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God’s Covenant with Abraham

February 11, 2024

Teacher: Daniel Baker
Scripture: Genesis 15, 17


On October 13, 2021, Canadian actor William Shatner—best known for his iconic “Star Trek” role as Captain Kirk—boards Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin space shuttle with three other people, and becomes the oldest living person to travel into space at age 90.[1]

In his book on the event Shatner describes the days leading up to the event. Going up the 11-story tower, being shown the “safe room.” Day of the launch, “There’s an anomaly with the engine.” Lots of drilling and practice to prepare for the trip.

And in that lead up, there’s a question, “Do you trust the guys who built the Blue Origin space shuttle?”

The final answer to that question is when you get in the rocket and strap yourself in, and say, “Ok. Ready for launch.”

Faith in the promises of God is like that. Understand. Think through who is making them. But at the end of that, you’re being asked to trust in them. To get in, strap yourself to the rocket, and prepare for it to take you where it wants.

This morning in series in Genesis we dive a little deeper into God’s covenant with Abraham. Genesis 15 and 17 continue the covenant made in Genesis 12 and add more layers and detail.

The book of Genesis:

  • By Moses
  • Takes us from Creation of the Universe to Israelites being in Egypt—only 70 people at that point.
  • Part of the Pentateuch: Creation to Canaan.
  • Right from the start: This morning it’s God’s covenant with Abraham.

Sermon: What does a life of faith look like? (1) The Gospel Given; (2) The Response Required; (3) The Covenant Unfolding.


I. The Gospel Given

First we need to set our chapters in context in Abraham’s life.

75 when he left Haran (12:4) to Canaan. In chp 16 when Ishmael is born, Abraham is 86 (16:16), so we can guess that at the time of chapter 15 he is about that age. Somewhere in his mid-80s. In chp 17 he is 99 (17:1), a year away from having his first child.

His life takes up the big middle part of Genesis, 11:27–25:11.

What happens to him reverberates throughout all of history. In chapter 12 we read about the three great promises of God: (1) the land of Canaan (Israel); (2) a nation; (3) a blessing that will be his and extend to “all the families of the earth” (12:3).

These are the 3 great promises of God’s covenant with Abraham. They echo throughout our chapters today and in chapter 22, which we’ll look at soon.

Here in chapter 15, we see THE GOSPEL GIVEN. In WORD and DEED. First the WORD.

Once again, Yahweh, the LORD, takes the initiative: “

The LORD: Genesis 15:1, “Fear not...I [am] your shield; your reward shall be very great.”

Abram speaks (Gen 15:2–3): “But...” (Gen 15:2). First time his words are recorded. In 13:4 simply, “Abram called upon the name of the LORD.” Here he begins with the name of God, “O Lord God” (Adonai Yahweh). “Yahweh, my Master.”

LORD responds with a PROMISE (Gen 15:4–5). “Your offspring” like the stars. 5,000 observable on a really clear, moonless night. Point is not the precise number, but the scale.

Abraham responds in one of the most famous verses of the Old Testament—Gen 15:6. We’ll come back to this.

In the second part of the chapter, THE GOSPEL IS GIVEN WITH DEEDS.

Read Genesis 15:7–11.

The LORD initiates—Genesis 15:7.

Abram believes...but... — again questions Adonai Yahweh (Gen 15:8).

Here the Lord performs a dramatic action. This is a CUTTING OF THE COVENANT (Gen 15:9–21).

Animals are gathered and then cut in half: “Heifer” (female cow, never had a calf), goat, ram, turtledove, pigeon—all animals that will be a part of the sacrifices in the law of Moses. Gathering ALL these animals is significant. All the types of sacrifices are represented here.

Point of the ceremony is that the parties in the covenant will each walk between the animals. Each of them is saying, “If I break my part of the covenant, may I become like these animals.” That’s the tradition for a serious covenant.

But let’s read how God totally transforms it. Read Genesis 15:12–21.

God speaks another promise in Genesis 15:13–16. 400 years of slavery in Egypt for God’s people. But then God “will bring judgment on the nation” of Egypt (Gen 15:14).

And then a dramatic visitation by God. A Theophany: “a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces” (Gen 15:17).

“On that day the LORD made (Heb כָּרַת) a covenant with Abram” (15:18).

The marvel of this event is that GOD TAKES ON HIMSELF ALL THE CURSES OF THE COVENANT. He makes covenant promises and then takes on himself the responsibility to make those promises happen.

This chapter is a powerful picture of the life of faith.


He comes to us with promises. He comes to us revealing himself to us. He acts. And then he calls us to respond.

The life of faith is relational, it’s personal. Abram: “How am I to know?”

In this life of faith, his promises are bigger than we can imagine (offspring like the stars). His perspective is bigger than we can imagine (he’s working for things 400 years in the future).

His promises are sure because they are dependent on HIM, not us.

But there is a response we are to give...

II. The Response Required

There are no commandments in this chapter, only promises spoken and actions taken by God. What is the response required? The first response is FAITH.

Right there in Genesis 15:6, one of the most important verses in the Old Testament.

Faith in the gospel—remember, “gospel” means “good news.” God spoke “good news” to remember, and Abraham believed what God said. That’s what faith is, believing in what God says to us, what he promises to us.

Requires UNDERSTANDING the promises (notitia). Requires a confidence the promises are TRUE (assensus). It also requires one more step, TRUSTING in the promises (fiducia).

Get in the rocket—and strap yourself in!

When Abraham believed, God justified him. Justification: “Counted it to him as righteousness.”

Justification means God’s declaration, “You have what I demand, righteousness.” God saying, “You have met my requirements. You are approved. You will receive the rewards due to the person who possesses righteousness.”

This moment isn’t mentioned again in the OT.

But when we get to the NT, the apostle Paul will return to it in Romans 4 and Galatians 3. Abraham is the model of faith. The model of what a Christian is supposed to do. Romans 4:1–5:

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, (Rom 4:1-5)

But remember 15:8—He believed but then said, “How am I to know?” Faith is a dynamic thing. In one sense, you have it or you don’t. In another, it can be strong or weak.

But right there with faith is obedience.

“We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is not alone.” Now we move to Genesis 17.

When God appears in chapter 17 when Abraham is in his late 80s, God reveals himself as El Shaddai, “God Almighty” (Gen 17:1). Without any buildup, he calls Abraham to obedience: “Walk before me, and be blameless” (Gen 17:1).

To this point Abraham has followed the LORD’s directions, but these were broad and external commands: “Leave your homeland and go to Canaan” (Gen 12:1). The LORD told him to bring the animals for the covenant ceremony, and he did (Gen 15:9–10).

But now the ask is bigger: “Walk before me, and be blameless.” This means a wholistic commitment to follow the Lord. It is to make Yahweh his confidence and trust—but also the one he follows as his Master in all areas of his life.

Faith AND Obedience are what God asks of us. We shouldn’t think of these as two things. They’re two parts of the same thing. The faith we are to have is a faith that obeys. The obedience we are to offer is an obedience that flows out of true faith.

Part of the obedience Abraham is to give is CIRCUMCISION. Circumcision is called “the sign of the covenant.” Read Genesis 17:9–14.

Who? “Every male” (Gen 17:10). When? “Eight days old” (Gen 17:12). Who else? Natural children or even foreigners born in your household (Gen 17:13). The punishment for not doing this is being “cut off” from God’s people (Gen 17:14).

For Abraham, his circumcision was a sign of his righteousness by faith:

He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well. (Rom 4:11)

The Jews did not invent this practice, but it did become an identity marker. A mark that a person belonged to Abraham, identified with the promises to Abraham.

So much so that when David is about to battle Goliath, he asks, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Sam 17:26).

Circumcision of the body by itself isn’t enough. Later Moses and then Jeremiah will talk about a “circumcision of the heart,” a setting apart of yourself for God, a transformation of the heart and not just the body.

Deuteronomy 30:6:

And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. (Deut 30:6)

Not all the covenants have signs, but several do: (1) Noah: “bow in the clouds” (Gen 9:12–13); (2) Mosaic: Sabbath (Exod 31:13, 17); (3) New Covenant: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Now I want to take for just a few minutes about PAEDOBAPTISM, which means to baptize infants. It is this chapter that is the foundation of the Reformed practice of infant baptism.

Here is the basic argument:

  • The covenant with Abraham is the starting point for those who argue for infant baptism.
  • This covenant is not just a national covenant marking Israelites but is also an eternal spiritual covenant (Gal 3:7, 29).
  • This covenant includes children (Gen 17:7–8).
  • Since infants were members of the covenant community, they received the sign of the covenant, which was circumcision (Gen 17:10).
  • When the paedobaptist turns to the NT, there are verses that speak of promises and blessings on our children:

The gospel is for you and your children: “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:39)

  • To them, verses like these are confirmation that the Abrahamic idea of “you and your offspring” continues into the new covenant.
  • Infants to Christian parents are members of the covenant community, and so they should receive the sign of the covenant, which is now baptism.
  • Paedobaptists differ on what the baptism of an infant means. Some say it means the child shares in the full blessings of the new covenant like the forgiveness of sins. Others say it means they can share in the covenant blessings if they respond in faith and obedience.

Our Baptist response:

  • We would argue that this is pushing the Abrahamic covenant too far. The NT needs to be our guide in how we apply the sign of the covenant, which is baptism. What do we see in the NT?
  • No clear example of an infant baptism in the NT. Certainly no command. Baptisms in the NT are always connected to people who convert to Christ.
  • Nowhere does the NT connect life in Christ between parents and children in the way paedobaptists argue.
    • Yes, there are blessings when you have Christian parents.
    • But many paedobaptists are saying that because you are connected to Christian parents, you basically are a Christian: Your sins are forgiven. You are in the covenant. You are God’s and he is yours.
    • But such promises are only made to believers.
    • Paul goes out of his way to tell Jews that a biological connection to Abraham does not help them spiritually. What they need to do is believe.

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. (Gal 3:7)

  • Surely it’s true that if it’s only “those of faith who are the sons of Abraham,” then it’s only “those of faith who are sons of the new covenant.
  • We would say that it’s Abraham himself who is the model for Christian baptism. Remember, Abraham is counted righteous by faith in Genesis 15. Then at a later point, he is circumcised. That’s precisely what we believe Christian baptism should mirror—a righteousness by faith that is followed by the sign of the covenant, which for us in the new covenant is baptism.
  • Sometimes it is said that Acts was a missionary situation.
    • In mission contexts you baptize only adults. Then when parents become mature, you baptize their infants, because the parents have matured enough to disciple their children in the faith.
    • But the NT spants a history of at least 30 years. By that time, there were tens of thousands of Christians. Hundreds of babies in the church in Jerusalem. Why is there not a mention of an infant baptism? The churches in Ephesus and Antioch were very developed churches. Paul spent years in Ephesus. How many babies were born while he was there? And yet there is no mention of it happening or any statement in any NT epistle for why a Christian parent might do this. And there are many passages that speak to Christians about parenting. And many passages that speak to baptism.
  • Faith and baptism are always connected in the NT.

11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Col 2:11-12)

  • Faith and being part of the true church are connected:

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours. (1 Cor 1:2)

  • “Calling upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” is an active profession of faith. That’s who is in “the church of God.”
  • The sign of the new covenant (baptism) is for those who are members of the new covenant. What is that new covenant?

33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jer 31:31-34)

  • My law within them: regeneration
  • Know the LORD: reconciliation
  • Forgiveness of sin
  • This is speaking of someone UNITED FOREVER WITH CHRIST. Not just a church attender. Or someone born into our families. Someone who is in Christ.
  • We give baptism, the sign of the new covenant, to those whose life demonstrates they are members of the new covenant. A life of faith and repentance. Not perfection. But a life of faith and repentance.

Application: Trust & obey. And part of obedience is being baptized as a believer. An opportunity to do that in 2 weeks. Roman Gross is being baptized. It’s not too late for you to be part of that. Let the office know you’re interested in being baptized, and we’ll talk through what needs to happen for it.

III. The Covenant Unfolding

When we get to Genesis 15 and 17, what it means to be the people of God is starting to develop.

In Genesis 17:7–8 we get what is sometimes called “the Covenant Formula,” the summary of the covenant of grace:

7 And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8 And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” (Gen 17:7-8)

Later the form of this promise will be,

“I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God.” (Exod 6:7)

“I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jer 31:33)

Who God is, is becoming clearer—

“Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” (Gen 15:1)
“O Lord GOD [Adonai Yahweh]...” (Gen 15:8) 
“I am God Almighty [El Shaddai].” (Gen 17:1)

What it means to be God’s people is becoming clearer.

And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. (Gen 15:6)

Walk before me, and be blameless. (Gen 17:1)

The Covenant Formula will get deeper and richer, but it won’t fundamentally change.

The same God is the true and living God.

And what he asks of us will still be faith and obedience, and part of obedience includes the signs of the covenant we live in.


With the life of Abraham God is teaching us about the life of faith.

God is teaching us about the relational, personal walk of faith: “I am God Almighty [El Shaddai], walk before me...” (Gen 17:1).

A faith that can be honest with God, “Adonai Yahweh, How am I know?” (Gen 15:8).

God teaches us that the righteousness we need we receive by faith: “And Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6).

That’s true for us, too:

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (Rom 10:9-10)

God here points us to the crucifixion of Jesus. When God went through those animal carcasses, he took on himself the covenant curses, so Abraham by faith could receive the covenant blessings.

Jesus on the cross, took on himself the curse we deserved, so by faith we could receive the blessings he deserved.

God through Abraham teaches us that we need to exercise our faith in the promises.

Remember William Shatner and the Blue Origin rocket: UNDERSTAND. Believe it’s TRUE. Then TRUST. We need to exercise our faith in promises like Phil 4:19:

And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:19)


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