What’s going on here? 3 After Dark
Gen 12:1-3 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. 2 “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.[a] 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”[b] Gen 15:1-6 Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield,[a] your very great reward.[b]” 2 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit[c] my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” 4 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.” 5 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.” 6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
Every now and then, you realise in a new way what a privilege it is to preach. Looking at Abraham’s story this week, I just realised that the greatest struggle was figuring out what to ‘cut’ as it were. However, partly because it is amazing and partly because, like last week, we do have to go home at some point
However, to get feel for the background, let me do the briefest of brief summaries of Genesis 12 to 17 divided up into the bad stuff and the good stuff, so we know what is going on here. Firstly the bad stuff:
- Abram passes off his wife Sarai to be his sister in Egypt, the Egyptians recognise she’s really hot and present her to pharaoh who’s household consequently become violently ill.
- Quarrelling between Abraham and Lot. Family arguments. Nice to know it’s nothing new hey?
- Abram must go into battle to rescue lot from King
- Sarai gives Hagar to Abraham (Gen 16) We’re going to delve into that deeper in a moment.
Now, good stuff
- God calls Abram in the first place! Doesn’t tell where, doesn’t tell him how, doesn’t outline a 7 step strategic plan for growth, just tells him: “Go.”
- Abram builds an altar 2 times, ‘calls on the name of the Lord’ (calls on the name of the Lord) 2 times.
- God makes a promise (you need an external sign for it to be a covenant) to Abram 2 times
- Melchizedek the mysterious ‘king of peace’ blesses Abram.
- Then God makes his covenant with Abram. (Gen 15) (smoking pot ceremony)
- God reaffirms his covenant and renames Abram to Abraham. (Gen 17) (Sign of circumcision.)
Ok, here are the three things I want to really zero in on this morning: 1) the Actual Covenant ceremony in Gen 15. 2) The Sarah v Hagar stuff in 16 and 3) briefly; What God forms in people.
- Promises in the dark.
Let me do the ‘wrong thing’ presentation-wise and give you the major punchline today at the beginning rather than the end. I have named this sermon in the series ‘After Dark’ because darkness is what is going on here. Running through the story of Abram/Abraham (I’m calling him Abraham from now on) is the idea of darkness and obscurity. That is; the great question being asked of humanity by God is “I want to see what you’re going to do when you can’t see.”
The fall, was essentially a lack of faith in the broad daylight of God’s love and provision. The only road back therefore, must involve a resolute faith in the murky darkness of a sin affected world. The call of Abraham therefore begins, with “Go to a place and by a way you do NOT know, nor will I share details, but rather will reveal them step by step on the way.” The promises of God to Abraham (what many prosperity preachers forget) is: “I will give you this, this and this…..well….actually not to you, but your descendants. you’ll be dead, so you’ll just have to trust me”
I wonder if you feel a little like Abraham, unable to see where things are going to finish up. Having to take each step of faith amidst obscurity?
And here in Genesis 15 God makes his covenant with Abraham. But Abraham (he’s a guy like us) finally asks God the question that’ been plaguing his mind: “How do I know?” And God says essentially bring some animals. Without needing instruction Abe know exactly what to do with them. He cuts them in half. He’s setting up a common ancient suzerainty Covenant ceremony. What is that? It was an ancient agreement ceremony acted out tow parties, usually by a victorious king and an conquered king where both agreed to the terms of occupation. The dead animals on the ground represented what would happen if you broke the treaty and you would walk through the animal pieces showing that you understood the terms. But it says in verse 12
12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” 17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking fire pot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces.
In verse 17 something happens that among the thousands of examples of this ceremony in all antiquity, is totally and utterly unique. God does not go through and then say, righto Abraham, your turn. For only time in recorded history only one party goes through. God. In effect, God says “may I be cut off from the land of the living if I don’t do my part….BUT (and Savour this) may I be cut off from the living if you don’t do your part.” He suppresses Abram in thick darkness and sleep in order that Abram does not jump up and participate in the ceremony and thus place himself under its rules, it’s laws.
What if God allows obscurity to protect us from trying to be God? To force us in a sense, to just trust him? Thousands of years later of course this covenant is fulfilled as….in darkness, the Son of God cries out ‘it is finished’……..and dies. Isn’t it extraordinary?!
- Effects of the Dark.
Long term obscurity has a disorientating effect. Have you ever been down a cave and then the tour guide switches the torch off? It’s just completely disorientating. At the beginning of chapter 16 we read: Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; 2 so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.
What’s going on here? I think the key phrase here is “the Lord has kept me from having Children.” Sarah knows of course that God has promised many descendants to Abraham. But because she has not specifically heard her name in that conversation she (and here’s the keyword) assumes, that not only does the plan concerning her husband, require her intervention but moreover, the it’s God who is essentially excluding her from the promise and she want in. “Perhaps I can build a family.” What a dangerous phrase.
In lieu of knowing the mind of the Lord, she tries to assume control of the situation. Why? She confused her ignorance of evidence. Don’t confuse your ignorance of a situation as evidence to the contrary. Of course, no one does this deliberately, but this is the compound effect of not knowing what’s going to happen. We start to panic. She’s not the first, she won’t be the last. It’s part of being human. But instead of first sharing her fears with Abraham, she skips straight forward to…. intervention.
The difference between intervention and interference often depends on your perspective, doesn’t it? From our perspective, we can totally see, that this is interference with God’s plan and therefore she nearly wrecks her family thus. But does it wreck God’s plan? Nope, it just makes it more amazing.
- Benefits of the dark.
Here is my favourite part of this whole story. In fact it’s pretty much the reason why I wanted to do this series. Gen 15:5 He (God) took him (Abraham) 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[d] be.
Finally, what’s going on here? Goodness me, it’s so simple, so obvious, that for years I never noticed it: it’s dark. Probably the greatest most well-known promise of the Judeo Christian tradition is received at….NIGHT. Oh, holy night says the song. Why at night? Here’s why…man this is cool, because it’s only in the darkness of night, that the greatest illustration of God’s promises can be seen.
Can you imagine the magnificence of this moment? In all the obscurity, in the midst of all that was unknown in the life of Abraham there he is, telling God straight out his concerns, his confusion. What does God say?
He says: “come with me outside your tent Abe, I want to show you something.” Now, Look up! Thousands of years passed and during one of the darkest times in the history of God’s people, there were a few, a precious few that one night looked up, and God led them to the ultimate fulfilment of his promise to Abraham, the child through which all nations would be blessed beyond their wildest imagination, the Child whom would go on to make mere men and women, sons and daughters of Abraham.
We can study how the starts were made, but they can’t tell us why. Only the Bible can do that. They’re there to remind us of who put them there and his glory, and the way in which he works.
Maybe this is the greatest example of the reasoning behind this series we’re doing this January, the greatest promises of God, that you and I rely upon today are given when we’re standing in the dark, because that’s when God’s got our attention.
Has he got yours yet? Look up.