God’s Covenant with Abraham

Heritage Presbyterian Church https://heritagepresbyterian.org

4th Sunday after Pentecost
June 25, 2023

Scripture readings:  Genesis 15: 1b-21

Intro: I am currently preaching a theme called “Covenant Agreements with God.”  In this series, we will explore the various covenants God made with his people throughout history.  First, there was God’s covenant with Adam; next was God’s covenant with Noah.  Today’s covenant is the one God made with the man we call Father Abraham.


When God made a covenant with Adam, God told Adam he could live in the garden, eat anything from any bush or tree he wanted, but Adam was not to eat from a certain tree.  Adam and Eve both ate from that tree and broke the first covenant.  Note that God never explained to Adam WHY he couldn’t eat from that particular tree…

Later, God wanted to destroy all life on the earth because his creation had become so rotten.  God regretted creating life on the earth – but one man was righteous.  So, God’s plan was altered because of the faith of Noah.  Once the earth was flooded and destroyed, but Noah and his family and all animals were spared in the ark, God vowed to never again destroy life.  His sign of that covenant was the rainbow in the sky.

Today’s covenant takes a completely different turn. 

God recognizes that Abram was a righteous man who lived to serve the Lord.  There was no beginning of life; there was no threat to destroy life; instead, there seemed to be a chosen group for life abundant.

Adam was the first man – he did nothing to earn God’s gift of life in the Garden of Eden.  And he broke the covenant God had established with him.

Noah was a righteous man who obeyed all God’s instructions without hesitation and without knowing why he was doing them.  Did Noah “earn” God’s gift of the promise never again to destroy life?  You decide.

Now we have Abram, a man about whom we know very little when his story begins.  All we get is God tells him to go from his own country with his family and head toward a land that God would show Abram.  Again, obeying without full understanding.  That seems to be sign of righteousness.

Once Abram arrives in the land God directed him toward, he heard of the first covenant between God and Abram (yes, there were more than just the one).  God had a surprise for Abram: he was going to be the father of a great nation.  This is the ultimate in the thinking of people in the Old Testament days: family would continue long after Abram’s death, and they would be on land that God would give them.

Family and land – that was a winning combination in the days of Abram.

Problem: Abram had no male heirs, so how could this happen?  Would it be through his son, Ishmael, who was not the child of his wife, Sarai?  In other words, Abram was asking, “How will this happen?”  

No, God told him.  Sarai would be the mother of nations.  Abram would be the father of nations.  

In fact, God took Abram outside and told him to look at the night sky.  All the stars that can be seen – that’s how many offspring you will have.

Abram then asks NOT about the children, but about the land! 

God told Abram that the land was already in possession by the people who lived there, but Abram’s descendants would be given the land anyway.

This covenant takes on the following pattern:

  1.  Yahweh makes a promise.
  2. Abram asks, “How can this be?”
  3. Yahweh responds and explains.
  4. Abram accepts.

If this seems a little familiar, compare it to when the Angel Gabriel came to Mary, the mother of Jesus to tell her how she would be the mother:

  1.  Gabriel tells her the news.
  2. Mary asks, “How can this be?”
  3. Gabriel responds and explains.
  4. Mary accepts.

I guess the lesson in both passages is that when someone is presented with a covenant from God, it is okay to ask a clarifying question.   But then acceptance is the signal that the covenant is valid from that point forward.

The comparison between Abram and Mary falls apart quickly when we study the events that followed:

  • Mary only had to wait 9 months for Gabriel’s announcement to come true.
  • Abram did not live to see God’s announcement to him come true.  God told him it would take generations, but eventually his descendants would number more than the stars in the heavens; and eventually his descendants would take possession of the land God described.

The waiting is the problem of faith, especially when the delay seems unending.  This tests the patience of even the most righteous believer, but we are given examples of righteous believers who worked and served and waited WITHOUT COMPLAINT for God to act.

We don’t like those examples; we are more in the model of “why-can’t-we-have-it-right-now” Christians.

It took years for Noah and his two sons to build that ark.  That’s not the type of vessel that could be built by human hands in a month or two even today.

It took years for Abram’s family to number as many as the stars in the heavens, especially when that family begins with only one son – Isaac.

Family was one of the most important things to Abram; family and the land on which they would live.  After a good, long life, Abram could look back and see at least limited successes in his own lifetime – evidence of the covenant he accepted with God without even knowing of any proof.

God was the promise-maker.

Abram was the promise-bearer.

The substance of the promise was the land – with Abram’s descendants occupying it.  All of that took a while

You can’t look back and get a really good look at God’s grace, blessings, and gifts unless you can look back over a long period of time and see all the evidence in the family.

Next August, my mother’s family will all gather in the Hill Country for another family reunion.  There was one in the 1930, one in the 40’s, one in the 50’s, and then none until they were resumed in 1980.  Since that reestablishment, we have met without fail every four years (with one delay due to Covid).  Each time we gather, it is on the same piece of land 10 miles from Mo-Ranch on the Guadalupe River.  

Each time we gather, there are more people to meet – those who married into the family, new babies that were born, cousins who were encouraged to join us from far away, even the occasional missionary who is home from far-away lands like China or Central America.

We tell stories, we share meals, we have small group conversations around campfires, or down at the river.  We all gather to see which little one can swim the Guadalupe in the Big Hole for the first time and get their official silver dollar (I still have mine).  We laugh, and we hug, and we love each other without hesitation.  We even have a worship service on the closing Sunday morning complete with prayer, singing (BOY, can they sing!), reading Scripture, and even a sermon.  This isn’t too hard to arrange because we currently have five PCUSA pastors in the family.

And do you know who enjoys these gatherings the most?

The oldest cousins.

All six of them range in age from 75 to 93, and they have a blast!  They are the first ones to arrive and the last ones to leave.  They seek out every new person, they cheer the loudest when the Big Hole is conquered, they volunteer to read Scripture at the worship service, they cook and clear the meals, and most of all…most of all, they love everybody there.

One more thing: while we are there, we never, ever miss the chance to sit outside at night and just gaze up at the stars.  Most of us live in big cities that had some stars, but not the nightly show that the Hill Country has.

When we sit and look at the stars, I wonder if any of them ponder the blessings that Abram received from God, blessings of family and land – and then smile to themselves as they silently thank the God of Abraham for the similar blessings they received.

God’s covenant with Abram – later to be called Abraham, the Father of Nations – was a wonderful thing between a loving God and his righteous child.

All of us can claim that same covenant because all of us are sons and daughters of Abraham.