© Charles A. Clough 1996
Charles A. Clough
Biblical Framework Series 1995–2003
Part 3: Disruptive Truths of God’s Kingdom
Chapter 2: God’s Call to Abraham: The Disruptive Truth of Man’s Kingdom Rejected
Lesson 40 – Genesis 15, Abrahamic Covenant, God’s Oath of Malediction
21 November 1996
Fellowship Chapel, Jarrettsville, MD
Tonight we’re going to move from the actual act of the call of Abraham to the covenant itself. The act is in the 12th chapter and the covenant is basically in the 15th chapter. Before we leave some of the big ideas, notice in the notes, pages 24, 25 and 26 I’ve tried to isolate three basic ideas that are very prominent in this part of Scripture. One of the ideas is that this represents the end of an era. Genesis 12 is the end of the old order. It’s that old order that was the last time that you can accept revelation in a culture outside of Israel. In other words, from now on the center of action of God’s Spirit is with the culture of Israel, and Abraham and his seed. The old order is just old; it’s phasing away in history at this time. On page 25 we mentioned the exclusivism, the fact that God excludes paganism from any consideration, it’s just simply not considered.
This is quite offensive because what it says on page 25, this is the offense of the Bible. It says: “From this point forward in history, God would reach out to the world only indirectly through Abraham’s progeny. Here is the biblical repudiation of every non-Israelite religion. Every religion outside of Israel (except for possible remnant survivals of Noahic faith) is formed by human work built upon depravity.” So that’s the answer, and this is not a happy answer for our time, our age doesn’t like to hear “that” kind of an answer, it’s not politically correct, it’s not nice. But that’s the answer the Bible gives. And the answer the Bible gives is justified morally and spiritually because all people started with Noah, everyone came out of the sons and daughters of Noah. So they haven’t got the revelation because their own historic destiny suppressed it.
But lest we become too exclusive, on page 26, the third truth we want to get across is that here’s where missions begins. I quote Dr. Peters, and also Genesis 12:1-3, that Abraham was told to go forth out of his country. But the whole purpose of going forth out of his country and out of paganism to become this separatistic exclusivistic culture is to groom it for a blessing back to the world. So there’s a border here, a sort of cycle that we want to observe. Keep this in mind as we go through the rest of the Old Testament because it’s easy to get off on tangents. What you have is paganism, you have Abraham called out of that, over into a special, maybe a greenhouse of faith, in order to come back to the world system.
This is the other moral side of the coin, the exclusivism that is so detestable to our relativistic age, is actually good news, because had Abraham not been called out of paganism, you couldn’t breed a body of purified revelation that could be then put back into the world. You’ve got to come out of the world to get the purity that you need to go back into the world with; it’s that cycle, and it’s here where missions begins, not the New Testament. Missions implicitly begin once God breaks from the rest of the world. You may never have thought about this before, but missions begins in Genesis 12, it begins with the restriction of the truth to some subset, so obviously if the truth is restricted to a subset of people, and God wants to bless the other people, then the people who have the truth have to go out to the people who don’t have the truth. The message has to go out. So even though it’s not strongly pushed here, we have centuries of Scripture to see the outgrowth of this, this is the root of missions, right here.
Let’s come to the covenant, turn to Genesis 15. Hold the place, go back to Genesis 9 because that was the other covenant, and we’ll flip between the two, we’ll do some observations and see how much we can see different and parallel to. In Genesis 15:7 this begins the address, all the way down to the end of chapter 15. Notice as you skim down who’s doing the speaking, who’s doing the listening, and what is being said. In verse 8, “And he said, ‘O Lord God, how may I know that I shall possess it?” Abraham has a question. Verse 9, “So He said to him, ‘Bring Me a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram, and a turtle dove, and a young pigeon.’  Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, and laid each half opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds.  And the birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, and Abram drove them away.  Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him.  And God said to Abram, ‘Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred year.  But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve; and afterward they will come out with many possessions.  And as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age.  Then in the fourth generation they shall return here; for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.  And it came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces.  On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I have given this land, From the rifer of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates:  the Kenite and the Kenizzite and the Kadmonite  and the Hittite and the Perrizite and the Rephaim  and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Girgashite and the Jebusite,” naming all the peoples of that land who will be displaced.
Notice whom it’s given to in verse 18: “To your descendants I have given this land.” In Genesis 9 God spoke to “Noah and to his sons, with him, saying  Now behold I Myself do establish My covenant with you, and your descendants after you;  and with every living creature that is with you,” and the content of that is in verse 11ff, the content is the sign of the covenant and the fact that no flesh will be cut off by water. Comparing, what do you see as to the group to which the covenant was made. Think in terms of the addressees of this. In the Noahic situation the covenant was made with everyone, including the animals. So it is a universal covenant; there’s the universalism. It’s a universalism about preservation, and it says I will persist, the environment is stable, the earth has gone into a steady state. The environment is stable, the human race will survive, there is not going to be an intergalactic war, there’s not going to be an asteroid collision with planet earth, the earth is a perfectly safe place to live on forever. So there’s a continuity promised in the way of covenant, and it is given to everyone.
When you come to Genesis 15 it’s a little different. Now it’s Abraham and his descendants, and furthermore there seems to be some nasty implications in verses 18-19, because it says “I have given this land,” then in verses 19-21, ten different subsets of peoples are said to be displaced. So this covenant looks like it’s going to be a little messier than the Noahic Covenant. First of all, it’s an exclusivistic covenant, only with Abraham and only with his descendants, and secondly, it looks like there’s going to be some displacement going on. That’s the first thing we observe.
We also see earlier in the text, when Abraham was talking, the question in verse 8 was “how may I know that I shall possess” the land, came out of a conversation he was having with God earlier, and in Genesis 15:1 where God promises to be his shield, Abraham said in verse 2, “O Lord God, what wilt Thou give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” What were the three things God had said He was going to give him? Land, Seed and be a worldwide blessing. And it isn’t looking like it’s working out, at least by Genesis 15, so Abraham says since you have given no offspring, one born in my house as my heir, now he’s not inventing that statement, that’s normal, that’s the normal operation here. I want you to see the fact that something’s different about this Abrahamic Covenant because it’s the only way you can interpret it and wind up with sanity, without going into a split schizophrenic interpretation. What you want to see is it comes out of a helpless situation; he doesn’t have the physical seed that he’s supposed to have. He doesn’t have the land he was supposed to have; he certainly isn’t any worldwide blessing. All three of those things look pretty hopeless.
Notice how God answers him, verse 4, “This man will not be your heir; but one who shall come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.” What is God in essence saying? Abraham’s statement in verse 2 is I am childless. In verse 4 God says “one who shall come forth from your own body” is your heir. What, in effect is God saying? How is this seed going to come about? By some miraculous way. That’s a primary observation, stick that one away, make a note of it, this is critical to the interpretation of the Abrahamic Covenant as it goes on through the pages of Scripture, that this is not just simply promising the guy’s going to have a lot of kids. It’s no simply promising that. From the very first child born to Abraham this is a miraculously produced seed, so the children and seed of Abraham visualized in this covenant aren’t just physical, normal every day children. The seed of Abraham has a remarkable miraculousness about it. And we have to be careful.
Here’s why I’m stressing this. The tendency is that we see this and we come to the New Testament and the New Testament says we’re all children of Abraham, and we like to spiritualize our interpretations of the Old Testament text, and say there are the physical children of Abraham and then there are the spiritual children of Abraham. We all kind of know what we’re trying to say there, but I warn you about something. If you start right here, the very first redemptive covenant in the Bible, you start to spiritualize it to make it work for the New Testament, we’re going to be spiritualizing our way through the whole Old Testament. The Old Testament wasn’t made to be spiritualized. All the boundary markers in the genealogies, all the legal documents, all that’s talking about something physical. We have to be careful of the hermeneutics that we’re using to read this literature, and the way you learn how to interpret the literature is to learn, particularly when it sets things up, the first place where the set up occurs, watch it right there. The set up from the very beginning of the Abrahamic Covenant, this seed promise is being fulfilled in a miraculous way and you will see this theme perpetuated down through Scripture.
Two things to remember: the seed are physical descendants of Abraham. We’ll have to deal with another problem, obviously, in a moment, but you can’t spiritualize it, he’s talking about people that come out of his body. So we’re talking about a physical link. That’s number one. But the second thing and closely allied to this is that though the seed comes out of his physical body, it’s somehow miraculously produced thereby. So you have these two things and this begins to color our interpretation of the Old Testament in the light of the New Testament and it’s not inventing some new way of reading the literature, it’s being straightforward about it.
Let me show you something else, in Genesis 12 there’s something else we need to see. There’s a logical conflict here. Maybe I can draw it with a diagram. Abraham is going to produce a seed, the world, the worldwide blessing, the world is going to be blessed and there’s a code in there, “blessed in Abraham.” The question that this diagram raises, what happens to people who are not the physical seed of Abraham? What about Egyptians? What about Japhetics? What about everybody else that’s in that table of nations in Genesis 10 that physically do not come out of Abraham? Does this mean the Abrahamic Covenant totally isolates the world? Does it mean that only a subset of Jews are to be blessed out of this? You see, there’s a whole thing here that we have to deal with, and if the world is going to be blessed in him, but the blessing is going to come through the seed, there’s a mystery here. This is not well answered in the Old Testament, how this is going to take place. You can say in some degree it can take place because, can anybody name a major blessing to the world that was given to the world by 1000 BC? What is something that practically every civilized society harps back to today, to structure themselves with, and they got it from the Bible? The Ten Commandments, Mosaic Law. That’s one example of how something that comes out of the physical lineage of Abraham is a blessing to the world and the world gets blessed through the produce of Abraham, but that still doesn’t explain that if the real blessing is in the seed, how do non-seeds become seeds?
I point this out because it’s not really answered in the Old Testament. In the New Testament it’s answered in the following way: it’s answered the fact that down this seed eventually comes, miraculously, so the first seed is Isaac, there you have something miraculous going on, then down through history, finally you end in Jesus, and He gets produced miraculously. Was He out from the seed of Abraham? Yes He is. Is He a physical descendant of Abraham? Yes, but isn’t He a miraculously produced physical seed of Abraham? Yes. So the theme from Isaac to Jesus is always the same way. There’s this funny way God works; it’s through Abraham, but it’s miraculously through Abraham, it’s not a natural fallout or a natural work that’s happening here.
Then how do we become children of Abraham to share in blessings? How do we do that? What does Paul say in Galatians, we are “adopted,” so we, through Jesus Christ, become adopted into Abraham. Are we linked physically? Yes we are, because we’re being adopted legally in one who is of the physical lineage of Abraham. So we can refer in the New Testament to, (quote) “the spiritual children” if you just remember when you use the word “spiritual children,” you’re not talking about some mystical link with Abraham. I’m trying to save the literalness of the covenant, that’s what we’re trying to do here. So be careful, the covenants are all pieces of legal literature and have to be interpreted very carefully, or we lose controls.
There’s the structure of the seed, and there’s the structure of the land. And obviously the land has a certain place. That land means that other people have to be kicked out and the seed have to occupy. That’s a theme that goes all the way on to the end of the Bible, doesn’t it? Who is ejected from the earth? Who does not have a place in the New Jerusalem? Who is it that’s always excluded? It’s always the unbeliever; it’s always those who refuse to submit to God, they are the ones who always get booted. The ones who go in and enjoy the promise are the believers. So this is a theme that starts now and goes all the way through to Revelation. And all is structured on this Abrahamic Covenant. So what we’re working with here is just a few texts of the Old Testament but this is a setup for the rest of the Bible. It’s one of the most eloquent arguments in my mind for the inspiration of Scripture, that there’s this inherent continuity and coherence to the Bible.
Let’s look at some features of this. On page 27, where it says “God’s covenant with Abraham defines His program,” we’ve labeled this whole section of material as a disruption this year, last year we were saying what we’re dealing with is truths of paganism that were buried literally and psychologically. This year we’re talking about truths that disrupt, in other words, pagan civilization goes on, history marches forward, and there seems to be this constant interruption, constantly disrupting the flow of sinful man, from the outside. Abraham’s call is an interruption to Abraham’s life, isn’t it? He’s disrupted in his business, he’s interfered with, all of a sudden he gets jerked around and moves out of where he was comfortable, where he developed his business, and he moves to who knows where? That’s a disruption, because the theme here is always… God is on the outside because man has chosen to put Him on the outside of the system. So when God speaks, He naturally has to, since He’s speaking from outside the system, He has to disrupt the system in order to address it. So from here on out in the rest of the Bible, the calls of God and the truth of God are disrupting truths.
What we want to see is that this is a contract, and we specified, when we dealt with the Noahic Covenant that we’re dealing with a contractual arrangement, and to use the word “contract” sounds less religious, probably safer, because we have less baggage to that word. But that word is the same word that’s used in Scriptures, it’s the word for a contract in the same sense that a business man would make a contract, there’s no difference. In Jeremiah 34, there’s an example of how business men, when they got into serious negotiations, would inaugurate a contract. This is centuries after Abraham and it’s still going on. God is talking here in language that would have been understood, the same process in Jeremiah 34:18-20, here it’s referred to the society at large, the people at large, at the time of the end of the collapse of the kingdom. “I will give the men who have transgressed My covenant, who have not fulfilled the words of the covenant which they made before Me, when they cut the calf in two and passed between its parts—  the officials of Judah, and the officials of Jerusalem, the court officers, and the priests, and all the people of the land, who passed between the parts of the calf—  and I will give them into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their life. And their dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the sky and the beasts of the earth.” So there’s a contractual arrangement, and the way the contractual arrangement worked is they would cut these animal pieces in half and walk between them.
What we want to point out is that first of all, a contract comes into existence when a relationship has to be verified. In other words, a contract is a way of verifying behavior. Isn’t that what a contract does, all the stipulations you’ve ever seen in a contract, isn’t it verifying, offering measurements, yardsticks so you can tell whether or not somebody’s kept their promise. So the Bible, at the beginning of salvation history as we know it, through Abraham, lays the whole plan of salvation out in contractual form, or legal literature. That’s why it’s so important to remember what Albright said, I quote him on page 26, that the Hebrews were the only people in world history to make a contract with their God. Of course, he got it a little backwards; it’s the only people that God made a contract with. But that’s profound because Albright knew ancient history very well, he was an eminent professor, excellent scholar, and that’s his observation, he says I’ve studied all of world history, and he says I haven’t been able to find one case in world history where there’s ever been a culture or a people who have entered into a contract with their God. That’s a pretty stunning observation. But if you think about it makes sense. Why does it make sense? Because on a pagan basis, who would you make a contract with? Which god’s on the chair today, Joe or George, if you make a contract with George how do you know next week he’s going be on reign, maybe Joe’s bumped him out. If you have a polytheism you haven’t got stability because you never know who is top dog tomorrow.
That’s why only in monotheism can you make a contract that’s stable, because you don’t have musical chairs. What does paganism always gravitate to? They’ve got a problem, paganism has always have a problem, they have a god here and a god there and a god somewhere else, in fact, Abraham came out of a place that worshiped the god of the moon. Ur was a center, and Haran, the second place he went, that was another cultic center for the moon god. So in both cases it’s apparently that Abraham and his grandparents were very close the lunar occult. If that’s the case, and they’re worshipping a moon god who was considered very unstable, because the phase of the moon changes, why would you want to enter a contract with an unstable party, you don’t do business with somebody who’s going out of business tomorrow, you do business with somebody who’s going to be around for a while, or you don’t bother to sign a contract.
That, in a small way, is why the Bible says only here do you have the basis for a contract; because only here do you have a God big enough to make a contract with. Pagan, when they finally deal with the musical chair problem, always go to this solution, it’s the one 2001 Space Odyssey goes to with a little tablet that you see; it always goes to a table of destiny, or tablets of destiny, or Fate. That’s always the solution the pagan mind gives. How come George rules today and Joe is going to rule next month? I don’t know, George doesn’t know and Joe doesn’t know; all we know is that we’re all controlled by this mysterious impersonal fate. This is like the Empire Strikes Back, the Empire epics. What was God in that epic? A person or a force? He was a force, they know what they’re doing, this is just pagan thought.
The basis for a contract is you have to have an infinite personal God and if you don’t have an infinite personal God, there’s no sense having a contract. But the amazing thing for us as believers is that the infinite personal God condescends to us to let us verify His behavior. Isn’t this an amazing thing? Why do you suppose God does that? Think about, this is so important we want to think about it, and not let it go as just an interesting fact. Why do you suppose God condescends through a contractual legal document, to lay out His behavior to us so that we can measure His behavior? It sounds like it ought to go the other way, and in part later it is. He is condescending to our weakness to trust Him.
That’s what the Bible is all about. When we fight for details, get the point here, because so many people don’t see this, when we argue so strenuously for the inerrancy of Scripture, do you know what we’re arguing for? We’re arguing for the trustworthiness of God. That’s why inerrancy of Scripture is so important. If Scripture has errors in it, what happens to this document that’s supposed to measure God’s behavior? If it’s got historical errors in it, we can’t verify His behavior. Isn’t that what a lawyer does in court? When a witness is on the stand, what does the opposing lawyer try to do, every case? What’s his job, what’s he paid to do? To undermine the validity of the witness, the believability of the witness. What is the witness in history to God’s character? What He promised. Where do we find what He promised? Here. Where do we find the record of His fulfilled promises? Here. If this has errors in it, what happens to the whole case? It goes out the window. Do you see what an eloquently simple argument this is, it is so simple and so straightforward, you wonder how people can miss this. But that’s the story of the Bible, that’s why we fundies are so adamant about the inerrancy of Scripture for to be non-adamant about this is to say in effect that we have no yardstick for measuring God’s behavior.
Let’s look at this yardstick. One of the things we want to say is not only is it verifying behavior, but you have to have, and this is important, you have to have an expression in language and that language has to be plain and interpreted to so everybody can read it and understand it. It doesn’t do any good to have a set of priests that know God’s code words, and say oh by the way, take it on our authority, God is trustworthy. The great Reformation was that we get the pages of Scripture to the hands of every believer so every believer can read it for himself and say God, you are faithful, I have read Your words and You have spoken directly to me through the pages of Scripture, hence the Protestant Reformation. We don’t keep it confined to some sort of academic elite, and this is why we argued so strenuously that the early chapters of Genesis can’t be interpreted in some obscure hermeneutics, some subset of rules known only to historical geologists, and everybody was wrong before Darwin, these guys came in and they’ve got it really down and so we take what they say and say, oh, that’s the key to interpreting all the Scripture, for 1900 years we didn’t know, thank you Charles Darwin. Do you see what that does? That basically cuts away the Scripture again because it says the measuring stick isn’t for all Christians. It’s a very democratic thing here, this contract should be linguistically clear to every believer, else every believer cannot have trust that God means what He says.
Let’s look further at the different parts; we say that this is a contract, so now we’re going to look at the parts of this contract because the parts are the same four that we saw in Noah’s case. All biblical contracts generally have these four elements to them. The first one is obvious; you have to define who the contract is with. So the first element is the parties to the contract. Who are the parties? We said that the parties of the contract were God on one hand, Abraham and his seed on the other; no animals, cats, dogs. That was the Abrahamic Covenant. So the Abrahamic Covenant has a specific set of parties to it, Jesus Christ is party to it, we happen to be party to it, only because Jesus Christ has seen fit to adopt us into Himself. That’s what Paul means when he’s talking in Rom. 9 about the tree, the branch, etc.
So we have the parties to the covenant, we define these; this is all clear in Genesis 15. I read the passage in Genesis 15 because from verses 9, 10 and 11, and 17, look at those verses again, that’s the signing of this contract. By the way, what’s the sign of the signing of the Noahic Covenant? The rainbow. We said the optical physics of raindrops is structured as a finite three-dimensional physical projection of whatever it is on God’s throne, because when people get this glimpse of God on His throne they see something that looks like what we call a rainbow. So what we call a rainbow has been structured to communicate throne glory to us, that the One who sits on the throne of the universe is the One who made the promise of the Noahic Covenant. So this is an advance, let’s see how sharp we are in observation.
The animals are cut, verse 10, and we just got through reading the Jeremiah passage, how they cut animals, what’s going on here with this cutting of animals. Look at this, here’s whoever it is, these two business guys, these are very serious covenants, so here’s this bloody mess of meat on one side and a bloody mess of meat on the other, and they’re walking between them. Now what is going on here? We said the rainbow was a picture of the throne glory of God. What’s this bloody mess a symbol of? Does this sort of point to something that’s going to happen later on? What is this saying? First of all, you can catch some of what you’re seeing here, and by the way, in verse 17 scholars who have studied ancient documents, ancient history note that the “smoking oven and flaming torch” are two elements that are used for maledictory oaths in the ancient world, witches used this, there’s some translations of ancient materials where they talk about witches cursing people and they would use… this flaming oven is actually one of these things that you carry around, it’s a small portable thing, and the flaming torch were symbols of cursing.
If we accept that, and that was the context of the symbolic meaning, in this case we don’t have anybody walking between them. Why didn’t Abraham walk between them? What was his medical state? He’s sacked out. Isn’t that right, verse 12, he’s in the same state Adam was when Eve was created. When God wants to make it clear it’s His work and not ours, He puts us to sleep, gets us out of the way. So Abraham is not writing, he’s not signing on this thing. Who is signing on? All of a sudden you have these symbols of malediction pass between bloody messes of meat. Talk about a dark, scary picture, this is a picture of actual cursing and what we have here is a curse on him who breaks the covenant, it’s an oath of malediction. This is saying, in effect, to hell with whoever breaks this covenant, may you be slaughtered as these animals. Talk about a business arrangement, you can imagine why they reserved this kind of an operation for serious business. You either keep this contract or something bad is going to happen to you, that’s what this is all about, this is a threat.
The interesting thing is that if it’s not a threat to Abraham, because he’s not walking through the pieces, who’s it a threat to? This is amazing, because later on God takes the oath, later on in the book of Genesis God makes an oath, I will swear by Myself that I will keep this covenant. What it is saying is that God says may He be damned if this covenant does not come to pass. How about that one? Isn’t that something? This is the God of the universe saying I will be damned if this doesn’t happen. So right from the start we get down to some basic facts here. And what’s so prophetic, does anybody catch a little prophetic glimpse of something in this oath of malediction? Who is made a curse for us? This is a fore view of the Lord Jesus Christ’s work. It’s not clear here, we’re Monday morning quarterbacks, it’s clear to us, but the point was that it is imbedded in the symbols, it’s imbedded in the language here, it’s all part of this covenant. There’s some pretty heavy stuff; to pull of redemption requires heavy business, and it starts by God swearing that He will redeem, and He will never be stopped, the gates of hell shall not prevail against God’s sovereign program. He will never be stopped. This is good news, because now we’ve got something to hinge to. We’re not talking about faith yet, we’re going to get that later, and last. You can’t talk about biblical faith and so and so believes, and he’s a great believer in the promises, and all the rest until you get clear what preceded all this.
If you look carefully at Genesis 15, I started with verse 8 and when I read the first part, I ended with verse 5. What verse did I not mention? Verse 6, let’s look at it. Verse 6 is cited repeatedly in the New Testament, it’s no accident that it precedes the formal ratification of the covenant. Look at the place of this, you read the New Testament, this is what’s so tragic about our time and I must comment about this, it bugs me that over the years I have had a steady diet in evangelical churches of 98% teaching out of the New Testament, [blank spot] …go back into the Old Testament and get some background so you know what you’re reading in the New Testament, but the New Testament came after the Old Testament and it was written originally for people who knew the Old Testament, and could pick up on these nuances. So Paul just had to quote verse 6 and he would have expected that a good well-trained Jewish audience would have said, oh yes, that’s what happened before the Abrahamic Covenant. [blank spot] … gave them a verse, and they were so sharp they knew the context of the verses. So we want to get sharp and learn the context.
When you see verse 6 in the New Testament, this is repeatedly referred to, understand that it is embedded in the context of the giving of the Abrahamic Covenant, and when God entered into this solemn covenant with Abraham the parties to the covenant were God on one hand, and Abraham plus his seed on the other, and the issue is how can a holy God enter a redemptive covenant with a sinful, fallen Abraham? The answer is given prior to the contractual generation, the drawing up of the covenant. And it’s given here, verse 6, “Then he believed in the LORD;” now I have to take exception, many translations use “then” as though it’s an adverb that’s telling you oh, that’s when he believed. The intent of this “then” isn’t adverbial in that sense, it’s saying that Abraham was a believer and keep in mind that he was a believer when this happened. This what we call a circumstantial clause in the Hebrew narrative, you’ll see this so often in the Old Testament when you read it, so and so did something and, so and so did something and, so and so did something and, and this happened, and this happened, and this happened, all the verbs are tied with and, and, and, and, and. But then in the text if all of a sudden you’re reading and it says and this happened, and this happened, and this happened, stop and then there’s a participial form or there’s this non-and form of the verb, you say whoa, this is a circumstantial clause. This is a note saying oh, by the way, while all this was going on, this is true. That’s the sense of verse 6, it’s a circumstantial clause that is a commentary that is occurring, so that as we read verses 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, all the way down to verses 20, 21, it’s saying, oh by the way, while this was happening Abraham was a person who was a believer, and it was because he was a believer that God counted him as righteous. This is going to be expanded later when we get in the doctrine of justification, but for tonight just be careful to remember verse 6.
The context of verse 6 again, before the parties can enter into an agreement and one of the parties is perfectly holy, the other party has to be perfectly holy, especially with the topic that’s bringing about salvation. So how can Abraham, who is a fallen sinful person, enter into a contract with God? The answer is because he trusted God to somehow work it out. Abraham had a piece of the gospel available to him in his day and verse 6 is a comment of what believers looked like then. Paul says you know what, believers looked then just like we are today, we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, they didn’t know about the Lord Jesus Christ, the cross and all the details, but they knew that there was a promised seed that was to come and God somehow would deal with this, so I trust Him for it, just like we look back to the cross and we trust Him, He did that. They didn’t have that, so they looked forward and said He’ll do something, so I trust Him. So now we have two parts to the covenant that look very interesting. On this part we have faith, and on this part we have a bloody mess, so the gospel is very foreshadowed here in the very structure of this covenant.
On page 28 of the notes I mention that one of the signs that was given in Genesis 17 is circumcision. There are four observations to make about circumcision because it recurs in the New Testament and we want to be careful. Great segments of the Christian church have taken circumcision to be a model of infant baptism; that’s the argument for infant baptism, etc. What we want to see is that circumcision was a ritual of obedience that accompanied the Abrahamic Covenant. I mention four things about circumcision there that are theological in nature; circumcision is not an accident. Let’s look at those four things in the notes.
“1. Circumcision revealed that the fallen flesh is present from birth so it was administered in Israel to infants rather than to adolescents as in pagan cultures,” interesting, paganism has circumcision usually in adolescents, at puberty. It’s still done in backward tribes. But in the Bible circumcision was moved from puberty to infancy, and that was a major move. We never think about it today, but why was it different? This is a difference. You can read contemporary pagan literature and it reads differently than the Bible here. This is a difference. Why? Because it is a mark that whatever is at stake here, this circumcision is a corrected surgery, it’s disruptive, the disruption has to occur all the way back to the infant level, and it’s a picture, I believe, of the fact that it’s saying that infants from birth are sinful, Psalm 51.
“2. Circumcision identified sexual propagation, particularly the male sperm, as responsible for linking all mankind into the sin of Adam,” and here’s another great point because in paganism the power of sex is considered to be sacred in the sense that the gods used it to generate the universe. That’s why they had all their orgies and everything else. It’s not necessarily because they were out for drunken party-party time, it was because they actually felt that the power of sexual propagation was related to the universe at large, and whatever this force was in sex it was related to cosmic issues, not just personal issues. They always thought of it as a powerful force, and it is a powerful force. But it’s interesting that circumcision identifies an organ of sex as needing surgical modification. What in effect theologically that does, it devalues sex from its pagan pinnacle. In paganism it’s elevated to the high place of being the source of creation; in the Bible it’s demeaned, there’s something inherently wrong with the process, it’s fallen, it’s disruptive, it needs to be redeemed. Again we have, if you look at it, and some have thought and I tend to think so, that it’s particularly emphasizing the male sperm rather than the female, the female ovum seems to be the one, the mother of all living, it doesn’t say Adam is the father of all living, it says the woman is the mother of all living, and you have this ovum type thing with the full cells, and the male sperm is not really a full viable cell, so some Christians physiologists have just pointed that out, it’s very interesting in Romans 5:12-14 and Hebrews 7:4-10 it seems to suggest that the identity of the sinful man is propagated through the male If that’s so, then it’s interesting why Jesus was virgin born.
“3. Circumcision did not necessarily imply that the child was regenerate,” you can have unregenerate circumcised children in the Bible, the Bible is full of them, and in the story in Genesis you’ve got at least Ishmael, maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t, but you can’t say that just because somebody went through the ritual that they were automatically redeemed, that they were automatic believers.
Finally, and most importantly, the fourth point of circumcision:
“4.Circumcision testified to an analogy between surgery performed on the organ of fleshly reproduction of physical life and miraculous surgery on the organ of spiritual life—the heart,” because in the Mosaic Law Code this phrase occurs, and it’s picked up by Paul in Colossians. God says Oh that they would be “circumcised in their heart.” I have given them this law, but they need to be circumcised in their heart. Why did God say that? Circumcised in the heart, how do you get circumcised in your heart? There must be something inherently wrong with the heart and it needs surgery. If you think of circumcision as a picture of corrective surgery, that something’s being corrected that was corrupted, you get the theological picture and overtones. And it’s looking forward to this Abrahamic Covenant thing.
The legal terms of the covenant we have established, the land, the seed and the blessing. I have stressed the fact that all three of these, in the notes on page 28, at least the first two, let’s go with land and seed, obviously the third one, worldwide blessing is [can’t understand word.] Each of these has an application to Israel and an application to the world. All three of those have a particular fulfillment in Israel, and all three of them have an eternal fulfillment for all people. Let’s go with the land. In the land you have the outlines of the land geographically given in Scripture, in gruesome detail, but you also have the New Jerusalem in the last pages of the Bible coming down in the land. So the promise of the land is to Israel in the Old Testament, but it’s also looking forward to the fact that the center of redemption for the cosmos is in this real estate. What it implies is that the planet earth, when it’s recreated in Revelation 21 and 22, it has a form that’s very similar to the layout of the land now. We mentioned last year where a guy took the computer and sectioned off every piece of land on the earth and had the computer say if I start with this section and I say how far is this section away from this section, this section, this section, etc. and I get a number and I go here, and I do it again and I go here and do it again, etc. the computer is going to tell me where can I pick a section on earth that’s closest to all other land areas, and when you ask the computer to do that, you come up with the land between, on the one hand the exact latitude and longitude, the longitude of Jerusalem and Ararat area, and then you get the latitude, bottom part of the latitude of Jerusalem in the Babylon area there, the Middle East. So it’s very interesting that it just (quote) “happens” that is the mean minimum of land area if you travel on the surface of the earth. So the land has an application.
The seed has obvious physical application to Israel, and it has an application to the adopted sons through Christ.
The third one, the worldwide blessing is obviously the blessing of the world, but it’s also an exaltation of Israel above all nations, and I quote on the notes some of the Psalms. I want to turn to some of these Psalms because they do speak of this worldwide purview. I have to show you these passages because so many people think the Old Testament has only to do with the horizon that stops at the Mediterranean. Just for quick references to tuck away, I want you to see some of these passages of Scripture, the terms of these blessings. Just for your reference, whenever you see a Psalm that’s in the 90s, these Psalms are clustered at that point in the Psalter are considered to be what they call Enthronement Psalms, they’re all looking forward to the reign of the Messiah over the nations. And there’s a big argument about whether they were sung at certain periods of time in Jewish history.
Psalm 100 is a typical one of these in this area. Look at who it’s addressed to. This is a Jewish Psalm, out of Israel in its heyday, but look who it’s addressed to, verse 1, “Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth.” That’s not Israel; this is that universalism that’s imbedded in the Abrahamic Covenant. Abraham will be a source of worldwide blessing, and it will be through Abraham. Psalm 126:2, this looks at the universalism but it looks at the universalism more from the standpoint of the Jew and Israel. Psalm 126:1, “When the LORD brought back the captive ones of Zion, we were like those who dream.  Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with joyful shouting; then,” who’s doing the saying here, “then they said among the nations,” who are obviously looking at Israel, ‘The LORD has done great things for them.”  The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad.” Verse 3 is the Jewish people speaking, but in the last clause in verse 2 it’s the Gentiles.
Look what are the Gentiles are saying. What is remarkable about that verse? Test your powers of observation a moment. What’s the name for God being used there? It’s Jehovah. And what’s so remarkable about this, this is rare; this is a rare piece of Scripture, where Gentiles nations are said to ascribe something to Jehovah. That’s the sacred name of God for Israel. So it clearly refers to sometime in history when Gentiles believe. And they believe that Israel’s God is their God. We could multiply these but I won’t, I’m just pointing out that in the Abrahamic Covenant that’s their whole ground and structure from this time forward, through all the stories in here, if you read through these stories you can judge every story from Genesis 12 and Genesis 15 in terms of one of these three, every single story.
Think of this as a test because we can’t do this but if we were to get involved in the details of Genesis, which of these three do you think was involved in the famine issue? They had to go somewhere; they went out of the land. They had to become pilgrims and wanderers. What parts of the Abrahamic Covenant are really crucial being tested here? Abraham, do you trust me, oh, you’ve got to leave the land to get food, gee, that doesn’t look too good, are you going to trust me that this is your land eventually? That last point in the story when his wife dies, he doesn’t own any land, he has to buy her a grave, he still doesn’t own the land, what’s the point of tension between the promise of the land and what’s happening in his wife’s death at her funeral. When Abraham and Isaac both get their wife in the harem of the Gentile king, what promise is at stake? The seed promise. See all these stories, all the stories from here on out have something to do with one of these three things. That’s why the Holy Spirit picked out those stories. Everyone has been preserved to show that Sarah gets delivered from the Gentile harem lest she produce the wrong seed. She must produce God’s seed, and she’s not going to do it as the mistress of Pharaoh, she’s going to do it as the wife of Abraham. But the intrigue is, how’s this going to come about?
The exciting thing to think about in all this is it makes the Bible an adventure story, it’s really a vast adventure story in Genesis, how is God, who says to hell with Me if I don’t do what I say I’m going to do, how does this work out in the nitty gritty of everyday life? One story after another where it comes out where the suspense is just… you’re right on the edge, suppose Pharaoh does take Sarah for his wife, now what have we got, we screwed up the promise. What if the famine does last in the land and they can’t get back in the land because they can’t get their business, their ranching business started in the middle of a famine, what happens to the land promise? So all those stories are tension stories, are you going to trust Me, you going to trust Me, you going to trust Me, you going to trust Me or not? That’s what they’re all about. I hope this may unify your view when you read these, these are not discontinuous, gee I wonder stories, like sort of a weekly comic strip, it’s one mess after another all having to do with the covenant.
Question about a promise going beyond: Clough replies: I think it guarantees the preservation of the human race, that the human race basically was ended in Noah’s day, apart from the eight, and what God is saying is that no matter what judgment I make in the future, the human race will not be eradicated, this is a going entity and that’s why in the Book of Revelation there’s such a point repetitively made, every time the throne is looked upon and they see the saved peoples, it’s always peoples of every nation and every tongue, it’s a reverberation of the table of nations, they survived. Someone says something: Clough: But even then the Abrahamic Covenant would argue that the form of the new earth is remarkably similar to the form of our present one.
Question, something about the new covenant and old covenant: Clough replies: Oh, that’s an incredible question for biblical theology. That varies with the covenants, because clearly the author of the book of Hebrews is dealing with that problem because he’s got to deal with… there’s sections of the Mosaic covenant that went obsolete, so it’s very clear that some sections of these covenants go obsolete. But what I want to stress when we get to the Mosaic covenant is its format is different than the Abrahamic Covenant. Tonight I made a big, BIG issue of saying that those pieces, when the signing happened, there was only one party that signed, not two. When you go to the Mosaic Law Code both parties sign, so the Mosaic Law is grounded on the faithfulness of the people, and that’s why at the end there’s a cursing. The Pentateuch ends with cursings on people, and Deuteronomy 28, Leviticus 26 the most gruesome, grotesque, horrible cursings on the nation Israel, and their malediction oaths, that Israel be damned if she doesn’t obey that law, and she was. And the prophecies in those cursings include women eating their babies they were so hungry, and that happened twice in history that we know of, that was recorded in Jewish history. Women ate their babies in 586 BC when Jerusalem was at siege because they were so hungry, and they ate their babies again in AD 70 when the Roman armies encircled the town and starved them to death. So those cursings all came to pass. And the Mosaic Law Code has a different structure to it. We’re going to get to when we get into the law. So you have to watch it, there are themes that carry on and there are themes that are cut off. None of these that we covered tonight are cut off, these are eternal themes that don’t stop.
Question, something about women and children, men got so far away from God: Clough replies: As a result of a siege, a battle, it was a military situation where these people were just… Josephus tells about the people they’d eat something, they’d beat you up in the street to pull the food out your mouth. [another question] Yes, but it came about in line with the maledictions. And that’s what we want to see. I was talking before about this; the key in reading the Old Testament and getting a kick out of the Old Testament is to see that the details of the stories fit this big program that’s going on so eloquently. We were just discussing Pharaoh and Sarah, and the argument I guess women make is wait a minute, it wasn’t Sarah’s problem, it was Abraham, this guy lied, and that’s right, he did, but see the irony to that story… in Sunday school you always learn this story, then you go to this story, then this story, and that’s what we have to learn that way, all I’m saying is don’t leave it that way in your mind. Visualize them as beads on a necklace, they have a pattern. And so yes, the neat thing was that Abraham got his wife involved in a situation she shouldn’t have had to have been involved in because he failed to trust the Lord in the first place, so he fails to trust the Lord, he lies because he’s afraid, so then his lie gets his wife down into this thing where now the promise of God really looks like it’s going to go oops, then it’s not up to Abraham, clearly Abraham isn’t going to do any delivering now, now if there’s any resolution to this crisis that occurs, it’s going to be God that does it. And who does it? God does it. So who’s vindicated? Not Abraham, God is. Who signed the covenant? God did. Whose word was it to be faithful? God’s word. There’s no word in there about Abraham being faithful, it was God to be faithful.
That’s the emphasis, and that’s why in these stories you have cheating, you have incest, you have any social thing that you can have that’s on TV now. You have Genesis, and they’re surprised, gee, it’s real, just like real life today. No kidding, people breathed oxygen then too, just like we do. So the stories have the foulness of real fallen humanity, but the grandeur of the story is that God’s promises abide forever. That’s what’s so encouraging. I always love to read the Old Testament for my own encouragement, because when I fall, when I stumble, you pick yourself up, you’re dirty and Satan will often convince you that you’re the first person to ever do this, and nobody else does it, all the other Christians are doing fine, just this stuff’s dumping down on you, that’s all, God’s picking on you, and it’s so refreshing to see that these guys had the same problems, and you want to have a gross contest, read the pages of Scripture. But it’s not exalting the grossness, it’s showing it for what it is, it’s a mess, and it answers a more profound question, why? And it ultimately boils down to the fact, Abraham, and then his son, Isaac does it worse, Jacob does it worse, and so by the fourth generation where are they? In captivity, a complete dismantling of a family. So the argument of the book of Genesis is the first family can’t even make it. Think about it. They can’t make it on their own. There’s three generations and everyone is worse than the one before. So how is the seed of Abraham ever to be saved? Because God’s going to send them down to Egypt for a little training session, and when they come out they’ve at least learned a few lessons from that experience.
If that isn’t a picture of sanctification I don’t know what is. That’s real life spiritually and that’s what I find intriguing about the Bible. These are all neat adventure stories, and your heart yearns for some dramatist, some cinematographer, somebody on the order of Spielberg, somebody like that to come along and put these stories in a theological context where the grandeur of the story shows. It may be best sellers, you’ve got all the stuff that people like, but underneath it you’ve got something else that is a big surprise. It’s just so made for a dramatist to do something with, and I’ve been disappointed by some of the stuff you see, guys try to do it, and it just kind of comes off like it’s vanilla compared to what really goes on here. Get some actors and actresses that really can do these parts, and some screenwriter that can really put it together. The problem is Hollywood doesn’t have any screen writers with theological perception to put it together, that’s the problem. It would be a wonderful series to do.
Question, something about the torch, I don’t think that’s a symbol of evil: Clough replies: It is a symbol of God, but it’s God making an oath, it was used we know contextually, those two words were used when you had priests, almost witches in some cases, putting an oath or a curse on somebody, so it’s a picture of self-malediction. It’s a very powerful picture and that’s why if you don’t read it that way your eye goes down over that text and you see that strange verse that says a great fear of darkness fell on Abraham, and that’s not the picture of nice peaceful light, he’s upset, there’s a sense of profound horror that accompanies this, like a cold chilling nightmare that happens. Why? This is God assuring of something, there’s a cold chillness that wreaks through that text because of the intensity of the curse that we see there. It’s a horror; it’s an uncontemplatable horror of God cursing Himself. So it’s a very powerful thing to get started with in the Old Testament.