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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Abram and the Double Lock


“Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Genesis 15:4-5

There are 3 things I would love you to take away from the message this morning, but you’ll only manage two because I ran out of time for the third. So, the third will be the focus of next week’s message.

The first is that God simply goes out of his way to bless people. He loves to bless.

Second, God’s promise to bless is beyond doubt, and therefore is completely worthy of whole-hearted belief.

And third, for next time, is this: the way that Abram responds to the God who promises to bless people, is the pattern by which all people may also receive God’s blessing.

Here in Genesis 15, we have a man called Abram, soon to be called Abraham. We find him first introduced in the biblical account back at the end of chapter 11.

The history of the world between the creation of the man and woman, and the account of Abram’s life was eventful and it was revealing.

In spite of God making mankind good and inclined towards him, we see that they turn their backs on him and reject him. They embrace evil. And we see the relationship between humans and God broken.

What’s more a curse hangs over human-kind. They are cursed with hard work; they are cursed with painful child bearing; and they are cursed with death.

It’s not long before, brother kills brother and God has to curse an individual. For Cain, the ground would no longer yield a crop and he would be a restless wanderer on the earth.

Over the subsequent centuries, the wickedness and evil inclinations of the hearts of people only increased. To the point where God looked upon mankind and found their hearts inclined only to wickedness all the time.

As a result, his anger was kindled against the earth and finding only onerighteous man – Noah – amongst them all, he preserved just eight souls as he poured out his just judgment on humanity in the form of a globalflood.

From those eight people, God began to replenish the human race, causing them to multiply on the face of the earth again. But the results were the same. Speaking one language, they ignored God’s command to spread out, and instead gathered together in one place to build an awesome city, with a tower intended to reach to the heavens.

God, again, saw their wickedness and this time frustrated their plans by confusing their languages. And now the people of the earth did disperse – they spread out from Babel and multiplied. Nevertheless, their preference for other Gods continued to grow.

Joshua said, much later on, that Terah the father of Abram lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshipped other Gods (Joshua 24:2).

All of this history makes God’s dealings with Abram very significant. What we have encountered until now are the curses and judgments that accompany sin and the rejection of God.

But with Abram we find God blessing a man and not cursing him. We find God telling Abram not to be afraid (v.1). We find God telling him that he himself is Abram’s shield – his protection.

Where God has been the cause of fear and trembling; of curse and judgment until now, he is now the cause of peace and protection to this one man.

Where the wages of sin so far have been death, God reveals himself to this man as his ‘very great reward’ (v.1). So, God is not only peace and protection to Abram, he is prosperity too.

All of this makes Abram the most favoured of all people on the face of the earth in his day. There is no one like Abram. Even though Abram was like the other men of the earth – a worshipper of false gods – yet the one true and living God has come to him and promised him blessing upon blessing.

So, it’s not as though Abram is more deserving than any other – he’s not. It is that God has chosen to be gracious and merciful to this one.

There’s another good clue that God is the instigator of this blessing that comes to Abram, rather than the other way around.

At the beginning of chapter 12 God came to Abram and told him to leave his homeland and his father’s household and move to a land that he would show him (12:1).

But before he moved, God promised him some spectacular things. He promised to make him into a great nation – millions of descendants bearing his name. And he promised to bless him. He promised to make his name great and to make him to be a blessing to others.

He promised to take the blessings Abram bestowed on his friends and to sovereignly intervene in their lives to bring that blessing to fruit.

And, he promised to take the curses Abram placed on his enemies and to sovereignly intervene in their lives to bring those curses to fruit.

And, then he promised that all the peoples – that is, nations, tongues, tribes, kingdoms - would be blessed through Abram in a kind of rippledown effect upon the whole world, throughout the rest of time.

Awesome promises made to a seemingly completely random sinner amongst a world of sinners.

Now it is true that Abram obeyed the command of God and did indeed leave the safety of his own country and his own people clinging to these promises that God had made to him.

So, you might think that God blessed Abram because of his obedienceto God’s command. But, in reality, the promises precede the obedience, which means that God is still the one who instigates the blessing on Abram, out of nowhere, based on no merit at all.

But that’s not all. Verse 7 says that God said to Abram, ‘I am the Lord who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land’. Ur was the place beyond the Euphrates Joshua referred to. It was the land of Abram’s birth.

When God made his promises to Abram in chapter 12, he and his family, including Terah, had moved from Ur to Harran. And now in chapter 15, in obedience to God’s instruction in chapter 12, Abram and his family are in the land of Canaan – the land God promises to give to Abram’s descendants.

What’s the significance of all this? It is that Chapter 11, verse 31 explicitly tells us that it was Terah who ‘took his son Abram [and the members of his family] and set out from Ur.’ So, what Terah thoughtwas his own idea, to move his family out of Ur, God reveals to Abram in verse 7, was him working supernaturally, behind the scenes, to providentially bring Abram up out of that country.

So, I hope you can feel the layering up of God’s purposeful and deliberate plan to intervene in the life of this man Abram with blessings – totally contrary to the curses that were the lot of every human being on earth at the time.

And what makes it even more significant – and that is what it is, gloriously significant – is that the promises to this one man out of the human race, at the time, have such far reaching effects, that theyreverberate into the rest of the world, throughout the rest of history.

Since the fall of humanity into sin, up to this point, this is the most promising sign of hope for mankind in the history of the world.

And it all starts with God’s benevolence shown to one man - and him no better than any other.

Abram’s own fallenness is not the only improbability that besets the Abrahamic account. There’s another noteworthy obstacle to God’s blessing coming to fulfilment.

Remember that God’s promises to Abram rely on offspring from his own loins – descendants as numerous as stars in the sky, according to verse 5; a great nation of people; all the nations of the earth blessed through him.

And yet, at the time the promises were made to Abram, Abram had no son of his own – indeed no children at all.

Verse 2 tells us that Abram sees this problem as the main obstacle to the execution of God’s promises: ‘Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliazer of Damascus?’.

We learn from verse 3 that Eliazer was a servant in Abram’s house and the heir apparent because Abram was childless.

We know why he was childless too. Chapter 11, verse 30 tells us. It tells us that Sarai – Abram’s wife – was unable to conceive.

In a world without fertility treatment that is one massive immovableobstacle to a promise whose fulfilment relies on offspring.

Nevertheless, verse 5 tells us, God took Abram outside and said, ‘”Look up at the sky and count the stars - presumably it was night time – if indeed you can count them”. Then he said to him, “so shall your offspring be”’.

Which in anybody’s book is an outlandish claim to make.

‘Your wife, Abram, is totally barren – there have been plenty of married years to find out, for sure – but mark my words, you’ll have offspring. Like the galaxies.’

Have you seen the new James Webb telescope images? The sheer star density is enough to knock your socks off! It’s a fantastical claim to make and a cruel one to boot. If, that is, the person making it isn’t God Almighty. What is utterly impossible for a mere mortal is easy for the Almighty God who made the stars – every, last, one, of them.

So now what will Abram do? Will he take offence: ‘why do you mock my pain Lord, by promising the impossible?’

Or, will he take God at his word and believe not only that God can do what he’s promised, but that he will do what he’s promised.

Doubts about God and his word are not uncommon. There is a difference between momentary doubts and hard-hearted unbelief. I was talking to someone recently, who was very honest – they said they had doubts sometimes.

Well there is nothing about God – his character; his nature; his revelation about himself, that gives us good cause to doubt him.

He is always consistent; he doesn’t change his mind like we do. He cannot lie. He is totally faithful. He’s wholly reliable because he’s all-mighty.

He’s not like any human being that you might have good cause to doubt. He’s altogether different; altogether solid – a firm foundation.

So, there’s nothing in God that we should doubt him, but there’s an awful lot in us that may give a foothold to unreasonably doubt him.

Jesus saw that kind of doubt in Peter when he was walking on the water with him. Jesus saw it in Thomas when he needed to touch the holes in his hands before he would believe he was alive. And Jude anticipated doubt amongst his readers and encouraged the others to show mercy to those caught in doubt.

Doubt is not in step with faith – it means the opposite – but at times it may come for us. Jesus showed us how to gently encourage someone caught in doubt.

A life of faith will face doubts at times, that doesn’t mean faith doesn’t exist. But a life characterised by doubt may do. So, help those who doubt by teaching them to fight for faith.

Did Abram doubt when he said to God, in verse 8, ‘how can I know that I will gain possession of [the land]?’ We’re not told that it was doubt. We are told in verse 6 that Abram believed God. However it is that we’re meant to take verse 8 – as Abram doubting or him simply asking for more confirmation – what comes next is like nothing else in the bible up to this point.

You may be aware that one of the British government’s policies back in 2010 was to apply a, so-called, triple lock to the state pension. What that meant is that workers could expect their state pension to rise each year in line with one of 3 things – inflation, average earnings, or 2.5% - whichever was highest until the age of 66.

However, when people came off furlough following the pandemic, the government realised that the average pay increase was going to be very large indeed – around 8% - and that would mean huge sums of government funds having to be turned over to the pension pots.

So, anticipating the problem, they decided to suspend, for the duration of the financial year, the average pay increase factor to avoid an enormous outlay. Effectively, they changed the rules, and for one year made the triple lock, a double lock.

How confident anybody is that the word ‘lock’ now means anything in the context of pensions, remains to be seen, but that is what has happened.

In effect, Abraham has a single lock promise before verse 8, and when he asks God how he can be certain, God is very pleased to supply a second lock on the promises he has made to Abram.

The first lock is the fact that God’s promise is fixed. That’s based on his immutable, unchangeable character.

The second lock we’re about to see, is an oath taken in blood and based on his fixed justice. Let’s watch it unfold.

Verse 9, God tells Abram to bring him some specific animals.

Verse 10, presumably by further instruction we’re not told about, Abram cuts the animals (except the birds) in half.

I imagine he slaughtered them first just as he would have been accustomed to doing in food preparation. And then I imagine he sliced them from front to back to create two halves, arranging the two halves opposite each other.

So, I think, he made a path of sorts, lined with animal halves. And I guess it stretched out over several meters.

It probably took Abram a good portion of the day to get everything ready. So much so that the carcasses attracted birds of prey that he had to chase away (v.11) and so that, by the time everything was prepared, the sun was setting (v.12).

Then ‘Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him’ – an indicator that what was about to take place wasprofoundly solemn and serious. There’s no larking around here. A reminder to us that the Christian life is a serious one, not a light one.

Verse 13, God speaks: ‘Know for certain, that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own - [Egypt] – and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there’.

Jesus told his people that to inherit eternal life, they should expect first persecution and trouble and only after that, everlasting reward (Matthew 5:12). Here we have that, in prototype form.

God continues to reiterate his promises in verse 14, ‘afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace’.

Which means that Abram will die not in combat, but in peacetime, at a good old age.

And God finishes reiterating his promises in verse 16, ‘In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here [to the land of Canaan]’. The reason he gives for the delay in bringing these promises to fruition is to do with the guilt of the people who occupy the land – specifically the Amorites.

This is what God tells us he does, in numerous places. He waits patiently until people fill up their iniquities to the full measure, and then he executes his judgment.

The people living in the land of promise at the time had not reached that full measure, but by the time 400 years had passed and four generations, Joshua would be God’s instrument of judgment on the fullness of the Amorite wickedness in the land.

That is surely a warning to everyone. Don’t think that God is not angry with wickedness because he is patient with you - not wanting any to perish but all to come to faith in Jesus. Sooner or later your guilt will be considered full if you refuse to take him at his word, and then God’s just and terrible judgment will come.

No sooner has God restated all his promises to Abram than the second lock comes into play. Verse 17, ‘a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the animal carcasses’.

Which sounds very odd.

Here’s what it means. God is so resolute about his promises and so confident in his ability to bring them to pass, he is prepared to ratifythem with an oath that goes like this:

‘Just as I pass between the carcasses of these butchered animals, I solemnly swear that if I break the promises I have made, that I will let what has been done to these animals be done to me’.

The smoking firepot and blazing torch are manifestations of God Almighty. Just like they are in the desert after the exodus – a column of cloud and a column of fire there – a firepot and a torch here.

And this oath constitutes a fixed and unchangeable arrangement – called a covenant – between God and Abram.

We know that this is what the drama unfolding here means because God himself says in the words of Jeremiah the prophet regarding the Mosaic Covenant he made on Mount Sanai 400 years after Abram, ‘Those who have violated my covenant and have not fulfilled the terms of the covenant they made before me, I will treat like the calf they cut in two and then walked between its pieces.’ It’s the same idea here in Genesis 15.

Notice, here though, only God passes between the pieces. This is a unilateral arrangement not a bi-lateral one. There are no conditions for Abram here, all the responsibility lies with God.

Hebrews 6 picks up on this event and says, ‘When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.”…

People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument.

Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath.

God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie [promise and oath], we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf.’ (Hebrews 6:13-19).

Two final things to say, Hebrews just tipped us off to a link between the covenant God made with Abram and us who believe. God made the oath so that we who hope in Jesus might be greatly encouraged. We’re going to press on that link next time.

The other thing to say is that, the government may be able change theirminds and unlock locks – make triples, doubles and the like – but God cannot change.

It is by two unchangeable locks in which it is impossible for God to lie, that we have this hope – the covenant with Abram – as an anchor for our souls.

Let’s see next time how the promises made to Abram, become suretiesfor us.

And let’s see how Abram’s response to God becomes the pattern for us to emulate and by which we become partakers of the blessingspromised to Abram.


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