Following The Promises Genesis 17-23

First Audience:  I still remember my class on the Pentateuch…

  • Second generation Israelites
  • On the plains of Moab
  • Waiting to enter the Promised Land

Put yourself in the shoes/sandals of the Israelite who first received Genesis, who first heard Abraham’s story.

  • Heard stories about where they were going:  the Promised Land
    • Canaan promised to Abraham 430 years before the Exodus
  • Watched the first generation of Israel die in the wilderness
    • That’s enough to start questioning God’s promises, right?
  • Didn’t have a road map, just some pillars of smoke and fire
    • This reminded him of the smoking firepot and flaming torch Abraham saw in Genesis 15
    • The covenant ceremony
    • The Covenant God who called Abraham is the God leading Israel in the wilderness
  • In the day to day, try to understand who this person was
    • You were actually born in the wilderness and this is all the home you know, living in a tent like a nomad
    • Think about how much you would look forward to settling down
    • To putting down roots and making a home

The Israelites hoped in God, specifically in the promises God made to Abraham in Genesis 12

  • People—I will make you into a great nation
  • Place—I will give you the land
  • Presence—God will be with them
  • Program—through you all the nations of the world will be blessed

The passage I read focuses on God fulfilling the promise of people to Abraham—Isaac is born!

  • And it shows us Abraham continued to hope in God’s ability to preserve his promises by obeying the command to sacrifice Isaac

Abraham hoped in The Promises of God and the Promises of God were what the Israelites hoped in.

  • They didn’t realize it, but their hope was squarely in the person and work of Jesus, 2 Cor. 1:19-20  “For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes.  All the promises of God find their ‘Yes’ in him”

I like to summarize the OT gospel with the Abraham’s words in Genesis 22:14  “the LORD will provide”

  • This also true for us—our hope is in God’s provision as well
    • In one aspect:  we already have Christ and him crucified
    • But on the other hand, we look forward to the final salvation when Christ returns and all people are resurrected

Today we’re looking at Abraham’s life as the foundation for the hope of Israel entering the Promised Land, as well as the foundation for us as Christians to enter into Jesus’ rest by Following the Promises

The Second Half:

  • 17—sign of circumcision
  • 18—God comes for a visit (Isaac promised, Sodom and Gomorra’s demise warned)
  • 19—Lot saved by God
  • 20—Again, Abraham!?  This time with Abimelech of the Philistines
  • 21—the son of promise and Reconciliation
  • 22—the sacrifice, faith without works is dead
  • 23—Sarah dies

Three weeks ago, we looked at Abraham under the title “Waiting on God’s Promises” today we’re going to look at the second half of his story under the rubric “Following God’s Promises”.

  • Abraham’s waiting and following are both works of grace in him
  • He cooperated with God’s grace
  • He encouraged the grace to grow and bear fruit
  • At times he worked very hard for what he needed—like Genesis 14 we talked about last week, defeating the five kings wasn’t a walk in the park
  • But it was all of God’s grace
    • I love this quote from Dallas Willard, “Grace is not opposed to effort, grace is opposed to earning”.
    • That’s so important to remember because there’s plenty for us to do and nothing we accomplish is ever deserved.
  • Also, because this is all of grace, our place in God’s plan is secure—which is of utmost importance for when we mess up, like Abraham did
  • And like an ancient Israelite did—we all mess up a lot and that’s why God’s grace is so basic , so fundamental to our lives,
    • Because if our salvation is based on what we do, or even how well we believe then when we fail we’re lost.
    • But salvation is by grace alone through faith alone and therefore secure
  • But Salvation by grace is more than our safety net, God’s grace is our equipment, grace gives us the tools for being built into God’s spiritual house as well as the energy to use the tools.  That’s what we see in Abraham as he follows God’s promises.

Three points:  1. Keep the End in View;  2.  Keep believing by doing;  3.  Keep the faith

  1. Keep the End in View
    1. Certain passages of scripture are strange to us—like the ceremony in ch. 15
    1. Others are very familiar and crystal clear—Eph. 2:8 By grace you have been saved.
    1. Then there are the ones that feel too familiar, they feel too regular, they read like such run of the mill writing, that we tend to dismiss it without thinking about it
      1. Like ch. 23  vv-1-2 Sarah lived 127 years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. And Sarah died at Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.
      1. It appears to be an obituary ripped straight from the Kiriath-Arba daily gazette
      1. But this passage is so much more than that
      1. This passage shows us that Abraham kept God’s end in view
      1. From the end of ch. 23  So the field of Ephron in Machpelah . . .was made over to Abraham as a possession in the presence of the Hittites . .  . After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah east of Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan.
    1.  Sarah’s tomb became the family cemetery
      1. Abraham and Isaac and Jacob all saw this piece of land as a downpayment on the land God promised in Genesis 12.
      1. 49:29-32  Then Jacob commanded them and said to them, “I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, in the cave that is in the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place. There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife. There they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and there I buried Leah— the field and the cave that is in it were bought from the Hittites.”
    1. And in 430 years this cemetery would be Israel’s destination:  Exodus 13:18-19 this is after the Passover when God is freeing Israel from Egypt.  “God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle. Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones with you from here.”
    1. Application:  this life isn’t all we have, live your best life here by God’s grace, but also live for the next life, because by God’s grace there’s more to come.  There’s more reality that we don’t see than what we do.
      1. There is a Sabbath rest promised to God’s people Hope in that and live for that!
        1. One way you can live for it is by practicing your weekly sabbath rest now.
        1. Not just a day for napping—it’s the day to refresh your soul in God’s grace
  2. Keep believing by doing
    1. The Sacrifice—cha. 22 Abraham willingly followed God’s command to offer up Isaac
      1. Humanly speaking I don’t know how Abraham could have done it
      1. We don’t have to rely on our human understanding, we have God’s revelation
        1. Heb. 19 “by faith he considered that God was able even to raise Isaac from the dead”
      1. You ever asked this question, “how does obedience and my effort relate to faith?”
        1.  Abraham shows us the answer, he believed God so he obeyed him.
        1. You obey what you believe.  Abraham believed God would fulfill his promise, even if Isaac died on the altar.
        1. The hope of the gospel is summarized in this passage, And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”
        1. And Abraham named that place, “The LORD will provide”
        1. And he did, “He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.”
        1. Isaac’s near sacrifice pointed to the promised son, Jesus, who takes our place like the ram took Isaac’s.
          1. This is how God loved the world, he gave his only begotten son to die for sinners.  If you believe in him, he will save you.
  3. Keep the Faith
    1. The first audience—the Israelites on the way to Canaan believed that the Lord will provide
    1. They believed God’s promises were true and would be fulfilled, because he was always faithful
    1. The promises:  people, place, presence, program
    1. They were living examples of three of them
      1. People—Abraham and Sarah were only two old people in Genesis 12, but now their descendants numbered in the millions
      1. Presence—the smoking fire pot and flaming torch of Gen 15 were now guiding Israel through the wilderness as giant pillars of smoke and fire
      1. Program—you will be a blessing to the nations around you, one often overlooked fact is that when Israel left Egypt they left as a mixed multitude.  Some of the Egyptians saw the hand of God at work and joined his people.
    1. They were on their way to the Promised Land!
      1. Just like Abraham they followed the promises of God.  They followed imperfectly but they followed.
      1. They kept their imperfect eyes on their perfectly faithful God, reminding themselves of his past grace to feed their future hope!
      1. Trudging through the wilderness of the Negev, carrying Joseph’s bones, heading to Sarah’s grave the first place they stop was called Elim, “where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees”. 
      1. Twelve springs for Jacob’s twelve sons and seventy palm trees for the number of people in Jacob’s family when he went down to Egypt—just one more reminder that the God who called Abraham out of Ur is the God who called them out of Egypt.
    1. God’s character and his word are the solid rock of your faith.  If you have trusted in Jesus as your savior, but you lack assurance of your salvation—ask yourself, “Is God true to his word?”  the answer is yes.
    1.  Then Remind yourself of God’s past faithfulness to his people, to his people in the Bible, and his faithfulness to you.
    1. Remind yourself of Abraham’s promises—
      1. In Jesus you are one of God’s people,
      1. And you are part of the place because Jesus has made his people his temple
      1. And since we are his temple, he is always with us
      1. And through us we are extending his temple through the world—being a blessing to all nations by proclaiming the gospel of God—He has provided!


468 My Faith Has Found a Resting Place

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.