Sermons from Lone Rock Bible Church
Stevensville, MT
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December 12, 2004

God’s Promise to Bless His People
Genesis chapters 9, 12, and 15

 We will continue the overall topic started last week from Galatians 4:4 where we are told that, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son…” God, of course, is way ahead of the game. From the Garden through to Revelation, He has promised to bless His people. The plan began to unfold in Genesis . . .

  1. Promise previewed (Genesis 9)
  2. Promise stated generally (Genesis 12:1-3)
  3. Promise guaranteed specifically (Genesis 15)

All over our country the notion of Christmas is once again under attack. From the standpoint of society, God seems to be becoming increasingly optional. It’s almost as if we should opt away from God, as though God just doesn’t seem to fit in our world.

It seems to me that ever since the Garden and the fall, once there was sin, once Adam and Eve exposed themselves to evil as an option and ate of the tree, their first response toward God was avoiding or hiding from Him. I don’t think much has changed. I think that from a natural standpoint if we are not personally in a relationship with God, it’s a natural thing to want to be distanced from Him. 

Even in our own lives, if we are flirting with a lifestyle that God would not approve of, it’s as though we are estranged. It’s a relationship and that’s how relationships work. As a culture, when God becomes optional or distant or unnecessary or irrelevant, it’s only because we are very uncomfortable in His presence.

One time, God even showed up, took on human flesh, lived in a culture and ultimately, was murdered by it, because people are not comfortable, naturally, with God. I find this to be true and that just pulls me to the Bible, to the truth of Scripture. What if Christmas were illegal? What if no more, in a public way, could the birth of the Messiah be acknowledged?

I challenge you to think about this. What would that do to our faith? What would that do to our relationship with God? Wouldn’t we, as Christians, be forced in a sense into a position where we would have to reconsider first things? Do we really know Him? Do we really trust Him? Do we really embrace Him? Or do we depend upon the culture to tell us whether or not our God is relevant.

If Christmas becomes unpopular, fine. That’s natural. It’s natural to treat God that way when you don’t know Him. But I know Him; we know Him. And He will always be popular and there will always be Christmas and it will always be a celebration regardless of what the world determines. Isn’t that great? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter.

He is every bit alive, having been born in a manger in Bethlehem to a virgin, whether or not anyone out there cares to be comfortable with that. It doesn’t change a thing, and that takes me to God, who makes promises and who keeps them. He promises a number of things.

In our Christmas series we are talking about promises God has made. Last week from the earliest chapters of the Bible, God has promised victory over the enemy. That is not hanging in the balance. Today we want to talk about His promise to bless His people, moving further in the book of Genesis.

I think it’s amazing to trace what happens in Bible history beginning in the earliest chapters of Genesis. We see generations go by before God shows up again. People will turn their backs on Him, beginning with Adam and Eve. They’re expelled from the Garden, problems arise, a flood comes, a tower is built, people naturally drift away from God, then He shows up again.

When God blesses, He promises deliberately to focus His favor. In a fallen world, where people do not move naturally toward God but rather away from God, when God focuses His favor in a world like ours, it’s like a beam of light penetrating darkness. It’s always a good thing and always effective.

I want to take us back to Genesis and talk about this promise of His to bless, this promise of His to focus His favor on a people. When God focuses His favor on a people He makes it happen and He carries it through to fruition. He has promised to restore a fallen race, make it better than it ever was before, the ultimate blessing – eternal fellowship at peace with God. He’s bringing it about. He began it long ago. He brought it into focus at the manger in Bethlehem and later at the cross at Calvary. It didn’t begin there. It began long before that.

We will be looking at some Bible history this morning. When we talk about Bible history, we’re talking about what the God of heaven has done when He has stepped into the human experience. I think that few things could be more fascinating than that.

1. Promise previewed (Genesis 9)

When we come to Genesis chapter 9, a lot has occurred and God has addressed it. Back in the 3rd chapter was the fall, the original fall of our first parents, the curse upon the race, the expulsion from the Garden, and everything has been downhill ever since. Remember that in the fall, God didn’t just say, “Well, you’ve done it now. See you.” But He stepped in deliberately on behalf of those people who had just sinned. He provided garments and gave them a promise that the day would come when that enemy who had been such a key factor in the fall and in the curse -- one day that enemy’s head would be crushed.

God didn’t just say, “OK, it’s a fall. We’re done. I’m moving on. Another planet. Another solar system. See you.” He stayed with it. He made a promise that He fully intends to keep. What we’ll find out about the promises of God is that they begin perhaps in a general sense and get more specific over time as He reveals more and more of Himself and of His plan. But the fall was followed by a promise. Later, Genesis 6 tells us that people got very, very bad as generations followed the fall. God sent judgment upon the earth in the form of a flood, from which eight people were delivered because Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.

So God judged the world and started over with Noah. Again! He didn’t say, “Oh, it’s wicked, let’s wipe them out. I’m done. I’m finished. I’m gone.” Oh no, He preserves Noah and Noah’s family and starts over again with them, giving them a promise that this time was made first in Genesis 3. Now it’s going to be repeated with more details in Genesis 9. The promise will be repeated in Genesis 12, more details, and again in Genesis 15 and again in Genesis 18 and again in 22, until God presents His people with a picture of what He is up to and encourages them throughout, “Trust Me. I’m on it.”

So the fall was followed by a promise. The flood was followed by a promise and that’s the promise I want us to look at as Noah and his sons and daughters-in-law begin their new lives in a new world and in a very real way. Recall that Noah was the key player; he was right with God; he was spared through the waters of the flood, but Genesis chapter 9 gives us a bit of a down side to Noah’s later life.

Sometimes we think these people in the Bible are heroes bigger than life, but normally we see that they’re a lot like you and me. There was a problem with Noah and his sons and this is how it went. In Genesis 9:20 Noah began farming and he planted a vineyard That’s good. He drank of the wine and became drunk. That’s not good.

Some time has elapsed, more people have been born, and civilization has begun to grow again. Noah has planted a vineyard, the plants are growing, bearing fruit and Noah is thinking, “I wonder if I can still do the wine thing.” So he picks the grapes and gets the sugar and does the fermentation and drinks too much and became drunk. It says that he uncovered himself inside his tent. We don’t know exactly what’s going on here but we do know it isn’t good. This is a gloss over, intentionally in the Bible. It’s an intentional euphemism saying, “We’re not going to tell you what happened. Please trust us here. It was some sort of a sexual perversion that was going on.”

Here’s Noah in his tent and Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers. He didn’t just tell them, “Oh by the way, Dad is naked in the tent.” He was making sport. He was delighting in whatever perversion was taking place. Ham thought that was really something and he wanted to include his brothers in the “yuk yuk” part of it. He wanted to draw them into whatever was going on.

Shem and Japheth weren’t having it. They were concerned for their father’s name, their father’s character. They were concerned for the integrity of what God had freshly begun. God’s agenda was to them more than whatever problem their brother had. So they did the right thing. They took a garment, laid it upon both their shoulders and walked backward. The point of the story is that they took pains to preserve their father’s integrity and to honor him because they knew God had honored him.

Ham, the other brother, is out of it. He has an unrighteous streak and now it is showing. They walked backward, covered the nakedness of their father. When Noah awoke, he knew what his youngest son had done. So he pronounces curses. This is where we’re going in this whole thing. God through Noah is going to make promises, negative and positive.

22 So he said,
“Cursed be Canaan;
(the son of Ham
“A servant of servants He shall be to his brothers.” 

Clearly like father, like son. The reason that Canaan is brought into this issue is because without question there is family collusion here. His side of the family is bad news; they’re going to pay for this.

26 He also said, “Blessed be the Lord, The God of Shem; And let Canaan be his servant.
27 May God enlarge Japheth

So Shem and Japheth get good news; Ham gets bad news. But in the good news to the two brothers, God couches a promise that is very important. It needs to be read this way in verse 27:

27 May God enlarge Japheth; and let Him dwell in the tents of Shem

“Him” ought to be capitalized. In other words, “May God dwell in the tents of Shem,” thus deliberately focusing His favor, blessing, on one of the three. May God dwell in the tents of Shem, which indeed God does, and let Canaan be his servant.

What we have is God dwelling in the tents of Shem, God now promising that this blessing, that He has stated He will do, will come to Noah and his three sons. Out of the three sons, coming through Shem. God is going to dwell in his tents.

It’s interesting if you count, because the next individual of prominence we’ll get to is in Genesis 12 – Abraham. Abraham is a Shemite, a Semite we call it today. The Semitic peoples are the descendants of Shem, that’s where we get that expression. There are a lot of them. As a matter of fact, if we cared to do it, we could read from Genesis 11 and learn that between Shem and Abraham, there were eight generations and each generation with lots of sons. But God has made a promise, He is focusing His favor, and He is narrowing it down. He’s not just saying, “Oh, let’s bless these people.” No, we’re going to bless Shem and later on narrowing it down from all the hundreds and hundreds of possible offspring of Shem, he arrives at Abraham. That’s how it works. Many possible channels of blessing; God picked one. One man – Abraham.

In Luke chapter 3, the genealogy is given, tracing to Jesus.

Luke 3
23When He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age, being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph, the son of Eli,

When He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age, being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph, the son of Eli, and on and on. It goes way back through time, generation after generation after generation. But we’ll notice at verse 34 we get to “the son of Jacob; the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham.” 

 36the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech,

The Bible is pretty clear on this. Of all the options God had available through Shem, He deliberately takes it to Abraham. Throughout Scripture, God is clearly, consistently, sovereign. He is in control of these things. He doesn’t stand back and say, “Oh, what do I do now? Look at that silly Noah and what he’s done. And Ham, he shouldn’t have. What am I going to do? Maybe Japheth and Shem will come through. Now, I’ve got to restore this thing. I have to fix this thing. It’s a mess.”

No. God isn’t like you and me. As the generations unfold beyond Shem, God is not saying, “Oh, is this guy a good guy?” Everyone is born naturally in sin. God knows that. He knows how much time He wants to elapse, which people He wants to use. When the time comes, He puts the finger on Abraham and two thousand years later, when the fullness of time had come, He sent forth that One who is the focal point of the whole promise because God is completely in control.

Don’t ever worry about that. He is completely in control or He is not God. If He’s not in control then He has needs or He is ignorant. In either case, He is no longer the God of Heaven. But He is sovereign.

2. Promise stated generally (Genesis 12:1-3)

Genesis chapter 12, verses 1 through 3, is what the entire rest of the Bible is about. If you have to take the Bible to a pivotal turning point, to a foundation, speaking from the standpoint of what’s coming next, it’s all about Genesis 12:1-3 through the end of Revelation from that point.

These are huge verses. Please understand this is big stuff. Eight generations have elapsed since the blessing given to Shem. Now with all those different possibilities, where God could have taken His blessing, He comes here, to Abram, living in the northern Mesopotamian Fertile Crescent, a place called Haran, and God steps in. He comes to Abram and He gets very specific with him. God becomes very near and very involved because that’s how He’ll work out His promise to restore. He’ll do it personally. He’ll use people, but it’s His project and He’ll see it through.

He steps in. He talks to Abram. In these three verses, He talks about a blessing. Five times in three verses, He uses that term. He fully intends to focus His favor in a restorative way through Abram. There is no more significant individual other than Jesus in the history of the world.

Genesis 12

   1Now the LORD said to Abram,
         "Go forth from your country,
         And from your relatives
         And from your father's house,
         To the land which I will show you;     
      2And I will make you a great nation,
         And I will bless you,
         And make your name great;
         And so you shall be a blessing;
      3And I will bless those who bless you,
         And the one who curses you I will curse
         And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed."

Not just your family. All of them. Introducing His saving grace to be extended throughout the world. Starting right here. That notion of “go into all the world” did not begin in Matthew 28. Always God’s design was all the world. Abraham is the key.

Growing up, I used to think, “What’s the big deal about the Jews?” In my recall, World War II, 1948, there’s a Zionist thing, a country over there in the Middle East. “Who are these people and why does anybody care about them? Why is it that they seem to grab headlines from time to time?”

The Jews are traceable here, to God saying, “I will make you a great nation.” That’s profound. He will make their name great. That may strike us, “Well, they aren’t a great nation.” Aren’t they? I would say they are a fairly influential nation. That’s just the way things are now.

There were many, many nations raised up in the ancient Near East. None of them exist in the world today except this one. You cannot find an Amalekite, a Canaanite, any of the “ites.” They’re gone. Where are the Assyrians as a nation? They’re gone. This is unique; this is special. The history of this people, ethnically, is fascinating. Which is why, in 1948, when there happened to be an absence on the United Nations Security Council, there was a vote allowing statehood to Israel. Going back to 586 B.C. there was no nation. They were everywhere; now they’re back and they’re a nation. That isn’t just, “That’s interesting.” No, that’s deliberate; that’s what God has done. Spiritually is another matter, but ethnically there they are. God said, “I will make you a great nation and I will make your name great.”

Back in Genesis 6, before the flood – part of the problem that brought on the flood was that people were trying to make their own names great. The sons of God, the daughters of men, the Nephelim, the giants, all these people were great in their own eyes. They were great in the eyes of one another but their design was, “I will make myself great.”   They  are gone.

Later on at the tower (Genesis 11) people got together and said, “Let’s build us a tower, let’s make it high, let’s make it permanent, let’s make it big, let’s make us a name.” They’re gone.

Now we come to Genesis 12. God steps in and says, “I believe I will make your name great. Now it’s My job. I’ll do it.” And it’s done. That’s the big deal about the Jews, at least till now. We can’t go a whole lot further than that except to say this. In the city of Hebron in Israel, about a half hour south of Jerusalem, there’s a huge complex built by Herod the Great in the first century. Inside that complex is the only place in all the world where one building houses three worship centers. Inside the building and in Hebron six key individuals are buried.

This is where they buried Abraham, his wife Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Leah, and Jacob. All these big players from the book of Genesis are buried at Hebron, which is significant. It’s also important to know that there are three worship centers there: a mosque, a synagogue, and a church, all in the same place. People come and go and do their worship in three of the major religions in the entire world. Why? Because each of those major world religions traces their origins to Abraham. “I will make your name great.”

You and I couldn’t grab headlines like that if we tried three lifetimes. But God was in Abraham’s life and He indeed made his name great and He promised him in Genesis 12 that all the families of the earth will know His focused favor.

“I will bless those who bless you. I will curse those who curse you.” Say what you will, but it’s in the Book.

“And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

Galatians 3

 7Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.  
 8The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU."

This guy is key! He is key ethnically; he’s also key spiritually and that’s how the promise focuses and arrives at your doorstep and mine. Blessing – God’s focused favor – He will restore. He’ll do it through Abraham. That’s the general promise.

Promise guaranteed specifically (Genesis 15)

The promise was stated generally in Genesis 12:3; it is guaranteed specifically in chapter 15, to Abraham by God, graphically and permanently. The chapter starts with a dilemma. Abraham remembers the promise. He believes it, but he is really unsure how God is going to carry it out. Why? Abraham and Sarah are really old and they’ve never had children. She’s has never been able to bear children – ever.

So Abraham is thinking:

  2Abram said, "O Lord GOD, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?"

Abraham is a wealthy man. He has a lot of holding, but he does not have an heir. So according to culture, his right hand man gets his stuff since Abraham doesn’t have any children of his own. By law, Eliezer, who is his servant, his foreman, gets everything. Abraham is not quite comfortable with that, because God has said, “Your descendents.” So Abraham is wondering about the use of that term.

Abraham knows he is going to have a “seed,” but he doesn’t understand fully the implications of that. He’s questioning God. “

3And Abram said, "Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir."
 4Then behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, "This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir."
 5And He took him outside and said, "Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them " And He said to him, "So shall your descendants be."

He said, “Abraham, more than the stars of the heavens, you’re going to have offspring. From your body.”

It says in Romans 4, “Abraham considered his own body as good as dead” due to advanced years and the deadness of Sarah’s womb, but realized God is beyond dead. Dead is not a threat to God. He’s trusting in a God whose abilities are clearly beyond his own.

“In my own way, in my own flesh, it’s not going to happen.”

“Well, it’s a good thing it’s not up to you, isn’t it, Abraham? It’s a good thing it’s up to Me.”

We have to go back to that a lot. It’s a good thing it’s God’s kingdom to build. It’s a good thing Heaven is His creation. It’s a good thing He provided salvation. It’s a good thing He gives us His Spirit and His Word and His church.

Abraham is going to take his place there after this graphic object lesson in the stars. That’s the dilemma and the clarification. It’s going to be from Me, Abraham, and not your works. Verse 6 is monumental:
      6 Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.

He is hereby made right with God, right here, this verse. What did he have to do to be right with God? Trust Him! He didn’t have to jump through any hoops, push any buttons, climb any hills, pray any prayers. He didn’t have to do anything, but trust God. He put all his trust in God. That’s it. And that is the beauty of the Gospel. That’s the beauty of the grace of God. This is a huge verse.

It is not circumstance. It is not by accident that he places his trust in God after God promises to bless through Abraham’s seed. We know, as the Bible will unfold for us that Abraham’s seed finds its culmination in the Messiah. The Messiah is the One who purchases our salvation. Did Abraham have all those facts? No, he didn’t. He did not have all the facts, but he did have the same God and he was given a promise and he trusted the God of the promise. God said, “You are now right with Me.” That’s what being justified means, being made right with God.

How do you get right with God? Trust Him. That’s it. Abraham believed in the Lord, he trusted in the Lord. He reckoned it to him, or considered it to him, as righteousness.

So God says now it’s assurance time. This is where it begins, in verse 7:

7And He said to him, "I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it."
8He said, "O Lord GOD, how may I know that I will possess it?"

A lot of people today go back and forth on this one. “Lord, how may I know?” God says, “OK, I’ll take care of that. I will prove to you I am serious about this blessing thing.

 9So He said to him, "Bring Me a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon."

He brought all of these to God and Abraham knew what was coming. What is unfolding now is an ancient, legal event that seals a contract. They called it cutting a covenant and they meant it literally, because Abraham takes these animals and birds and cuts them in half. He lays the pieces apart from one another, leaving a pathway between them. The idea behind this graphic illustration is “we will pass between the pieces” thus saying graphically that, “may this happen to me (being halved) if I don’t fulfill my side of this deal. I’m so serious about this that I’m putting my life on the line.”

Abraham knows where this is going, so he gets the animals, cuts them, lays them out.

12Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him. 

God said to Abraham, “Know this for certain,” and He reiterates the promise with specifics regarding the land and then it says in verse 17:

17It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces.

What has happened? Who is the pillar of fire and the cloud? It’s God! Only God passed between the pieces. That’s what is significant here. God is saying, “We’re going to make a deal. You lay the path out.” Abraham didn’t pass between, only God did. God is saying, “I will bless you. I promise I will bless you. Here’s the proof of My promise. I alone will pass between the pieces. I alone will take complete responsibility for seeing that My blessing is brought through to completion.” That is wonderful! God guaranteed it.

That is assurance. “How will I know.”  “Here’s how you may know – watch Me. See what I can do.” And God passes between the pieces. If that didn’t convince Abram that God was serious about an unconditional promise, I don’t know what will.

There are verses at the end of the Bible I would like to draw attention to. Can we know? Do we really think God would leave us twisting in the wind, wondering where we stand with Him? The Bible makes this very clear.

I John 5
11And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.

 12He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.

The Son is the One to whom the promise ultimately goes.

13These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

That is such good news. I can think of none better. The Bible says as fulfillment of God’s promise to bless, when the time was absolutely right, when the fullness of time had come, not a minute early, not a minute late, God sent forth His Son.

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®,
Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995
by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

   © Jim Carlson 2004, Lone Rock Bible Church, Stevensville Montana, USA