The Covenant Assured
Last week we concentrated on the first half of this chapter, verses 1 through 14, and we said that Abraham's surrender of his son Isaac was a mirror of God's still greater love, and Abraham's exercise of faith in God's promises. Hebrews tells us he believed that the Lord would raise Isaac again from the dead if necessary to fulfill His promises. Abraham's exercise of faith in God's promises leads him to a glimpse of the resurrection hope. And Isaac's own resignation and potential suffering, too, gives us a preview of the Son who would be sacrificed for the sins of the world.
And tonight we look to the sequel of that grand substitution on Moriah in Genesis 22, verses 15 through 24. But let's go back and begin from the very first verse of the chapter so that we are fully aware of the context. Hear God's holy word.
Our Father, we bless You for this word, a word for our hearts, and as we read it, as we study it, as we chew it spiritually, we pray that by the grace of the Holy Spirit You would nourish us, for we ask these things in Jesus' name, Amen.
We said especially in our review of verses 3 through 14 last week that when you see the story of Abraham and the substitute for Isaac on Moriah you cannot help but see the parallels. This is indeed as Hebrews says a type of our Lord Jesus Christ. And we mentioned many theological points, many doctrines, many precious truths of the word which are affirmed in this story. But I want to remind you of two or three which stand out particularly. When we see Abraham on Moriah willing to offer his son because of his loyalty and trust in God, we are reminded of the intensity of God's love for His own son. It is not difficult for us to imagine Abram's heart breaking as he walks those slow steps. And you note that it's repeated twice that the two of them walked together. And I think that emphasis is there to remind us of the closeness between Abraham and his son, his only son, Isaac, that he loves. The two of them walked on together alone, and Abraham knew in the carrying out of this deed that there would be a point where they would not walk together. And yet Abraham goes ahead and you can feel the intensity of Abraham's love for Isaac, though it's not the focus of the passage.
The passage doesn't let us get into the head of Abraham or the heart of Abraham as it was. But it pounds us with the intensity of what is going on in terms of the human relationship. And thinking of that human relationship forces upon us the question of the relationship between the Heavenly Father and the Son at Calvary. And we’ll never understand the cross if we think that God the Father is somehow detached and ambivalent as His Son is on the tree of Calvary bearing the sins of the world. The Son is loved as no son was ever loved. Abraham's love for Isaac is but a faint shadow by comparison to the Father's love for the Son. In fact, Abraham's love for Isaac and the love of every father for his son is but a reflection of the primeval love, the first love, the love of the father for the son. And we're reminded of that when we see the picture of Abraham and Isaac making their way to the place of sacrifice. The intensity of God's love for His Son reminds us that the cost of Calvary was not only a cost for the Son, but a cost for the Father who gave His own Son, Jesus, whom He loved for the sins of those who deserved hell. And the intensity of the Father's love for the Son only highlights the intensity of His love for His people. Behold what matter of love.
This great passage also highlights to us the principle of substitution doesn't it? You know the idea of substitution, that is, of one offering or sacrifice standing in the place of another is not as common as you might think in the Old Testament. We see a glimpse of it, of course, in the Passover sacrifices. When the Passover lamb is slaughtered and, as it were, becomes the blood barrier to the vengeance of the death angel as it goes through the land of Egypt.
We see a glimpse of substitution on the day of atonement when the father of the family lays his hand on the beast before the priest slaughters the animal, symbolizing that that beast who, of course, has no moral function and cannot sin, has been slaughtered in place of the family for the sins and the penalty of the sins due to them.
There are other glimpses of this principle of substitution, but there is no brighter presentation of the principle of substitution than that which we see here in Genesis 22 on Moriah. For here the son of Abraham, the son of promise, is spared and the substitute of a ram provided by God. So the Lord in that amazing transaction shows us the principle of substitution of one standing in our place to receive what we deserve and receiving what He did not deserve.
And of course, this passage reminds us of the glorious principle of the resurrection. Hebrews as we've said tells us that Abraham so believed that God would be faithful to His promise that when he was making his way to Moriah and the sacrifice of his son, he thought that the Lord would raise him from the dead, if necessary. And when Abraham looked into the eyes of his son and removed him from the top of that altar, he sees a glimpse of the glory of the resurrection of the dead, and I wonder if in John, chapter 8, verse 56, when Jesus said that Abraham rejoiced to see his day and he saw it and was glad. I wonder if our Lord is thinking of the moment when Abraham looked into his redeemed son's eyes and received him back as if it were from the dead; and saw in his eyes the substitute, the one who would be raised from the dead. All this we saw in verses 3 through 14.
And then we come to this grand passage, and I'd like to look at two things with you tonight in verses through the end of the chapter. I'd like to break it into two parts. In verses 15 through 19 we see the Lord reaffirm His covenant promises to Abraham in a most astounding way. And then in verses 20 through 24 we see the Lord's providential preparation of a wife for Isaac. I'd like to look at these things with you tonight.
I. The Lord reaffirms His covenant promises to Abraham.
First, let's direct our attention to verses 15 through 19, where we see the Lord reaffirm the covenant promises to Abraham. And we learn in this passage that the reward of obedience is the assurance of the covenant promises. God's reward to us for our gospel obedience is the assurance of the covenant promises. The reward of Abraham's obedience is God's reaffirmation of His covenant commitments to Him. Over and over as God spoke to Abraham from the time of Genesis 12, He would reaffirm the promises that He had made to him. And here in the aftermath of Abraham's offering of Isaac and the provision of the substitute, God again reaffirms and even expands His covenant promises to Abraham. And so the result of Abraham's obedience is God buttresses His assurance. He reaffirms those covenant commitments in four ways.
Look with me at these verses beginning in verse 16. God says I will greatly bless you. In other words, He is confirming the covenant favor that He has towards Abraham and that favor, that blessing which he has had towards Abraham since the day He called him out of Ur of the Chaldeans. Notice again, He goes on to say, “Not only I will greatly bless you, but I will greatly multiply your seed.” He is again confirming His promise to Abraham that He would make him a father of many nations. Now that still is a promise which Abraham must wait upon in faith. In fact, it's highlighted by what we are told at the end of the chapter. You get to the end of the chapter and there's Abraham's brother and the kids are absolutely flowing out of his tents. He's got more kids than you can name. And here's Abraham, one son. And yet the promise of God to Abraham is that he's going to be a father of multitudes that you can't even count. They’re going to be like the sand of the seashore. They’re going to be like the stars of the night sky in the near east. And so there again is this confirmation of God's promises. He goes on.
Notice verse 17, the end of that verse. “Your seed shall possess the gate of their enemy.” This is a forecast of the conquest of Canaan. God has already told Abraham in Genesis 15 that His people are going to dwell in a land that is not their own and strangers are going to be enslaved and then they are going to be brought out. And He's already told them, He's already told Abraham that they are going to possess the land of the Canaanites and here He reaffirms, He stresses that Canaan is going to be conquered by Abraham's people. They will possess the gate of their enemies. And, of course, this is also a forecast of all those who trust in God in their inheritance of the world. You remember what Jesus says in Matthew 5:5, “The meek will inherit the earth.” Jesus meant it. God's world will belong to those who are meek, His people. Paul stresses it in Romans, chapter 4, verse 13 when he said that in response to the righteousness of Abraham, God promised him the land? No. The world. And in verse 18 God goes on to say that, in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed. This is a reaffirmation that the reason God is blessing Abraham is that he might be a blessing to others. All these things God reaffirms in the wake of the offering of Isaac.
But I want you to note that He does it in the most shocking way. Twice in this passage the angel of the Lord speaks. Twice the angel of the Lord is clearly identified as God speaking. The first time is when the angel of the Lord speaks out and says, “Abraham, don't touch the boy.” The second time He speaks, the angel of the Lord says, “Abraham, I swear by Myself.” A word like that had never been heard before and would never be since. “I swear by Myself.” This is shocking language employed by God showing that in order to confirm the covenant promises that He has made to Abraham, He is willing to swear by His own self, by His own name because there is none higher by whom He can offer confirmation to Abraham. In this word of confirmation, God is stressing the certainty of His promise to Abraham. There is a passage in Hebrews chapter 6 which comments on this and I'd like for you to turn with me there, where the author of Hebrews comments on this passage and he brings a couple of things to bear. Let me say in passing, that Luke – and we’d have to do a separate sermon on this one – but Luke in chapter 1, verse 73 of his gospel says that Christ was brought into the world in response to this oath that God gave to Abraham. Hebrews, chapter 6, verses 13 through 18, explains this passage in detail.
And the first great thing that I would like you to see stressed here is the certainty of God's promises and our assurance. Hebrews, chapter 6, verses 13 through 15, stress that God swore a promise to Abraham and that Abraham received that promise. It was God's way of assuring Abraham. Notice Hebrews 6, 13 through 15, where God made to Abraham. “When God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, ‘I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply you.’ And so, having patiently waited, he obtained the promised.” Abraham, the father of the faithful, believed that God would fulfill His promises despite his circumstances. And so he obediently prepared to offer Isaac and the quote here in Hebrews comes from that context of this great event. Imagine the reinforcing effect of Abraham's faith. Abraham had just heard the angel of the Lord say don't slay your son. The very next words he hears from the angel of the Lord is, “I swear by Myself.” He has just been relieved of the greatest agony of his life, and from those deaths now he hears God speak to him and say I swear to you, Abraham, by Myself. And so Abraham's obedience and patience obtain the promise.
In verses 16 through 18 of Hebrews, chapter 6, the author goes on to say this. For men swear by one greater than themselves and with them an oath given as confirmation is an end of every dispute. In the same way, God desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with a note, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie. We who have taken refuge would have had strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us.
The mentioning of human oaths here in verses 16 through 18 reminds us of the difference between this divine oath that God makes and the human oath. A human oath is taken because of character flaws. We take an oath because of the propensity of humans to tell us what we want to hear, rather than tell us the truth. And so that's why we take oaths. But God takes oaths not because of His weakness but because of the weakness of our faith. God taking this oath is an accommodation to the weakness of our faith, and so it is an act of grace. Furthermore, in a human oath, men must call on something transcendent in order to assure accountability. But nothing transcends God, and so He pledges Himself.
And so this divine oath is given because of the weakness of faith in the heirs of the promise. And by these two unchangeable things, God's promise and God's oath, Abraham is given solid ground for his hope. William Guthrie says, “This is the sheet anchor of the Christian's conviction. He knows his assurance depends not on the stability or the strength of his faith, but on the absolute trustworthiness of God's word.”
Now the second thing, if you’ll turn back with me to Genesis 22, the second thing that we see in that passage along with this stress on the certainty of God's promise, God swears by himself. The second thing that we see stressed is that God rewards Abraham for his obedience. Look at verse 16. “By Myself I have sworn, declares the Lord because you have done this thing.” And then look at verse 18, “Because you have obeyed My voice.” God tells Abraham here that He will reward him for his obedience. Now that immediately ought to raise a question in your mind, because you know that God already in His grace has promised him the things that He promises him again here in Genesis 22. God in His grace has already promised these things to Abraham prior to his obedience. These things were promised all the way back in Genesis 12.
How can something simultaneously be a gift of grace and a reward of obedience? How can that be? Let me tell you how. God in his free grace promises Abraham these blessings. And then not because Abraham has done something equivalent to earn these blessings, but because God wants to stress the certainty that Abraham will indeed receive those blessings, God says Abraham, I am committing myself, I am obligating Myself to give you these blessings as if they were a reward that you had earned. And that's how God operates in the covenant with us my friends. God owes us nothing. God owes us absolutely nothing. We have no claims on God but in God's grace when He embraces us, when we are united with Christ, when we trust in Him alone for salvation, then God says to this my child, I swear by Myself that I will reward you in the covenant. And so all our blessings are of grace, and yet God assures us that they are our reward by virtue of our covenant faithfulness. It is again an aspect of His grace.
If you want to walk in greater assurance, walk in greater faith and obedience. It is clear that God's concern in this passage was that Abraham possess assurance as he reflected on God's promises, as he reflected on God's oath, as he reflected on the covenant. God is concerned that we would walk in assurance, too. For an assured Christian is an energetic Christian, and a doubting Christian is a weak Christian. And so God wants us to feel the certainty of His promises. I want to remind you of one more thing before we walk away from this great passage here. As far as we know, these were the last words that God ever spoke to Abraham. Eight times the Lord spoke audibly to Abraham in his life. The last words of the Lord, as far as we know, ringing in Abraham's ears, began with the words, “Abraham, I swear by Myself.” Can you imagine a greater privilege?
II. God's providential provision.
Now one more thing before we go. If you’ll look at verses 20 through 24, we see this glorious providential provision. You know the Lord is providing for us before we even think about it. You look at this passage and you wonder what in the world are we hearing about the children of Nahor for. What does that have to do with Genesis 22, verses 1 through 19, and what in the world does it have to do with Genesis 23. Well, everything. By now, of course, friends, Abraham and Sarah are in their hundreds and they've got a teenage son. Why, they feel just about like Anne and I feel about Sarah Kennedy. We’re going to be in a wheelchair at graduation time. And they are thinking, you know, who's going to marry my boy? And right in the wake of Abraham's arrival in Beersheba, word is sent to him. You know your brother, Nahor, back east has had all these children. And the names, of course, that stand out are the names of Bethuel and Rebekah. And we're struck by the fruitfulness of Abraham's brother. His house is filled with children. And if you were judging by human means, you would say that Nahor was much more greatly blessed than Abraham. But Isaac was the line of promise. And these names remind us of Abraham's family back east, and when it comes time for Isaac to marry, Abraham will send his servants there. You remember how Abraham had worried about the influence of the people of the land of Canaan on his family? Can you imagine old Abraham and old Sarah worrying? One last major step in life for their child. Would they be around to see it? Would he marry a nice girl? Would she be a girl who would rear his children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord? Where would she come from? And here God sends word, and as we said two names stand out. We find them in that phrase, “Bethuel became the father of Rebekah. Rebekah's father, Isaac's future father-in-law. Rebekah, Isaac's future bride. Parents can't help but wonder about their children's potential spouses. But here God not only provided a substitute for Isaac, but before Abraham thought of it he was preparing a bride for Isaac.
It is, of course, a reminder to us to be in prayer for our children and our grandchildren's spouses. But it is also a wonderful picture the way the Lord prepares gifts for His people that they haven't even anticipated themselves. I close with the beautiful words of Principal R. S. Candlish, who says this: “Is this (speaking of this record of Nahor's children) not a hint from heaven to relieve the anxiety and direct the conduct of Sarah and Abraham. To Sarah, in particular, now about to depart. How gracious is this kindness of the Lord. Her last and only care is removed. She owns the Lord's hands, leading her and her household by a way that she knows not. She may commit all to Him, to Him who will provide whether it be a lamb for the burnt offering or a chosen handmaid to be a mother in Israel. She, too, sees the day of Christ afar off. Every obstacle to the fulfillment of the promise being taken away, her eyes see the salvation of the Lord, and she is contented. Lord, now let your servant depart in peace. It is all well. The Lord will provide. Let us pray.
Our Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your rich provision. In the midst of our own trials help us to see it. We ask it in Jesus' name, Amen.