We live in a great time, we really do. I can walk into a store and purchase a tool to help me complete almost any task. That was true a generation ago. What wasn’t true was the fact that I can now order something I cannot get access to locally and it will be shipped to my door in a few days – in some places it will be flown out on a little drone.
Though we live in a small town, we can have Chinese, Thai, Mexican or Italian food any day of the week. Our supermarkets contain items grown and shipped from around the world, sent fresh to our supermarket chain. We can go a little over an hour away and get on an airplane that is made of four million distinct parts derived from shops in 13 nations and use that assembled aircraft to travel to another continent within the same day. We can get in our car and drive over to the east coast of Florida and watch a satellite get launched into space. Our lives are remarkable!
One of the things travel can do is allow you to compare how different cultures accomplish tasks and build great edifices. Traveling to Europe, I find the buildings inspiring, but I have to admit that on occasion they have left me feeling a little empty when I compare the works I have seen to the “quick and easy” lifestyle we have developed here. I admit it; the old buildings (like the great cathedrals) make me yearn sometimes for a bit more craftsmanship here at home. All our “instantly ready” microwaved meals and instant fixes to our building project needs leaves me recognizing there really is little emphasis on skilled craftsman and the quality products they crafted for longevity. Our way has advantages, but it also has some real limitations…
I guess as long as I can visit those carefully hand crafted master works it really isn’t that big a deal, but the sense of the instant does take its toll on us. One of the ways is in our theology. In our day, I don’t believe we are set up to understand how God does things – because our lives are focused far more on immediate satisfaction than long term craftsmanship.
If we want to understand how things are put together, we need to recognize something: God is a Master Craftsman. He operates on a different schedule than we do. His level of exacting detail may appear to be a slow way to respond to things, but He works for eternity and does it “over the long haul.” God, like any skilled craftsman that takes after Him, simply refuses to RUSH. At the same time, what He builds lasts for as many generations as He chooses. In our lesson today from Genesis 15, we will clearly see an encouraging truth…
Key Principle: God may take His time keeping His promises, but we should have confidence in the fact that He always keeps them in every detail.
If you have been following our lessons through the life of Abraham, you know that chapter 15 unfolded after what happened when he got back from the fight to rescue his nephew Lot. He led a victory charge and brought the people and spoils of war back to Canaan from the raiders that had taken them away to Syria. A victory parade ensued, as did some conversations that seemed as much like high level negotiations as they did a celebration of victory. If you read chapter 14 carefully, there appeared to be some undercurrent tensions with the King of Sodom named Bera but there was welcome praise and encouragement from a priestly leader named Melchizedek. Abraham returned to his tent, cleaned the dust of travel and the blood of the fight from his sandals and got some rest.
After some time God showed up again to the Patriarch…
Genesis 15:1 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; your reward shall be very great.”
Perhaps he was still pondering in his heart the words of King Bera and King Melchizedek from the celebration part of his recent victory, where each spoke to Abraham of reward. Maybe those words got him thinking about God’s blessings and promises. Neither king knew Abe was struggling in his heart with the very issue of reward, because God made a promise, but was slow on delivery.
Over the years, God had appeared to him a number of times. You can trace them in Genesis. I label each of them in my own study to remind me of their major features. Beginning in Genesis 12, trace them with me for a moment. God gave Abraham…
• An “Emptying” Promise: The first meeting was in Genesis 12:1-3, when God told Abram to move out to a country God would show him, and that God would make Abram a blessing to all nations. This set up Abraham’s great “trust exchange” where he was to give up what he knew for what God promised based solely on the Word of God. It was an “emptying promise” because he had to empty his life of his own stuff in order to gain what God wanted him to have.
Later, God appeared again. The next time it was:
• A “Defined” Promise: The second meeting (recorded in 12:7) revealed to Abram that he would receive all the land he could see for his descendants. He wasn’t only going to have a city; he would have a nation. It wouldn’t only be a piece of land for him; it was an inheritance for his many children yet to be born.
God appeared yet again. This time in another meeting recorded in 13:14, he received…
• An “Extended” Promise: After Abraham separated from Lot and showed incredible generosity, God promised Abraham the land allotment would be forever his for his family. That promise implied that his family would never be wiped out in war, and made plain the perpetual land ownership of that specific inheritance on the ground as God revealed to him earlier.
Afterward, God appeared again for a fourth meeting. In it, He offered Abraham what I call…
• A “Specified” Promise: God offered an additional promise to Abe: Your household will have great reward. Abram asked “How?” God replied, “Your seed will be many, and come from YOU!”
Go back to Genesis 15:2. Listen to Abe’s heart, as he pleads a case before a “Master Craftsman God.” Nothing appears to be happening in the baby department. Time is passing and he isn’t getting any younger, and neither is his wife. The fact remained that he had a promise of God, but no delivery on that promise yet. The “Master Craftsman of Heaven” was at work, meticulously designing the fulfillment to His promise. Abraham had to learn that God is an artist that doesn’t over promise. In His time, what He delivers is beyond anything we could imagine.
I suspect after the rush of the victory and the thrill of the homecoming parade were over, Abe found himself wondering about God’s earlier promises. The public affirmation brought to the surface a deep gnawing inside: He wanted God to make good on His powerful promises.
In many ways, his feeling matched the record of Zacharias in Luke 1, who had a similar and familiar story. Decades passed and Zach and Liz didn’t have the baby they longed for, just like Abe and Sarah many generations before.
The factor that was most bothersome to both of those Biblical families is this: God took His time delivering the answer to their deepest longings. Let that sink in… God isn’t in a hurry in your circumstance, but He will keep every promise He has made.
Look at Genesis 15 again as Abe openly revealed his angst:
Genesis 15:2 Abram said, “O Lord God, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir.”
There it is! Abe placed the pain of his impatience out in the open before God. He believed that God would keep His Word, but Abe wasn’t sure he understood how. Even more, I think there is reason to believe Abe wasn’t certain God understood how he felt about the slowly fulfilled promise. Remember, Abe didn’t have the benefit of a complete Bible to really understand God as He later revealed Himself.
The Patriarch’s words were few. He made clear that God had given him a great household, but no offspring from his loins. He made clear that he was preparing a servant to be his heir. God patiently listened and replied. “Nice plan, Abe. Wrong answer, but nice plan…”
The conversation is one of the most intimate displays of a caring God in the whole Bible. God reached deeply into Abe’s heart and gave him the promises he needed to pick up the shield of God and walk through life with it.
Genesis 15:4 Then behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.” 5 And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”
• God told him Eliezer of Damascus would not and should not be his heir, but he would rather come from his own loins (Genesis 15:4). It is worth mentioning this wasn’t the only time Abe would take the promises of God, see a gap in them, and make his own plan to fill in the blank spaces. It was a reasonable thing to do, but it wasn’t the way the Master Craftsman wanted the thing built. Craftsmen often don’t work for efficiency as much as eloquence in the build. Long after the “need” was met, we see that God’s way of meeting it took care of issues we never anticipated at the time. We are anxious, but God is incredibly thorough!
• God offered an object lesson in the stars and told him clearly his house would be great in number (Genesis 15:5). The stars weren’t only many in numbers, but diverse in appearance and beautiful to behold. Abe didn’t miss the lesson.
Presented with the knowledge that God had a plan to build a huge household for and from Abe, the Patriarch bowed before God in recognition that he truly believed what he heard.
The text revealed:
Genesis 15:6 Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.
The term “believed” (awman) was a form of the word that came from the building trade. It appears to have originally meant “to build upon” or “to set to give stability.” It is a foundational term sometimes used of doorposts. Abraham’s belief in what God said showed when he built his life upon it. That single act was counted as righteousness, and the record of it echoes throughout Scripture…
As we have studied together, it is clear God had his hand on Abraham’s life for a long time before this event, but something dramatic happened at this point in the narrative. This wasn’t the first encounter with God, but something was different this time. God saw something in Abraham’s heart, and Abraham saw something in God’s heart. Hebrew writers of old recalled Abraham’s choice in places like Nehemiah 9:8 and Psalm 106:31.
In the New Testament, the event was seen as pivotal and gained much attention. We can see this in Romans 4, where Paul built his argument on that act. Paul’s argument with those in Rome was essentially this:
The temple authorities are claiming you need to enlist in the Atonement Law of Sacrifice even if you have a walk with Jesus. They claim the actions of the Law are what make God satisfied concerning your sin. Yet, Abraham’s story runs contrary to their assertion:
• He is our fleshly father; we are his heirs (4:1).
• He wasn’t made complete in his walk with God by things he did, but by his personal belief in what God said (4:2-5).
Romans 4:3 For what does the Scripture say? “ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness…
Paul pressed the idea that circumcision (as entry eligibility for participation in the atonement sacrificial system) wasn’t a part of the satisfaction of God in Abraham – only his belief was required.
Romans 4:9 Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, “FAITH WAS CREDITED TO ABRAHAM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.” 10 How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; 11and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, 12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised.
We see another version of that argument again in Galatians 3:6, where Paul again pressed the importance of Abraham’s belief as the point God accepted him.
Galatians 3:6 Even so Abraham BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS. 7 Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. 8 The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, [saying], “ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU.” 9 So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.
Be careful not to misread that. Paul wasn’t saying that people who believe replace Israel as the sons of Abraham. In chapter 10 and 11 he will make the point there is a future for the physical children of Abraham. Here he adds people who have faith in Jesus to the blessed children of Abraham, in the sense that we have one heritage found in God. What is crystal clear is the notion that a man or woman can be made right with God by faith alone. The atonement once required has been fully replaced in Messiah by justification.
The key point from Paul’s teaching of the Gospel concerning Abraham was this: Though the atonement system (the offering of sacrifices in the tabernacle and later the temple made accessible to the circumcised) was necessary for a time, it wasn’t the ONLY way God ever worked. In fact, it wasn’t the basis of God’s acceptance. It was built UPON something more basic: belief. Lots of good animals died in the temple without effect if the person offering them didn’t believe.
The eternal formula for acquiring a right standing with God is and always was this: Lost men and women are saved by grace through faith. The grace is unmerited favor – every person given access to an intimate and eternal walk with God is given it without deserving it. The Fall in the Garden of Eden was a total mutiny. All salvation is by grace.
At the same time, God’s unmerited favor is accessed only by faith. The term means, “seeing it the way God says it is and not as my eye would see it without His revealed truth.”
For Abraham, belief that God would do exactly what He promised was the signal fire of belief in him. For people after the Atonement Law was in place, belief that God would abate His wrath and turn back toward them because they offered their heart to Him and an offering on the altar as a symbol of that brought intimacy with God. It was temporary, but effective.
In Jesus, belief that God sent His sinless and eternal Son to die in our place in payment for our mutiny is required to bring us into a forever relationship with God. Jesus’ death paid for my sin. Jesus’ resurrection proved the payment was accepted. My belief activates the transaction in my life. If I accept God’s testimony that what Jesus did is all that is required, I will be justified – not by my works, but by belief alone. Abraham proved that was possible without any work of any kind. Salvation happens in the heart and is based on belief in God’s truths as they are presented.
From another direction, the Apostle James made another truth clear from the record of that act in James 2:23. The problem was that first century preaching of salvation apart from atonement law gave people excuses to simply SAY they believed in Jesus, but live as they chose.
James 2:14 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for [their] body, what use is that? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, [being] by itself.
Referring to Abraham taking Isaac to the altar to be slain at the word of God he wrote:
James 2:22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.
The argument isn’t contradictory, but complementary.
James didn’t argue that belief wasn’t the underlying factor (which was Paul’s point) but rather that it was clearly evidenced in behavior. Belief without heart response is dead theory. The appearance of works in response to God without belief is dead work.
To end the passage, God told Abraham to bring sacrificial animals, kill them and lay them out (Genesis 15:9-10). In order to keep the place suitable for God to work, Abraham drove away any vultures that were attracted to the carcasses. Working until nightfall, Abraham became tired and fell asleep. God added a depth to that rest and spoke to Abraham (Genesis 15:11-12). When God spoke, He explained that He would keep His promises.
Don’t skip the detail before God spoke. Abraham spent the afternoon waiting for God’s answer, and it didn’t come. He wanted to hear from God, but ended up chasing nasty birds. Why is that detail there? Because it is part of the POINT of the whole lesson. God wasn’t in a hurry. He was working behind the scenes. He already had selected the time and place He would reveal the fulfillment of His plan to Abe. Remember the truth we are studying?
God may take His time keeping His promises, but we should have confidence in the fact that He always keeps them in every detail.
While God was holding off on giving Abraham a son, He was preparing to give him whole nations. He was building the history book of mankind in advance. The story of Abraham isn’t yesterday’s news – it is the story of the Middle East TODAY. It will continue to dominate the news until the last moment of human history when time surrenders to eternity.
In other words, Abe saw his immediate inner desires while God saw the whole human program. Abe’s needs were much more modest than God’s answers! God’s view was bigger. It always is.
She loved God and she loved her husband. Though there was once passion in their marriage, she couldn’t honestly say that her husband loved her anymore. She couldn’t say he had any love for God. She saw his heart move away from her and she sobbed before God. He left. Her life collapsed. She sorted through the wreckage of past joys and even the pictures of old happiness served only to break her heart, again and again. She couldn’t go on. Quietly, she laid out her case to God. She was a good wife. She sought Jesus daily. Why wouldn’t He help her? She pleaded, but the words seemed to sink into the ceiling and go no further. She honestly felt abandoned by God… but she was wrong.
He left her and committed awful deeds. Swallowed in selfishness and greed, he broke the law and was caught. Now he sat in jail. Each letter he received from her convinced him that no one else in the world cared what happened to him. As he read the words of her tear-stained letters, he saw, for the very first time, who he really was – and what he gave up when he walked out on her. God used her brokenness to touch something inside him. God used his defeat to break his pride. The combination was powerful. Her testimony reached him, and her Jesus changed him.
It wasn’t instant. It wasn’t painless. It wasn’t fast. It DID produce a believing home that is now filled with joy. It produced two children that have godly parents. They don’t yet know the story of how their parents were constructed by a Master Craftsman to be a beautiful cathedral to Jesus. Someday they will hear the whole story!