Sunday School 10 06 2013

 

 

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A Promise of a Future”

 

Lesson Text: Genesis 15:5-21

Background Scripture: Genesis 12:1-7; 13; 15; 17:8

Devotional Reading: Hebrews 11:8-16

 

Genesis 15:5-21 (KJV)

5And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.

6And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.

7And he said unto him, I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it.

8And he said, Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?

9And he said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.

10And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not.

11And when the fowls came down upon the carcases, Abram drove them away.

12And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him.

13And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years;

14And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.

15And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age.

16But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.

17And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces.

18In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates:

19The Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites,

20And the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims,

21And the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.

 

 

OBJECTIVES

To learn that God always fulfills His promises.

To know that faith is the key to righteousness.

To recognize that faith is a journey with God.

 

INTRODUCTION

Unbelievable!

The word unbelievable is a choice word to use in response to an account that has an unexpected outcome. Entering the phrase unbelievable stories in an Internet search engine provides examples from war, sports, and other backgrounds.

Consider, for example, "the amazin' Mets" of 1969. The previous year, baseball's New York Mets finished ninth in the 10-team National League. The Mets had come into existence in 1962, and the team had never finished higher than that in its 7-year history. To tell anyone in 1968 that the Mets would win the World Series the following year would have drawn laughter. Yet on October 6, 1969—exactly 44 years ago today—the New York Mets won the National League pennant. The Mets then went on to defeat the Baltimore Orioles in the 1969 World Series. Unbelievable!

The lesson for today is about a promise with unbelievable dimensions—that Abram would have descendants and that they would be more than the stars he could see and count.

 

LESSON BACKGROUND

Time: approximately 2085 B.C.

Place: probably Mamre

After the Tower of Babel event (last week's lesson), the people clustered by language groups and migrated to different areas of the earth (see Genesis 10:5, 20, 31). Cities and civilizations developed.

God's redemptive plan, for its part, was moving forward according to His schedule. That plan involved relocating a man named Abram from Ur of the Chaldees (or Kasdim) to the land of Canaan. Several sites are mentioned as possibilities for the location of Ur, but the one that is about 170 miles south of Babylon seems to have the best evidence. Ur was a progressive city that some consider as one of the largest cities of antiquity. Estimates of its population are as high as 65,000. Abram and his family left this thriving commercial area and moved to Haran in northern Mesopotamia. Genesis 11:31 states that Terah (Abram's father) is the one who led in the relocation.

Abram was called to leave Haran after his father died (Genesis 12:1; Acts 7:4). God called Abram at the age of 75 to leave everything that was significant to him-his culture, his relatives, and his family-and set out for an unknown destination (Gen. 12:1, 4). This must have seemed painful and risky to the elderly patriarch. Nevertheless, along with Abram’s call came a blessing that surely acted as a powerful incentive for him to obey God. The blessing came in the form of a series of seven promises. (In Scripture, seven was often viewed as the symbolic number of perfection.) First, God promised to make Abram’s descendants into a great nation (v. 2). Second, God would personally bless the patriarch. Third, God would make Abram famous. Fourth, God would make the patriarch a blessing to others. Fifth, God would bless anyone who blessed Abram (v. 3). Sixth, God would curse those who cursed Abram. Seventh, all the families of the earth would be blessed through (and because of) the patriarch.

So Abram journeyed to Canaan. He built his first altar to the Lord in Canaan when he was at Sichem (Genesis 12:6, 7). It was here that Abram received a promise that this was the land that would be given to his descendants. Famine drove the family to Egypt, and then they returned to Canaan (12:10-13:1). Abram and his nephew, Lot, both prospered, but they had to go their separate ways (13:2-12). Again, God promised the land to Abram (13:14, 15).

The "adventures" that follow in Genesis 14 lead up to God's covenant with Abram in Genesis 15. In the opening verses of Genesis 15, we see Abram assured of the Lord's favor. That assurance includes the promise of a son to become Abram's heir. Abram's name is not changed to Abraham until Genesis 17, and that distinction will be maintained in this lesson.

 

A People in the Future (Genesis 15:5, 6)

1. In what way does God describe Abram’s future generations? (Genesis 15:5)

This verse continues "the word of the Lord" that Abram is receiving beginning in Genesis 15:4. The fact that Abram is instructed to look toward the stars indicates that this communication is taking place at night. To do so, Abram is called out of his tent or place of sleep, perhaps as part of the vision or perhaps in a wakeful state. God has already noted the future of Abram's offspring in Genesis 13:16. That proliferation is restated here in terms of the number of stars.

The estimate of the number of stars visible to the naked eye varies, depending on the time of the night and whether a person is in the northern or southern hemisphere. One study says that the grand total of stars visible to the naked eye is 9,110. A report in 2010 suggested that there are 300 sextillion stars in the universe. For Abram, who does not have a telescope, there is certainly "more here than meets the eye"! The primary point is not a specific number of descendants, however, but that there will be many of them.

What Do You Think?

How have God's promises been confirmed for you at different stages of your faith journey?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

In "good" times | In times of conflict | In times of hardship | Other

 

2. How did Abram’s belief cause God to react? (Genesis 15:6)

We now see Abram's reaction, and the Lord's approval of that reaction. This is the first time that a form of the word “believed” occurs in the Bible. This case involves Abram's trust that God will fulfill what He has said. The importance of this is seen in the fact that this verse is quoted three times in the New Testament: in Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6; and James 2:23 (compare Romans 4:9, 22; Hebrews 11:8-12).

This is not the first time that faith is demonstrated in the Bible, however. Hebrews 11 notes that Abel, Enoch, and Noah, who preceded Abram, obeyed God in faith. To have faith does not mean discarding reason or believing what you know is not true. As Abram considers the creation and the fact that God can give life and speak into being what did not previously exist (Romans 4:17), then it is reasonable that God can use Abram's "dead" body and the "deadness" of his wife's womb (4:19) to provide a son.

The Lord's response to Abram's faith is to count or credit that faith to him for righteousness. The Hebrew word translated “counted it”... for occurs over 100 times in the Old Testament, and it is often translated as some form of think. If God thinks a person to be righteous, that is what really matters. Abram's faith is the key to his being counted as righteous in the mind of God.

Both Old and New Testaments affirm that no one is righteous in terms of never sinning (Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:10). Righteousness is not something that a person can earn "by the deeds of the law" (Romans 3:20). But God's gracious provisions mean that He can count a person as righteous. Abram's belief is the basis for that here. Our faith is also a basis (Romans 4:5).

 

A Possession in the Future (Genesis 15:7-16)

3. What did God reaffirm to Abram? (Genesis 15:7)

The Lord leaves no doubt that He is the one who brought Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees. The purpose was not just to move Abram away from a certain place, but to bring him to Canaan in order to give him that land as an inheritance. God had already told Abram that He would give the land of Canaan to him and his descendants (12:7; 13:15, 17), and now He reaffirmed that promise.

There also are similarities between the verse before us and the opening statement by the Lord as He gives the Ten Commandments to Israel (Exodus 20:2). When God speaks through Moses hundreds of years later, God will affirm that not only is He bringing the people out of slavery in Egypt, but also into the land of promise (see Exodus 13:3-5).

We may wonder what is so special about Canaan that the Lord chooses it for a people, a temple, and the place where the Messiah is to be born. Canaan is the crossroads of the ancient world, lying between Africa and Asia. Commerce to the west, among the nations around the Mediterranean, always thrives. These factors will help spread the concept of "one God" in all directions.

What Do You Think?

What helps you trust God when He overrides your plan with one of His own?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Concerning your church | Concerning your vocation | Concerning your family | Other

 

4. What was Abram’s response to God’s promise of a land for his descendants? (Genesis 15:8)

At first glance, we may think that Abram's question reveals doubt on his part. The total context, however, indicates that it was with deep reverence and respect that he addressed God as the “Lord God” (Gen. 15:8; see v. 2) and asked how he could be sure he would receive the land of Canaan. Abram was confident that God would give him many descendants, but the land was in the hands of ten pagan nations (Gen. 15:19-21). It was one thing for Abram to own the land, but how would his descendants possess it so they could enjoy it?

5. Did God give Abram the reassurance he sought? (Genesis 15:9-11)

The vision of the night seems to have ended, although some students consider the entire event to be a vision. Here we see in verse 9 God’s willingness to give Abram the reassurance he sought. God’s statement to Abram (v. 9) seems to involve activities of the day and into the next night (v. 12). As the new day dawns, Abram receives instructions on gathering five kinds of animals.

Abram complies with God's commands, and his actions show that he understands that these animals are not to be burnt offerings. The ritual about to be described is found also in Jeremiah 34:18, 19. This was known in that day as "cutting a covenant." This solemn ritual involved the death of animals and the binding of people to a promise. The persons making the covenant would sacrifice several animals and divide the bodies, placing the halves opposite each other on the ground. Then the parties would walk between the pieces of the sacrifices in declaration that, if they failed to keep their word, they deserved the same fate as the animals. (See Jer. 34:18-19.)

But Abram's experience was different. He killed the animals, laid them on the ground, and spent the rest of the day fighting off the birds of prey that were attracted to the flesh and blood. Sometimes what God expects on our part seems strange, but the important thing for us is to obey.

6. What did God reveal about Abram’s descendants while he slept? (Genesis 15:12-15)

As the sun went down over the horizon, Abram fell sound asleep. Then, at some point, he was overcome by a terrifying “darkness” (Gen. 15: 12). It was while the patriarch was in this vulnerable state that the Lord spoke reassuringly to him. Since Abram would not live long enough to see how his descendants would possess of Canaan, God explained what would happen. He foretold the Hebrews’ sojourn in Egypt, where they would be oppressed as slaves for four hundred years (v. 13). In turn, the Lord would bring judgment on Egypt and enable the Hebrews to depart from there with “great substance” (or many possessions, v. 14). Eventually, God would give them success conquering the promised land.

Abram, however, would die in piece at an old age (v. 15). In 25:1-11, we read about the final years and the death of the patriarch. He lived to the age of 175, passing away in 1991 B.C. When the Lord first summoned the patriarch, his peers, would have regarded it as an impossible demand. After all, in that day, only an outcast would have packed up and gone away from the affection, support, and security of the close-knit clan. Likewise, even the dead were buried under the living quarters because of the sense of kinship with the members of the extended family. In effect, Abram was willing to separate himself from the living and the dead, all because of the call of an unseen God who claimed complete allegiance. Throughout the patriarch’s long life, he took seriously the divine directive, which compelled him to leave everyone and everything behind, sometimes without knowing exactly where he was going.

What Do You Think?

What will you do to ensure that you are leaving a legacy of faith for future generations?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Through behavior modeled | Through evident spiritual disciplines | hrough personal teaching | Other

7. For what “generation,” and other purpose would God liberate Abram’s descendants? (Genesis 15:16)

Given how commonplace it was for people in that era to live a century or longer, the Hebrew noun rendered “generation” (Gen. 15:16) would be approximately equal to 100 years. Consequently, the mention of the “fourth generation” points to the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt in 1446 B.C. God’s reference to the “iniquity of the Amorites” in His prediction gives us some clues as to how His providence works. The Hebrews’ conquest of the promised land would have a secondary purpose in punishing the Amorites, who stood for all the sinful inhabitants of Canaan (v. 16).

What Do You Think?

How do you see the faith and actions of past generations bearing fruit in your life today?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Regarding physical ancestors | Regarding spiritual ancestors

 

A Promise to Abram (Genesis 15:17-21)

8. How does God seal the promise with Abram? (Genesis 15:17)

At the conclusion of the Lord’s predictive speech to Abram, God enacted the ceremony for which the patriarch had prepared. By now, the sun had gone down and it was completely dark outside. It was then that Abram saw a “smoking furnace” (Gen.15:17), along with a “burning lamp;” pass between the animal carcasses. The Lord used the two objects that were engulfed in flames to symbolize His holy presence and confirm the “covenant” (v. 18). The formal agreement between Him and Abram was now legally binding. God, by His actions, had ratified His intention to fulfill all His promises to the patriarch. In human agreements of that day, both parties to a covenant usually passed between the dead animals. But in this case, only the Lord did so. That’s because God’s promises to Abram and his descendants were unilateral and unconditional. Put differently, since the fulfillment of the pledge depended on the Lord alone, the patriarch was merely a spectator.

9. What were the boundaries of land to be inherited? (Genesis 15:18-21)

Next, God defined the extent of the land He would give to the chosen people. It was between the river of “Egypt” (probably one of the seasonal rivers in the Negev) in the south to the Euphrates River in the north. When the patriarch arrived, at least 10 different groups of people occupied the land (vs. 19-21). While their origins are disputed, their presence in Canaan was undeniable. When they moved into the promised land in the years preceding Abram, they caused considerable destruction and upheaval. The “iniquity of the Amorites” (v. 16), is what justified their extermination.

What Do You Think?

What obstacles, spiritual and otherwise, will have to be cleared out of the way to enable you to serve God as you should?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Urgent issues displacing important issues | Perfectionism | Procrastination | Other

 

POINTS TO PONDER

1. Faith is a journey with God. (Genesis 15:5-6)

2. When our hearts are sincere, we should never be fearful of asking God about anything. He has all the answers! (Genesis 15:7-13a)

3. God knows the future! He makes a fourfold revelation: privation, deliverance, peace, and triumph (Genesis 15:13b-16).

4. God's covenant with Abram stands no matter what Israel believes (Genesis 15:17-21). The covenant is unconditional; its fulfillment does not depend on man's faith or faithfulness. In like manner, the New Covenant established by Jesus Christ is dependable whether people accept it or not. Those who put their faith in Jesus Christ enter into that covenant and receive eternal salvation (Heb. 5:9; 9:12), an eternal inheritance (9:15), and eternal glory (1 Peter 5:10).

 

CONCLUSION

Standing on the Promises

God is a maker of promises! He made promises of land, children, and forgiveness of sin. He also promised consequences for disobedience. The promises began in the Garden of Eden, and they were made through the centuries until the completion of His revelations as recorded in the Bible.

Someone observed that the gospel consists of four things: facts to be believed, commands to be obeyed, promises to be received, and warnings to be heeded. Each factor is important to the believer who is standing on the promises of God. May we exhibit the faith of Abram in believing God's promises—and acting on them.

PRAYER

Thank You, Almighty God, for these examples of covenant love and for the promises that You have revealed about the glorious future for all who follow Christ. In Jesus' name, amen.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER

Expect God to keep His promises—because He will!

 


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