Chapter Seven

The Promise Sealed by a Sacrifice

As you will recall, Abram was discouraged when Lot returned to Sodom, and perhaps a little fearful of repercussions, having said to Bera, King of Sodom, “I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the thong of a sandal.” That may explain why the Lord came to him “after these things” in a vision to say, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” (Gen 15:1) Why worry about the strongman, Bera? “I am your shield.” Why give a second thought to the forfeited spoils of war? “I am thy exceeding great reward.”

Abram was perhaps feeling empty and ineffective since Lot had returned to Sodom. He did not worship. Lot was very precious to Abram and he could not so easily recover his heart. Instead, he reminded the Lord that he was still childless. He may have wondered what reward would have any meaning since he had no children, nor even, it would seem, a nephew. What he owned would pass out of his family to a different one, perhaps to his chief servant, Eliezer, who was not of the house of Eber.

Genesis 15:1-6
1. After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward. 2. And Abram said, LORD God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus? 3. And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir. 4. And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. 5. And 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. 6. And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.

The Bible tells us that Abram believed God regarding the promise of an heir who would be his son and that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars. God credited his faith to him as righteousness. This is the significant first mention of the doctrine of salvation through faith alone by grace alone.

We are now halfway through our Bible study. We have discovered many steps along the way to becoming an intercessor:
1. Separation — “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house…” Gen 12:1. Most Christians will not be called to leave their homeland nor homes, but all must separate themselves from the world.
2. Know and contemplate the promises of God — “…in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” Gen 12:2, 3
3. Obey God — “So…Abram departed, as the LORD had spoken unto him” Gen 12:4
4. Worship God. Call on the name of the Lord — “…there builded he an altar unto the LORD… and called upon the name of the LORD.” Gen 12:7, 8
5. Slip and fall, but then repent — “Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake… And he went …unto the place of the altar, which he had made there at the first: and there Abram called on the name of the LORD.” Gen 12:13; 13:3, 4
6. Wherever you dwell, worship. Let it be a continual practice — “Then Abram removed his tent, and came and dwelt in the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron, and built there an altar unto the LORD.” Gen 13:18
7. Care deeply about your family and friends. Be willing to show your love by your actions — “And they took Lot…And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his trained servants…” Gen 14:12-14
8. Trust God for strength beyond your own abilities — some intercessions will draw you out far beyond your natural ability to pray “…and pursued them unto Dan…And he brought back all the goods, and also brought again his brother Lot…” Gen 14:14-16
9. Never take credit for the mighty works of the Lord. Give God the glory — “And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand (said Melchizedek). And he (Abram) gave him tithes of all.” Gen 14:20
10. Stand against evil; don’t compromise, be righteous — “And Abram said to the king of Sodom, I have lift up mine hand unto the LORD… that I will not take any thing that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich…” Gen 14:22, 23
11. When you are discouraged, do not hide your feelings from the Lord. Have an honest relationship with God — “And Abram said, LORD God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless…” Gen 15:2
12. Have faith in God. Trust without seeing — “and …the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be…And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” Gen 15: 5, 6

Have you taken all these steps? You are on your way to becoming an intercessor!

Abram trusted God regarding the promise of an heir but in respect to the real estate, he sought a sign or guarantee. Ownership of land requires a deed or formal acknowledgement of transfer from one owner to the next. As well, there must be a delineation of boundaries. In response, the Lord graciously sealed a covenant with him.

7. And 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. 8. And he said, LORD God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it? 9. And 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. 10. And 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. 11. And when the fowls came down upon the carcases, Abram drove them away.

Abram was instructed to bring a heifer, goat and ram, each three years old—in the prime of their lives, along with a dove and a young pigeon. He did this and then cut the animals in half and placed the halves opposite each other.

The Bible does not state that God told him to place the halves opposite each other, yet it is known that during that era, covenants were sealed by doing so, and then the party committing himself to the agreement would walk between the pieces of the dead animals which signified his oath, “May it be done to me if I do not keep my pledge.”

Perhaps God chose these animals to be sacrificed because he would in time assign them to be used as sin and guilt offerings when Israel grew to an age of accountability. (Leviticus passages)

In addition to the sealing of the covenant, the Lord prophesied to Abram:

12. And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him. 13. And 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; 14. And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. 15. And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. 16. But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.

The Lord knows our frame. He knows we are weak. Therefore, he explained this aspect of the unfolding of the promise of the land. It would be the possession of Abram’s seed, but they would not dwell there for four generations, during which time they would be strangers in a foreign land. God’s people needed these details to continue hoping under affliction, or to appreciate the sovereignty of God, in retrospect.

17. And 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. 18. In 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: 19. The Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites, 20. And the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims, 21. And the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.

For nearly all of her national life, Israel did not occupy the entire area which God promised and gave to Abram. At this we should all cry, “O, that I may take ALL of the land God has promised to me.” O, that we may all seek and find ALL the acres of wisdom and truth he has provided for us, and perform ALL he sets before us to achieve. The fact that Israel did not ultimately claim all of the land promised to her is not a reflection on the Lord.


We see from this ceremony in which God sealed the agreement with Abram for the Promised Land, that he reveals himself as a firepot holding a blazing torch, and meets with him as one king with another. He is a consuming fire, God Almighty, the Eternal One, the Light in our Darkness. He does all his good pleasure; he lifts up his own and encircles the outsiders by their love.

He makes a pact with his chosen one. That one will be given a promised kingdom based on an atoning sacrifice. The believer must lean into Christ for atonement for sin, so that he might come into his inheritance and walk with God: These are the essential criteria for effective intercessory prayer. Most importantly, we see that God, not Abram, walked through the pieces. God bound himself to His promise, based on an atoning, bloody sacrifice.

The firepot and torch that passed between the pieces of the animals were not to signify a self-maledictory oath since the Lord God cannot break his word nor perish. Rather, this ceremony pictures the Father giving His only son that man might have life, and enter or gain the kingdom, the land of God. Yet though it symbolizes the sacrificial death of Christ that makes possible the giving of God’s kingdom to his people, it was also a real occurrence that guaranteed the transfer of a specific piece of real estate to the children of Abram.

Belittling of Bible truth and errors in Christian doctrine can occur if either the reality of a biblical event or what it symbolizes is denied. Some may say, “Yes, Jesus is divine, but the Old Testament stories are mostly myths.” Others may say, “Archeology may verify the accounts in the Old Testament, but the New is not especially reliant on the Old.”

All believers may reliably say, “The whole Bible is the Word of God, and ‘The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself…’” (Westminster Confession I-9) Indeed, the Old and New Testaments are one piece, yet the Bible’s warp and woof stretches the ability of the careful reader to fully grasp its truths. Much assistance from mentors and the Holy Spirit is needed.


After the sealing of the covenant for the land, life went on. The glory of this personal and very dramatic encounter with the Living God faded. From this mountain-top experience, Abram was heading toward a valley and a very dark mist as he traveled toward becoming an intercessor.

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Hoping and Praying

Mandy was growing in Christ at nearly the same rate that Jack was spurting up as a businessman, and they were growing apart. She once had enjoyed the parties and long evenings with friends who were not interested in Christ but now she did not, although she usually went along. She liked church activities, but Jack had no intention of going to church. The two were on different planes, and communication was nearly impossible.

Jack had always had an uncontrolled temper, and as he became more successful, with greater pressure to make all sorts of payments on investments and household needs, he became like a steam engine with an overabundant supply of water, constantly blowing his top when he was home. He couldn’t blow it at work or he’d lose his customers.

There were sidelines such as a boxing match in the barn to prove to his admirers his prowess, and skirmishes such as when he went “south” in his college days. But none of these ever fully vented his rebellious spirit. It was always just below the surface of his apparent good nature.

His family learned to walk on tiptoe, for he could be tyrannical and abusive of their feelings. It was discouraging.

An especially low time was dragging on when Mandy discovered she was pregnant again. This time she wasn’t happy, for why bring another child into a miserable home where the parents are nearly at a crossroads of divorce? However, after the usual term of waiting while treading paths of faithfulness through a heavy mist, the family was blessed with a child of grace. Her personality from her very first days was a balm for emotional abuse. Jack loved her and named her Maddison… Was there a longing in that for a son? If so, he never made a comment or wished out loud for boys. He loved his girls.

Maddison had a positive effect on everyone, and made it necessary to move to a larger residence. This time there were more acres and a custom-built home with two stories, a bedroom for each girl, a two-car garage, and a massive deck large enough to contain a redwood jacuzzi.

On the outside it looked like the American Dream, but I knew the truth: it was a troubled and deteriorating situation. I was continually concerned about it, and since I had not married, I had time to make it a focus of my life. My sister and her family were very dear to me.

Since I lived a long day’s journey away, it was only possible to help and affect the situation through my phone calls, letters and prayers. The purpose of the calls was to listen, to keep apprised of what was happening and to give encouragement. The letters would usually affirm the encouragement or concern stated during the call, and would note pertinent Scriptures. The prayers were usually to petition God to please straighten things out.


As the years went by with no answer, I sometimes questioned whether my prayers—or prayer itself— was of any use. If God will only do that which he intends, based on his personal agenda and pleasure, what possible effect does prayer have? We could pray a thousand prayers for a certain need or person, but if these were not according to God’s will, they would be in vain. Besides, does he really need to be reminded about anything? Intercessory prayer does not change things, does it?

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Of course, we understand that a primary purpose of prayer is not to get what we want but to seek the mind of God and to hear from him; to become different and better from the experience of having been in his presence. We are there to be changed, not to engineer. Making many requests is not a way of gaining what we want. We get that by closing our hearts to God, not by praying hard.

Nevertheless, even when we recognize that we do not pray in order to achieve an end that is not God-ordained, there is still a sense in which prayer does change things, and not merely one’s outlook. Could it be that God ordains many things which are only accessed by way of prayer? Does he perhaps preside over a magnificent storehouse of blessings which, by the rules of heaven, can only be poured out in response to prayer?

Yes, God requires our participation in the same way as a teacher assigns homework, and by intercession we are included in his work to save the lost. Often, stubborn people will not listen to your words or testimony. They will hear nothing from the Bible. Preaching has its place, but many of those in need of being reached will never hear a preacher. Prayer is the only way to reach and to move them, that their hearts might be opened to know God. And it binds us to them as surely as a crisis experience binds its captives together.

As we pray in the Spirit, God particularly treasures and blesses the unseen efforts we make to help the rebellious and blind to find him. He esteems our works that have no ostentation, nor reward or notice from men; that prove we have faith he is with us, and that we know him to be a God of compassion for lost souls.

As I would pray for my sister, somehow I knew God had a plan, and that he would do something to solve all these problems for her. Divorce would solve nothing but would worsen things. How could God show his power through that? No, he would certainly do something to shape things up and keep the family together. If I couldn’t believe that, what indeed did I believe? With God all things are possible!

Usually I hoped for the best, and encouraged Mandy to do the same. I was only a petitioner and then later on perhaps an intercessor, but looking back, it was the most important and privileged role I could have been given. It let me help in a way that was unobtrusive, uplifting and effective, and I gained comfort and wisdom through it. And, over the years, God sustained me in it.

God always helps us to do the tasks he assigns, and amazingly, we receive great rewards for our labors even when it is he who upholds and completes the work. Yes, the Lord accomplishes every task, for we can do nothing without him as he stated in John 15:5. He draws us out beyond our abilities so that we can experience the truth of those words.

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“Any concern too small to be turned into a prayer is too small to be made into a burden."

- Corrie Ten Boom (Dutch Christian who with her family helped many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust, 1892-1993)

Comment on the Westminster Confession

Faith is the victory; faith is the gift.

Westminster Confession Chapter 14
Of Saving Faith
1. The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word, by which also, and by the administration of the sacraments, and prayer, it is increased and strengthened.
2. By this faith, a Christian believes to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God Himself speaking therein; and acts differently upon that which each particular passage thereof contains; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come. But the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.
3. This faith is different in degrees, weak or strong; may be often and many ways assailed, and weakened, but gets the victory: growing up in many to the attainment of a full assurance, through Christ, who is both the author and finisher of our faith.

For further contemplation, go here.

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God Shows Abraham Stars
Woodcut illustration by Julius Schnoor von Carolsfeld were originally printed in Das Buch der Bücher in Bilden. Scanned by Publications for Latin America, WELS.
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Abraham and Lot on the Journey with thei flocks

KEY VERSE: Genesis 19:29 "So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived."

Introduction

About

Chapter One

What About Lot?
Further Study

Chapter Two

A Type of Christian
Further Study

Chapter Three

Westward Ho!
Further Study

Chapter Four

Time for Worship
Further Study

Chapter Five

Severing Ties
Further Study

Chapter Six

The Rescue
Further Study

Chapter Seven

The Promise Sealed
Further Study

Chapter Eight

Nearer to God
Further Study

Chapter Nine

The Covenant
Further Study

Chapter Ten

To Whom Much Is Given
Further Study

Chapter Eleven

God Remembered Abraham
Further Study

Chapter Twelve

A Good Ending
Further Study

Afterword

He Draws the Unwilling