Hints on Genesis 15-21

 •  18 min. read  •  grade level: 7
In chapter 15 we find Israel. There is the sacrifice in full first, and then the covenant of Jehovah with Abram, and the communication of special features in Israel's history, the Canaanitish nations to be judged, and limits of the land, besides the prophecy of the deliverance from Egypt. “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; and also that nation whom they shall serve will I judge, and afterward shall they come out with great substance; and thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace, thou shalt be buried in a good old age; but in the fourth generation they shall come hither again, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.”
We may notice that all that comes out to Abram after Lot is separated is, I will give thee the land, and thy seed shall be innumerable. Next, in chapter 15, after Lot takes the world, and Abram gives up everything, he then gets the promise a great deal clearer. Abram, having refused the world, brings in God, saying, “I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward.” He had in God the two things he would not take from the world. “I am thy reward,” says God; and then Abram says, “What wilt thou give me?” Whatever you think of the request, still the Lord allowed and bore with it, answering him most graciously; just as Peter was the occasion for the Lord to bring out blessed revelations, though Peter was not very brilliant in some respects.
“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. And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” There you find the great principle of God's ways, stepping in chapter 15 right into Israel's position by faith and death. Abram has no heir. God says His seed shall be as the stars of heaven; it is a numerous seed; and the land again, but more follows. And he gets it all by faith, and by faith righteousness too. It will be seen, if one go through all the uses of πιστεύω carefully that with the dative in the New Testament it is belief in a person, and εἰς or ἐν gives the ground of confidence.
Faith is counted to Abram for righteousness; it is the general broad fact that it is imputed or reckoned.
But the ministration of imputed righteousness is a monstrous proposition. If you take it as the value of something imputed, it is the value of faith—just the way Roman Catholics take it, If not so, you must take it that God has counted righteousness because of it, which is the principle; but if you try to make it so much made up and impute you must make it faith that is imputed. Abel. 3 counted righteous according to the value of his gift. Romanists say that faith is counted for righteousness, but charity is greater still.
There was practice of course, but there was no righteousness revealed in the Old Testament. It was prophesied of, but is now revealed in the gospel. All that is stated in the end of Rom. 3 is “the forbearance of God;” and if you ask why He did forbear with these persons' faults, I can tell now because it is all revealed.
Again now there is another character that they had not, and that is “accepted in the Beloved;” and more, as we may learn in the Epistle to the Ephesians, &c.
This is the first time faith is mentioned, though I do not doubt it was there, as Hebrews tells us; but it is the first time it is brought out. And then, too, I find death—God binding Himself by death. We know by Jeremiah, and other means, that death was used to ratify a covenant. So here God binds Himself by bringing in death, but the power of death passes, in a sense, on Abram; it is when a deep sleep comes upon him that he gets the blessing. I see a peculiar character here, because God comes in us by a smoking furnace and a burning lamp. That is, it is light that lights, and also a furnace that burns and consumes the dross, just as we talk of a fiery furnace. Now will God take His place? He tells Abram about his seed, and signifies that He will lead them by a lamp and purify them by fire.
Abram came under a deep sleep, and a horror of great darkness fell upon him. That is, he came under the power of death as to his own condition; it was not actual death of course, but the shadow of it—the type. So we must die with Him. Death must pass upon any flesh for it to inherit the promises.
It says here, “In the fourth generation they shall come hither again,” while in Ex. 12:4040Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years. (Exodus 12:40) they sojourned in Egypt 430 years; yet Galatians says the law in the wilderness was 430 years after the promise.
But Exodus does not say in Egypt only, but their sojourning was 430 years; the Samaritan Pentateuch, and others, give in Canaan and in Egypt. From the promise to their going down into Egypt was exactly half the time. The words in verse 13, “shall afflict them four hundred years,” is a general statement in this place. Egypt is the great thing. And the “come hither again” is to the land clearly.
Verse 12 may illustrate “Always bearing about in the body, the dying of the Lord Jesus.” Practically it is the same thing—though here it is the general principle, and more like Rom. 6 It is death passed upon him. Flesh, as such, I mean, could not inherit a promise; nor even will Israel in the millennium, except through death and resurrection.
The fowls, in coming down, came to defile it, if possible—that is, the activity of life. It is a mystical scene. Abram keeps it all pure and clean. The broad fact is to keep the sacrifice untouched, the foundation of everything. It was the valley of the shadow of death Abram had to go through.
We have had the seed promised in a general way; and now Abram wants to get it according to his own will in the flesh, and he takes Hagar. (Chap, 16) Ishmael is “he that is born after the flesh,” which is really of the law, an attempt to get the heir on legal ground and take the promises. It was an attempt to get the heir by the flesh, which all came to misery and confusion. Hagar gets turned out, that is, the old covenant.
But when Abram was ninety-nine years old, and there was no hope of seed naturally—his body was now dead—God reveals Himself by His name to him, “I am the Almighty God.” He had never given His name to him before, but now He gives it, taking up in it the character of the dispensation, and then brings in Christ later on. God had reserved Himself, so to speak. We have not Christ in this scene, but the one who is the figure of Christ comes afterward. God Almighty, El-Shaddai, is the name by which God appeared to the patriarch, the first of His three names—Almighty, Jehovah, and Father, We were speaking of them before.
Chapter 16 is a kind of parenthesis. Abram has got a promise, and tries now to make it good independently of God. But when Abram is set aside, his body now dead at ninety-nine years old, God reveals Himself, and says, I am going to give you a numerous seed, and you must circumcise them, and so on. That is, now that you are viewed as dead, I can do something with you.
God's name is Almighty; but He waits until Abram was virtually dead, and then He has him circumcised, which was the seal of the covenant he had got. Then he gets the promise of the seed, personal seed, really Christ. “And I will bless her [Sarah], and give thee a son also of her.” Abraham falls on his face and laughs, “and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety-nine years old, bear?”
Abraham's was the laughter of joy, I believe; but Sarah is as ashamed of his laughing because it was unbelief. · And the getting a promise of a seed of his own makes Abraham think of Ishmael, that he might live before God.
Then Jehovah comes with the two angels. (Chap, 18) The world must be judged where Lot is, and where in fact the fleshly seed is. The promise of the seed is renewed; Abraham has intercourse with the Lord, hearing the promise of the seed come into this world to be heir of the world: so the apostle says. Then in what follows is the confirmation of the promise, God visiting Abraham and the promise as immediate—of Isaac—of his appearing; and an immediate promise, that God will return at the time of year. Then Abraham is in full communion at the top of the mountain, while the others, the angels, go down to judge the world.
We have the world and Israel in Sodom and Lot, while Abraham looks down upon it all. He is in intercourse with God, but God is there talking with Abraham about what He is going to do with the world. Abraham is called the friend of God; and here it is seen. I talk about my business and what has to be done with my friend, but not of what I am going to do for him until it is all arranged. God does not tell Abraham what He is going to do with Abraham. But the person who has the seed promised completely and immediately coming is in full intercourse with God about what He is going to do with other people.
Then it is beautiful to see the Lord does not judge until it has all got so bad that there were not even ten righteous persons there. If there had been ten, God would have spared the cities. Abraham goes on interceding until this is shown out.
The Lord was there incognito, as we say, until the tent scene is over and the angels are gone, and then it is all open.
While in the tent, Abraham addresses Him with full deference, but the Lord does not come out with this secret until He gets alone with him. Read chapter 18:1-5: Abraham says, My lord, not My lords; he has perfect consciousness that One is superior, and his faith evidently sees through it all. In verses 10, 14, it is “I will return,” in verse 17, “Shall I hide?” and so on. “And the men turned their faces from thence and went toward Sodom, but Abraham stood yet before the Lord,” (Ver. 22.) He sends these two angels and we find them at Sodom directly afterward. Then Abraham calls Him “the Judge of all the earth.” He addresses Him as Adonay (in verses 3, 27, 30, 31, 32), but it is Jehovah. It may be the administrating power; but Abraham sees who the administrator is. I believe myself that all the appearances in the Old Testament are the Son's.
If Abraham goes as far as he dares, God judges the whole thing, but spares the righteous. He was in the church's place, as Lot in the Jew's place, saved so as by fire. So Noah was in the Jew's place, but Enoch is the church's place in the earlier history.
In what follows we see the origin of the people of the land whom the Israelites were not allowed to destroy—Moab and Ammon.
It is striking here to notice the incapacity for anything definite in unbelief. The very place where Abraham was talking with Jehovah, Lot had looked at as most barren and desolate; but when he sees the cities of the plain burning, he would like to go to the mountain, the place of faith, though first he says he cannot go there. When in the world, you are afraid of God's judgment there; and so Lot, till at length he slips off to the mountain, the place of faith, obliged to get there at last.
In chapter 21 Abraham is seen planting a grove (a kind of boundary of the land, as I suppose), and there we hear of “the everlasting God,” because God was there, the One that secures the land forever to His people. Jehovah is the everlasting God; and when He gives a promise, He is sure to make it good at the end. I believe the everlasting gospel is the Seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head, that is, the declaration that the Lord shall destroy with power when He comes in judgment. It is the announcement that the hour of His judgment is come, the unchanging good news right from the beginning and onward. Prom the first Christ was to bruise the serpent's head. The Christian has the special relationship, union, as associated with Him who is going to bruise the serpent's head, being thus identified with the King of the kingdom.
As we come to a break now, it may be well to run over the chief great principles of what has been before us. Genesis is an important book in this way, that it contains the principles from which all start; a great deal of instruction as to ways and life and so on comes afterward; but here the framework of the thing. First, there is creation itself; this seems very simple, but in a way it is not, for it is only by faith we know it. None of the heathen knew it, and infidelity now is going back to their darkness, for infidelity is but modern heathenism. In John's Gospel we go before nil that even, for we can say, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; the same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him,” and so on.
As soon as the fact of creation is set out in chapter 1, you see the world as the sphere in which God is going to put man, and in which all moral relationships are to be brought out; and first stands the responsible man; then his naming the animals; then his wife given. (Chap, 2) There is thus the creation of this world and of what is in it, creatures and so on, and man as a center and lord of it in God's image, the world fashioned for the purpose, and the rest of God which man never entered into; then follow the relationships in which God set man, to Himself, to the inferior creatures, and to his wife (in which the church is typified). Next man's responsibility is tried by temptation, and we see his utter failure, but the judgment on Satan the serpent, with a promise to the Seed of the woman who should bruise the serpent's head. (Chap, 3) But the first man is driven out from God, and then he becomes the head of a fallen race, though Eve hopes to get the promise in the flesh—thought she had gotten a man from Jehovah. Then man completes sin by killing his brother, and the world is set up without God; but God gives another and an appointed seed, Seth (when men called on the name of Jehovah), in lieu of the slayer and the slain. Christ was slain: the world slew Him; but He is coming again in glory; this is what all that typifies. (Chap, 4) Then comes the genealogy of the race of Seth, and one walks with God who is transformed and taken away to heaven. (Chap, 5) Then comes the total corruption and wickedness of man up to the flood, with Noah preserved through it, man and animals too. (Chap. 6-8) This closes the history of the first world. Then Noah founds the relationships of the new world upon sacrifice; but he fails himself entirely; and, having given the prophecy of the world's establishment in his three sons, his history closes. God gives a promise not to bring in a flood any more, but there is no great principle in this that I know of. Government was set up to restrain, but this fails, and it closes Noah's history. (Chap, 9)
Then we see the settling out of the world in nations, from the three sons of Noah. (Chap, 10) There is the world in nations and families, and this happening by the judgment of God upon their setting themselves up to be independent of God at Babel, making themselves a Shem or name. Then we see Abram brought in by Shem’s genealogy, which is merely a peg to hang it on as it were. (Chap, 11) But he is an elect one, called out, and the promise given to him to be the head of God's race in the earth. Then he, having followed the calling of God, is in the place of promise, a stranger and a worshipper; through pressure of circumstances he gets out of that place, loses his worship, gets into the power of the world, but is delivered out of it. (Chap, 21) We have then his entire abnegation as to the world and full revelation of the sphere of promise, or subject of promise. (Chap, 13) Then we see Abram's victory over the world and the revelation of Melchizedek as priest, defeating the victorious kings. (Chap, 14) Thus millennial blessedness is brought in, and this closes that part of the history because you have got the royal priest blessing Israel, and God the possessor of heaven and earth. The broad abstract principles finish with chapter 14.
Then in chapter 15 we see righteousness connected with faith for the first time, and also the promise of the seed, a covenant founded on death, with details of the land. Then in chapter 16 we see a fleshly attempt to have the seed in the flesh. But in chapter 17 grace acts. God reveals Himself by His dispensational name to Abram, giving him promise of the seed and the seal of circumcision on it. “A father of many nations have I made thee.” Confirmation is given, followed by Abraham on high in communion with God, and when the world is to be judged, he is a prophet interceding inside with God. Peter's comment on this is, “the Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptation.” This is down below. So we have Enoch the heavenly man, and Noah the earthly remnant; now we have Abraham the heavenly man, and Lot the earthly remnant. This is a second witness.
Now in chapter 20, though I have a little more difficulty in my own mind about it, Abraham is seen failing in respect of those that were strictly the vessel of promise to Abimelech who was within the land. The Philistines have always that character inside the land, those who were professedly within. It is failure before those who are outwardly in the place of promise, the denial of the truth of the church of God. Abraham says, “she is my sister, and not my wife.” It is only in David's time that the Philistines are rightly dealt with—put down ultimately.
As Lot, by going to Zoar, saves himself in a little city, being afraid to go to the place of faith; so we have in chapter 20 a rebuke put upon Abraham in respect of Sarah, the vessel of promise. The world knows very well that the church ought to be for the Lord.
In the next chapter (21) the son of promise is born, and legalism, or the legal covenant, with the child of flesh is cast out, that is, Hagar and Ishmael; now Abimelech or the Philistine, who is in the place of promise, the son being born, becomes subservient to Abraham. The borders of the land are given. Abraham figuratively takes possession of the land of promise, and worships. He plants a grove too, the only time he ever does so. He was only in a tent before; now he plants a grove, which was Abraham's act, but had specific reference to the seed and taking possession of the land.
After chapter 14, the place of the break really, because there we get to the millennium, then come the details in connection with Abraham's conduct and the promise of the Seed.
Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac at mount Moriah begins a new service.