Genesis 15-17: His promise

Some important topics to cover!

1.  Christ in the Promise and Sacrifices:  Assurance of Salvation (Genesis 15)

2.  Ishmael and Isaac (Genesis 16)

3.  Circumcision and Infant Baptism (Genesis 17)

1.  Christ in the Promise and Sacrifices:  Assurance of Salvation (Genesis 15)

Chapter 15 begins with “the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision”. Odd expression? When was the last time some “words” came to visit you in a vision? A vision is something in which something is seen, not something heard. Yet, here, the “word of the LORD came to Abram”. This “word”, though not capitalized, should not have its meaning negated just because our trusty Bible translators failed to use the “word” with a capital W, or that the “word” did not subsequently speak with highlighted red-inked English letters. The Christophanies can speak for itself without these extra-biblical aids, especially now that the “word” of the Lord “brought” him outside to look to the heaven (v.5).

So here, we have Jesus, the son of God, the Word of the LORD, speaking to Abram in a vision. Visions are quite common – Paul himself entered apostleship by his vision of the word of the Lord as well.

v.6 – this is the model of the Christian faith.  Paul explains in Romans 4:13-14 –

“For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.  14  For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and promise is void.  15  For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.”

So Abraham’s salvation is not based on his “own faith” – no, even his own faith can become a work, can become a law in itself.  How many times have you wondered “oh how much faith have I got?”.  My answer would be, “I never have enough faith… it grows by the filling of the Spirit, but it will fluctuate and will merely be a taster of true things to come”.  Rather, Abraham’s salvation stems from God’s promise.  We’ll come to elaborate the content of such a promise in Genesis 17, the third point on circumcision and infant baptism.  Meanwhile, Glen Scrivener in his sermon on Genesis 17 notes this:

If there’s one Person who never needs to promise anything it’s God Almighty. Yet what does He do in this chapter? He makes 25 promises. 25 promises in the space of about 250 Hebrew words.

Already in this sermon, I have spoken about as many words as the LORD speaks in Genesis 17. Can you imagine if in the last couple of minute or two I’d made you 25 promises? The only human beings who act like that are people pleading for their lives or desperate for drugs or money. No human being makes promises like this unless they are in desperate need. But God Almighty appears and virtually everything He says is a promise. His sole topic of conversation is His covenant which He mentions 13 times. This covenant is a binding promise which flows from His unconditional love – it is a promise to be God to us.

This chapter is basically God saying over and over again ‘I promise I will be God to you, I promise I will be God to you.’ And you might think, this is backwards!

Surely it should be Abram who makes the promises to God Almighty. Surely in his position of total weakness Abram should come to God Almighty and say ‘I promise I’ll be good to You.

Thus, we must qualify and distinguish the ‘faith’ in v. 14 (which is coupled with the promise, without which faith is ‘null’) and the ‘faith’ which some Arminians use today.  It is not by our ‘free-will’, that we can decide to take up or reject salvation.  Rather, as Jonah rightly puts it, “Salvation belongs to the Lord!” (Jonah 2:9).  Which means that the ‘faith’ in v. 14 is in response to God’s promise — rather than us continuing in the “work” of faith that is not based on God’s promise of Christ’s victory.  Thus, the victory is not because WE are such great faith-bearers, because every act of sin is an act of faithlessness; rather, the victory is because HE is the great victor, and by the Truth and the Spirit do we stand next to him in persistence of faith.  This “patience” of well-doing, of faith (Romans 2:7) is in response to THE true persistence and eternal nature of our God.  “Patience” is normally a word used for waiting.  Contrarily, nothing, and rightly nothing, is given to our credit.  A further discourse on what ‘faith alone’ means can be found here.

v.7 – “I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans”. This pattern is followed continuously to identify the true God, and also to identify the SAME God.  Of course, this means that we are still speaking of Christ.  We will come back to this again when Jacob announces his blessings on his children, whereupon he notes the Son’s foundational contribution to the future of the multitude of nations, being the spiritual Israel.

Then something peculiar is at play here.  Why did the LORD suddenly introduce the sacrificial animals not to be introduced until Levicitus?  Of course, this is entirely part of the blueprint which I had mentioned in my last post.  These are just shadows of the things to come in the Old Testament, specifically Leviticus 1, 4, 5 and Numbers 15 and 19 for the specific animals referred to (turtledoves, pigeons, female goat, ram).  Luke 2:23-24 is especially interesting:

23(as it is written in(AK) the Law of the Lord,(AL) “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in(AM) the Law of the Lord,(AN) “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”

(i)    Female goat = unintentional sin (Numbers 15:27-31)

(ii)   Ram = used as guilt/burnt/food/wave/sin/peace offering (throughout Levicitus)

(iii)  Turtledoves and pigeons = The male who first opens the womb (Leviticus 12/Luke 2:23-24)

(iv)  Heifer = sanctification/purification (Numbers 19/Hebrews 9:13)

3 years old = 2 Chronicles 31:11-17 –

11Then Hezekiah commanded them to prepare(M) chambers in the house of the LORD, and they prepared them. 12And they faithfully brought in the contributions, the tithes, and the dedicated things. The chief officer(N) in charge of them was Conaniah the Levite, with(O) Shimei his brother as second, 13(P) while Jehiel, Azaziah, Nahath, Asahel, Jerimoth, Jozabad, Eliel, Ismachiah,(Q) Mahath, and Benaiah were overseers assisting Conaniah and Shimei his brother, by the appointment of Hezekiah the king and Azariah the chief officer of the house of God. 14And Kore the son of Imnah the Levite, keeper of the east gate, was over the freewill offerings to God, to apportion the contribution reserved for the LORD and the most holy offerings. 15(R) Eden, Miniamin, Jeshua, Shemaiah, Amariah, and Shecaniah were faithfully assisting him in(S) the cities of the priests, to distribute the portions to their brothers, old and young alike, by divisions, 16except those enrolled by genealogy, males from three years old and upward—all who entered the house of the LORD(T) as the duty of each day required—for their service according to their offices, by their divisions. 17The enrollment of the priests was according to their fathers’ houses; that of the Levites(U) from twenty years old and upward was according to their offices, by their divisions.

Then all the animals of three years old, except the three-year-old birds, are cut in half.  What is the significance of this?

My take is this.  What we see is both the priestly and non-priestly duties to the LORD accomplished in this one chapter of Genesis prior to the giving of the law.  This is to show the significance of what the law pointed towards, and the clarity in which the law should have been to Abraham.  Abraham saw the totality of Christ which these four sacrifices pointed towards – every facet of offering is complete through Christ.  And yet, the offerings are all cut in half.  My question is…

(a)  Why are they cut in half except the birds?

Glen in his Genesis 15 sermon stated something along the lines of Jeremiah 34:17-21.  Let’s take a look at that.

17“Therefore, thus says the LORD: You have not obeyed me(AB) by proclaiming liberty, every one to his brother and to his neighbor;(AC) behold, I proclaim to you liberty(AD) to the sword, to pestilence, and to famine, declares the LORD.(AE) I will make you a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth. 18And the men who transgressed my covenant and did not keep the terms of(AF) the covenant that they made before me, I will make them like[a](AG) the calf that they cut in two and passed between its parts— 19the officials of Judah, the officials of Jerusalem,(AH) the eunuchs, the priests, and all the people of the land who passed between the parts of the calf. 20And I will give them into the hand of their enemies(AI) and into the hand of those who seek their lives.(AJ) Their dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth. 21And(AK) Zedekiah king of Judah and his officials I will give into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their lives, into the hand of the army of the king of Babylon(AL) which has withdrawn from you.

If the implications here are what I think they are, then they point to a significant truth – that the cutting in half is a symbolism of the “same kind of death happening to those walking through the two halves”.  In which case, when the heifer, female goat and ram were cut in half, the LORD is preparing a scenario where SOMEONE or SOMETHING will pass through the two halves to enforce the covenant.  Whomever breaks the covenant will, like the animals, be cut in half.

v. 17 consolidates the significance – a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passes between these pieces.  So the fire pot and flaming torch will be cut in half?  What on EARTH?

Actually, again, let’s look at how Moses would be looking at this.  In v. 13-16 we just hear the LORD speak of punishment, and Abraham’s offspring – referring directly to the Israelites captive in Egypt.  Moses will no doubt see the connection here.  But why suddenly speak of judgment?  Because the cutting of the animal sacrifices in half is speaking of judgment.  And what is the most recent divine “judgment” that Moses had witnessed?  The cutting of the waters in half.  And what passed through the water?  The pillar of cloud and fire, led by Jesus, the Angel, himself.

The detail given in Genesis 15 is amazing.  We have the sacrifices, we have the judgment, we have the cutting in half, we have the waters of judgment – there is a reason I speak of the waters of judgment.  In my entry on the two waters (Genesis Day 2), one on earth and one above the heavens, I have spoken of the expanse, the canopy, in between as representative of Christ keeping the space in between, until the waters of judgment come crashing down on Him.  This is effectively what happened on the cross – the waters, and fire, of judgment fell completely on Him. He experienced physical death, “when the sun had gone down” and the land was dark (Genesis 15:12-17 and Matthew 27:45).  Abraham experienced the darkness which Jesus would experience when he died on the cross, when he was cut in half.

So why were the birds uncut?  My take is that if the sacrifice of the birds is symbolised by the birth of the firstborn, then this is a sign that the first-born has not come yet.  The work of mediation is indeed occuring for all the saints prior to the incarnation (Hebrews 11), but the difference between us and Abraham is that he looked forward to Christ, whereas we look backwards to him.  This difference lies in the turtledove and the pigeon, both representing the first-born who is yet to be cut, who is yet to be born into this world as prophesied in Luke 2:23-25.  For us, the birds have already been cut; but for Abraham, Isaac, Israel, Moses, David, Daniel… all down to the time of Christ incarnate, the birds representing the birth of the firstborn from the virgin is waiting to be cut.

To conclude, what this also means is that the LORD is the one who makes the promises; and the LORD is the one who accepts the punishment.  Abraham is uninvolved in the promise-making and the punishment-receiving.  He is merely a partaker in God’s grace, and nothing of value is given in return, save an act of trust in the smoking torch which passed through the cut animals.

(b)  Why are they three years old?

I’ve quoted 2 Chronicles 31.  It seems to speak of those who are NOT part of the priestly services.  If I have to take an educated look, it seems to be a ‘remainder’ clause – whereupon things are provided for the priests and the Levites, those who are in the House is because they are part of the genealogy and are three or above.  Therefore, they entered by their duty, their division, and their genealogy.  Can we say that this is another sign of the non-priestly work being tied into the priestly work of the sacrifices which Abraham did all in one go?

2.  Ishmael and Isaac (Genesis 16)

This story is significant.  Muslims try to replace the importance of Isaac with Ishmael especially for the first-born sacrifice later in Genesis 22, but they sorely miss the point.  Ishmael was conceived out of sin — Abraham had tried to take God’s will into his own hands.  He awoke love before its right time (Song of Solomon 2:7; 3:5; 8:4).  Rather, should I say, he celebrated his 10th year anniversary in Canaan by having sex with his wife’s servant.  The crudeness of the last sentence should put things in perspective.

So Ishmael is conceived of sin – yet the Angel, Jesus, goes to comfort Hagar despite Abraham and Sarai’s poor treatment of her.  Even Abraham and Sarai’s poor gospel witnessing, poor evangelism, is sufficiently cured by the Angel’s words of comfort.  However, despite the resolution of sins made, the consequences of sin have already taken its toll.  By Abraham, have we now the Ishmaelites, the fathers of the Arab nation, some saying the father of Muslims today (though don’t quote me on that).

What is interesting is how much of a parallel this is to Cain’s story.  We had Eve, who said that she got a Lord-man Cain by the “help” of the LORD (as if the LORD only gives “partial” aid, and Eve should be given the remaining credit).  By the end of the story, we know that Cain spawns a race of godless men and women, and such a violent race they are with enemies against them, despite God’s ‘protection’ of Cain by leaving a mark on him.  The same is shown here with the Ishmaelites, and though they multiply into many nations (Genesis 17:20), their future is invariably grim, Psalm 83:1-8 –

1O God, do not keep silence;
(B) do not hold your peace or be still, O God!
2For behold, your enemies(C) make an uproar;
those who hate you have(D) raised their heads.
3They lay(E) crafty plans against your people;
they consult together against your(F) treasured ones.
4They say, “Come,(G) let us wipe them out as a nation;
let the name of Israel be remembered no more!”
5For they conspire with one accord;
against you they make a covenant—
6the tents of(H) Edom and(I) the Ishmaelites,
(J) Moab and(K) the Hagrites,
7(L) Gebal and(M) Ammon and(N) Amalek,
(O) Philistia with the inhabitants of(P) Tyre;
8(Q) Asshur also has joined them;
they are the strong arm of(R) the children of Lot.

Sure, Ishmael may even have 12 princes come from his line, but none of them are the promised Prince, and none of them have to do with the gospel plan, except to take part in it, just like how Lot was made righteous by the promise made to Abraham; just like how we are made righteous by the promise made to our spiritual forefather, Abraham.  The promise was made to our spiritual forefather, and we Gentiles are vicariously grafted into spiritual Israel.

3.  Circumcision and Infant Baptism (Genesis 17)

We reach the gruesome description of skin-cutting.

Circumcision involves the circumcision on the 8th day, and the cutting of the skin.  It is clearly an action for the household, and it is an expression of the covenant between God and Abraham.  Why the cutting of the foreskin?  Maybe I can further this entry with a few quotes, because the message would have been the same had I paraphrased them anyway.

Leon has this to say about the “seed” in his sermon on Hebrews 10:

That creation outside of Christ is dead and incapable of producing anything good is quickly illustrated by the fall of Adam and Eve. This principle was written into creation in Day 3. Seed bearing plants and trees will only produce according to their kinds. Only a good tree will bear good fruit and a bad tree will of course bear bad fruit. A bad tree cannot bear good fruit.

So to reiterate, or to further unfold this great plan, it is after the fall, when all creation is clearly cursed with death, that Christ proclaims in Genesis 3:15, that He, the only good seed of God would also become the seed of the woman i.e. a part of creation. The scene is set for Him to come and die out of love.

Another illustration of Creation being the stage that is set for Christ to assume a body is sex – Eve was cut out of Adam, but despite being bone of his bones and flesh of His flesh, despite being of the same material, Adam remains the life giver, and on her own, can never produce life. In fact she, as a picture of creation and outside Christ and thus representing humanity, produces death – i.e. the Fall. But, Adam, as a picture of Christ is to enter her, plant his seed in her and she would become the mother of all the living. Not much fuss at all from the Lord. Pure grace! And as mentioned, the seed that is Christ is planted to produce life for all creation.

Justin Martyr on the reason why the skin is cut on the 8th day

The command of circumcision, again, bidding [them] always circumcise the children on the eighth day, was a type of the true circumcision, by which we are circumcised from deceit and iniquity through Him who rose from the dead on the first day after the Sabbath, [namely through] our Lord Jesus Christ. For the first day after the Sabbath, remaining the first of all the days, is called, however, the eighth, according to the number of all the days of the cycle, and [yet] remains the first.

Now both quotes come to this conclusion – the seed that comes from the male organ, where the Christ will come from, will be planted in the church, the wife, to give live to the church.  This is why the male organ is ‘cut’, just as a covenant is ‘cut’.  This covenant is not only established now though – but this circumcision is in reference to the eternal covenant that spanned all the way back to Adam, and all the way into the second coming (Hosea 6:7; Jeremiah 33:19-20; Hebrews 13:20-21).  When we establish why the skin is cut (because it represents the cutting of the Seed, the cutting of Christ as we have already established through the cutting of the sacrificial animals in half), then we ponder why the skin is cut on the 8th day.  Justin Martyr makes it quite clear – because it prophesies to the truth that the Saviour’s work from his cutting off will be complete on the 8th day, where he will stand as the one truly cut off from the world.  He will stand as the one truly sanctified, glorified and set apart as the firstfruit of all those who are born with new creation bodies.  And this happened, veribly, on the 8th day:  the first day after the Sabbath, the 7th day.

This is why the command of circumcision is taken seriously.  In Chapter 17v. 14 God says that anyone uncircumcised is cut off from Abraham.  Of course – what that means is that we will not be taken up in Christ in our Ascension day; rather, we will be left behind for the firey global judgment on the second coming.

But why do we not circumcise our infants anymore, if we wish to display the same promise made from God to us?  Because, again, we no longer look to the blood being shed.  The blood has already been shed – no longer do the sacrifical laws apply, because they are fulfilled in Christ, the true blood to which the shedding of the other blood witnessed to.  Rather, we look back to Christ and look upon John the Baptist’s work with confusion.  How did the act of ‘baptism’ come around?

As already stated, baptism is something that had already occured through the diluvian flood – Noah’s ark, the establishment of the eating of flesh and the eternal covenant of the rainbow.  As Dev rightly put it, it is the warrior-bow placed in heaven, to remind all of the global judgment to come; yet this bow is a reminder for all those who had taken refuge in Christ, through the baptism represented by the ark through the water, and the communion represented by the flesh after the water.

Similarly, once the blood of Christ is shed, we no longer need circumcision.  Rather, we go back to what God had always planned – the waters of baptism, which the Noahic flood foretold.  The giving of the Spirit in the baptism of our heart and the washing of our heart, mind and soul so that the law is now written on our hearts as it was written on Christ’s heart, when we were equally baptised into Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension (Jeremiah 31:33; Romans 6:3-4).  Circumcision is a temporary foretelling of baptism.  Both are covenant – are sacramants – of God’s promise to us, but both attest to the rainbow which smiles on believers, but a threat to non-believers, the rainbow which attest to God’s throne and his sovereignty over the eternal covenant with man.  Never once is it a ‘self-expression of faith’ like the Baptists proclaim.  Rather, it is his one-sided expression to us, and the sacrament should be kept within the Christian church to proclaim the wonders of a God who provides, mediates, and punishes within the bounds of the Three Persons.  This explains why Genesis 26:5 said that Abraham obeyed the LORD’s voice and kept His charge, commandments, statutes and laws even BEFORE the law was given.  Because it was all CREDITED to Abraham as righteousness, a gift much like the promises made from an unconditionally loving Triune God, to an utterly depraved and unholy sinner like us.

Genesis 15-17: His promise