Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 22:15-18

15 And the angel of the Lord called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time,

16 And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son:

17 That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies;

18 And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.

One thing that stood out to me in this study was how many times God reaffirmed His promises to Abraham. This reaffirmation, though, coming after Abraham has passed the ultimate test of his obedience, is the last time. Before this moment every affirmation was only an offer from God, contingent upon Abraham’s continued faithfulness. Here, at last, the promise is made sure. There will be no more proving.

This is the goal that Peter speaks of in 2 Peter 1:10, where our calling and election are made sure. It is a long and difficult road to attain that surety, though. It is not a cheap gift, and so it cannot be earned cheaply. It is something to give one’s whole life in pursuit of.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 21:22-24

22 And it came to pass at that time, that Abimelech and Phichol the chief captain of his host spake unto Abraham, saying, God is with thee in all that thou doest: 

23 Now therefore swear unto me here by God that thou wilt not deal falsely with me, nor with my son, nor with my son’s son: but according to the kindness that I have done unto thee, thou shalt do unto me, and to the land wherein thou hast sojourned.

24 And Abraham said, I will swear.

We like to assume that good conduct can be taken for granted. All people should already be decent human beings who don’t lie and cheat and steal from one another. We shouldn’t require a special pledge from someone that they won’t stab us in the back one day. Everything that Abimelech is asking Abraham to pledge are things that ought to go without saying.

We might even feel offended if someone felt it necessary to ask us for such a promise. We genuinely believe that we will always conduct ourselves towards others in an honorable way. And yet…we don’t. We stab each other in the back all the time. Even the people we are closest to: neighbors, family, even our own spouse, we betray their trust as soon as it is in our interest to do so. The willful harm we inflict on others is so ubiquitous that a common control question during a polygraph is “have you ever hurt someone that you care about?” The truthful answer is always “yes.”

To be frank, most of us are well-mannered and respectful only because it serves us well to be so. The fear of incurring anger, social shame, and criminal justice are what primarily deter us from inflicting harm. But once we have to choose between another or ourselves, our natural instinct is always to side with our own interest. Of course men and women can overcome this common selfish tendency, but only by deliberate effort.

So I believe this question from Abimelech was actually very sincere. It is a testament to the quality of their relationship that Abimelech felt he could cut past the façade and the formality and hold this question with Abraham in earnestness. Honestly and truly, will you deal honorably with me and my family, even when it isn’t to your own advantage? And Abraham sincerely replies, “yes.”

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 21:1-3

1 And the Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did unto Sarah as he had spoken.

2 For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him.

3 And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bare to him, Isaac.

The author of this passage wanted to make it extremely clear that God had made good on His promises. Look at the phrases “as he had said,” “as he had spoken,” and “at the time of which God had spoken.” God had come through completely, and this is an important difference between God and man: God not only keep His promises, He keeps them in every detail of how, when, and where.

Abraham and Sarah’s patience had been tested by this promise. It was years between when God first announced they would have son and the day that it actually occurred. But when God finally gave a specific timeframe for the birth to occur it happened “at the time of which God had spoken.”

Many times we might struggle to believe in God’s promises when it seems long since the time that they should have been fulfilled. Many times God gives us encouragement far in advance of the realization, and it requires great patience to see the journey through to the end. But as soon as God does give specific details of His promises, they will all be met to the letter.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 15:7-10, 17-18

7 And he said unto him, I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it.

8 And he said, Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?

9 And he said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.

10 And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not.

17 And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces.

18 In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates:

I found this passage enchanting to read, but confounding to understand. Abram seeks for some sort of sign that God’s promises will be fulfilled, and as an answer he is led through a strange ritual. Abram splits each creature in two, except for the birds, and lays their halves next to each other. Then, after a moment of darkness and foretelling that we’ll examine tomorrow, God responds with a smoking furnace and a burning lamp passing between each half of the animals. Accompanying this sight are the words of God, reiterating the promise that He will give all this land to Abram. A captivating image, to be sure, but what to make of it?

Other scholars have given an interpretation of these scenes that I find very compelling. They suggest that dividing the animals in two and having the furnace and lamp pass between them is a way of God making a solemn pledge. It is as if He is saying “so may my body be cleaved in two if I do not keep this word.” Consider how this idea is echoed by the statements of God in Jeremiah 34:18. Or it could be seen as “I will do whatever it takes to fulfill this promise, even to the breaking of my body.” Of course that notion is later reflected in Jesus Christ coming and literally letting his body be broken to keep the promises that God had made to all of mankind.

And there is also the symbolism of the smoke and the flame that God sends between the severed pieces. What was immediately called to my mind was the pillar of fire and the cloud that guided Israel through the wilderness.

In any case, it seems that these verses are meant to describe a solemn ritual, with a solemn commitment made by God. These aren’t just words anymore, He is binding Himself to the fulfillment of them. But, given the seriousness of the situation, God frankly admits that Abram that his children will face all manner of affliction before and after receiving the fulfillment of these promises. We’ll dive into that tomorrow.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 15:1-6

1 After these things the word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.

2 And Abram said, Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?

3 And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.

4 And, behold, the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.

5 And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.

6 And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.

This story of Abram is very moving to me. It has been years since God first made His lofty promises to him, and understandably Abram is feeling hurt that they are still left unfulfilled.

And I think it is important to note that Abram is not guilty of some offense here by expressing his hurt. He isn’t being harsh or abusive towards God, he isn’t giving up on the Lord, but he is stating his sincere feelings in frank and honest terms. And God can take it.

When we are hurt, when we are confused, and even when we are angry, God is big enough to hold that emotion. It is not faithless to say “God, you said that everything would be alright, but they really don’t seem alright right now. I am in a pain that I don’t understand. Can we talk about that?”

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 13:10-12, 14-16

10 And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar.

11 Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan; and Lot journeyed east: and they separated themselves the one from the other.

12 Abram dwelled in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom.

14 And the Lord said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward:

15 For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever.

16 And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered.

Abram was very decent in how he handled the conflict between his and Lot’s workers. In order to maintain the peace they needed to have enough space, and that meant separating from one another. Having determined this, Abram gave Lot the first choice of where to go. After comparing the two halves Lot took the better portion and Abram accepted the lesser.

And all this helped bring Abram into greater alignment with God’s plan for him. Long before, God had told Abram to go to Canaan, for that was to be the land for his inheritance, and now, at last, Abram was finally dwelling fully within Canaan’s borders. And there, in that promised land, Abram was met by reassurances from God that the covenants that had been made to him years before still held firm.

Just a few months ago God met me in the mountains with reassurances as well, telling me that promises and intentions He had for my life are still in full force. In our dealings with other people it is easy to wonder if the promises they’ve offered have expired, or if they’ve forgotten about them, or if they just don’t want to follow through on them anymore. But God reminded me that He isn’t petty, forgetful, or changing. That though time and circumstance may undo the pledges of man, those do not weigh on the covenants of God.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 12:6-8

6 And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land.

7 And the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the Lord, who appeared unto him.

8 And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Beth-el, and pitched his tent, having Beth-el on the west, and Hai on the east: and there he builded an altar unto the Lord, and called upon the name of the Lord.

Abram went down to the land of Canaan, but it was not yet time for him to inherit that land, and so he pitched a humble home in the mountains. Many of the promises that were made to Abram were far-future blessings, some of them wouldn’t even be fulfilled until after he was dead and gone.

And so, Abram may have carried the promise of the Lord in his heart, but he had to keep moving forward with his life, according to what seemed right to him to do. He continued to live, waiting on the Lord to work things out in His own time. We do see in these verses that Abram built an altar to God in the meantime, and maintained a close relationship, continually calling on Him.

Many times we are also waiting on blessings, ones that God has given us a good hope for, but we don’t know the when or the how of their fulfillment. In those moments it doesn’t do to put our lives on hold until everything has been worked out for us. We continue to call on the Lord, but then we need to keep moving forward with what seems best, just as Abram did.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 12:1-5

1 Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee:

2 And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:

3 And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.

4 So Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran.

5 And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came.

These are some extremely meaningful blessings being promised to Abram. A land to call his own, a prosperity that will become a great nation, a great name, and becoming a blessing to others. As I reflect on these I realize that they touch on all of the greatest desires that we each have. We all want to have a purpose which makes us come alive, a home to call our own, the opportunity to make a real difference in the world, and a legacy that lives beyond us. So each of us yearns to have God make these exact same covenants with us, too.

Though it is worth noting that receiving the promise of God is one thing, and obtaining the fulfillment of that promise is another. Abram is given the promise now, but as we will see, the fulfillment was doled out over many years and contingent upon great effort and sacrifice on Abram’s part. Great promises and the fulfillment of them are what God wants to extend to each of us, but we only gain both halves by continuing in a partnership with Him.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 9:11-13, 15-16

11 And I will establish my covenant with you; neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth. 

12 And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations:

13 I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.

15 And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh.

16 And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.

We may forget the promises that we make to God, but He does not forget the promises that He has made to us. We may change our ways and become unfaithful, but He does not change and He does not stop being faithful.

How many times do we see a rainbow on the horizon and think nothing of it? Meanwhile, to God it is a solemn reminder of the pledge that He has made to us. How many times is God showing up to save and protect us, and we do not even see it?

Just recently I moved next to a lake, and it is a regular occurrence to see a rainbow bridging across it. I hope that the next time I do so I will feel more moved than usual. Hopefully I will be able to go and meet God at the altar where He is waiting.

Dealing With Failure- Mosiah 4:27, Isaiah 28:10

And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.

For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:

COMMENTARY

And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order
It is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength
Line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little
I greatly appreciate the pragmatism in these verses. There is sincerely committing to improving ourselves one step at a time, and there is overextending ourselves with unrealistic promises.
When we start to feel the reality of God manifesting in us it is a very exciting experience, and we can easily get carried away with all the good things we intend to do. In a moment of rapture we might very well promise God everything. We will be His perfect, faithful child now, never to stray again. And in that moment we fully believe we can deliver on such a promise. To be fair, if we were to maintain that same state of rapture forever, we probably really could keep that promise, too!
But we don’t…and we don’t.
No, after each spiritual awakening there follows an awakening back to the old us. And it is that old us that needs to be changed. And that change is not accomplished by demanding perfection at once, but by line upon line. Yes, demand change of yourself, but also be practical about it!