Sunday, 5 January 2014

(6) January 6: Genesis 15-17 and Matthew 5v27-48

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:
As you read note the detail of God’s promises to Abram.

To ponder:
Abram’s fickle faith is again on show. Twice he seeks to shortcut God’s promise: by adopting a servant so his offspring would be counted as Abram’s and sleeping with a maidservant to have a child by that means. Serving God’s purposes never justifies sin. Chapter 16 gives particular warning: Like Adam, Abraham gives into his wife’s suggestions when he should have challenged them, and jealousy and abuse follow. Sin almost always leads to sin, and with it despair.
            But grace is near. Where Abraham compromises, God covenants. He confirms his promise from chapter 12 (15v4-21), then develops it (17v1-27). This ‘Abrahamic’ covenant is the track on which God’s people will travel right through to the Eternal City. It is the backbone of Bible history. All that God will do links to it. So I hope you can take in what follows.
Adam had to obey perfectly to live forever. This is often called the ‘covenant of works.’ By contrast, Abraham’s is the ‘covenant of grace.’ 15v9-21 describes a known covenant-making ceremony (Jer 34:18). Both parties walk between dead carcasses. This stresses that if one breaks their commitment they should suffer like the animal. Yet here only God walks the walk. So he will ensure this covenant is fulfilled despite Abram’s sin. We have seen how: Abram responds with obedient faith - and it is “credited as righteousness” (15v6). This means God treats him as if he has perfectly met his requirements even though he so clearly hasn’t. Circumcision reflects this. It is a sign that God’s promise is held out to each generation, pledging its blessings to those of obedient faith seen in a desire to ‘cut off’ the sin inherited from Adam (Deut 10v12-20, Rom 4v11).
God’s covenant strapline reoccurs throughout scripture: “I will be your God and you will be my people” (17v7-8). Knowing God, not the descendents or land, is the ultimate promise, because from him all else comes.
In Christ this covenant is our covenant too (Lk 1v67-79). He is not just Abraham’s greatest offspring, but the greatest King to come from him. He inherits not just what was Canaan, but the world, eventually driving all who do evil from it and making it new. United to him, all who believe God’s promises become Abraham’s descendents - the great nation. And they too are counted righteous. So they receive life in this greater “land” forever.

Praying it home:
Thank God that he has given himself to us through Christ and so every spiritual blessing is secured for us. Ask God to reveal any areas where you may be sinning in order to achieve his purposes, rather than just trusting him. Seek his forgiveness and strength to rectify this.

Thinking further:
(1) The idea that Abraham’s descendents get to drive out the inhabitants of Canaan feels harsh. But note 15v16: This will not happen until the sin of the inhabitants warrants it. God always acts justly. The conquering of Canaan is at the same time God blessing Israel and punishing those living there. We’ll think more on this when reaching the book of Joshua. (2) The Old Testament can’t be dismissed as anti-women or racist towards non-Jews. God comes personally to the Egyptian Hagar, urges her back to the protection of Abram’s home, promises blessing to her child and allows her to name him - the only instance of a person naming God in the Bible!

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