Sunday School Lesson

October 1

Lesson 5 (KJV)

God’s Covenant with Abraham

Devotional Reading: Psalm 33:1-9

Background Scripture: Genesis 15

Genesis 15:1-6, 17-21

1 After these things the word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.

2 And Abram said, Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?

3 And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.

4 And, behold, the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.

5 And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.

6 And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.

17 And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces.

18 In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates:

19 The Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites,

20 And the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims,

21 And the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.

Key Verse

In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates.Genesis 15:18

Lesson Aims

After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:

1. List key elements of Abraham’s vision.

2. Explain the relationship between belief and righteousness.

3. Write a prayer of commitment to produce spiritual offspring for Christ.

Lesson Outline

Introduction

A. Such a Deal

B. Lesson Background

I. Apprehension (Genesis 15:1-3)

A. God’s Protection (v. 1)

Regarding Risk and Reward

B. Abraham’s Protest (vv. 2, 3)

II. Assurance (Genesis 15:4-6)

A. God Blesses (vv. 4, 5)

B. Abraham Believes (v. 6)

Taking the Plunge

III. Affirmation (Genesis 15:17-21)

A. Concluding a Ceremony (v. 17)

B. Confirming a Covenant (vv. 18-21)

Conclusion

A. Join the Club

B. Prayer

C. Thought to Remember

Introduction

 

A. Such a Deal

In 1984, the Kansas City Royals wanted to keep star third baseman George Brett on the team. To do so, they negotiated a rather odd contract. First, the Royals agreed to give Brett the bat he used in the infamous 1983 “pine tar game,” when his go-ahead home run was ruled an out (a decision later reversed) because he allegedly had too much pine tar on his bat. Second, the contract also gave Brett part ownership of an apartment complex in Memphis!

While we may never sign an agreement giving us a baseball bat and buildings, we are familiar with contracts. Whether we call an agreement a contract, a pledge, or a covenant, the sealing of promises has always been an essential element of society. This lesson looks at a covenant, not between people, but between a person and God.

B. Lesson Background

God’s covenant with Abraham began when the Lord called him (at the time known as Abram) to leave his homeland and move to unfamiliar surroundings (Genesis 12:1). Abraham “obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went” (Hebrews 11:8). The year was about 2000 BC.

Though Abraham’s initial obedience was exemplary, his faith journey was not without bumps. By the end of the same chapter in which Abraham left his homeland in response to God’s call, he had passed off his wife Sarah (known as Sarai at that stage) as his sister in order to gain favorable treatment from Pharaoh in Egypt (Genesis 12:10-13).

Abraham also had to deal with certain problems involving his nephew Lot, who had chosen to live in the vicinity of Sodom (Genesis 13:5-13). When Sodom became entangled in a regional war between coalitions of kings, Lot was captured (14:1-12). Abraham had to lead a commando raid to defeat a coalition and rescue Lot (14:13-16).

Following this victory, Abraham was met by Melchizedek, who was “king of Salem” and “the priest of the most high God” (14:18). He blessed Abraham, and in return Abraham gave him a tenth of the spoils taken in battle (14:19, 20).

I. Apprehension

                                                                   (Genesis 15:1-3)

As Genesis 15 opens, the scene has shifted from Abraham’s interactions with earthly kings to an encounter with the ultimate king, God himself.

A. God’s Protection (v. 1)

1a. After these things the word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram.

Fear not is one of the most common commands in Scripture. Usually the speaker is God or an angel, and Abraham is addressed by his original name before it is changed (Genesis 17:5). If he feared the Egyptians enough to lie about his relationship with his wife (see the Lesson Background), how much more likely is he to be terrified of God! The Bible uses the word vision more than a hundred times, and this is the first. God communicates in various ways before the coming of Christ (Hebrews 1:1), and visions are one method.

1b. I am thy shield.

The word picture of the Lord as a shield is not uncommon in the Old Testament (see Deuteronomy 33:29; Psalms 3:3; 28:7; 84:11; 115:9-11; etc.). Similar metaphors, such as rock, fortress, and tower, highlight the Lord to be a trustworthy, steadfast source of strength (compare 2 Samuel 22:3; Psalms 18:2; 31:3; 71:3; etc.).

1c. And thy exceeding great reward.

Of greater interest may be why the Lord describes himself as Abraham’s exceeding great reward. After the successful night attack in Genesis 14:15, 16, the king of Sodom, who had benefited from Abraham’s victory, offered him all the plunder seized from the enemy. But Abraham declined because he did not want the king to be able to claim he had “made Abram rich” (14:23). Following this refusal of a reward, the Lord now comes to Abraham and says, in effect, “Although you have turned down a reward, I can give you a far greater one; in fact, I am your greatest reward.”

Regarding Risk and Reward

After teaching him how to use the special keyboard, I watched Musa (name changed) type the first words of Scripture ever written in his language. Musa’s easy smile belied the difficult and risky decision he had made.

He is one of very few Christians among his people. Years before, the secret police caught him talking about Jesus; they pulled out his toenails and threw him into a pit. He moved to a neighboring country with his family but returned to translate the Bible for his people. He had left comfortable living conditions for an uncomfortable and dangerous environment far from his family. Why would he take such a risk?

We could ask the same question of Abraham. Their two answers would be similar: they left home in obedience to God. We understand that we are not guaranteed safety in this world. But when we yield to God’s call, we reap the eternal rewards of His blessing—what a promise!

Are God’s call and promise compelling you to go to risky and uncomfortable places? If so, when will you get started?

—D. & L. G.

B. Abraham’s Protest (vv. 2, 3)

2a. And Abram said, Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless.

Abraham’s response indicates that he is wrestling with how to reconcile God’s grand declaration with the current circumstances. His words reflect continuing awareness of the Lord’s promise to make of Abraham “a great nation” (Genesis 12:2). But that requires descendants (compare 12:7). Yet at this point Abraham remains childless, and his wife is past the age of childbearing (compare 12:4 with 17:17). How can God truly be Abraham’s “exceeding great reward” under these circumstances?

What Do You Think?

Other than proper use of Romans 8:28, what are some ways to encourage fellow believers to maintain hope in difficult circumstances?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

In the face of personal tragedy or loss

In the face of financial pressure

In the face of family problems

Other

2b. And the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?

Abraham reasons the likely outcome. His concern stems from a practice of the time, confirmed by archaeological finds at Nuzi in the 1920s. According to custom, a childless couple can adopt a household servant or steward, who cares for them and provides proper burial when they die. Then the servant inherits the family property. Abraham can see no outcome but this one.

Abraham’s servant Eliezer may have been acquired during travel from Haran to Canaan (Genesis 12:4, 5), since Damascus is located between the two. Assuming he is still living at the time, Eliezer is likely the “eldest servant” in 24:2, who is dispatched to find a wife for Isaac.

3. And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.

Abraham now states as a fact what he presented as a question in the previous verse. The custom, if not prevailing law, is quite clear.

What Do You Think?

How should Christians admit to uncertainties regarding God’s promises, if ever?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

In congregational gatherings

In midsize groups

In small groups

In one-on-one counseling

In private times with God

II. Assurance

                                                                   (Genesis 15:4-6)

God later declares Abraham to be “a prophet” (Genesis 20:7). But perhaps Abraham isn’t quite there yet. Hearing and believing prophecies from God, the ultimate prophet, is a vital prerequisite.

A. God Blesses (vv. 4, 5)

4. And, behold, the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.

God responds to Abraham’s statement in Genesis 15:3 with the assurance we see here. Abraham is to father a child who will be the heir, but when that will occur is not stated. As comforting as the word of the Lord is at this time, it will not be fulfilled until Abraham is age 100 and his wife is 90 (17:17). As the years drag on, that unknown timing will be a continual challenge to Abraham’s faith, even as he considers “not his own body now dead” (Romans 4:19).

5. And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.

Now the Lord provides a visual aid to show Abraham the magnitude of what lies ahead. Being challenged to tell the stars would seem to indicate that this communication from God occurs at night. (To tell means to count; think of what a bank teller does in counting out money.) But caution reminds us that Genesis 15:1, above, speaks of a vision. Therefore we do not know if night has actually fallen by this time or if the command to look at the stars is part of what Abraham witnesses in his vision. It’s also possible that the vision of 15:1 and the word of the Lord of 15:4 occur at different times.

Later, in Genesis 22:17, we find the added imagery of seashore sand that further illustrates how innumerable Abraham’s descendants will be. Hebrews 11:12 also uses both comparisons.

What Do You Think?

What cues can you begin using to remind yourself daily of the certainty of God’s promises?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Cues involving the sense of sight

Cues involving the sense of sound

Cues involving the sense of touch

Cues involving the sense of taste

Cues involving the sense of smell

We know from the New Testament that God’s promise to Abraham refers not only to the great nation that comes from his natural descendants (Genesis 46:2, 3; 47:27) but also to the spiritual descendants who will respond to Jesus in faith, as Abraham did to God. Galatians 3:26-29 establishes this link, especially verse 29: “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

Paul makes a similar connection in Romans 4:16-18. Note that the conclusion of that segment is the same as the concluding line of the verse before us.

B. Abraham Believes (v. 6)

6. And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.

This declaration is so important that the New Testament quotes or refers to it five times (see Romans 4:3, 9, 22; Galatians 3:6; and James 2:23). Faith is what God has always asked of people, whether in Old or New Testament times. We today are not called to respond to the same covenant Abraham was offered in this passage; but we are called to respond to God’s covenant at present, which requires us to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ (John 3:16; 20:30, 31).

The verb behind the translation counted occurs about 150 times in the Old Testament, and this is the first. The idea in contexts similar to this one is to regard something or someone as having a certain characteristic, although that thing or person may not actually have that characteristic (compare Genesis 31:15; Numbers 18:27; Job 18:3; Proverbs 17:28; etc.). The translations in the five New Testament passages noted above are “counted” (Romans 4:3), “reckoned” (Romans 4:9), “imputed” (Romans 4:22; James 2:23), and “accounted” (Galatians 3:6); all of these capture the idea of the same Greek word used in all instances.

And what a marvelous concept it is! Because of our sin, “there is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). But if we come to God on the basis of faith in Jesus rather than on the basis of our own works, then God will count us as righteous. He can do so because the death Jesus suffered paid the penalty for our sins (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Taking the Plunge

A thin wire trailed high above a muddy river. Our friends waited on the opposite shore for me to entrust my safety to the ramshackle zip line. No amount of praying and pleading, whining and wheedling changed the situation. I just had to take the plunge and jump.

That experience has proved helpful many times since. There comes a point when we’ve done enough thinking and talking. Then it’s time to trust God and step out in faith. Marriage. Having children. Working in an African refugee camp. God has lists for us.

Abraham is a hero and model in taking the plunge of faith. He began by obeying God’s command to leave his homeland, and so he “went out, not knowing whither he went” (Hebrews 11:8). What a leap of faith! But he didn’t stop there. When God asked him to believe the impossible, that even in his childless old age he would have more descendants than he could count, Abraham chose to let go of his fears and believe. As a result, God “counted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).

Is there anything that God wants you to do but you are putting it off? If so, why?

—D. & L. G.

III. Affirmation

                                                                  (Genesis 15:17-21)

In the intervening verses not addressed in today’s lesson (Genesis 15:7-16), the Lord speaks of granting to Abraham the land of Canaan. Abraham requests and receives assurance in this regard. The response begins with the Lord’s directive that Abraham arrange for a sacrifice of livestock and birds in a certain way.

How to Say It

AmoritesAm-uh-rites.

CanaanitesKay-nun-ites.

EliezerEl-ih-ee-zer.

EuphratesYou-fray-teez.

GirgashitesGur-guh-shites.

HittitesHit-ites or Hit-tites.

JebusitesJeb-yuh-sites.

KadmonitesKadd-mun-ites.

KenizzitesKen-ez-zites or Ken-uh-zites.

MelchizedekMel-kiz-eh-dek.

NuziNew-zee.

PerizzitesPair-ih-zites.

PharaohFair-o or Fay-roe.

RephaimsRef-a-ims.

At sunset Abraham falls into a deep sleep. Then God speaks and gives Abraham what may be called a future history of the man’s descendants. The land in which Abraham now resides will indeed become the home of his descendants, but only after a period of 400 years in bondage in another land. Ironically Abraham has already been in that land, Egypt (Genesis 12:10-20).

A. Concluding a Ceremony (v. 17)

17a. And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark.

Here we are given the conclusion of what Abraham sees during his deep sleep that begins in Genesis 15:12. What happens there occurs “when the sun was going down”; what happens now occurs when the sun went down. So now the sun has fully set, and it is dark. The fact that another night is falling (that is, in addition to the night of Genesis 15:5) is not problematic given the visionary nature of what Abraham is seeing. A vision, like a dream, can occur outside of normal time limitations.

17b. Behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces.

The presence of smoke and/or fire signifies at times in Scripture the presence of God (Exodus 3:1, 2; Psalm 18:8). This will be especially true at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:18) when God will establish a covenant with the descendants of Abraham, the children of Israel (next week’s lesson). Those pieces to which the verse before us refers are parts of the animals sacrificed in Genesis 15:10.

B. Confirming a Covenant (vv. 18-21)

18a. In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land.

To us, the actions of Genesis 15:9-17 may seem rather bizarre as a backdrop to the making of the covenant now mentioned. An explanation will help us connect the dots.

In the ancient world, animals were often used as visual aids in the process of making or ratifying treaties or covenants. For example, the ruler of a certain nation might say to a conquered people, “Here is what will happen to you if you dare to rebel against me”; and he would then break the leg or the neck of a sheep or other animal.

Similar, but reversing the direction, are cases when a person takes a certain vow and says something like “May this happen to me if I fail to keep my promise”—and then proceeds to break the animal’s leg or neck. These are called self-maledictory oaths: the maker invokes harm on self should he fail to carry through.

This latter is the type of covenant God seems to be making with Abraham. Essentially, God’s promise is this: “May what has happened to these animals [that have been cut in pieces] happen to me if I do not keep my promise of land to you.” Of course, God cannot be “cut up” since He has no physical body (John 4:24). But the Lord is speaking to Abraham in terms that the man understands in his time and place. As Abraham gets the message, he will see clearly how committed God is to keeping His promise.

What Do You Think?

In light of your own experiences of delayed answers to prayer, in what ways can you help others trust God?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Regarding spiritually mature believers

Regarding new believers

Regarding unbelievers

18b. From the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates.

The Lord establishes the future boundaries of the promised land. Many assume that the river of Egypt refers to the Nile River because of its prominence. However, the Wadi el-Arish, which separates Palestine and Egypt, is more likely. The distance between these two rivers is some 400 miles at their closest points. Boundaries such as outlined here will be realized as a result of King David’s battle conquests centuries later.

19-21. The Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites, and the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.

Our lesson text concludes with a listing of various peoples whom the Israelites will confront when they enter Canaan after 400 years in bondage (Genesis 15:13). In other references, only one such group may be mentioned in order to highlight some especially offensive behavior on its part (example: “the iniquity of the Amorites” in 15:16). Also, some passages include groups not listed here (example: the Hivites in Exodus 3:8, 17; 13:5; etc.). See overlapping lists in Exodus 3:8, 17; 23:23; 33:2; 34:11; Deuteronomy 20:17; Joshua 3:10; 9:1; 11:3; 12:8; 24:11; Judges 3:5; 1 Kings 9:20; 2 Chronicles 8:7; Ezra 9:1; and Nehemiah 9:8.

Old Testament history makes clear that none of these “-ites” end up being the most serious threat to God’s people. Rather, the Israelites themselves become their own worst enemy. That happens when they fail to follow the Lord, when they do not live as descendants of Abraham should.

What Do You Think?

How do we deal with situations of greater difficulties as we try to follow God’s leading?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Considering how Bible people reacted in God-honoring ways (Acts 4:19; 2 Corinthians 6:3-10; 2 Timothy 3:10-13; 4:6-8; Hebrews 11; etc.)

Considering how Bible people reacted in ineffective or sinful ways (Genesis 16:1-4; Jonah 1:1-3; Mark 14:66-72; Galatians 2:11-13; etc.)

Conclusion

A. Join the Club

Most Bible students are aware of how Abraham is highlighted in Scripture because of his faith. Abraham’s faith takes up more verses in Hebrews 11 (commonly called “the faith chapter”) than anyone else’s. Yet Abraham’s faith clearly was not perfect. In addition to problems noted in the Lesson Background, today’s lesson reveals the man expressing concerns as to whether God will keep His promise of offspring. Abraham then voiced a desire for some kind of guarantee that God would fulfill the promise of land. So where is this man’s exemplary faith?

The Bible does not hide the weaknesses or failures of even its staunchest heroes and heroines of faith. As Abraham had his struggles, so did Moses (Numbers 11:10-15), Miriam (Numbers 12), Elijah (1 Kings 19:1-4, 14), John the Baptist (Matthew 11:1-6), and Peter (Matthew 26:69-75). Such examples can be a source of encouragement when our faith walk is more of a limp. At such times we are in good company.

These individuals did not stagnate. The Abraham who stumbled at times eventually became the Abraham willing to place his son on the sacrificial altar in obedience to God’s command; the Peter who denied Jesus eventually became the Peter who died a martyr’s death; etc.

Abraham was not a man of perfect faith. Yet never is the statement of Genesis 15:6 revoked: “He believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.”

B. Prayer

Father, the challenges to faith in our time can be intimidating. We find ourselves pleading with the disciples of Jesus, “Increase our faith!” Use our daily contacts and circumstances to shape us into people who model true faith to a skeptical world. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

C. Thought to Remember

Faith keeps one focused on
the faithfulness of God.

Visual for Lesson 5. Use this chart as a starting point to compare and contrast the new covenant with various Old Testament covenants.


October 8

Lesson 6 (KJV)

God’s Covenant with Israel

Devotional Reading: Psalm 135:1-9, 19-21

Background Scripture: Exodus 19; Isaiah 60:3

Exodus 19:16-25

16 And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled.

17 And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount.

18 And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.

19 And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice.

20 And the Lord came down upon mount Sinai, on the top of the mount: and the Lord called Moses up to the top of the mount; and Moses went up.

21 And the Lord said unto Moses, Go down, charge the people, lest they break through unto the Lord to gaze, and many of them perish.

22 And let the priests also, which come near to the Lord, sanctify themselves, lest the Lord break forth upon them.

23 And Moses said unto the Lord, The people cannot come up to mount Sinai: for thou chargedst us, saying, Set bounds about the mount, and sanctify it.

24 And the Lord said unto him, Away, get thee down, and thou shalt come up, thou, and Aaron with thee: but let not the priests and the people break through to come up unto the Lord, lest he break forth upon them.

25 So Moses went down unto the people, and spake unto them.

Key Verse

Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount.Exodus 19:17

Lesson Aims

After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:

1. Summarize what the Israelites were to do and not do at Sinai.

2. Explain why it was necessary for the Israelites to meet God on His terms.

3. Recruit an accountability partner to help him or her identify and eliminate a weakness in respecting a spiritual boundary.

Lesson Outline

Introduction

A. High Price of Doubt

B. Lesson Background

I. Sacred Mountain (Exodus 19:16-19)

A. The People Fear (v. 16)

On Fearing God

B. The People Approach (vv. 17-19)

II. Solemn Message (Exodus 19:20-25)

A. Calling for Moses (v. 20)

B. Cautioning the People (vv. 21-23)

Of Gapers and Curiosity

C. Calling for Aaron (v. 24a)

D. Conveying the Warning (vv. 24b, 25)

Conclusion

A. Two Testaments—One God

B. Preparing to Meet God

C. Prayer

D. Thought to Remember


Standard Lesson Commentary KJV (2017-2018).

"Suggestions for families are taken from Standardlesson.com,

Standard Publishing Group, LLC. Used with permission. More resources for families are available at Standardpub.com.


God Bless