Confirming the covenant

Scripture: Genesis 17

 

Title: Confirming the Covenant

 

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Confirming the covenant (1-16)

o   Naming

o   Committing

o   Circumcising

  • Abraham’s response (17-27)
  • Conclusion

 

Introduction:

This morning we continue our series on Abram by looking at Genesis 17

–         Last week, in chapter 16, we heard how Abram had a son (Ishmael) through Sarai’s maid servant Hagar

–         By the beginning of Genesis 17 it has been 13 years since Ishmael was born even longer since God first cut a covenant with Abram in chapter 15

–         Now, in chapter 17, God confirms his covenant

–         With the covenant encounter in Genesis 15 Abram wasn’t required to do anything, but in Genesis 17 God does require a response from Abraham

 

Genesis 17 is relatively long so I’m going to handle it in two parts

–         First we’ll read verses 1-16 which deal with confirming the covenant

–         And then we’ll read the rest of the chapter later which describes Abraham’s response. From verses 1-16 of Genesis 17 we read…

 

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”

Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”

Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. 10 This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised.

11 You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring.

13 Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

15 God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. 16 I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”

 

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this Scripture for us

 

Confirming the covenant:

In this reading God confirms his covenant with Abram and this confirmation involves three things: naming, committing and circumcising

–         First let us consider naming…

 

Naming:

In the state of Andhra Pradesh in southern India, there is an indigenous mission organisation called India Rural Evangelical Fellowship

–         It was begun in 1947 when Prasada Rao began training evangelists to go out into rural villages to preach the gospel

–         Prasada also took orphans into his home to show them the love of Christ

–         By the late 1990’s there were over 120 itinerant evangelists reaching 360 villages bringing many to Christ and planting churches

–         When these Indian believers were baptised they were often also given a new name – a Christian name

–         Many of the given names in India have a history that link the individual to the gods of their culture

–         So adopting a new name is a way of severing ties to the old life [1]

–         It’s a way of saying you are a new creation, on a new path with a new future

 

In verse 5 God changes Abram’s name to Abraham and in verse 15 the Lord changes Sarai’s name to Sarah

–         ‘Abram’ means ‘exalted father’ and ‘Abraham’ means ‘father of many nations’

–         ‘Sarai’ and ‘Sarah’ mean the same thing: ‘princess’

–         Perhaps the name Sarai looks back at her royal ancestry, while Sarah looks forward to her royal descendants – kings will come from her [2]

–         But the meaning of Sarah’s name isn’t as important as the fact that she is now included in the covenant – previously her role was unknown

 

God is renaming Sarah & Abraham because he is bringing about a new creation through them and (you will remember from Genesis 1 that) naming is one of the things God does in the act of creating

–         Their new names then are a reminder that God has severed the ties of past barrenness and given them a new future that is fruitful and blessed

 

Committing:

Naming is one aspect of confirming the covenant

–         Articulating the commitment is another aspect

 

In medieval times soldiers were sworn to allegiance by being dubbed a knight [3]

–         So becoming a knight wasn’t just a reward for service rendered it was a way of confirming loyal commitment to the king

–         The knight would get down on bended knee as a sign of his submission to the monarch

–         There were certain perks or privileges to being a knight I suppose – like enjoying a higher social status

–         But there were also responsibilities – like being obedient to your king

 

When God appears to Abram, in chapter 17, he begins by saying…

–         “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless…”

–         ‘God Almighty’ means ‘God above all else’ or ‘God of nations’ (as our national anthem affirms)

–         Von Rad says the Hebrew word translated as ‘blameless’ here signifies wholeness of relationship and integrity rather than no sin [4]

–         I guess it’s another way of saying, “Do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God”

–         ‘To walk before God…’ means to orient one’s entire life toward God

–         Like when we sing ‘Jesus, be the centre…’ we are really saying we want our lives to revolve around Christ

–         God is commanding Abraham to live his life in such a way that every single step is made with reference to God

–         It’s sort of like God (the King of kings) is dubbing Abraham a loyal knight of his realm

–         And Abraham’s response is to fall facedown as a sign of his submission

 

For his part God commits to giving Abraham the land of Canaan and many descendants but that is more of a reiteration of things God has said on other occasions

–         At the heart of the covenant is the Lord’s commitment: I will be your God

 

If we think of God’s covenant like a set of Russian dolls, then the inner most doll is the Lord’s commitment to be Abraham’s God

–         I will be your God speaks of loyal relationship

–         Some of the other inner dolls include God’s promise of blessing, land and descendants but at its core God’s covenant is a relationship

–         By saying, I will be your God the Lord is offering Himself to Abraham

–         Sort of like when a couple adopt a child – they aren’t just offering to feed and house the child, they are offering themselves to that child

–         ‘I will be your father’ – ‘I will be your mother’

–         Or when a man & woman get married – they aren’t just offering a ring or a house or an income, they are offering themselves to each other

–         ‘I will be your husband’, or ‘I will be your wife’

–         I feel sad when I hear people in de-facto relationships say, ‘Oh we’re waiting until we can afford to buy a house before we get married’

–         As if financial security is an adequate foundation for marriage

–         Somewhere along the line our society has lost the idea that marriage is about giving yourself, not getting stuff

 

At its heart then God’s covenant is a relationship in which God offers Himself

–         God offers Himself to us most clearly in giving His Son Jesus

–         For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life 

–         You see, we don’t put our faith in Jesus just so we can avoid hell and get into heaven – Heaven is a perk, it’s a privilege, but it’s not the main point

–         We put our trust in Jesus so we can receive God Himself as our Father

–         Without the inner most doll of being in a loyal loving relationship with God, heaven becomes a kind of hell anyway

–         (Like being married to someone you don’t love for financial reasons)

 

 So confirming God’s covenant involves naming, committing & circumcising  

–         Naming – that’s about a new identity

–         Committing – that’s about loyal relationship

–         And circumcising – that’s about initiation and therefore belonging

 

Now we’re only talking about male circumcision here

–         Israel didn’t practice female circumcision (thankfully)

–         Male circumcision is when the foreskin of the penis is cut off

–         I don’t believe it is as harmful as female circumcision

 

Returning to our Russian dolls…

–         If being in relationship with God is the core of the covenant (the inner most doll), then circumcision is the sign of the covenant (the outer doll)

–         As a sign of the covenant it points to what’s inside

 

We might also compare circumcision to a passport

–         A passport identifies you personally and is a sign of your citizenship, it verifies where you come (or where you belong) and it gets you places

–         Without a passport you can’t get into another country

–         Without circumcision Abraham and his descendants couldn’t participate in God’s covenant

 

Circumcision wasn’t invented by God – it was already common practice in the ancient near east when God asked Abraham to do it

–         There were two main occasions why men might be circumcised

–         Perhaps when they got married, as a sign of entry into a new family

–         Or at puberty, as a rite of passage in becoming man

–         Both those occasions represented initiation or belonging to a new group

–         God borrowed the practice of circumcision and transformed it – giving it theological significance for Abraham and Israel so that circumcision became the sign of initiation (or entry) into God’s covenant [5]

–         Circumcision is how Israelites ‘opt-in’ to God’s covenant, in other words

 

God stipulated that males in Abraham’s household should be circumcised at 8 days old

–         Again we see a connection with the account of creation in Genesis 1

–         If the first seven days represent the creation of the cosmos then day eight represents the first day of a new week of creation – the creation of Israel

–         So circumcision was a ‘let there be light’ moment

 

The other thing we notice here is that circumcision involves cutting

–         You may remember from a couple of weeks ago, when we looked at Genesis 15, that a covenant is cut – it involves the shedding of blood

–         And in this case it is the most vulnerable part of a man that is cut

–         Having children, reproducing the next generation, has been such a big deal to Abraham and now God wants a piece of his reproductive organ

–         Wow – the symbolism is rich

 

As Christians we don’t need to participate in God’s covenant with Abraham

–         So guys, if you’re still in one piece down there, don’t panic – you don’t need to go cutting anything off

 

Jesus came to establish a new covenant for all people

–         And the sign of initiation into the new covenant is baptism (being immersed in water)

–         So our equivalent of circumcision is baptism [6]

–         Baptism is like a passport into God’s kingdom

–         In being baptised we transfer our citizenship as it were – we become aliens in this world and citizens of heaven

–         We break from the past and take on a new identity

 

When you are baptised as a conscious believer (or, if you come from an infant baptism tradition, when you confirm your baptism) you are essentially saying…

–         ‘Jesus I submit to you as King. No longer am I going to live my life to suit myself. I’m going to live my life to suit you.’

–         Being baptised or confirmed as a Christian is like being made a loyal knight (or dame) of Christ

 

Now here’s the thing…

–         These external signs of the covenant (whether it’s circumcision or baptism or confirmation) they don’t mean a thing if there’s no inner doll (no loyal relationship with God)

–         Baptism is an external ritual that is supposed to reflect an internal reality

–         If we’re only getting baptised out of conformity (because that’s what people do) then the sign is meaningless

–         Or if we get baptised just for what we can get out of it, with no intention of changing our life to suit Christ, then the passport is counterfeit

–         Whether we’ve been baptised as a baby or later in life as a believer the thing that makes our baptism effective and meaningful is having a committed loyal relationship with God (with Jesus), on the inside

 

To recap what we’ve covered so far, confirming God’s covenant involves naming, committing & circumcising  

–         Naming is about a new identity

–         Committing is about loyal relationship (the inner doll)

–         And circumcising – is a sign of initiation & belonging (like a passport)

 

Abraham’s response:

How then did Abraham respond to what God said?

–         Well, we pick up the story from verse 17 of Genesis 17…

 

17 Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” 18 And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”

19 Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. 20 And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers.

He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. 21 But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.” 22 When he had finished speaking with Abraham, God went up from him. 23 On that very day Abraham took his son Ishmael and all those born in his household or bought with his money, every male in his household, and circumcised them, as God told him. 24 Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised, 25 and his son Ishmael was thirteen;

 

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this Scripture for us

 

One of the wonderful things about the Bible is its honesty

–         The Bible doesn’t paint an unrealistic picture of humanity

–         It tells it how it is, revealing human beings in all our complexity and imperfection

 

When we ask the question: how did Abraham respond to God? Genesis 17 gives us a wonderfully honest answer

–         Abraham’s response was a bit of a mixed bag

–         First he threw himself face-down in submission to God, a good start

–         But then he laughed in disbelief and suggested Ishmael as an alternative to what God had planned (not such a good follow up)

 

We have to remember that for the past 13 years Abraham probably thought that his son Ishmael (born to Hagar) would inherit God’s promise

–         If that’s the case it must have been a bit of shock for Abraham to hear that his hope had been misplaced all this time

 

Our human imperfection draws out the beauty of God’s grace

–         God doesn’t rebuke Abraham – he doesn’t withdraw his covenant because Abraham laughed in a moment of doubt

 

Instead God says a son will be born to Sarah and you will name him Isaac

–         The name ‘Isaac’ means ‘laughter’ – Isaac will be a source of joy to Abraham & Sarah

–         But God won’t forget Ishmael – Ishmael will be blessed too and will be fruitful, only he won’t inherit God’s covenant promises as Isaac will

–         God did in fact greatly increase Ishmael’s numbers – millions of Arabs today are descended from Ishmael

 

Despite an initial flicker of doubt Abraham finishes strongly, not wasting any time in obeying God

–         Abraham performs the rite of circumcision that very day on every male in his household, just as the Lord had told him

–         God is big enough to handle our doubts – what counts in the end is obedience

 

Conclusion:

We’ve heard today how God confirmed his covenant with Abraham and how Abraham responded to what God said

–         Confirming the covenant involves naming, committing and circumcising

–         Naming is about identity

–         Committing is about loyal relationship

–         And circumcising is about initiation, or opting into the covenant

 

Through Jesus, God has established a new covenant, not limited to ethnic Israel but available to anyone who is willing to receive Christ by faith

–         We opt in to this new covenant, not through circumcision, but through baptism

 

To those who have been baptised the question remains:

–         Is a loyal relationship with Jesus still at the centre of your life?

 

And to those who are yet to be baptised…

–         Are you willing to submit and commit to Jesus?

 

Questions for reflection or discussion:

1.)    What stands out for you in reading this Scripture and/or in listening to the sermon?

2.)    What is the significance of God renaming Abraham & Sarah?

–         What does your name mean?

3.)    What did God mean when he said to Abram, “I am God Almighty, walk before me and be blameless.”?

4.)    At the core of the covenant is God’s commitment, “I will be your God.” What does this mean? What is God offering in saying this?

–         How does God offer Himself to us today?

5.)    In what sense is circumcision (for Israel) and baptism (for us), like a passport?

6.)    What might be the symbolic significance for Israel in circumcising boys at 8 days old?

7.)    What gives circumcision (for Israel) and baptism (for us) it’s meaning?

–         What sorts of things empty circumcision and baptism of meaning?

8.)    How did Abraham respond to what God said? (vv. 17-27)

–         How does God handle Abraham’s moment of doubt?

9.)    Have you been baptised?

–         If you have, is a loyal relationship with Jesus at the centre of your life?

–         If you haven’t, are you willing to submit and commit to Christ?

 

https://soundcloud.com/tawabaptist/26-nov-2017-confirming-the-covenant

[1] This illustration was found in John Walton’s NIVAC Genesis, page 468

[2] Bruce Waltke, Genesis, page 262

[3] This illustration was also found in John Walton’s NIVAC Genesis, page 468

[4] Bruce Waltke, Genesis, page 259.

[5] Incidentally, keeping the Sabbath was a sign to show continued allegiance to the covenant. So you can see why the Pharisees got a bit touchy when Jesus challenged their rules around the Sabbath. From their perspective it may have seemed like Jesus was being disloyal to the covenant, when in fact Jesus had come to establish a new covenant

 

[6] And our equivalent of keeping the Sabbath (refer above footnote) is sharing communion

God’s covenant with Abram

Scripture: Genesis 15

Title: God’s covenant with Abram

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Conversation 1 – counting stars (vv. 1-6)
  • Conversation 2 – cutting a covenant (vv. 7-21)
  • Conclusion

Introduction:

Today we continue our series on the life of Abram by focusing on Genesis 15

–         Last week we heard how Abram went to war to rescue his nephew Lot

–         This week we listen in to two conversations God has with Abram

–         To make it easier to follow we’ll deal with these two conversations separately – firstly from Genesis 15, verses 1-6 we read…

After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.     I am your shield,     your reward will be very great.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this Scripture for us

Conversation 1 – counting stars (vv. 1-6)

Let me tell you a story…

 

One day a young acorn was growing on a tree

–         As he hung there he wondered to himself…

–         ‘Why am I here? What is the point of being an acorn?’

 

So he asked the leaves beside him if they knew why he was there

–         They never stopped whispering to each other, except on a still day

–         The leaves looked at the little acorn with contempt and said,

–         ‘We are here to clothe the tree and make her look beautiful. But we can’t think what you are here for, you ugly little nut.’

–         Then they went back whispering to each other like they always did, except on a still day

 

The young acorn was hurt by their tone and fell silently into his own thoughts

–         It was true that they were delicate and thin while he was round and fat

–         But he couldn’t help the way he looked – it was just the way he was

–         Still he wondered, if I’m not here to look beautiful then why am I here?

 

By and by a finch landed on the branch beside him tickling the leaves with her quick jerky movements

–         The young acorn asked the finch, ‘Why am I here?’

–         And the finch looked at the acorn with pity saying, ‘I am here to fly through the whole forest. I can travel wherever I please’, said the finch. ‘But you are stuck where you are – you are going nowhere’

–         Then, as if to prove her point, the finch flew away

 

The acorn thought hard about what the finch had said

–         It was true that the finch could fly and that he was going nowhere. But that didn’t answer his question, not really. He couldn’t help not having wings – it was just the way he was

–         Still he wondered, if I’m not here to fly through the forest then why am I here?

 

By and by a squirrel came along the branch he was hanging on, stopping every few seconds to rub his whole head in his hands

–         The little acorn wondered why he did that but thought it too rude to ask so ventured another question instead, ‘Why am I here, Mr Squirrel?’

–         The squirrel smiled at him but not in a warm friendly way, like the sun when it rises in the morning

–         The squirrel’s smile was more sinister, like he was holding back a secret

–         ‘I am here to store up food to eat and you are here to become my dinner. But not just yet, you’re too green right now. I’ll come back for you later.’

–         Then the squirrel rubbed his whole head in his hands one more time before disappearing along the branch

 

The young acorn was so scared he forgot to breathe for a moment

–         All his thoughts had run into hiding and it took him the rest of the afternoon to coax them out again

–         It was true that some of the older brown acorns went missing sometimes but life didn’t seem fair if his only purpose was to feed a greedy squirrel

–         He couldn’t help the way he tasted – it was just the way he was

–         Still he wondered, I must be more than lunch for a squirrel

 

By and by the little acorn asked everyone he could think of, ‘Why am I here?’

–         But no one could give him a proper answer

–         After a while the acorn gave up asking and tried to distract himself by thinking about other more trivial things

 

Then one night there was a big storm

 

The wind blew so hard that the acorn, who wasn’t so young and green anymore, fell off the branch and landed on the ground

 

A few days later, after the storm had passed, a little girl came by and picked up the thoughtful acorn

–         Her hands were soft like nothing the acorn had ever felt before

–         And her eyes were kind like nothing the acorn had ever seen before

–         And her voice was sweet like nothing the acorn had ever heard before

 

She showed the acorn to her grandad and asked him, ‘What is this here for?’

–         The old man looked at the acorn and then at the little girl

–         ‘You see that big tree there? This acorn is here to become like that oak’

–         The girl looked in awe at the acorn then carefully placed it back on the ground where she had found it

 

The acorn heard what the old man had said and even though he didn’t know how it would happen he still believed it was true

–         Now he knew at last why he was here

 

Genesis 15 is not the first time God has spoken to Abram, but it is the first time he has spoken to Abram in a vision

–         This vision happens at night, when the stars are out

–         We are told that ‘the word of the Lord came to Abram’

–         Prophetic messages are often introduced in the Bible with this phrase which signals to us that Abram is a prophet

–         Last week we heard how Abram acted in a kingly manner, even though he didn’t have the title of king

–         This week he acts in a prophetic manner

 

The Lord says three things to Abram…

–         Do not be afraid

–         I am your shield, and

–         Your reward will be very great

 

God often introduces himself by saying, ‘Don’t be afraid’

–         Fear is a natural response to the presence of God

–         After all God is the most powerful being there is

 

Then God says to Abram, ‘I am your shield’

–         A shield is something you hold close by your side to protect you

–         Given that Abram has just recently defeated the most powerful military alliance in the area he might very well be worried about reprisals

–         He needn’t worry though for God is his shield – right there beside him to protect him

 

The third thing God says is, ‘Your reward will be very great’

–         You may remember from last week (in Genesis 14) that Abram refused the reward of the spoils of war – he wanted nothing to do with the loot of Sodom, preferring instead to trust in God for his reward

–         Now here, in chapter 15, God is saying Abram will receive a great reward

–         What that reward looks like though is still somewhat ambiguous

 

Abram responds to God by saying…

–         What can you give me since I remain childless?

 

It’s not that Abram doubts God’s ability to deliver

–         It’s really more a question of meaning or purpose

–         Like the acorn Abram is wondering why am I here?

–         If the answer is to receive a great reward or to become rich then I don’t get it – there’s no meaning in that because when I die the reward goes to my servant Eliezer

–         Wealth is only a means to an end, not an end in itself

 

Then the word of the Lord came to him

–         Remember, that phrase means that what follows is a prophetic message

–         And the message is: Abram, you will father a son

–         Then God takes Abram outside (in his pyjamas) and shows him the stars saying, in effect, you will have so many descendants you won’t be able to count them

–         This is Abram’s oak tree moment – this is when the acorn gets a clear picture of why he is here and what he will become

 

At this point Abram doesn’t know how God will accomplish this

–         He simply believes God – he takes God at his word

 

I say ‘simply’ but as we know, simple isn’t the same as easy

–         Sarai was barren (she couldn’t have kids) and Abram wasn’t getting any younger

–         Believing that God would give him a son from his own body was equivalent to the acorn believing he would become a mighty oak one day

–         It’s equivalent to believing that God can raise people from the dead

–         That he can transform our mortal bodies into the immortal

–         It is such a leap that we must go beyond our own logic and exercise our imagination – which is what Abram does

–         Abram believes God’s word to him and God credits it to him as righteousness

 

Righteousness is a word that means ‘right relationship’

–         So a righteous person is someone who relates to others in a right way

–         They do justice and love mercy

–         Abram was not morally perfect – he didn’t always relate to others with justice & mercy – but by believing in God, by taking the Lord at his word, Abram did relate to God in a right way

 

Verse 6 is famously used by the apostle Paul in the New Testament [1]

–         “Abraham is the model for our faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, faith God will credit to us as righteousness” [2]

 

Conversation 2 – cutting a covenant (vv. 7-21)

Okay, so that’s the first conversation between God & Abram in Genesis 15

–         Now let’s hear their second conversation in this chapter

 

From verses 7-21 we read…

 

He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away. 12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.

13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.

15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord cut a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”

 

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this Scripture for us

 

On the wall here is a diagram, to scale, of the sun & planets in our solar system

–         As you can see the sun is enormous relative to any other planet

–         God designed it this way I believe

–         Not only does the sun provide light, which is the foundation of life on earth, the mass of the sun also provides the gravity needed to give order and stability to the solar system

–         Who knows what would happen without the gravity of the sun

–         Maybe the planets would float all over the place and bump into each – it would be chaos

–         God created the sun to give order and life and stability to our planet

 

In the first 6 verses of Genesis 15 God talks to Abram about children

–         Now, in the last 15 verses (which we just read), God talks about land

–         This second conversation takes place during the day and then at dusk

 

The Lord begins by reminding Abram that he brought him out of Ur to take possession of the land of Canaan

–         As I understand it God is saying, ‘Abram, we have history and a future. I’ve got plans and a purpose for you’

–         One gets the feeling there was more that God was going to say before Abram interrupts the Lord with another question…

–         How can I know that I’ll gain possession of it?

–         And the question is jarring, isn’t it, because it sounds like Abram doesn’t believe God – he wants some kind of guarantee or solid commitment

–         When Zechariah (the father of John the baptist) asked a similar question he was struck dumb and couldn’t talk for 9 months [3]

 

Some experts reckon that Abram’s questioning of God comes out of faith, not unbelief

–         They reason it takes more faith to speak up before God with a compliant than it does to despair in silence [4]

–         Maybe, but the fact is Abram is asking for a guarantee and asking for guarantees is a long way from taking God at his word

–         Abram believed God’s word that he would become a father

–         So why doesn’t he take God at his word about the Promised Land? [5]

 

Well, I can’t pretend to know the heart and mind of Abram

–         What I am in touch with (through my own experience) is that faith needs commitment to survive, in much the same way that a plant needs sunlight

–         Or in much the same way that the earth needs the gravity of the sun to give it stability, so that it doesn’t float all over the place

–         We are not big enough to sustain the commitment that faith requires

–         We don’t have the mass & gravity to give order and stability to faith

–         So we look to God to provide the commitment (the light and the gravity) that our faith needs to thrive

–         Our faith commitment depends on God’s much larger commitment to us

 

God had promised to give Abram possession of the land but the problem was there were already at least 10 other people groups living in the land

–         Add to that the complication of foreign invaders, which Abram had recently been fighting with, and we can see that, without a firm commitment or guarantee from God, Abram’s belief in God’s promises was at risk of becoming destabilised

–         Like our earth would be destabilised without the gravity of the sun

 

God, in his grace, understands that for our faith to survive, over the long haul, he needs to provide the guarantee of a stable commitment

–         So the Lord God gives Abram the guarantee he asked for

–         The Lord tells Abram to bring him some livestock and birds

–         Abram does this, cutting the livestock in two and laying the pieces on the ground opposite each other

–         This was a messy and smelly business – there would have been a lot of blood and flies

 

Abram has to wait till the end of the day, shooing away the carrion, until God speaks again

 

12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.

 

This thick and dreadful darkness signals to Abram (and to us) that what is about to take place carries huge gravity

 

The Lord goes on to explain the future to Abram – how his descendants will be enslaved in a country not their own for 400 years

–         God is talking about the Israelites in Egypt

–         But the Lord God will punish the nation that mistreats Israel and bring Abram’s descendants out of slavery

–         The implication here is that possession of the land is a slow train coming – it won’t happen overnight

–         There will be a lot of waiting and suffering before the promise is fulfilled

–         I guess if we are going to ask God for guarantees we need to be ready to hear what he wants to tell us – we may not like it

 

Verse 16 explains the reason for the delay…

–         16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

 

God is patient and just – he is slow to anger and rich in love

–         He intends to give the inhabitants of the land more than 400 years to change their wicked ways

–         Only when they’ve gone past the point of no return will the Amorites be dispossessed of the land

–         The reference to God’s patience in waiting for the sin of the Amorites to reach its fullness indicates that Joshua’s invasion was an act of justice, not aggression [6]

 

Verse 17 describes God cutting a covenant with Abram

 

17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking fire-pot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord cut a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land…

 

In the ancient culture, of Abram’s time, this is how people made an irrevocable agreement

–         It was called cutting a covenant because you cut the animals in half and walked between them as a way of saying, ‘If I break this promise then what has been done to the animals will be done to me’ [7]

 

It was serious, heavy weight, stuff

–         In our culture we don’t really have anything that comes close to this level of commitment

–         Our culture is relatively low on commitment but high on inclusion,

–         The prevailing thought is pretty much anything goes, so long as you don’t hurt anyone else – we’re more easy come, easy go

–         Our society, as a whole, tends to value convenience over commitment

 

The smoking fire-pot and blazing torch are symbols of God’s presence

–         The Lord walks between the animals that Abram has cut in two to demonstrate his solemn commitment to do what he has promised

–         What we notice is that God is the only one who walks between the severed animals – Abram doesn’t walk between them

–         So this is a one sided covenant – God is binding himself

–         It’s not that God requires nothing of Abram – as we’ll see when we get to chapter 17, God does ask some things of Abram and his descendants

–         The point here is that Abram can have 100% confidence in God’s oath

 

God’s covenant with Abram had the mass & gravity of the sun providing the light and stability Abram’s faith needed

–         But not just stability for Abram’s faith – also stability for the faith of his descendants

–         Isaac and Jacob and all the Israelites could look to this covenant and it would give light and order to their life, even through the hardest times

 

Conclusion:

Now God didn’t just cut a covenant with Abram

–         He has also cut a covenant with us

 

When Jesus went to the cross God was cutting a covenant with humanity

–         He was making an irrevocable commitment that anyone who accepts Jesus by faith will have their sins forgiven and be gifted eternal life in the kingdom of heaven

–         God’s commitment to us, as demonstrated through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, has the mass & gravity & light to give stability and life to our faith

 

So the question is: do you believe in Jesus?

–         His death & resurrection

 

https://soundcloud.com/tawabaptist/12-nov-2017-gods-covenant-with-abram

 

Questions for discussion / reflection:

 

1.)    What stands out for you in reading this Scripture and/or in listening to the sermon?

 

2.)    In what sense is Abram like the acorn in the story?

–         Why are you here? (What is the purpose or meaning of your life?)

 

3.)    How was Abram’s belief that God could make him a father equivalent to believing in resurrection from the dead?

–         What do you believe about the resurrection?

 

4.)     What is righteousness?

 

5.)    Why do you think Abram asks God for a guarantee in verse 8?

–         What does our faith depend on for stability and survival?

 

6.)    Why must Abram’s descendants wait over 400 years before God’s promise of them possessing the land is realised?

 

7.)    What does it mean to cut a covenant?

 

8.)    What covenant has God cut with us?

 

Footnotes

[1] Romans 4

[2][2] Bruce Waltke, Genesis, page 247.

[3] Luke 1:18

[4] Bruce Waltke, Genesis, page 241.

[5] Part of me wants to come to Abram’s rescue and put a positive spin on his words by saying that Abram was asking the question in pursuit of the promise. So, ‘How can I know I’ll gain possession of it?’ means something like, ‘Great I believe you God. When can I start kicking people out?’ But I suspect that would stretching the text too far

[6] Bruce Waltke, Genesis, page 244.

[7] Refer to Jeremiah 34:18-19

Covenant

Scripture: Exodus 24:1-11

Title: Covenant

Key Idea: A covenant is a sacred agreement for attachment

 

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Communication
  • Commitment
  • Communion
  • Conclusion

Introduction:

[Display slide 1]

 

On the wall here we have three images…

  • Some rope, a paper clip and a mother & baby having a cuddle
  • One word connects them. Can anyone tell me that word? [Wait]
  • Yes, that’s right – attachment

[Stop displaying slide 1]

This morning we are talking about covenant

  • A covenant is a sacred agreement for attachment
  • A covenant connects people – it holds relationships together

Please turn with me to Exodus chapter 24, page 85 in your pew Bibles

  • Today we continue our series on Moses
  • Last week we heard about the Decalogue – God’s 10 words in Exodus 20
  • These words of instruction are His recipe for living well
  • This week, in Exodus 24, we are still at Mt Sinai where the covenant between God & Israel is formalised. From verse 1 we read…

Read Exodus 24:1-11

 

May we be aware of God’s presence with us now

Today’s reading describes how the covenant between God & Israel was formalised

  • More than just a regular contract a covenant is a sacred agreement for attachment
  • A covenant goes above and beyond a regular contract to bind relationships together
  • There are three aspects to a covenantal agreement, each of which support attachment. They are: Communication, commitment and communion

Communication:

Cell phones – it is difficult for many of us to remember how we ever got on without them

  • They are so convenient and helpful for keeping us in contact with each other. It’s the same with the internet
  • Cell phones & internet give us a feeling of attachment
  • It’s not real attachment – it’s only virtual – but we can still get a bit anxious if someone doesn’t reply to our text or email quickly enough

Of course to be able to use a cell phone or the internet you need a network provider – whether that’s 2 Degrees or Spark or Vodafone or whatever

  • There isn’t much loyalty with network providers these days – we tend to go with whoever happens to be offering the best deal at the time
  • You might be on a contract with some company but a contract is different from a covenant
  • With a covenant both parties to the agreement have a sense of loyalty to each other
  • So a covenant is more permanent – less fickle – than a contract

As I mentioned before one of the key aspects of a covenant is communication

  • Communication supports attachment by creating a shared understanding, which in turn enables an agreement to be reached

What we see in the Bible is that God initiates the communication

  • From chapter 19 of the book of Exodus God has been communicating the terms of His offer to Moses
  • Now in verses 3-8 of Exodus 24 Moses leads the people through a ritual of communication & commitment to formalise the covenant

The ritual of communication begins with Moses telling the people all the Lord’s commands & instructions and the people respond by giving a verbal agreement

  • Then Moses puts it in writing
  • So far it is looking very much like a regular commercial contract
  • Except the way you seal a covenant is different from the way you seal a contract
  • You seal a contract by signing it – with your signature
  • But you don’t sign a covenant – you cut a covenant
  • Sealing a covenant, therefore, involves the shedding of blood

Blood is an interesting thing to use for sealing the deal

  • Unlike ink, blood is potent – it represents life
  • If you have a wound or an infection in some part of your body, it is the flow of blood which heals it – without blood flow the wound won’t heal
  • Using blood to seal the agreement gives the covenant more weight, more significance, more meaning
  • This covenant between God & Israel is a sacred agreement for life and healing

To cut this covenant, Moses gets some fit young men to sacrifice some animals

  • He takes half the blood and sets it aside in bowls
  • Then he takes the other half of the blood and throws it against the altar
  • This is messy stuff – but essentially the blood on the altar represents God’s signature – His part in cutting the deal

Before getting the people’s signature though, Moses first reads the book of the covenant to the Israelites

  • This details the terms of the agreement – both God’s promises to them and their responsibilities to God and each other

Commitment:

When you attach a trailer to a car you don’t just tie it on with rope or stick it on with masking tape – that would never hold

  • You need something strong, firm and able to take the weight, like a tow bar bolted (or welded) to the frame of your car
  • The coupling at the pointy end of the trailer is attached to the tow ball with a clasp, a bolt to hold the clasp in place and a safety chain

The genius of the tow bar and trailer arrangement is the capacity for movement

  • The attachment to the tow ball allows some pivoting from side to side so you can turn corners and back the trailer
  • If the attachment was completely rigid, allowing no movement at all, something would break or you’d never make it around a bend

The second aspect of covenant is commitment

  • A covenant commitment is firm and strong like a tow bar
  • But it’s not completely rigid
  • There is some room for movement in the commitment

After hearing God’s offer and terms read aloud the people say…

  • “We will obey the Lord and do everything that he has commanded”
  • This shows us the people entered into the agreement knowingly & freely

Then Moses took the blood in the bowls and threw it on the people

  • He said, “This is the blood that seals the covenant which the Lord made with you when he gave you these commands”
  • In other words, ‘This is your signature which seals the deal’
  • Now the people are officially attached by their commitment to Yahweh as He is attached and committed to them

One of the key differences between a covenant and a contract is the strength of the commitment

  • The commitment inherent in a covenant is far greater than the commitment stipulated in a contract
  • The strength of a contract is like masking tape compared to the strength of a covenant, which is like a tow bar

A contractual commitment tends to be limited

  • It is usually for a fixed period of time (like a lease agreement)
  • Or until one of the parties decides they want out (like an employment agreement)
  • But a covenantal commitment is more open ended – it doesn’t have an expiry date
  • A covenant is till death do us part (like with marriage)

This is not to say there is no room for movement with a covenant

  • Like a trailer on a tow ball there is capacity to turn corners and make minor adjustments
  • The point is, a covenant is stronger and more fit for purpose when it comes to carrying anything of weight or substance

The sacrifices made in verse 5 aren’t just a way of obtaining blood to seal the deal – they are also an acted out parable or a visual symbol of the commitment required by the people

  • The message is: Being in a covenant relationship with God will cost you
  • Moses is up front about that cost and so is Jesus
  • ‘Pick up your cross and follow me’, is what Christ said

The Israelites did two things in particular to remember their commitment to God’s covenant

  • The first was male circumcision – cutting the foreskin and shedding the blood of sons at eight days old
  • This was like adding your signature to the covenant in a personal way
  • The second sign of the covenant, for Israel, was keeping the Sabbath
  • Dedicating one day in seven to the Lord by stopping to rest

We Christians also do two things to remember God’s new covenant with us through Christ

  • We commit initially (and personally) by being baptised in water
  • And we remember the covenant on-going by sharing communion together

 

Communion:

Perhaps my favourite image of attachment is that of tree roots in the ground

  • Not only do the roots keep the tree firmly in place through all sorts of weather, they also draw up water & nutrients from the soil to feed the tree
  • There is an organic closeness between the roots and the soil

The third aspect of covenant present in today’s reading from Exodus is communion

  • After the ritual of communication and commitment, Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and the 70 elders of Israel went up the mountain and communed with God

Verse 10 tells us they saw God and beneath His feet was what looked like a pavement of sapphire, as blue as the sky

This verse is shrouded in mystery

  • We don’t get a description of what God looks like, God is indescribable
  • The most we get is a description of God’s footpath

God does not say anything here – He just lets the men gaze in awe and wonder

  • They saw God and then they ate and drank together
  • It is unclear whether this means the men actually ate with God or whether they simply ate with each other after seeing God
  • Either way we know they enjoyed a unique communion with the Lord, for God did not harm these leading men of Israel

Communion – this is perhaps the most important difference between a covenant and a contract

  • The primary purpose of a contract is to protect the parties from each other
  • By contrast the purpose of a covenant is not to protect but to share
  • With a contract the different parties to the agreement are trying to maintain their separateness – this is mine, this is yours
  • But with a covenant the parties are aiming for oneness – what’s mine is yours – like tree roots in the soil
  • Marriage is a covenant in which the two become one

God’s covenant with Israel at Sinai is similar to marriage in that both God and Israel are agreeing to work together (as one) for the same purpose, with each other’s well-being in mind

Conclusion:

This morning we’ve heard how a covenant is a sacred agreement for attachment

  • A covenant holds relationships together with communication, commitment and communion
  • It combines strength with movement – like a tow bar
  • And it allows closeness and sharing – like tree roots in soil

Not every agreement we enter into needs to be a covenant

  • In fact, because covenants are so demanding, we human beings can only handle 1 or 2 at a time
  • Those two being marriage and our relationship with God through Christ

Jesus came to establish a new covenant between God and humanity

  • It is a covenant in which God’s words are written on our heart so that we internalise them and obey God from the inside out
  • It is a covenant in which Jesus is sacrificed on the cross so that His blood seals the deal
  • And it is a covenant which makes communion or closeness with God and each other possible, so that we may share in God’s life

In a few minutes we will remember the new covenant made possible through Christ as we share together in the living ritual of communion

  • To help us prepare let’s stand and sing, ‘Only by grace can we enter…’
  • I ask the communion stewards to come forward at the end of the song

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Exodus+24%3A1-11&version=GNT

Moses Returns

Scripture: Exodus 4:18-31

 

Title: Moses Returns

 

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Assurance
  • Briefing
  • Correction
  • Deployment
  • Conclusion

 

Introduction:

Make peace with your past so it won’t mess up your present

 

Please turn with me to Exodus chapter 4, verse 18 – page 63 toward the front of your pew Bibles

  • Today we continue our series on Moses
  • A couple of weeks ago we heard how God spoke to Moses through a flame in a bush, calling him to confront Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of slavery
  • This morning Moses returns to Egypt in obedience to God
  • By returning to Egypt Moses is facing his past

 

From verse 18 of Exodus 4 we read…

 

[Read Exodus 4:18-31]

 

May the Lord meet us in this reading

 

Please turn with me to the back of your newsletter

  • We could think of Moses’ return to Egypt in four parts – A B C D
  • Assurance, briefing, correction & deployment
  • First let us consider how God gives Moses assurance in verses 18-20…

 

Assurance:

When Robyn and I were in our last year at Carey College training for ministry Tawa Baptist called us

  • Robyn & I are not from Wellington – most of our family live in the Waikato & Bay of Plenty
  • We were leaning toward coming to Tawa but hadn’t fully decided – there was still a significant element of faith involved both for us and the church
  • I remember driving along the southern motorway into Auckland around that time and the car in front of us had a personalised number plate which read, ‘2tawa’
  • What are the chances of seeing that on the Auckland motorway?
  • Now we didn’t base our decision to come to Tawa solely on that number plate but it was one thing that gave us assurance to proceed
  • God does things like that at certain crossroads in our lives
  • We might feel like we’ve heard from him but we doubt ourselves a bit and so he (in his grace) gives us assurance – he guides us in the direction we should go

Assurance is different from insurance

  • Assurance is something we can rely on – it will definitely happen
  • By contrast, insurance covers something that may or may not happen
  • So we have car insurance just in case we have an accident and need to replace the car
  • But we have life assurance, because it is certain that we will die one day and when we do our loved ones will get a pay out

 

In verse 18, after Moses has talked with God, he goes back to Jethro, his father-in-law, & asks permission to return to Egypt to see if his relatives are still alive

  • Jethro is Moses’ insurance
  • God is asking Moses to do a big thing here and Moses doesn’t know how the future will pan out
  • He needs to keep his relationship with Jethro good because if everything turns to custard Moses will need a home base to return to
  • So Moses takes care of the relationship by asking Jethro’s permission
  • Moses doesn’t burn his bridges

 

In verse 19, while Moses was still in Midian, the Lord spoke to him again saying: Go back to Egypt, for all those who wanted to kill you are dead

  • God gives Moses assurance
  • You will remember how Moses had left Egypt in a hurry, after killing an Egyptian slave driver
  • God knew that Moses was a bit anxious about returning to Egypt because of this – Moses was concerned his past might catch up with him
  • So God effectively says to Moses, ‘Now is a good time to return to Egypt, you are no longer an outlaw – no longer a wanted man’

 

Sometimes making peace with our past is simply a matter of time

  • Sometimes we just have to be patient and wait – time has a way of washing away ill feeling

 

With God’s assurance, Moses packs up his family and returns to Egypt on a donkey

  • This reminds us of another holy family travelling by donkey in the opposite direction, from Egypt back to Israel (Jesus, Joseph and Mary)
  • In that story God gave Joseph assurance by sending an angel in a dream to say Herod was dead and it was okay to go back home.

 

Returning to Exodus 4. At the end of verse 20 we are told Moses was carrying the stick God had told him to take

  • This stick is a tangible reminder of God’s assurance to Moses
  • It’s an assurance that Moses can literally hold on to
  • We also have these little tokens of assurance, don’t we
  • Perhaps a favourite Bible that we take with us everywhere
  • Or a cross on a necklace, or prayer beads, or some other physical reminder that we don’t travel alone – God goes with us

 

Briefing:

Every day around the world 11 or 12 people are either killed or injured because of land mines or other explosives left behind after war [1]

  • There are literally hundreds of millions of unexploded mines and bombs, in the world, left over after past wars, just waiting to be disturbed
  • The work of de-miners is a very practical way of making peace with the past so it doesn’t mess up the present

 

Sometimes making peace with our past is simply a matter of time

  • Time heals some wounds but not all wounds
  • There are some things which need special attention
  • Some things which don’t go away with time but in fact become more dangerous – like unexploded bombs
  • Part of the problem is that people don’t always remember where these ordnances are buried
  • If we forget our past then we may find ourselves walking through a mine field in the present
  • Pharaoh forgot Egypt’s past and consequently he led his people into danger

 

After giving Moses assurance to return to Egypt, God then briefs Moses, in verses 21-23

  • In this briefing God tells Moses the plan and what to expect
  • Unfortunately the briefing doesn’t make a lot of sense

 

God says to Moses, you do all the miracles

  • And I will make Pharaoh stubborn so that he won’t let the people go

 

Now, I imagine Moses scratching his head at this point thinking

  • Isn’t the whole idea to get Israel out of Egypt safely?
  • Why is God going to make Pharaoh stubborn so that he won’t let the people go? Hmmmm?

 

Well, it’s like St. Augustine said in the fifth century:

  • “If you understand it, then it is not God”

 

We will explore what it means for God to make Pharaoh stubborn when that comes up again in a few weeks

  • For now it is enough to know that God is giving Moses a heads up that things are not going to flow smoothly
  • He is in for a trying time with Pharaoh
  • God is giving Moses fair warning so he doesn’t become discouraged at the first hurdle

 

God goes on to say to Moses…

  • When the Pharaoh digs his toes in and refuses to let my people go I want you to say from me, ‘Israel is my first born son. I told you to let my son go, so that he might worship me, but you refused. Now I am going to kill your first born son.’

 

That doesn’t sound very nice – why does God want to kill Egypt’s first born?

  • Well, I don’t think God wants to kill anyone
  • The problem is Pharaoh has made some decisions which have limited God’s options

 

Pharaoh isn’t able to make peace with his past because he has forgotten the past

  • He has forgotten how Joseph (a Hebrew) saved Egypt from starvation and made the country rich during a famine
  • For Pharaoh to make peace with his past he would have to admit the injustices of his regime and make reparation
  • Pharaoh’s injustices lie scattered over the land like unexploded mines
  • But Pharaoh doesn’t want to face his own failure as a leader which means God doesn’t have much choice
  • God’s only option is to remind Pharaoh of Egypt’s injustice by visiting on Pharaoh the same treatment he has dealt out to Israel
  • The only way that Pharaoh is going to get the message is if God explodes some of the mines

To make peace with the past we must first remember the past – not as we would have liked it to have been, but as it actually was

 

Two aspects of good news we shouldn’t lose sight of here…

 

Firstly, Israel is God’s son – not Pharaoh’s son

  • Israel belongs to God – not to Pharaoh
  • Pharaoh has no right to hold Israel prisoner

 

Secondly, Israel is not an only child

  • Israel is God’s first born
  • Other nations will (and actually have) become God’s children too, through Christ

 

So the question for us is, ‘whose son, whose daughter, are we?’

  • Do we belong to Pharaoh or do we belong to God?
  • I believe we belong to God – although not everyone realises it
  • You are not the property of the bank or the company or the government
  • You are not a slave to market forces or technology or the opinion of others
  • You belong to God, as his child, and God wants you to be free of Pharaoh
  • (Whatever form Pharaoh may take)

 

Having given Moses assurance to proceed to Egypt

  • And having briefed Moses on what to do and what to expect in Egypt
  • God then corrects Moses in quite an alarming way

 

Correction:

What do you reckon – is one person by themselves better at remembering or are all of us together better at remembering?

 

[Wait for people to respond]

 

Yes – I agree with you – all of us together are better at remembering

  • We remember better together

 

In verse 24 of Exodus 4 we read how the Lord met Moses [on his way to Egypt] and tried to kill him

  • Whaaat? God tried to kill Moses?
  • Why would God do that when he has gone to so much trouble in sending Moses to Egypt to set Israel free?

 

 

Well, Moses’ wife Zipporah seemed to understand

  • Before Moses can face the future he must first make peace with his past
  • Moses needs to get his own house in order before he tries to sort out Pharaoh’s house because it seems Moses has forgotten his past too
  • Fortunately for Moses, Zipporah remembers

 

In Genesis 17 God made some promises to Abraham saying…

  • “You also must agree to keep the covenant with me, both you and your descendants in future generations. You and your descendants must all agree to circumcise every male among you. From now on you must circumcise every baby boy when he is eight days old…”

 

Apparently Moses had not circumcised his own sons as God had instructed the descendants of Abraham

  • Circumcision was the sign of the covenant
  • A covenant is a sacred agreement – it is more than a contract
  • You put your signature on a contract but you cut a covenant
  • Hence the cutting of the foreskin as a sign of the covenant

 

Perhaps another reason God chose circumcision as a sign of the covenant is that the men at least would be regularly reminded of the covenant – every time they went to the toilet or had a bath

  • Perhaps the women didn’t need such regular reminders

 

In any case, God’s covenant with Abraham was incredibly important

  • And, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, God doesn’t like it when we mistreat or ignore or forget what he considers sacred and important
  • By not circumcising his sons Moses had forgotten God’s covenant and God was not pleased – he tried to kill Moses

 

We don’t know exactly what this means – perhaps Moses became really sick and was close to dying

  • The fact that God didn’t kill Moses instantly shows us God’s grace
  • “God leaves room for mediation, [he] allows time for Zipporah to act,” [2] to save Moses – which she does
  • Zipporah cut off the foreskin of her son and touched Moses’ feet with it
  • In this way Zipporah made peace with the past by keeping the covenant
  • And so the Lord spared Moses’ life
  • This is not the first time Moses has been saved by the quick witted courage of a woman

 

Terence Fretheim makes the following observation of Moses’ near death experience…

  • This is a divine demonstration of the seriousness of the matter upon which God & Moses are about to embark: a life-and-death struggle in which Israel’s very life will be imperilled. That Israel or Moses will emerge unscathed is not a foregone conclusion. Israel will be dependent upon God’s decision and action on its behalf, yet Moses’ own obedience is integral to the divine mission. [3]

 

In other words our salvation is a serious matter and we can’t afford to take God for granted

  • Yes, he loves us, but that doesn’t mean anything goes
  • We are dependent on God to save us but at the same time the choices we make matter

 

As Christians we are under a different covenant

  • Ours is not the covenant of Abraham, so we don’t have to be circumcised
  • Ours is the new covenant established by Jesus
  • Later in the service we will share communion and you will hear me talk about the cup of the new covenant
  • We take communion to remember the new covenant with God made possible by Christ’s sacrifice
  • Or said another way, communion reminds us how Jesus enables us to make peace with our past and peace with God – so that we can have hope for the future

 

One of the cool things about communion is that we take it together, or more accurately we remember together – memory is more reliable that way

 

We don’t take communion lightly – it is a serious matter and God is not pleased if we misuse it. As the apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians…

  • It follows that if anyone eats the Lord’s bread or drinks from his cup in a way that dishonours him, he is guilty of sin against the Lord’s body & blood. So then, everyone should examine himself first, and then eat the bread and drink from the cup. For if he does not recognise the meaning of the Lord’s body when he eats the bread and drinks from the cup, he brings judgement on himself as he eats and drinks. [4]

 

God has assured Moses it is okay to return to Egypt

  • God has briefed Moses on what to expect when he confronts Pharaoh
  • And God has corrected Moses on his way to Egypt
  • Now God deploys Aaron to go with Moses to Egypt
  • A B C D

 

Deployment:

Verse 27 of Exodus 4 reads…

  • Meanwhile the Lord had said to Aaron, “Go into the desert to meet Moses.” So he went to meet him at the holy mountain; and when he met him he kissed him.

 

Sometimes making peace with our past is a difficult thing – like defusing an unexploded bomb or some other life & death struggle

  • Other times it is a joyful thing – as it was when Aaron and Moses were finally reunited after probably about 40 years apart

 

Making peace with your past can also mean re-doing things again – only this time properly

  • The first time Moses had tried to save his people he had acted alone – without God and without the people themselves
  • This time though Moses goes with the Lord and with Aaron
  • And he involves all the leaders of Israel – he takes the people with him

 

Aaron does the talking and Moses performs the miracles

  • The people believe and bow down in worship to the Lord for he has come to them and seen how cruelly they are being treated
  • It’ a beautiful thing when God lets us know that he understands our pain
  • Knowing that God understands goes a long way in helping us to make peace with our past

 

 

Conclusion:

This morning we’ve heard that making peace with our past can mean different things

 

Sometimes it means simply letting go – not chasing after the past but allowing time to do the work of healing

  • Waiting for the enemies of bitterness and revenge to die

 

But time won’t fix everything

  • There are some things which need special attention
  • Some things which don’t go away with time but in fact become more dangerous – like unexploded bombs
  • In those cases, to make peace with the past we must first remember the past – not as we would have liked it to have been, but as it actually was
  • If we forget our past (as Pharaoh did) then we may find ourselves walking through a mine field

 

The other thing to keep in mind when it comes to making peace with our past is, we don’t have to do it alone

  • Moses had help to face his past
  • Zipporah helped him to remember the covenant and put things right with God
  • And Aaron helped Moses to approach the task in a proper way, involving the leaders of Israel
  • Moses & Aaron & the Lord worked together to restore hope to the people

 

 

 

 

[1] http://www.maginternational.org/the-problems/landmines-and-unexploded-ordnance/#.VZcQ3xHAKM8

[2] Terence Fretheim, ‘Exodus’, page 79.

[3] Fretheim, page 81.

[4] 1 Corinthians 11:27-29