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Genesis 15 - Commentary by Rev. John Schultz
Chapter 15 is one of the great chapters in the Bible upon which much of the whole of Biblical revelation hinges. Ch. 15:6 "Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness," forms the main body of the doctrine of justification by faith, expounded by the Apostle Paul in his epistles.
This chapter has a couple of 'firsts' in the Bible: "The Word of the LORD"; "Fear not!"; "I am your shield" and "Sovereign LORD," all in the first two verses.
According to Adam Clarke some commentators make quite a bit of the expression "The Word of the LORD," comparing it to John 1:1 where Christ is introduced as "ho logos." I do not think this thought merits that much emphasis since all the Old Testament "theophania" are appearances of Christ before His incarnation. But the expression is remarkable. In this context, however, I do not think it means more than that Abraham heard the voice of God speaking to him.
Obviously, the content of this chapter is spread out over at least two days. In vs.5 God shows Abraham the stars, which means that it was evening and in vs.12 the sun was setting, which must have been the next evening, if not later.
The chapter starts out by reminding us of the events described in the previous chapter. "After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: 'Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.'""After this" refers to the victory over the Babylonian kings. We would expect that Abraham would be riding the crest at this point. But human nature, being what it is, has a tendency to feel down after reaching a summit. We gather from the way God addresses Abraham that he felt depressed. Satan knows that the best time to attack is after a victory. There is no better remedy for a depression than an encounter with the Word of God.
God addresses Abraham very tenderly with "Do not be afraid." Fear is the fruit of sin. That is why every confrontation with the holiness of God causes fear in a human heart. When Isaiah saw God's holiness he cried out "Woe to me! .... I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty." (Is.6: 5) But John says in I John 4:18 "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." All demonstrations of fear come from a lack of love. But perfect love is a fruit that can only grow as a result of forgiveness of sin and justification.
There are many instances in the Bible where the sentence "Do not be afraid" occurs. I count seven in connection with the appearance of God or of an angel to men: Dan.10: 12; Matt.28: 5,10; Luke 1:13,30; 2:10; Rev.1: 17. Since our reaction as a sinful human being to God's holiness is fear, He assures us of His love and takes away our fear.
One of the most striking examples is perhaps when Gideon realizes that the person he talked with is the Angel of the LORD in Judges 6:22-24, where we read: "When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the LORD, he exclaimed, 'Ah, Sovereign LORD! I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face!' But the LORD said to him, 'Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.' So Gideon built an altar to the LORD there and called it The LORD is Peace.'"
So Abraham must have had that most human reaction to the encounter with the LORD, feeling as if he was about to die. And the LORD wrapped His arms of love around him and told him not to be afraid. I presume that this experience must have done more for Abraham's faith then anything else. That is why he came to believe God and had God's righteousness imputed to him. So he became the father of all who believe.
Secondly God proposes to cover Abraham with Himself. He says: "I am your shield." In the book of Psalms the LORD is several times represented as a shield that covers the believer. Some examples:
Psalms 3:3 "But you are a shield around me, O LORD; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head."
Psalms 5:12 "For surely, O LORD, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield."
Psalms 7:10 "My shield is God Most High, who saves the upright in heart."
Psalms 18:2,30 "The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom Itake refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold." "As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him."
Psalms 28:7 "The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song."
Ps 84:11 "For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless."
Psalms 119:114 "You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word."
Psalms 144:2 "He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield, in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me."
I do not think we will ever fully understand what it means that God covers us with His own person. It means that every arrow that is shot at us will hit Him instead of us. It means perfect protection and safety. It also means that when people see us, they see God. Unbelievable!
Both the NIV and the KJV say, "I am.... your very great reward" or "I am.... thy exceeding great reward." The RSV translates "I am your shield; your reward shall be very great." Needless to say that I favor the first two translations. God does not only gives us a reward, He Himself is the reward. A greater gift does not exist.
Not only does God protect us; He gives Himself to us. What this means we see in Jesus Christ. As I John 3:16; 4:9 and 10 state: "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." What more could we wish for?
Abraham's reaction to God's offer of Himself sounds rather negative. He does not seem to realize the eternal character of God's promise and the heavenly quality of it. He is more concerned with the situation on earth. It seems that there is incongruence between things in heaven and things on earth. God promises Abraham, so to speak, to be seated with Him in the heavenlies. But Abraham is concerned with what will happen with his possessions on earth. Yet Abraham is right. Things on earth will have to be congruous to the heavenly reality. Abraham was more right than he knew himself. If Abraham would not have a son, born from his own wife, the Word of God would not become flesh and the earth would remain an unredeemed planet.
That is why God answers Abraham seriously and promises him that he will not have to name Eliezer of Damascus his only heir. This promise is confirmed by an object lesson in astronomy. God takes Abraham outside. So the previous conversation must have taken place while Abraham was sitting in his tent, having his devotions. An inner chamber is ideal for quiet time. It is a good place to hear the voice of the Lord. If we can spend time alone with the Word of God, like Abraham did, we will also be healed of our fear and receive the assurance that God pledges Himself to us, imparts Himself to us as our reward.
We do not know what Abraham saw exactly when he looked up into the starry skies. The oriental skies are sometimes overwhelmingly clear and beautiful. In Abraham's time no pollution impeded the view. We do not know how much knowledge of astrology Abraham possessed. He came from Babylon, where the art was advanced and probably practiced popularly. He may have seen and understood more than most modern men would, looking up in the sky. He did not know David's poem yet, but he must have had similar feeling as David when he sang: "When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?"(Ps.8: 3,4). Somehow we see more of God and of ourselves in the dark than in broad daylight!
In spite of our present knowledge of the universe is it hard for us to keep before our eyes the relationship between ourselves and the rest of creation. We have come far indeed if we realize that what we have in common with the rest of the universe is our Creator. Man is as much 'the work of your fingers' (as David puts it) as the moon and the stars. David felt small and insignificant because the immensity of the universe, but in a certain way man is greater and more significant. The Word did not become a star or a planet; it became flesh, that is man.
I do not know if Abraham had an inkling of the fact that his offspring would be the fulfillment of God's promise to Eve. Probably the hope for the return of eternal life as we see it presently still alive in the primitive tribes of the world was the predominant part of man's hope in Abraham's day. So I would not be amazed if Abraham had identified "the son coming from his own body" with the Messiah.
"Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness." (Ch. 15:6). This is one of the most amazing verses in the Bible. Paul uses it in Rom.4 and Gal.3: 6 in connection with our justification before God. First we have the fact that Abraham believed that God was going to give him what He had promised. We do not know his exact age at this point, but he was probably in his eighties. The writer to the Hebrews says that Abraham was 'as good as dead' when Isaac was born. That was of course more true poetically than in any other respect; but still it became more and more unlikely that Sarah would get pregnant through Abraham as time passed by.
The most amazing part of this verse, however, is the word "righteousness." The Pulpit Commentary says here: "neither for merit and justice, nor as a proof of his probity; but unto and with a view to justification, so that God treated him as a righteous person, not, however, in the sense that he was now 'correspondent to the will of God both in character and conduct,' but in the sense that he was now before God accepted and forgiven, which 'passive righteousness,' however, ultimately wrought in him and 'active righteousness of complete conformity to the Divine will'".
The word righteousness has acquired a broader meaning for us through its New Testament context. What we attribute to the concept was undoubtedly present in root form in the Old Testament, but it would have been impossible for Abraham to completely understand what we understand it to mean in the light of the atonement by our Lord Jesus Christ at the cross of Calvary. That is why we should try to go back and ask ourselves what Abraham understood when God told him that he was righteous.
God must have told Abraham that he was acceptable to Him because of his righteousness; otherwise, this verse would never have appeared in the Bible. Moses could not have made it up. It is too surprising to be a human invention. The experience of fear being taken away, the covering with God's presence as with a shield and the knowledge of the fact that the eternal, omnipotent and holy God would be his reward, must have awakened in Abraham the realization that God accepted him as equal. His faith seems an insignificant token payment in this context. How could anyone do anything but believe if being spoken to by God in such an unmistakable way?
So justification must have been for Abraham an experience. It was not a theological concept and nothing more, like it is often for us.
It was also related to the very practical issues of his life. He lived as a stranger in a foreign land. He had received the guarantee that his offspring would possess that land, but there was a missing link: he had no child. A missing link means the end of the chain. If one ancestor is missing, then there is no further generation. Justification for Abraham meant that God was going to solve this particular problem. If justification does not relate to our present problems, if it is not practical, it is not justification. To be justified by faith in God's promise means that we have the ability to unburden ourselves on God. As I Pet.5: 7 says: "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you."
Vs.7 takes us probably to a different scene, at a different time. It may have been the next day, but that is hard to tell. Abraham has had time to think things over. And when God speaks to him again, he has evidently been assailed by doubts. He may have thought that the previous experience was too good to be true. This is a common phenomenon. At the moment God speaks to us, there is no doubt in our minds, but then the enemy comes and starts poking sticks in our conviction. He tells us that it must have been a dream. There is no connection between the spiritual and the physical reality of our daily life. And since the latter is the only thing our senses can observe, we start wondering if he may be right.
I remember the story of the farmer who was recently converted. While ploughing his field Satan came and told him that he had imagined things, so he started doubting. But then the joy of his newly found salvation broke through again. At the spot where he knew it was true, he planted a stick. A moment later the enemy tried again, but the farmer showed him the stick and told him to go away. Sometimes our faith needs a stick. Abraham asked God for such a token.
Vs.7 is the clearest proof that Stephen was right, when he said in Acts 7:2 - "The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran. 'Leave your country and your people,' God said, 'and go to the land I will show you.'"
In saying this God goes back to the very beginning when Abraham heard the voice of the LORD for the first time when he was probably still a young man. He sees the many years between Ur and Hebron pass before his eyes, when God tells him that he has arrived at the place to which God called him that far back. But after those many years he still does not possess one square foot of this land. There is just an oral promise; nothing is on paper. So he asks God to give him something in writing.
I do not think Abraham's request was necessarily a sign of unbelief. It did not fit in the same category as Zachariah's refusal to believe when Gabriel told him about the birth of John the Baptist in Luke 1:18-20. where we read: "Zechariah asked the angel, 'How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.' The angel answered, 'I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.'" Zechariah did not believe in spite of the fact that he saw an angel who talked to him. Abraham knew that what God said was true, but in his spiritual struggle caused by the visible realities of every day life he needed some token to hang on to. That is why God did not reproach him his lack of weakness. God understands the limits of our faith.
The assurance Abraham is given is overwhelming. The ritual that follows seems to have been borrowed from the culture of that time. When a treaty or a covenant was made between parties one or more animals were taken and cut in half; and the people making the treaty would walk between the pieces to confirm the veracity of their promise. The Pulpit Commentary refers to the covenant between the sons of Jacob and the Shechemites in Ch. 34 and to a story from Homer's Iliad. In Ch. 34, however, we do not find a description of the ritual as it is given here.
The animals Abraham has to bring are those that were later used in the sacrifices prescribed in Levituc ch. 1-7: a heifer, a goat and a ram, a dove and a young pigeon. This is another proof that the Levitican law was no Mosaic invention or a new ordinance given at that time; it confirmed existing customs, which had been approved by God before.
The animals represent all the offerings mentioned in Leviticus, starting with the guilt offering, the sin offering, the fellowship offering to the burnt offering, which are given in the reversed order in Leviticus. They also emphasize the social status from poor to rich. How much Abraham was able to differentiate, we do not know; but evidently Abraham knew what God expected him to do because without being told, he cuts the animals in half and prepares them as he would have if he had entered into a covenant with a fellow human being.
Then for a while nothing happens, because we read in vs. 11 "Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away." This indicates that the carcasses are exposed to the sun for several hours. Abraham just sits there and watches while God is silent. Abraham may have been wondering why he had to do this. Waiting is the hardest thing a human being can be asked to do. Time goes twice as slow when we have nothing to do. At the end of the day Abraham is tired out, and when the sun goes down, he falls asleep. Then it becomes obvious that God asked him to wait in order to make him feel something of the waiting his offspring would have to do for centuries when they would be enslaved in Egypt.
Also God shares with him some of the terror that they would experience in their slavery. Abraham is asleep, but he is aware of a "dreadful darkness." Very rarely do we understand what it means that God suffers with us. Of course God cannot be afraid, but that does not mean that He does not share our fears and terror. Four centuries before Israel would go into slavery God harbored a dreadful darkness in His heart. That is why He could say to Moses in Ex.3: 7 "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering." And Jesus says to Saul on his way to Damascus: "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting." Centuries before Herod issues the decree that the babies in Bethlehem should be massacred, the Holy Spirit grieves with the mothers. Jer 31:15 "This is what the LORD says: 'A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more.'"Matthew understood the meaning of this prophecy, since he reports in Matt 2:17,18 "Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: 'A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.'"
C. S. Lewis gives a beautiful illustration of this in his book The Magicians Nephew (pg.131) - ".... Are you ready, said the Lion. 'Yes,' said Digory. He had had for a second some wild idea of saying 'I'll try to help you if you'll promise to help about my Mother,' but he realized in time that the Lion was not at all the sort of person one could try to make bargains with. But when he had said 'Yes,' he thought of his Mother, and the thought of the great hopes he had had, and how they were all dying away, and a lump came in his throat and tears in his eyes, and he blurted out: 'But please, please - won't you - can't you give me something that will cure Mother?' Up till then he had been looking at the lion's great front feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion's eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory's own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself. 'My son, my son,' said Aslan. 'I know. Grief is great. Only you and I in this land know that yet. Let us be good to one another..."
When my son Michel (Mitch) had his depression, and I had to take him to Australia to be hospitalized, I cried to the Lord in prayer and asked why this had to happen. My 'why' did not receive an answer, but I understood all of a sudden that my grief was a reflection of what God felt Himself about my son. I could not have been comforted more deeply!
Ch. 15:13 "Then the LORD said to him, 'Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years.'" The Pulpit Commentary says about the 400 years: ".... according to the view which is taken of the point of departure for the reckoning of the 400 years." It also differentiates three different stages in the prophecy about Israel's time in Egypt: - (1) exile; (2) bondage; (3) affliction. The three together would then add up to 400 years. Stephen quotes this scripture in Acts 7:6 "God spoke to him (Abraham) in this way: 'Your descendants will be strangers in a country not there own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years.'" There seems to be an inconsistency in Paul's figuring of time in Gal 3:16,17, but there the point of departure is "the promises," which can be dated as the time of the call in Ur or Haran, or the birth of Isaac, or the death of Jacob in Egypt. We read: "The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say 'and to seeds,' meaning many people, but 'and to your seed,' meaning one person, who is Christ. What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise."
We take of course the viewpoint that God gives to Abraham an amazingly detailed prophecy about the future of his descendants. Bible critics will say that this portion was inserted and that it is a proof of Moses' hindsight, or even worse a mythological justification for the importance of the priesthood, by some priest like Ezra, invented after the return of Israel from the Babylonian captivity. If we do not believe in a God who knows and holds the future, there is no point in reading the Bible or studying the life of Abraham!
If, however, we hold to the inspiration of Scripture, then we can understand how this prophecy must have been a source of comfort and inspiration during the dark and horrible days of Egyptian slavery. People who read their "Bible" at that time must have been greatly strengthened by these words. I believe that God gave this prophecy as much for Abraham's benefit as for theirs. There is no better source of help and encouragement to turn to in times of severe stress, such as the German occupation of Western Europe, the communist rule in Eastern Europe, China or Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, than the written Word of God.
It was to Abraham, who was a stranger in Canaan, that God said: "Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own..." Abraham must have understood this quite well. Yet his circumstances were quite favorable. He was a wealthy man, respected by the people of the area where he lived. But he probably never learned to speak the language without an accent. He knew that he was far away from the place were he was born and where his roots were.
There is some bliss in not knowing the future. There also is a price to pay for becoming a friend of God. Ps 25:14 says: "The secret of the LORD is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant." (KJV) When God starts sharing His secrets with the man who wants to walk with Him, He shares not only His joys, but also His sorrows. Part of the fulness of the fellowship of the Holy Spirit is that He groans within us. Or as the RSV puts it: "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words."(Rom.8: 26).
God does not only predict Israel's suffering but also the punishment of the Egyptians and the way in which they will be delivered. They will not leave Egypt as a bunch of outcasts, but as a free and wealthy people who have reason to be proud of themselves. The Israel that left Egypt does not give the impression of having known these scriptures, and if they were familiar with them, they did not believe in them.
It takes special grace and intimate fellowship with God to be guided in our every day life by the written Word of God. Very few of us manage to do that in every day. One of the most typical features of the life of Jesus on earth was the fact that He was directed at every step by what the Bible had said before about his life. The main decisions of his life were based upon biblical prophecy.
See Matt 26:54 "But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?"
Mark 14:49 "Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled."
Luke 24:27 "And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself."
John 5:39 "You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me." His life was based on the understanding of Psalm 40:7 "Then I said, 'Lo, I come; in the roll of the book it is written of me..." (RSV).
Our position in this life is, of course, in principle different from the life of Christ. We are not the Word of God incarnated. But yet there is in the attitude of Christ toward the written Word of God a lesson for us to imitate. Scripture has not been written for us as it was for Him. We cannot say that the Scriptures testify about us, as Jesus said to the Pharisees; but that does not mean that its principles, admonitions and promises should not guide us.
In reading these future chapters of the book to Abraham, it must have become clear to Abraham that not having a child who would be the link to future generations would have been an impossibility. It must have strengthened Abraham's faith considerably. God's intent in this revelation was not that Abraham would fret about it for the rest of his life. Gen 15:15 "You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age," must have set him at ease and must have taken away the unbearable tension. It is not God's will that we go through life, burdened by the fate of future generations. Each day has enough with the evil thereof!
It is not clear whether the fourth generation stands for the total time between the giving of this covenant and the exodus, or whether four generations in Egypt are meant. It could be that God is talking here about four centuries as in verse 13. The Pulpit Commentary suggests that a generation may stand for 100 years. Quoting Bush it says: "Caleb was the fourth from Judah, and Moses from Levi, and so doubtless many others." This would indicate that God meant this as an indication of the total time Israel would spend in Egypt. Very significant is the reason given for this delay in Gen 15:16 "for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure."
Sin seems to have an accumulative character in God's dispensation. This means that God does not only consider certain acts of sin, but that He adds the sins of a lifetime and a generation, or even several generations. When the measure is full, the time of judgment has arrived. We see this exemplified in Jesus terrible prophecy about the generation of His time in Matt.23: 35,36 - "And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation."
We will all be judged not only on the basis of our personal acts, but also in connection with the burden of guilt we share with our generation and with history. God looks upon us as part of mankind, that species of His creation that broke with Him and turned His planet back to chaos. That is why it is so important for us to escape judgment through identification with Jesus Christ and His sacrifice. John 5:24 is much more important than we think. Jesus says: "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life." The RSV may be clearer on this point: "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life."
The prophecy also sheds light on the background of the conquest of Canaan. Reading the history about Israel's entry in Canaan, many people miss the point of God's judgment upon the earlier inhabitants. Israel's taking of the land was similar in intent as the flood in the days of Noah. It was meant to wipe out evil. The fact that Israel was contaminated by the evil of the land instead of purging the land of evil does not make the underlying principle invalid. The sins of the inhabitants of Canaan had reached their limit. The measure was full. The land spewed out its inhabitants. The conquest of Canaan by Israel was as much 'an act of God' as the flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Ch. 15:17 "When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces." The actual conclusion of the covenant takes place at night, after the sun has gone down. This means that the previous conversation between God and Abraham was held at daytime. About vs.17 the commentary by Jamieson, Faucet and Brown says: "On occasions of great importance, when two or more parties join in a compact, they either observe precisely the same rites as Abram did, or, where they do not, they invoke the lamp as their witness. According to these ideas, which have been from time immemorial engraven on the minds of eastern people, the Lord Himself condescended to enter into covenant with Abram. The patriarch did not pass between the sacrifice and the reason was that in this transaction he was bound to nothing. He asked a sign, and God was pleased to give him a sign, by which, according to Eastern ideas, He bound Himself. In like manner God has entered into covenant with us; and in the glory of the only begotten Son, who passed through between God and us, all who believe have, like Abram, a sign or pledge in the gift of the Spirit, whereby they may know that they shall inherit their heavenly Canaan."
There are speculations as to the significance of the "smoking firepot." Some see it as a symbol of the ovens of Egypt, where the Israelites were doing their forced labor. The KJV translates it as a "smoking furnace." I do not know in how far the idea of an altar would be valid in this context. Probably not. The symbol of the lamp or torch is generally seen as representing the presence of God. The emphasis in the first picture seems to be more on the smoke than on the fire, in the second it is on the light.
The most important point, as Jamieson, Faucet and Brown points out is the fact that God is the only party in the covenant who passes between the pieces of the sacrifice. Thus far in every sacrifice brought, it was man who identified himself with the slain animals as if he was saying, "this animal died in my place. I should have died." But for the first time we see that God identifies Himself with the sacrifice, thus giving the actual and ultimate meaning to it.
God's covenant is one-sided. Man's only obligation is to accept. God binds Himself to man in Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world. I believe this is what Paul says in Gal.3: 20 - "A mediator, however, does not represent just one party; but God is one." The covenant God made with Abraham is one-sided and unconditional. Man has the liberty to reject it, but there are no obligations to be fulfilled. The guarantee is that God identified Himself with the sacrifice. He allowed Himself to be cut in two, like the pieces of the animals, in order to bring fallen mankind back to Himself.
The boundaries of the land that God promised to Abraham were never fully occupied by the nation of Israel. In God's plan Israel was to possess the land between the Nile and the Euphrates. In the days of David and Salomon the limits were practically reached, but never fully as God intended them to be. Man has always been content with less than God has for him. See I Kings 4:21 - "And Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt. These countries brought tribute and were Solomon's subjects all his life."
There are several examples in the Old Testament of prophecies that were only partly fulfilled, because man did not claim all that God wanted to give. I remember Corrie ten Boom's words about some missionaries: "They have given all to the Lord, but they have never taken all the Lord has for them." This is much truer in the New Testament dispensation than in the Old. Very few of us live on the heights of the Gospel of Paul's epistle to the Ephesians. This brings us to the end of chapter 15.
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