The God of Second Chances
If you have ever gone golfing you might could relate to my normal tee shot. You get up on the tee box with the green manicured grass, look out at the sprawling fairway with the tree line going down the sides, you place your ball on the tee, aim at the middle of the fairway, take a deep breath of that therapeutic fresh air, rare back and give it all you’ve got. You then watch your ball go sail through the air… and at some point just before it reaches the apex of flight it goes hooking to the left like a bird grabbed it and flew away with it. You gaze and realize you will never find that ball again.
You then do what every other hacker like me does and drop another ball. In school they called this a do-over, but golf and adulthood needs to make it sound better so they call it a mulligan. This time you tee your ball up, adjust your swing by aiming to the right tree line to compensate for your hook. You then rare back and hit the straightest shot of your day… directly into the woods. You then look to see if any of your friends are watching as you drop another ball down… your second mulligan.
My goal in golf is to take a box of balls and hope I can finish the game. I often need a do over. Sometimes in life you need a do over. You need a fresh start. We serve the God of second chances. Last week we saw Adam and Eve blew it and God gave them a second chance. That theme continues throughout the Bible. The God of the Bible is a redeeming God, a God of second chances.
We are in Genesis 12 today and looking at what God does with a man named Abram. Abram plays an central role in the biblical story. What God promises to him is not fulfilled until the end of the Bible, and what God does through him defines what it means to follow God. This is an important stage in God redeeming what was lost in the garden.
“Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." (Genesis 12:1-3 ESV)
- God Spoke (v 1)
Just as creation began with the Lord speaking so now the story continues because God speaks. If God did not speak the story and plot of humanity would be dead. By grace God calls. The same word that summoned the world into existence summons a nation into existence.
Prior to this the corruption in people grew. God brought judgement as a flood with Noah. He saved people from destruction. Its an important story but we cant get to it.
The story of Abram begins with them in the land of Ur. That is the coast of modern day Iraq. Joshua 24:2 tells us Abram’s forefathers “lived beyond the River and worshiped other gods” (Jos 24:2 NIV). The people are outside the garden and they are not worshipping God.
It is in this setting that God speaks to Abram. So many times in Scripture and in life people are dead in their tracks until God acts. The same is true here. There would be no hope for people and no second chances, but God speaks. He calls Abram to follow him and God says he is going to do something great in Abram.
God calls him to another land. It’s a promise land. In Genesis 3 they were removed from the land. Now God is calling them back. Its an opportunity to align themselves with God’s purposes. Its an opportunity to regain life with God. and God says he is going to bless Abram.
When God blesses people it always has a spiritual element but it also touches other facets. Some Old Testament commentators have said that to bless is essentially to empower. Empower them spiritually, physically, or monetarily-holistic blessing. God does desire to bless his people financially, physically. We do well to remember that but we also do well to remember that our main problem is not with money or with physical strength. We have a spiritual problem called sin. But blessing does remind us that God wants to solve all the problems with the curse, and here God is blessing people who live under his curse. The fall is being reversed! God will bless Abram and he will increase in number, wealth, character, and his walk with God.
God also says that in blessing Abram he is going to bless all other nations. The word nation is meshpach could also be translated family. There is a big difference between a nation and family, but you can see why it gets translated nations. The various families will grow and become the various nationalities. God’s grace is not isolated to a particular group of people. He wants all people to be blessed. It’s not just for white people. It’s not just Jewish people. It’s not just bearded people. Or blue eyed people. It’s everyone. That’s God’s desire. At Bridgeway we want to be a church that has the same racial divisions and biases that God has, which is none! We want to be a diverse church that is blessing a diversity of people.
What God does for Abraham is what God will do for all his descendants. They are to be a channel of blessing. This continues through Scripture. God does not bless people so they can hoard all of them and enjoy them alone. It’s not so Abraham can vacation all he wants and live it up. Now, God does tell us to enjoy the fruit of our labor’s so we don’t want to be legalistic and prudish, but Abraham was to see his blessing was to help others. We should see the same thing in our lives.
Have you ever seen a stagnant pond. Stagnant ponds very quickly fill with bacteria and algae because it is never being renewed. When we hoard God’s blessing we become stagnant. God doesn’t want us stagnant ponds but channeling streams. He wants you to be gracious to others. Some of the people I most admire in life are incredibly gracious in what they do. They are constantly giving. They are not concerned with keeping. You come into their house and they give you good stuff to eat, they are generous of their time, possession, etc. This is a good reminder of what God’s people are to be like.
God also says he will make his name great. It’s not just his pocket book. A great name entailed not just fame and recognition but high social esteem, it’s like a man of superior character. A “name” is what the people were trying to make for themselves at Babel in Gen11. It’s what people try to do in their work, houses, families, but its true significance, though, is found only in aligning with what God’s doing in the world/ in God’s blessing
Abram will be a channel of blessing, but just as God did something in Adam that affected all people, so too God is doing something that will be a blessing to others but those who oppose him and what God does in him, they will be cursed. It’s a two edged sword. People have to align themselves with God’s work in Abram.
This is also God aligning himself with Abram, too, sticking with him despite everything, defending him, etc.
But this great thing God is doing also comes at a cost. Abraham will have to leave all he has known, his country, kindred and house. And he will have to go to the land that God will show him. It seems God rarely blesses people greatly who do not sacrifice greatly. Abraham had to leave everything. One commentator translated it as ***‘I command you to go forth with closed eyes… until having renounced your country, you shalt have given yourself wholly to me.”
Abraham will be tested over and over again in his life. There are repeated opportunities to have our devotion tested and to give ourselves wholly to God. Demonstrating your devotion to God is never a once for all act. It’s not like graduation where you only do it once. It is daily, and God will call you to make sacrifices on a constant basis, but sometimes those sacrifices are of an ordinary variety, sometimes an extraordinary variety that involves leaving everything you know. For Abraham, leaving his country would be like going to the other side of the world. It was not an easy trip for people in his day.
The Problem. Abraham left his land. V4 says “He left as the Lord had told him.” He obeyed God. And he was 75 years old. He goes out at 75! Moses led the people when he was 80. Just goes to show you that sometimes your most fruitful years are not until you are older. Take heart and think about what God is calling you to do in this season of life.
Think how hard it would be to trust God in this situation. Going out blind and trying to do the impossible.
Abraham has mis-failing because he doesn’t trust God. In chapter 16, they wait ten years for God to fulfill his promise. Nothing happens so Sarah has an idea on how they can have a child. She sees her maidservant Hagar and realize she can build her family through her. So he tells abraham to take her. He does so. Hagar conceives and a child is born. Eventually Sarah begins to despise her (v5) so Hagar flees. In a sad portrayal of human sin and male abdication Abraham simply tells Sarah to do whatever she “thinks best” (v6).
(It’s also sobering to see that sleeping with others has consequences. There are physical, emotional, and spiritual associations in sleeping with another person. When Genesis says you will become one flesh it shows the deep connection involved in intimacy.)
Abram is an old man, taking great risks and trying to wait for God to do the impossible for him, bring him a child. We are going to skip a bit to see how God meets him.
He waits on God’s to fulfill his promise for years. He would wonder if God is really going to do it. He would be tempted to think God forgot or doesn’t care. So much of our life is spent waiting on God. Abram got a Phd in waiting on God. God does something to assure Abram and it ensures us too.
- God Promises (Gen 15:1-21)
After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: "Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great." 2 But Abram said, "O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" 3 And Abram said, "Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir." 4 And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: "This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir."
5 And he brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be." 6 And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. 7 And he said to him, "I am the LORD who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess." 8 But he said, "O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?" 9 He said to him, "Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon." 10 And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. 11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. 12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. 13 Then the LORD said to Abram, "Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete."
17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, 19 the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites." (Genesis 15:1-21 ESV)
One of my theological heros, R.C. Sproul said that whenever he is discouraged this is a passage he turns to. That may not be your first thought of this passage. Let me explain why he would say that.
This passage describes the Ancient Near East practice of making a covenant. A covenant is a formal promise. Like a contract. In the ancient Near East they would establish their terms and then certain rites or rituals would accompany the agreement in order to signify what would happen if one or both parties failed to live up to their end of the pact. One common ritual involved dismembering animals and then laying the pieces in two rows side-by-side with a path in between. The individuals making the covenant would then pass between the animals and invoke a curse upon themselves if they broke the agreement. In performing this rite both parties were in effect saying, “If I do not fulfill the terms of this covenant, may the destruction that befell these animals also be upon my head.” We do similarly when we promise, by saying “Do you cross your heart and hope to die promise?”
Now God had already told Abraham what he was going to do but as if his word of promise wasn’t enough, the Lord finishes His encounter with Abram in Genesis 15 with covenant ceremony. God appears as a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch (v. 17), a form similar to the pillar of fire He will use to guide the Israelites toward Canaan centuries later (Ex. 13:21–22). The original hearers of this would have just come out of Egypt where they were led through the desert by a pillar of cloud and pillar of smoke. They would have know what this smoking fire pot and flaming torch were.
It is astounding what happens. It is God, and God alone who passes between the animals. Abram is does not participate. The Lord alone swears by Himself that He will see to it that His promise will come to pass. He is swearing that Abraham will have descendents as numerous as the stars or God will pay the penalty. This sworn oath is promissory and self-maledictory (invoking death to Himself if it is not fulfilled), giving His people confidence that He will accomplish all that He pledges (Heb. 6:13–18). It is an unparalleled manifestation of the Lord’s grace, for He promises to care for His loyal servant and his descendants forever.
This action does not abolish Abram’s responsibility to continue in loyalty, as the patriarch is later given conditions to uphold (Gen. 17:1–14). This actions shows that though His people may at times be disloyal, God will still keep His end of the bargain; He will give His people the promised land. He finally fulfills this by sending the Messiah, who fully obeyed His Father, thus securing for them His blessings (Isa. 53; Matt. 3:13–17; 1 Peter 2:21–22). (excerpt from http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/smoking-fire-pot/)
God shows the full extent he is willing to go to bless Abraham, and that mean the full extent he is willing to go to bless all the nations of the earth. God is committing to a course of action, and if it fails then God himself will pay the price!
Justified by faith. Made right. V6. “And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6 ESV). Abraham didn’t believe just anything. He believed what God said. He believed God’s promise.
His faith had an object. It had a point. It was God’s word. Many people believe things about God but there is no basis for believing it. It’s like saying, “I hope I win the lottery.” It’s just wishful thinking. You might want that, and want it real bad, but there is no reason to believe you will have it. There must be a reason for believing. Abraham believed God’s spoken word. He believed God would bless him and bless all nations through him. That faith in the word changed him and brought a life of following and trusting God, a life of radical abandon to the promise of God.
It was not until Abraham was 99 years old that Sarah finally bore him a son. He waited decades for the promise. It was thirteen years after the birth of Ishmael (Gen 16:16, 17:1), twenty five years after God’s first call.
Even more his faith made him right in God’s sight. The Hebrew word (saddîq) is used in a judicial sense of one who is right with the law. Last week Adam and Eve were removed from paradise because they sinned and were guilty before God. Now Abraham trusts God and is said to be righteous, he is in a right relationship with God. Abraham, a frail, fallen, sinful man, believes the promise of God and it is credited as righteousness. He is right before God!
This same phrase will be used later in Rom 4:9 to describe what happens to those who trust in Jesus Christ. They are made righteous in God’s sight. In Christ our sins are taken away and God’s promises are fulfilled. We can have life with God through Christ. We are united to him. We are forgiven for our sin, accepted into his family, and counted righteous, and blessed with every spiritual blessing! It’s an amazing second chance!
For now, at this point in the biblical narrative, we simply need to see the God who created continues with his people. The promise to Eve that one of her descendants would destroy the work of Satan continues. Now it continues with an old man and woman whose faith is powerfully at work, and the God who speaks, is also a God who promises and who is committed to bring about his plan in the world. Throughout the Bible people keep failing, they keep needing do overs, and God patiently walks with them. He requires devotion of faith and trust. Their faith must be evidenced and it will be challenged, but those who believe him are justified with God.
One of my favorite verses in the Bible is: “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, "So shall your offspring be." 19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead--since he was about a hundred years old--and that Sarah's womb was also dead. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.” (Romans 4:18-21 NIV)
Abraham looked at a harsh, cruel world; a body that is falling apart; situations that he blew, and he had to trust God’s word. His faith was not based on anything in the world but on God’s promise. God’s promise is an anchor for our souls. It’s what we build our lives on. Don’t believe the lies the world tells you. Believe in the God who speaks. This is what anchors your soul in all the trials and tribulations of life. A God who redeems, gives second chances, and gives a word to his people that he will pay the penalty if it does not happen.
- In what ways do you see Abram blessed? In what ways do you see him blessing others? +Compare the promise in Gen12/15/17 to the curse in Gen3
- How does the testing of Abram’s faith instruct and encourage you?
- How did God’s promise anchor Abraham’s faith? What promises help you today?