Daily Distinctives, March 13, 2018 – Stranger in a Strange Land

So, coming to chapter 15 in my journey through Genesis we find an encounter between God and Abram. God comes to Abram in vision and makes a covenant with him. I have personally experienced what I felt was a vision from God early in my walk. Being the skeptic, I am often leery when someone tells me that they have had a vision from God, and so if there is any skepticism now, I won’t hold it against you. I believe it was a vision because it was so vivid and frightening. Afterward, I felt as if I could see with new eyes. For me, it was a life-changing moment. I was wide awake, and it was if I was seeing another dimension. I can only explain it like some kind of a daydream. In the vision, I saw the church roof peeled back like a lid and spiritual hosts battling above me. It was a dreadful experience; one that frightened me. I get chills even now thinking about it. My memory of the vision itself has faded and I don’t recall the details, but I have long felt the impact of the feelings that it elicited in me.

And so, when I read of visions in the Bible, I can kind of relate. And so coming to chapter 15 we read…

[Gen 15:1 NKJV] 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.”

After these things? After what things? Well, if you were with me the last time we talked about this mysterious fellow by the name of Melchizedek and how Abram paid a tithe to him. And it is on the heels of this account that we find Abram being approached by God in a vision.

Now an interesting thing I would like to point out is that it says the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision. Some commentators suggest that this is another example of a Christophany. Jesus is referred to as the WORD of the LORD. The WORD became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:1-5). And so if Jesus came to Abram in this vision this would be an amazing thing. When you consider that a common phrase Jesus used was “fear not,” then it would come as no surprise to find that the first words of this vision were, “Do not be afraid…” But whether it was the pre-incarnate Christ or something akin to 1 Samuel 3 where the young prophet heard the voice of God, I am not sure. What I am sure of is that the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision. It is important to note that this was from the LORD and not from his own thoughts.

And so in this vision, Abram is told not to be afraid that the I AM is his shield and exceedingly great reward. Now, I love this because this is the first time that the phrase the word of the LORD and Him being a shield and reward is used in the Bible. The fact is that the WORD of the LORD is all that we need. When we understand who He is, and what a relationship with the I AM means then we can begin to understand why we need not fear. The LORD truly is our shield and reward.

[Gen 15:2 NKJV] But Abram said, “Lord GOD, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house [is] Eliezer of Damascus?”
[Gen 15:3 NKJV] Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!”

Surely Abram harkened back to the time when God promised him that he would have descendants (Genesis 12:7). Abram gave up the spoils of war in his previous campaign to save Lot. And now the LORD comes to him in a vision and says that He is his shield and great reward. Abram is probably doing his best impression of Cuba Gooding Junior in Jerry McGuire, “Show me the money!” Seriously though, he does ask the LORD how He is going to bless him.

He tells the LORD that he has no heir except one from his household who was a servant. Eliezer is an interesting character, one we will, LORD willing, uncover in future studies. This was the closest thing to an heir that Abram had. Eliezer would prove to be a faithful servant and worthy of an inheritance, but God had something bigger in mind for Abram. Little did Abram know that it would be from his bloodline that the Messiah would come.

[Gen 15:4 NKJV] 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.”

And so God reassures Abram that he will indeed have an heir to pass on his legacy. As a father of six children, I often wonder what I will be able to leave to them. I hope that they will all come to know the LORD as their savior, and so I make a habit of writing things down as a part of the legacy that I am leaving them. All the money in the would not profit them at all compared to the riches of godly direction. I am sure at this point in their lives they would prefer stacks of cash, but I hope that as they grow and mature that these words and words like them that I have allowed to flow from my mind to print will be an exceeding reward for them as well.

[Gen 15:5 NKJV] 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.”

Now, we have to remember that Abram is a guy who is up there in age now. His wife’s biological clock is ticking and they are getting past the age of being able to even have children. Still, God tells him to look up into the heavens and count the stars. Now I imagine there in the wilderness, at night, with no pollution or cloud cover, the stars would appear innumerable. But God tells Abram to count them if he can, that his descendants will outnumber the stars!

[Gen 15:6 NKJV] And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.

Now, this is interesting because in the days after Christ our righteousness is declared by the atoning work that Jesus did for us on the cross. Christ had not yet died at the time Abram has this vision. But God declares him righteous still. This is because of Abrams faith. Even today it is not our works, our good deeds, the words we speak, how well we study our Bibles or any other thing that we do that makes us righteous. It is our faith that makes us righteous. It is our wholehearted acceptance of Jesus and what He has done that secures our salvation and makes us righteous. Abram looked forward to the day when Messiah would come and God promises him that he would be used to that end. It was this faith in something that would seem to be absurd that God accounts to him for righteousness. I mean let’s face it, Abram was no spring chicken. The thought of becoming the patriarch of a people who outnumbered the stars would seem far-fetched to most rational people. Still, Abram accepted it as truth and it was for this that God accounted it to him for righteousness.

[Gen 15:7 NKJV] 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.”

God reminds Abram that He was the One who called Abram out and brought him to where he now was. God reminds Abram that He was the One who gave him this land to possess. It was God and God alone who gave Abram this hope of an inheritance.

[Gen 15:8 NKJV] And he said, “Lord GOD, how shall I know that I will inherit it?”

Abram was not doubting God at all here, he just wanted a sign to seal the deal. When you or I have a contract, it requires a signature to confirm an agreement. This is what Abram is asking for, the signature of God. And so as a sign, God instructs him on how to receive his sign.

[Gen 15:9 NKJV] 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.”

Now, before you start thinking, “Okay, this sounds like some sort of coven ritual performed by voodoo witch doctors or something,” it would be good to know that in those days it was common practice to make a covenant by sacrificing animals. The parties would split the carcasses of animals in half and set them on either side of a path. They would then walk in between the parts, reciting the terms of their agreement. While it might seem odd to us today with electronic signatures through DocuSign or even something as simple as a pen and paper contract, back then these kinds of luxuries did not exist. This was how covenants were made and it signified the seriousness of the agreement. It would be like saying if either party failed to uphold their end of the bargain may the be torn like the animals they walked through.

[Gen 15:10 NKJV] 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.

Now, my curiosity was piqued as I read this because he did not cut the birds in two as he did the larger animals. What I discovered was that he did this because either there were two birds and one was laid up against the other like the large animals were, or simply because they were to be used for a sacrifice after the ceremonial covenant was made as it is prescribed in Leviticus 1:15;17.

[Gen 15:11 NKJV] And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

Now, as you can imagine, after waiting a while the vultures smelled the carcasses and come down on Abram and his contract. Living in Texas, we see a lot of these vultures. They hang out on the street lights waiting for some road-kill. We also have white-tailed deer here in Texas and when one gets hit by a car you can come along later and see a whole flock of vultures cleaning up the roadside. I had a friend come down and visit from New Jersey and he saw this scene as we traveled down one of the back roads here in Texas. He looks over and asks, “What are those?” I told him, “those my friend are mosquitoes…everything is bigger in Texas!” No, but seriously, Abram sees these vultures coming down and he chases them off.

[Gen 15:12 NKJV] Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror [and] great darkness fell upon him.

Now, this is what I found peculiar and what kind of cemented the idea of what a vision is for me, at least in my own mind. Everything we have seen so far has been a part of Abrams vision. Now, if he were asleep, and this vision was a dream, then why would God cause a deep sleep to fall upon Abram. It would be like his dream was having a dream. Β I wonder if perhaps Abram saw and heard the vision, and in the vision, the LORD commanded him what to do and then he came out of his vision to do what he was commanded. If that is the case, Abram got the marching orders from God in his vision, and when he came to he obeyed God and put together the animal covenant. While he is waiting, the vultures come down and Abram scares them off. He could have been thinking to himself, “Was this vision real? If so where is God? I am tired of chasing these vultures off.”

And just like that God causes Abram to fall into a deep sleep. But it would seem like a nightmare as verse 12 describes the horror and great darkness. So Abram goes from being comforted by God to now having this horrible and dark dream where the LORD was not present. For had the LORD been present in this dream the darkness would have nowhere to hide. Matthew Henry the layman’s expositor describes this as being designed by God with a three-fold purpose.

(1.) To strike an awe upon the spirit of Abram, and to possess him with a holy reverence, that the familiarity to which God was pleased to admit him might not breed contempt. Note, Holy fear prepares the soul for holy joy; the spirit of bondage makes way for the spirit of adoption. God wounds first, and then heals; humbles first, and then lifts up, Isa. 6:5, 6.

(2.) To be a specimen of the methods of God’s dealings with his seed. They must first be in the horror and darkness of Egyptian slavery, and then enter with joy into the good land; and therefore he must have the foretaste of their sufferings, before he had the foresight of their happiness.

(3.) To be an indication of the nature of that covenant of peculiarity which God was now about to make with Abram. The Old-Testament dispensation, which was founded on that covenant, was a dispensation,

[1.] Of darkness and obscurity, 2 Co. 3:13, 14.

[2.] Of dread and horror, Heb. 12:18, etc.

Other commentators suggest that this was a foreshadowing of events to come as God’s people would be brought under bondage in Egypt. I tend to lean more towards Matthew Henry here (who seemed to have gotten his idea from Wesley) in that the horror and dread were more for ambiance than foreshadowing. And what I mean by this is the darkness and horror would have prepared Abram for hope. I almost feel as if it were a scene where the devil and all his dark forces were encroaching upon Abram who was huddled up in a small circle of dim light surrounded by bleak darkness; alone, waiting on God with these dead animals nearby. That would be a frightful dream no doubt. One that would be begging for God to arrive. I have had a number of nightmares in my life and there is a great sense of relief when I awake from such a dream. And so in the next verse, the LORD comes and pierces the darkness with a WORD.

[Gen 15:13 NKJV] Then He said to 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.
[Gen 15:14 NKJV] “And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions.
[Gen 15:15 NKJV] “Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age.
[Gen 15:16 NKJV] “But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites [is] not yet complete.”

Now, from this, I can see where the commentators might suggest that the foreboding darkness of his dream was foreshadowing of events yet to come. God prepares to make a covenant with Abram but begins by telling him that this covenant will not come without some pretty tough things. God essentially tells Abram, “Yes, you will receive all of this land, and yes, your descendants will outnumber the stars, but, it will not be easy. The people will be taken from their land and will be slaves for 400 years.” At this, Abram might have said, “Well forget about it then…that is too much for me to bear, it would be easier to just never be a father at all.” But then God tells him something that would make it all better. He tells Abram that though they will be strangers in a strange land, afflicted and enslaved that God will judge their oppressors and they will come out with great possessions. He then tells Abram essentially, “but you won’t even have to worry because you will live out your life in peace and die and be buried at a ripe old age before any of this ever takes place.”

[Gen 15:17 NKJV] And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven [pot] and a burning torch that passed between those pieces.
[Gen 15:18 NKJV] On the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying: “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates–
[Gen 15:19 NKJV] “the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites,
[Gen 15:20 NKJV] “the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim,
[Gen 15:21 NKJV] “the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”

Again, this smoking oven and burning torch passing through the pieces to ratify the covenant was a Theophany or an appearance of God. Some suggest that the smoke represented the suffering of Israel and the torch represents the light of the glory of God. Either way, all commentators agree that this was God passing through the pieces to confirm the agreement that He made with Abram.

And so an interesting study today. Of course, my title was related to the song that popped into my head as I read, “Stranger In A Strange Land” which really has nothing to do with this study…but well…that is my brain.

Prayer: LORD, thank You for Your promises. It was because of Your promise to Abram that our LORD came. I praise You for who You are today and would love to experience You in the way that You presented Yourself to Abram. How I long to know You in that way. I look forward to Your return, but as I wait, I will pray and continue to pray that You will keep working in and through me as I become an instrument of Your will. May You be honored by my life which I gladly lay down before You. It is in Your name I pray. –Amen

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