God With Us—Under the Stars: Genesis 15.1-21

How’s your pondering going? That’s what we’re doing together this Advent. We’re thinking together about the phrase that is really a declaration—GOD WITH US.

And we’re pondering JESUS.

This week we’re in Genesis 15.1-21. It’s an odd Christmas message, I’ll admit. It doesn’t make me feel cozy, like I feel when contemplating the baby Jesus in the manger. In fact, it makes me feel sober, because in this passage Abraham encounters God’s presence that guarantees God’s promise, sworn on the life of God’s Son. And in this way, God “preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham” (Gal 3.8).

Promise of God, Under the Stars (:1-11). Remember the context of Genesis 15. In something like 2,000 B.C. God has called Abraham from Ur of Chaldeans and told Abraham to move to Canaan. In doing so God promised Abraham a land, descendants and blessing (Gen 12.1-3).

When we come to chapter 15 Abraham has obeyed God, but he still has a problem. He has no son, the land God promised him is filled with enemies, and (most importantly!), he’s starting to doubt God. What follows is a conversation between God and Abraham.

First, they talk about the son God has promised (:1-6). All this takes place under the night sky. And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be” (:5).

Think about this. We Moderns look at the universe like it’s a big Christmas tree, filled with gases and hot suns many light years away. But Abraham, as an Ancient Chaldean, had worshipped the stars before He knew Yahweh. God is saying, You know those things you used to worship? Well, your descendants are going to be more numerous and wonderful than anything you used to worship … Later in the story, we meet Isaac. And, of course, all of this is pointing to Jesus and His followers (Gal 3.16).

Then, God and Abraham talk about the land (:7-11).  I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to posses, God says (:7). Abraham responds with self-doubt. O LORD God, how am I to know that I shall possess it? (:8). Abraham doesn’t doubt God here. But he doubts himself. He recognizes in the covenantal language of verse 7 that God is about to cut a covenant, to make a contract. Abraham wonders if he’ll be able to keep his part of the deal.

Next, God instructs Abraham to lay out the articles of covenant-making. While we do this with lawyers and papers, the Ancients did this with severed animals. Those making the covenant would walk together between pieces of severed animals and recognize in the butchery that they would become like those carcasses, if they failed to keep their end of the bargain.

Presence of God, Under the Stars (:12-21). The rest of the passage is mysterious, and wonderful. As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him (:21). While Abraham passes into a state of deep concentration, God appears in the form of a flaming torch and a smoking fire pot and passes between the pieces ALONE.

What God is saying is that if either He or Abraham and his descendants fail to keep their obligations, God Himself will absorb the penalty for lawbreaking! And that, of course, is what happened at the cross when Jesus absorbed the penalty for our sin.

Are you seeing how this passage fits into our Christmas celebration? When Jesus comes, Jesus is the collateral paid for our law-breaking. Jesus is God’s presence with us. Jesus is GOD WITH US.

All the promises of God flow in and out of Jesus. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ (Gal 3.16).

GOD WITH US is a big deal, because God’s promises come with God’s presence. 

Here’s a few questions to ponder with others, while you’re pondering Jesus:

  1. Why do you think this passage from Genesis 15 is relevant and worth talking about at Christmas?
  2. How do God’s promises to Abraham help you understand why Jesus came?
  3. What about Jesus will you ponder this week, now that you’ve spent time in Genesis 15?

Have a blessed week! And see you Sunday, at Woodland.

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