the Jews certainly, and I suppose all the world in a sense, have lived under the consequences of it.
Those are the two conditional covenants, and then there are six unconditional covenants - the rest of them are unconditional. If a conditional covenant is bilateral, an unconditional covenant is unilateral - that means that there is only one party in the agreement who has the responsibility to fulfil the covenant. So, as far as God is concerned, this unconditional unilateral covenant is a sovereign act of God that is characterised not by the formula 'If you will, then I will', but is characterised with the formula, 'I will'. When you read the scriptures concerning these unconditional covenants, that's what keeps coming across. You even saw around the Table this morning in relation to the New Covenant: 'I will' is the formula. Blessings are secured on man's part not by obedience, like the conditional covenant, but by grace, the grace of God alone. God is fulfilling His side, and it's only His side needs to be fulfilled. Now, there may be conditions which God requests that the covenant one fulfil out of simple gratitude for what God is doing for them, but they are not themselves the basis of God fulfilling His promise. The basis of God fulfilling His promise is pure grace.
Now, six out of the eight covenants are unconditional: the Adamic Covenant, the Noahic Covenant, the Abrahamic Covenant, the Land Covenant, the Davidic Covenant, the New Covenant. There is only one of the five covenants that were made with Israel that is conditional, that is the Mosaic, that means the other four are unconditional - and that means that they will be fulfilled. Now, I hope I'm making this plain to you. Dr Arnold Fruchtenbaum, who is a Messianic Jew, points out four things to note relating to the unconditional covenants made with Israel. One: they are literal covenants, therefore they must be fulfilled literally - hardly rocket science, is it? Secondly: they are eternal covenants, so they are not restricted or altered by time. It doesn't matter how much time passes before these are fulfilled, they will be fulfilled because they are unconditional. Thirdly: they are unconditional, therefore they are not annulled or nullified because of Israel's disobedience. They are not bilateral, they are unilateral - all that matters is God's responsibility to fulfil what He has promised. They are unconditional, Israel's disobedience doesn't matter. Fourthly and finally: these unconditional covenants with Israel were made with a specific choice-covenant people. Let me remind you of what we read in Romans 9 this morning, verse 4: 'The Israelites; to whom pertain adoption, the glory, the covenants', plural, 'the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises'. Paul says the same in Ephesians 2, this time speaking of Gentile Christians and describing them who one time were: 'aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world'. Gentiles are strangers from the covenants.
Now, that is vital, because there is a strain of theology - many who espouse it I greatly regard, and yet I believe it is erroneous. It's called 'Replacement Theology', and basically what it does is it takes these promises and covenants that were made by God to the nation of Israel, a covenant people, and it applies them to the church, the New Testament believing people. It is wrong because it disregards these principles of sound interpretation, and it confounds biblical prophecy so that we cannot really understand clearly what Bible prophecy says - but ultimately it makes a mockery of the whole issue of covenants, because you start to not understand who a covenant was made to and how it will be fulfilled. Would you go into an agreement like that? I think not.
The Abrahamic Covenant is the one we're looking at tonight, and it is again an unconditional covenant, and that was indicated by the declaration of God: 'I will'. Now, let it be said that this is the first of the theocratic covenants, this is the first where God is bringing His rule upon Earth, and all the other theocratic covenants that will come out of it actually evolve out of this Abrahamic Covenant. So you have, if you like, a nucleus of all the other covenants that are about to come in this one covenant made with Abraham. You could describe it like this: in this covenant is the one purpose of God for humans into which all of God's programs work and fit. That's a big statement: right at the beginning of the Bible we have a covenant that enshrines all the purposes of God for all human beings, Jew and Gentile, regarding God's programme and the works that He will do. Essentially - maybe this is a bigger statement - it explains whatever God has done in history, what He is doing now, and what He will continue to do until the consummation of all things that we read about in the book of Revelation. That's staggering! Yet it's here in the Abrahamic Covenant.
Now, it's first announced here in Genesis chapter 12, let's look at it - verse 1: "Now the LORD had said to Abram: 'Get out of your country, from your family and 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'". Now that is, in chapter 12, a broad outline of the annunciation of the Abrahamic Covenant, a broad outline of what God was going to do. Now, look at it: first of all there is a national aspect to the covenant. God says to Abraham: 'I will make of you a great nation'. Now, we know that Abraham, father Abraham we call him, was the father of the great nation of Israel. He will possess, one day, in nation, all the promised land. There is a national promise for him to be the father of a great nation, Israel. But there is also a personal promise - God says, look at it: 'I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing', there is a personal blessing.
God was going to make Abraham great - do you know that the Jews are not the only nation that came from Abraham? Other nations, including Arab states, would descend from Abraham. His descendants would be Kings, both Jewish and non-Jewish Kings. God had said personally, not just nationally, that a great nation of Israel would come to him, but personally God would make his name great. Now consider this: over half of the human race this very day is connected to a religion, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim, which believes that Abraham is a most outstanding patriarch of faith. God fulfilled His personal promise, as well as the national, to Abraham through the Abrahamic Covenant.
Then there is a universal promise here, He says: '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'. Now this is pointing forward to what we touched on this morning, that Israel was an elected people in order to bring Messiah to the world for world redemption - they were the vehicle that God was going to use to bring Messiah and salvation. Now, in this covenant there are physical blessings to the Jews. There is the land, and there is the Davidic kingdom and so on. The descendants of the Jews, even in the Messianic State, and we'll not go into that this evening, but they will still enjoy those. Just because Christ has come and the church is here doesn't mean that those things are erased. The spiritual blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant are with the Jews as well, but these also pertain to the Gentiles, to the seed of Abraham. The seed, as Galatians teaches us, is singular; and those promises were made to Christ, Abraham's seed. When we are in Christ we enjoy those spiritual blessings as the spiritual descendants of Abraham.
Now, this Abrahamic Covenant is announced in chapter 12, but it's later confirmed in greater detail in chapter 13 if you will turn to that please. This is the confirmation, and each time it's repeated it tells us a little bit more about it. We've seen a broad outline, now the confirmation, verse 14 of chapter 13: 'And the LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him: 'Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are; northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever. And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered. Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you'". Then it's confirmed again in chapter 15, turn to it, and verse 1: '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 go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer 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 your 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 descendants be'. And he believed in the LORD', Jehovah, 'and He accounted it to him', God accounted it to Abraham, 'for righteousness. Then He said to him, 'I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it''.
This covenant is announced in chapter 12, confirmed in chapter 13 and 15 - now, and this is where we're leading to tonight, it's ratified officially and legally between God and Abraham. It is ratified specifically in answer to a question that Abraham asks of God in verse 8, look at verse 8, after He confirms this covenant again, Abraham says: 'Lord GOD, how shall I know that I will inherit it?' - how shall I know that I will inherit it? God then says in verse 9: ''Bring Me a threeyearold heifer, a threeyearold female goat, a threeyearold ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon'. Then he brought all 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'.
Now, in chapter 17, after the covenant is ratified in chapter 15, in chapter 17 the covenant is signified. The covenant of Abraham is signified with a token physical circumcision - eight-day-old boys were to be circumcised, and this was the sign, just as the rainbow was the sign of the Noahic Covenant, circumcision - incidentally 'cutting' - would be the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant. Now that will become significant when we look at this cutting that's going on here in chapter 15. Now remember: the question that Abraham asks, verse 8, was 'Lord, how shall I know? You're giving me all these promises, and they are out of this world, but how shall I know that I will inherit it? I want a guarantee'. Now, listen carefully: Abraham understood that when God told him in verse 9 to take all these animals, that God was saying, 'Abraham, if you want to know how you can know that I'm telling the truth, get a contract ready for me to sign' - that's literally what is being said here.
What is occurring happened in these days because contracts were made by sacrificially splitting carcasses of animals, and laying them on the ground, and then both parties to the contract would walk through the parts of those animal pieces, repeating to one another the terms of the contract and the agreement. Do you see the import of this? Abraham says: 'How do I know that You're telling me the truth? How do I know that You're going to fulfil what You've said?' - and God is tantamount to saying, 'Get a contract ready and I will sign it'. Now in verse 18 we read at the end of all this that God made a covenant with Abraham. Now, I'm not a Hebrew expert, far from it, but I do know that the word 'made' there for 'the LORD made a covenant', actually is in the original Hebrew 'the LORD cut a covenant'. A covenant is spoken of in Hebrew as being 'cut', and the idea is - and this is coming from secular usage in agreements and contracts - that one party in a contract, by cutting the animals and walking in the midst of them, was saying, listen: 'May the same be done to me if I break my covenant with you! May the same be done to you if you break your covenant with me!'. You see that again in Jeremiah 34.
Now, isn't it reassuring that Abraham had doubts, for who of us - as the man said, doubt the man that never doubts - all of us, from time to time, have had doubts. Doubts are different than unbelief, by the way. Abraham had his doubts, who could blame him, about how God was going to fulfil all this. He's well on the other side of pension age, and God's telling him he's going to have a son! He wants an assurance. Now, this is unmistakably what the Lord is saying: 'Abraham, if you want an assurance, let's sign a contract and settle it once and for all'. Here is what the Lord is saying by inference: 'If I do not honour My word, let Me be pulled asunder!'. There is a very strange verse in Psalm 138 verse 2, and it says this, that God has magnified His word above His name. In the pecking order, if you like, God has put His word, what He says, what He promises, above His holy name. Could you get a better illustration of that than this? God is saying: 'May I be rent asunder', He's putting His reputation on the line by signing a contract with Abraham! That teaches us - and this is what covenants teach us - that God wants to be believed.
Indeed, I think if you scour this book from cover to cover, you will find, generally speaking, that all God asks of man is that he believes Him. Indeed, we have it here, faith, in verse 6 of chapter 15: Abraham believed in the LORD, and God accounted it, accredited it to him for righteousness. What Abraham was doing was having faith in God's word on the basis of a blood-sacrifice that was a contract that God was promising He would never break.
Now, look at the animals that God asks Abraham to take in verse 9, and these animals are prophetic in and of themselves. Before we look at them specifically, note the wording of how God tells him to get them: 'Bring me'. Now, I'm not going to take time to go into all this, but this shows that this unconditional unilateral covenant, and this sacrifice, and this agreement was for God. It was for God. 'Bring me' - and that's exactly the same with the sacrifice of Calvary that we will see is enshrined here in wonderful type and Holy Spirit inspired picture. That sacrifice ultimately and primarily was for God, because it was in the heart of God to reconcile mankind to Himself - and in order to do that righteously and justly, God needed a sacrifice to satisfy Him: 'Bring me'.
Three animals are named. You will note that all three of them are tame animals, not one of them needed to be captured by Abraham, they were willing servants for man's need: the heifer, the goat, and the ram. What a picture of our Lord Jesus. Mark's gospel is the gospel of the Suffering Servant, the Lord Jesus - did He not say: 'I've come to do the will of Him who sent me'. Each of these animals, tame animals, foreshadows a distinctive aspect of Christ's person and work. The heifer seems to indicate strength and energy to do the will of the Father. The goat, of course, if you know the Old Testament, is the animal of the sin offering. He was coming to do the will of God energetically, but He was going to Calvary to die in our place and take our sins. Then there is the ram, and of course the ram in levitical offerings was connected with consecration. This was a work, as His life was, His death would be completely consecrated to God. In these birds, surely, is there not a picture of the One from heaven, John's gospel? Three times we read of three years repeated, and our blessed Lord, after three years approximately of service here on Earth, life, and ministry, He goes to the cross to die the sacrificial death.
Now, after Abram does what God asks him, in verse 11 we read this: 'When the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away'. Now that implies something. Sometimes you need to read between the lines a little, and that implies that Abram was waiting on God. He's done what God has asked him, and now he's waiting. What is he waiting on? Well, had not God said: 'Get a contract ready, and I'll sign it'. It's not conjecture to say that he had now got the contract ready, and he's waiting for God to come down and ratify it. He's waiting for God, literally, to take his hand, Abram's hand, and walk him through the pieces reciting the agreement one to the other. We read in verse 12 that he waits all day: 'Now when the sun was going down', he waited to the very end of the day, and at that point, when the sun was going down, 'a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him'.
Now, what does all that mean? Well, some believe that it means, because Abram is sleeping now, that he would not inherit the promised land in his own natural lifetime - and that may well be, but surely there's more to it than this? You see the significance of sacrifice, and you see the typology that relates to the life and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, surely we are seeing here a representation of death? Abraham undergoes a deep sleep, and we will see in a moment or two that there is a resurrection. We see this further back in Genesis, before there was even a fall, we see Adam falls into a deep sleep, God does an operation while he's under 'anaesthetic', takes a rib and makes a woman. There is this picture of this birth and new creation coming out of death and then resurrection. The whole message is that blessing, this covenant blessing that has been promised to God's people, and indeed to the whole Earth, will only be inherited through suffering.
In verses 13 through to verse 16, God specifically prophesies sevenfold the suffering that the descendants of Abraham, physically, would have to bear. In verse 13, in this sleep and in this horror of great darkness, God tells Abram: 'Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years'. He is telling them they're going to be 400 years in Egypt - and before anyone says it, some scriptures say that the Israelites were 430 years in Egypt, and that's correct, they were; but they were 400 years of the 430 in affliction. Then in verse 14 God says to Abram: 'And also the nation whom they serve I will judge', He's going to judge the Egyptians, that's the plagues, 'afterward they shall come out', that's the Passover, 'with great possessions', that's what Exodus 12 describes as the Israelites plundering the Egyptians as they exited the land.
Verse 16, another very specific prophecy, God tells them that they will go in, what they will suffer; they will come out, how they will come out, and when they will come out. Verse 16: 'In the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete'. Now if you were to turn - and you can if you want, but we're not going to read it - to Exodus 6 verses 16 to 20, you will read there that Levi, Abram's great-grandson, was the first generation of Israelites in Egypt. Then we read that Levi's son, by the name of Kohath, was the second generation of Israelites in Egypt. Then we read on that Amram was the third generation of Israelites in Egypt, and the son of Amram and Jochebed was Moses, the fourth generation of Israelites in Egypt - the generation that God said to Abraham would be delivered.
Now, let me ask you a question before I go on any further: do you think God fulfils His word accurately? Do you think He fulfils His word literally? I think it's self-evident. In verse 16 God told him that they would not return to Canaan until the iniquity of the Amorites was complete, and then it is the end of the dream - and we know that because it says in verse 17: 'It came to pass, when the sun went down', so Abram is back to reality. This is important, because this was not a vision that Abram is seeing now from verse 17 on, this is a literal, miraculous, supernatural event. We now see this scene of blood, the sun goes down, it is dark, and behold, in the midst of this bloody scene there appears a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between the pieces.
Now, darkness, a smoking oven, and a burning torch passed between the pieces. Some commentators say an oven speaks of affliction, and the Israelites were going to be afflicted - that's true. Some say that a torch speaks of deliverance and guidance, and that may well be the case - but what we have here is unmistakably what we know as 'Shekinah glory'. What is Shekinah glory? Well, Shekinah glory is right throughout the Bible, and it is the visible manifestation of the presence of God. You see it at the burning bush, where Moses turns aside to see the great sight. You see it in the wilderness before the tent of meeting, as a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night. Here you see the same description: darkness, smoke and flame. Incidentally, this is the first time Shekinah, a visible manifestation of the presence of God, has been seen since Eden when the Shekinah glory of God barred sinful mankind from Paradise. It says there that it was the flame of a sword, Shekinah, that stopped man entering into Eden.
Now this is of great significance, because what this was - a visible manifestation of the presence of God - was: God was walking down between the pieces of these carcasses, and God was walking alone. God had previously put Abram asleep to let him know that this is not your covenant, it's My covenant with you. Now He walks Himself, illustrating again that this is an unconditional unilateral covenant - in other words, it's based not on the obedience of Abraham, nor his descendants, but it's based on grace alone. 'Abram, you didn't do anything to make it, and you can't do anything to break it'. In all its aspects: to do with the land, Canaan, Israel; to do with the seed, the descendants of the Jews; to do with the spiritual blessings to the church and even Jews today - all are possible because God has promised it, and God has said: 'I will do it. I will fulfil it through Messiah'.
Now, as I was meditating upon this, I realised that there is a sense in which God walked through the bloody body of Jesus to establish His covenant. There's a sense in which God signed His covenant for all of us, Jew and Gentile alike, through the pieces of Calvary. When I thought of that, 2 Corinthians 5:19 came to me: 'God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them'. This is mighty, verse 18, look what God says: 'On the same day the LORD made a covenant', cut a covenant, 'with Abram'. Now, if you were to go back to chapter 13 verse 15 you would read there, at least some versions read that God, as He is affirming again, before it's ratified, He's affirming: 'I will make this covenant with Abram', but now He's saying, 'I have made this covenant with Abram'. He's basically saying: 'It's done! It's finished!'. On what basis? On His word, His promise and the shedding of blood - that's how we are saved, the word and the blood.
Now, let me apply this as I close. The only thing God requires of man, and has ever done, is for man to believe Him. I don't think I'm being simplistic when I say that. He wants us to believe Him prophetically. I know that this is an area of controversy with some, and you mightn't think it matters whether you believe these covenants are for the church or for Israel or whatever. A Jew on one occasion was debating with a Christian over Luke chapter 1 verses 32 and 33, where the angel announced to Mary: 'He', speaking of the Lord Jesus, 'will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end' - speaking of the Davidic kingdom and how Christ would sit on the throne of Israel. The Jew asked the Christian: 'How do you understand that Scripture?'. The Christian answered: 'Well, it's figurative language describing Christ's spiritual reign over the church'. 'Then you don't take it literally?', asked the Jew. 'Certainly not', replied the Christian. The Jew then made a further remark: 'Then why do you expect me to take literally what is before, when it says that the Son of David shall be born of a virgin? Do you take that literally, that He would be born of a virgin?'. 'Surely', said the Christian, 'I take it literally'. The Jew answered: 'Well, why do you accept verse 31 of Luke 1 as literal, but explain verse 32 and verse 33 as figurative?'. 'Because', answered the Christian, 'verse 31 has become a fact, Jesus was so born'. 'Ah', said the Jew, 'I see. You believe the Scriptures when you see them fulfilled, I believe them because they are the word of God'.
It's important that we believe God prophetically - it's not all-important, but it is important. But what is all-important is that we believe God personally: the just shall live by his or her faith. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. An elderly woman used to like to include a particular verse in her testimony, and it was 'I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee'. Her pastor who knew her delight in the faithfulness of God in that verse one day pointed out to her that the original Greek meaning could literally be translated: 'I'll never, no never leave thee, nor forsake thee'. When she showed no surprise, the pastor asked: 'Doesn't it make you feel better to know that God makes it doubly sure that He won't forsake you?'. 'Oh no', she said, 'I know God says it twice, but that was so some of you preachers could understand it - once is enough for me!'.
Do we believe God personally? Jesus said we could build our life on the rock of what He said and, though storms come, though they be judgement storms, though this Earth - John says - and the things of this Earth pass away, he who does the will of God abides forever. You see, the problem is not just that some of us have spiritualised God's promises to Israel and so on, but most of us have grown - if the truth be told - over familiar with His promises to us. Would I be wrong in saying that we have even grown tired of them, and have lost their wonder, all of His promises?
Philip Yancey writes that he remembered his first visit to Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park, a geyser. He said that the rings of Japanese and German tourists surrounded the geyser, their video cameras trained like weapons on the famous hole in the ground. He says there is a large digital clock that stood beside the spot predicting 24 minutes until the next eruption. Philip Yancey says that his wife and he passed the countdown in the dining room of Old Faithful Inn overlooking the geyser, and when the digital clock reached one minute, he says: 'We, along with every other diner, rushed to the window to see the big wet event. But I noticed that, immediately, as if on signal, a crew of waiters and waitresses descended on the table to refill water glasses and clear away dirty dishes. When the geyser went off we tourists 'Ohhhed' and 'Ahhed' and clicked cameras, and a few spontaneously applauded, but glancing back over my shoulder I saw not a single waiter, not even those who had finished their chores, look out of the huge window'. This is his comment: 'Old Faithful, grown entirely too familiar, had lost its power to impress'.
Old Faithful, grown entirely too familiar, had lost its power to impress. Do you know He is still true to His word? As the old puritan said: 'Tarry at the promise, and God will meet you there. He always returns by way of His promises'.
Let us pray: Holy Father, we now know a little bit more of what it means for You to have set Your word above Your name. You have chosen in Your sovereignty to put Your reputation on the line - and of course we know it's not on the line, because You always honour Your word. But You have chosen to give us an assurance that we can grasp and understand, in measure, upon our terms - and yet we do not have to fulfil, for it is all of grace. Lord, we thank You for the Lord Jesus, who was torn at Calvary. We thank You that You walked between the pieces of the slain Lamb, to a world that has its back toward You. Lord, we thank You for the wonder of it all, and we thank You, Lord, Your people, as another verse teaches us: when we are faithless, You remain faithful, for You cannot deny Yourself. Forgive us for unbelief, and Lord help us, with the faith of a little child, to simply believe what You have said. We believe this much: that Your heart is delighted, exhilarated, overjoyed when Your children believe You. Thank You for meeting with us tonight, Lord. If there should be even one here who has never known what it is to believe upon the sacrifice of Jesus, that their sins are forgiven, may they take You at Your word tonight and believe on the Lord Jesus and be saved. May the fragrance of Your presence go with us now, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered in Scrabo Hall in Newtownards, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the first recording in his 'Covenants' series, entitled "The Abrahamic Covenant" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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