God's Covenant with Abram
12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him.13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”
17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, 19 the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.”
Accompanying Ray Pritchard sermon: How to Overcome Fear
Accompanying Bob Deffinbaugh sermon: The Focal Point of Abram's Faith
Somebody pointed this out to me, and now every time I read it in the Bible I notice it as well......
Virtually every time the Bible says "do not fear" it is followed by the reason we should not fear - "God is with us", or in our text today "I am your shield". This doesn't mean God will always protect us from our fear becoming reality, but He will be with us and help us endure. God is a shield around us - nothing will happen to us that is not first filtered through His hands. Pritchard pointed out a quote that is very true - “A Christian is immortal till his work on earth is done.” God's purpose for our life will not be thwarted. Our trials and, eventually, our death will not come as a surprise to Him.
We're not totally sure what Abram feared at this point - it could have been retaliation for the fight he just had with the kings in his quest to rescue Lot, or, more likely, it was his fear over never having his own child to fulfill the promise God had made to him years ago.
But God's timing is always right. Pritchard notes many reasons that God may delay answering our prayers - to strengthen our faith, to develop perseverance, so no one but God can get the glory when the answer finally comes, so no one can doubt the miracle involved, and to give hope to everyone who has prayed for years and years with only silence as the answer.
Truly God Himself if the answer to every fear. In today's passage He says I am your shield.
But it can be so many other things depending on our needs.
I AM.... your strength, courage, help, hope, supply, defender, deliverer, forgiveness, joy, future - your everything!
The covenant we see in this passage is confusing to us in the west, but very clear to those in the east. The process, called cutting a covenant, involved two parties who, after coming to an agreement on the terms, would cut animals in half and then take turns walking in the middle through the blood to seal the covenant, and to signify that if they broke the covenant they would pay with their life.
But, in this particular covenant, God walks through the blood both times, as symbolized by the smoking fire pot and a flaming torch, taking Abraham's place.
Pritchard and Deffinbaugh both come to the conclusion that this was a unilateral covenant, that God made the covenant with Himself and that it was unconditional.
Ray Vanderlaan comes to a different conclusion. From 15:6 and 17:1-2, we see that Abraham's side of the covenant required his faith and his obedience - something that would impossible to do perfectly. Abram knew that he could never keep his end of the covenant - which would explain why he experienced such a dreadful and great darkness, a Hebrew colloquialism that means dreadful fear. He knew that if put so much as one toe in that blood, he was as good as dead. Instead, we see God Himself take responsibility for Abram's portion of the covenant and in that instant, Jesus Christ was sentenced to death. He would pay the price for Abram's (and our!) failure to keep the covenant. All the sacrifices instituted by Moses were to be a constant reminder, to the people and to God, of God's promise. Those sacrifices were made every day at 9 and 3. It comes as no surprise that Jesus Christ's death occurred at exactly 3pm. The final sacrifice had been made, God had kept the covenant. Amazing grace.
Tomorrow's scripture focus: Genesis 16