GOD’S COVENANT WITH ABRAM
Key verse 15:6
In the previous chapter, Abram was a warrior full of spirit and power. When he heard that Lot was taken captive by the four northern kings, he immediately launched a rescue operation for his nephew Lot. He spurred to his horse without hesitation and chased the enemies. Can you imagine Abram who was galloping with his long white hair blown back and his burning eyes toward the enemies without any fear? Look at his swift attack upon the enemies and his sword brandishing in the night air. However, in today’s passage, Abram is very different. He looks like just an ordinary old man who is in his middle 80’s. He looks tired, gloomy and even fearful. God comes to him and encourages him with his word. And Abram believes the Lord and it is credited as his righteousness, which becomes a big milestone in his life of faith. Then, God makes a covenant with him. Through this passage I pray that we can learn Abram’s faith and about God’s covenant.
I. Abram Believes the Lord (1-6)
Look at verse 1. After Abram’s great victory, the word of the Lord came to him in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” Why did God appear to Abram all of sudden and say this? According to what God said to Abram, we can surmise that Abram was in trouble. In fact, he was depressed and fearful. Though he had defeated such a humongous army with his small number of men, he feared that they might have come back at any time for revenge. And nothing was left for him in return for his grandiose victory: Lot was back in Sodom; and he did not earn any spoils for himself. Abram suffered a sense of loss and worried about his life.
Have you ever felt like Abram did? Probably, many of you understand this Abram very well. There are always uptimes and downtimes in our Christian life. Working for God is a wonderful privilege and grace for us. There is a time, however, when we are lonely, tired and regretful. Sometimes, we want to go somewhere forgetting all our problems. But remember this: God understands us and always helps us in a difficult time.
When Abram was in trouble, God came to him and encouraged him with his word: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield; I am your very great reward” God first helped Abram to look at God rather than himself. If we look at ourselves only in a difficult time, we become more discouraged and depressed. There is someone who does not come to church if he does not feel good. Someone else stops studying the Bible when she is in trouble. That makes her situation even worse. You must come out to God and hear his word because only the word of God can help you.
First, God said to Abram that he was his shield. In other words, he himself would protect Abram. “Abram, don’t you remember how I protected you and your wife in Egypt? How did I protect you from the four northern kings and give you a victory? Don’t worry, Abram. I am with you. I will protect you.” People depend on money, a good job, worldly power, knowledge, or insurance for their protection. But none of them can protect us. But those who depend on God are under God’s protection. We believers do not even fear death. King David was in battle all his life, so his life was in danger always. But he said that God was his fortress, his shield and the horn of his salvation. (Ps 8:1,2) When God is our shield, we are safe.
Secondly, God is his great reward. The word “reward” means something given or gained as return for work. Abram thought that he got nothing from his victory. But God said that he did not lose his reward. Actually, God himself was his very great reward. According to NKJV, God said, “I am…your exceedingly great reward.” God understood that Abram wanted to see visible reward like wealth, power, and most of all his own children. However, God also wanted him to know that any reward in the world could not be greater than God himself because everything goes away but only God lasts forever and he is the source of blessing.
At my previous work, I worked hard and solved a big problem that they had suffered with for a long time. My boss praised me for my extraordinary job. So I expected a reward. I thought she would increase my salary or give me some kind of incentive. But she never gave me reward and I was greatly disappointed. So I learned that when I expect reward from people or from the world, eventually I will be disappointed. This is also true for our spiritual life. We want to receive reward for our labor in God. A long ago a young leader worked hard for the preparation of the conference. But after the conference no one recognized her labor. So she suffered a sense of loss for a while. She should have learned that people’s recognition or praise is not true reward.
There was a missionary in China. But his ministry was unfruitful for many years. Though he spent the prime of his life for serving sheep in China, he did not win any single convert. But finally after many years, he won a person. He was so happy that he gave the sheep a clock as a gift. But as soon as the sheep received the clock as a reward, he left. Like him, sometimes, we feel empty and suffer a sense of loss when we bear no fruit after hard work for many years. But God says, “I am your very great reward, exceedingly great reward. Though sometimes we can’t see fruit now, that helps us look to God alone and receive God as our true reward.
Let’s read verse 2: “O Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” Here we can see what was deep on his heart? Abram still did not know that God himself was his reward and complained, “Lord, it sounds good that you will give me reward. But I have no son who can inherit my estate. What is the point of your reward if I have no son. You’ve promised me descendants. But still I have no children. Did I misunderstand you?” Abram honestly laid out his complaints before the Lord. It is not bad be honest with God and lay out all your problems rather than bottling up your feelings.
Let’s read verse 4: “Then the word of Lord came to him: ‘This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” “No, no Abram. The man is not your heir. A son coming from your own body, he will be your heir.” God clarified and confirmed his promise that he had given to Abram. (12:2, 13:15-16)
Then God took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them.” God visually showed how vast the number of Abram’s descendants would be and challenged him to count them if he could. And then God said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Have you ever counted the stars in the sky? How many stars can you count? There are approximately 10,000 stars we can see with bare eyes. And there are 200 billions of stars in the Milky Way and many many more in the universe. Who made all these? God! God created all the stars.
The Creator God promised Abram that he would give him not only one son but numerous descendants like the stars in the sky. Abram had complained that he had no son, but God said that Abram would have many. Abram had thought that his chance of having a son was very slim but God said that his promise was not a chance but was real. God challenged Abram’s unbelief, “Abram, don’t look at yourself. Look at heavens. Count the stars if indeed you can count them. I will give you numerous descendants.” Nothing is impossible with God. There is no problem with God. But the problem is with us. Our unbelief is the problem.
Like Abram, sometimes we are doubtful about ourselves, our ministry. Someone thinks that he is not able so he cannot graduate and get a good job. “Some YDJ says, “I am young. How can I teach the Bible?” Some Korean missionary says, “My English is not good so I cannot be a good Bible teacher.” Someone complains, “ I have no fruit yet. And I am getting old!” We often say that it is hard to study with even one student; it is too hard to raise one disciple. But now God encourage us to look up at heavens and count the stars. God says, “Why do you say it is impossible? Why do you think you have nothing?” God wants us to look at God the Creator, not ourselves. He wants us know that God will give us more than we can imagine. Now he challenges our unbelief: “Count the stars. So shall your offspring be!”
How then did Abram respond? Let’s read verse 6: “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” While looking at the stars, Abram’s eyes were opened and he saw the power of God displayed in the sky and he could get out of his own thoughts and his problems. And he heard God’s promise: “So shall your offspring be.” He came to believe God. He believed God’s promise. Here “believe the Lord” means believe in the Lord, trust in the Lord, or steadfast to the Lord. In other words, Abram not only believed that God’s promise was true, but also deeply trusted in God.
Romans 4:18-21 explain Abram’s faith very well. Humanly speaking, chances were zero that he would have a son from his own body. But against all hope, Abram believed. His faith was not weakened though Sarai’s womb was dead. He did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God. Rather, he was strengthened in his faith. He fully believed that God had power to do what he had promised. Abram also believed that God was faithful to his promise. Heb 11:11 says that by faith Abraham was enabled to become a father because he considered God faithful who had made the promise. God never says, “Oops! I am sorry. I made a mistake” What God says is what he says. His promise is never changed. God never revokes his promise. His promise is always fulfilled without fail. Therefore, we can trust in the Lord, and so we know that his promise is true.
When Abram believed the Lord. His inner fear disappeared. His worries about a future heir disappeared. Though his human circumstances had not changed at all and still he had nothing in his hand, his faith made him different.
Let’s read verse 6 again: “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” The word “credit” means account, consider, or declare. And "righteousness" means right relationship with God. In other words, though Abram was not righteous, God considered him righteous based on his faith. Abram was an old man; he made many mistakes; he used his wife Sarai to save his life; he failed feeding sheep. Sometimes, he complained, doubted, and wanted to do things his own way. But he had faith. He believed the Lord and his faith pleased God. So, God has made him the father of faith for all believers. His faith is the same as our faith in Jesus. (Rom 4:23,24) We cannot be righteous by our good deeds, our will, or our knowledge. But God credits righteousness to those who believe in Jesus.
Here we can learn that what God wants from us is faith, not something else. Someone thinks that he is not educated well so he cannot be used for God. Someone else thinks that he is able so he can be used for God. But that is wrong. God does not see your ability, your age, your background, or your achievement. He wants your faith. And he works through your faith.
In 1991, M. Peter Kim went to Kiev in Ukraine where people did not want to go for fear of radiation poisoning from the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986. But he had a great vision from God that Ukraine would be a missionary sending country despite the disaster. He was sure he could raise many disciples and studied with many Bible students. But later on all his sheep ran away one by one. One of them even took away expensive stuff in his house. What is worse, other missionaries who had coworked together with him left his ministry. His ministry did not grow for eight years. He was discouraged and became doubtful about his ministry and his vision for Ukraine. One day he cried out to God, “Lord, I cannot serve this ministry any more.” But he heard God rebuking his unbelief: “Everything is possible for him who believes.” M. Peter Kim repented his unbelief and learned that what he needed was faith in God. Then, God began to work powerfully in his ministry. Now Kiev UBF has about 130 1:1 Bible studies each week and there are about 35 committed disciples who have prayed to go out as missionaries. Shepherd Vladimir Point, who was a messenger at the MSU conference 2004, went to Turkey as a missionary. Now Kiev UBF has become a missionary sending country as M. Peter Kim envisioned 15 years ago. This is the victory of one man who overcame his unbelief and claimed God’s promises.
I have learned from M. Peter Kim that in order to grow my fellowship and my sheep, I myself have to grow first in faith. I pray that I can believe that SS will grow to be a good Bible teacher; that JS will be a mother of faith; that JP will a missionary; and that OR will grow to be a woman of God. I was also challenged when God said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars if indeed you can count.” YDJ are potential, but my faith is so little. God is challenging me to have a vision for YDJ. Please pray for Steve, Luke Kim, James Park, and me so that we can have faith to raise 7 key members among YDJ who can commit fully to the Lord and go anywhere by faith. It may be not easy, but I believe it is possible if you and I believe in the Lord.
II. God’s covenant with Abram (7-21)
When he was hopeless about having an heir, Abram had not been interested in the land. But now he was concerned about the land where his descendants would live and remembered God’s promise of the land (12:7; 13:15). So God wanted to confirm his promise concerning the land as well. Let’s read verse 7: “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.” But Abram wondered at how this would be accomplished, “O Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”
Let’s verses 9 and 10. God told Abram to prepare a heifer, which is a cow, a goat and a ram along with a dove and a young pigeon. Abram immediately understood that God was about to make a covenant with him. A covenant is an agreement or a contract between two parties. In those days, covenants were made by the sacrificial cutting of animals. The two parties to the covenant cut the carcasses of the animals in two and placed each piece opposite to the other. And then both parties would walk together on the bloody ground through the animal pieces, repeating the terms of the covenant. This meant that the covenant was made by blood and so it was deadly serious. If one party broke the covenant, the failing party would be cursed and cut in two just like the sacrificed animals were.
Now the sacrificial animals were ready and Abram waited on God. As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep. God appeared to Abram in a thick and dreadful darkness. Let’s read verses 12-15. God first told Abram that his descendants would be enslaved and mistreated in Egypt four hundred years. But God would raise Abram’s descendants as a nation there and bring them back to Canaan. They would be used as God’s instrument to punish Amorites for their sins. God already had a plan of how to make Abram’s descendants a nation though Abram did not even have a son yet. God would use Egypt to train and foster them strong enough to conquer the land of Canaan. God is in control and he drives the history according to his salvation plan.
Look at verse 17. When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. A smoking firepot is a pot of smoldering coals used to start a fire. Both the firepot and flaming torch signified God. God passed through the animal pieces and signed for the covenant, confirming his promise. Let’s read verses 18 –21: “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates – the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.” This covenant was fulfilled under Solomon. (1 Kings 8:65)
Here we can see that God passed through the pieces of animals by himself, not with Abram. This meant that the fulfillment of the covenant was entirely based upon God's responsibility and the covenant cannot be broken regardless of Abram’s failure. This way, God confirmed and sealed his promise with Abram forever.
This covenant is called the Abrahamic Covenant and it looked forward to the coming of the new Covenant. God has made a new covenant for us to be forgiven and enter his kingdom. But God used Jesus’ blood instead of animal’s blood for the new covenant. Now we only need faith to receive this grace. I praise God for making his covenant through Jesus’ blood so that whoever believes in him can be saved and enter the kingdom of God.
In this passage, we have learned that God’s promise is true and nothing is impossible with God. But our unbelief makes it hard for us to have hope in our sheep, our fellowship, our ministry, our nation, and ourselves. Now God is challenging us to look at heavens and count the stars and believe Him. Let’s pray that we can claim his promises by faith and see the glory of God.