8. Keep the Covenant (Genesis 15:7-21)
Recently I had a conversation with a member of the Berean Class who reminded me of a question I raised earlier in this series.
This morning I want to return to that question.
The question I raised before was this.
Why Would God Give Two Utterly Incompatible
People a Life Sentence to Live in the Same Tent?
Obviously, I raised this question concerning Abraham and Sarah, who, at times, had great tension in their marriage.
Why does God do this?
We all know the situation. She married him because he was steady, consistent, because she can count on him. And he married her because she was alive, spicy, because he never quite knew what she was going to do.
Now it’s several years into the marriage and now she knows what he really is: boring! And he knows what she really is: scattered brained!
Or it’s the other way around: she’s uptight, and he’s frustrated.
It’s fascinating to see this on paper.
You can do it through an tested and proven instrument called the Taylor-Johnson Temperament Analysis or the TJTA. This tool has been used for over fifty years and on thousands of people to tell each other what it’s like to live together. It is not a sanity test but a livability test, a tool that shows on paper what each of us is like day-by-day. The test covers a number of opposite categories. It tells you whether or not you are
nervous or composed,
depressive or light-hearted.
quiet or active-social
inhibited or expressive
sympathetic or insensitive
objective or subjective
submissive or dominant
tolerant or hostile
impulsive or disciplined.
It’s very interesting to have one partner take it on the other just to see how well they know each other.
What the TJTA tells us is what we’re like to live with one another on a day-to-day basis. Typical patterns go something like this. One may be nervous, depressed, subjective, and hostile. Such a person tends to be down, irrational, quite angry and could be unpredictably explosive. The other may be calm, inhibited, objective, and dominant. Such a person tends to be friendly, non-emotional, insensitive, and non-involved. You can see from this how one sets off the other. Or one relatively common pattern seems to be that one it disciplined and the other impulsive. This can go either way, but is not uncommon when he is the impulsive one and she is the disciplined one--at least at home. After fifteen years of marriage and three children, she is totally worn out from carrying all the pressures, and he is tired out from hearing her complain every time he comes home. And they are headed for the divorce court.
And why should they stay married?
Life is painful, overwhelming, angry, and disappointing.
Why should they stay married in such a painful situation?
I remember one such couple who came to me with that very question. When I told him he had no basis for getting a divorce he said to me, My God wants me to be happy!
It may be that his God wants him to be happy, but that is not the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible wants him to be righteous.
Nowhere does the Bible say God wants us to be happy. It does tell us to rejoice, but joy and happiness are not the same thing by any means. Jesus spoke of joy on the night of His arrest, and Paul said more about joy when he was under arrest than at any other time in his writings.
Happiness is not a biblical priority; righteousness is.
The problem is very simple: we don’t understand marriage. We approach marriage in a self-centered way, as if it’s just for us and if it doesn’t work out we can pull out. Not so at all. We committed for better or worse, and we’ve just met some of the worse.
What we do not understand is that marriage is a covenant between us and God is designed to give us
so we can deal with our own root
in a setting from which we can never escape so we can grow up and mature.
This is God’s greater purpose for marriage because
Marriage is a Covenant within a Covenant.
A covenant is a formal, solemn, binding agreement.
God has made marriage a covenant within a covenant in order to demonstrate His sovereign faithfulness and accomplish His redemptive purposes.
This is exactly what we see through Abraham today when we see that
Marriage and Family Occur in the
Context of God’s Greater Covenant.
Come with me to Genesis 15 where we see that
Abraham’s Concern for Family and Place Triggers the Confirmation of God’s Covenant
A. Abraham Desired a Son (Genesis 15:1-6).
1. God had promised him a seed.
2. Abraham wanted the seed God had promised him.
B. Abraham Desired a Place (Genesis 15:7-8).
1. God had promised him land.
2. Abraham owned no land.
3. Abraham wanted the land God had promised him.
C. God Reaffirms His Covenant (Genesis 15:9-11).
1. God gives Abraham direction to prepare for the confirming of a covenant.
2. Abraham prepares the ritual in order to confirm the covenant.
3. The steps that Abraham takes are the steps that two kings who were making a treaty would take to establish their covenant.
4. It is within the context of this covenant that Abraham’s marriage and family would develop and grow.
5. The birds of prey show that the covenant between God and Abraham will come under attack.
But something happens just before the covenant is confirmed.
Abraham falls asleep.
This shows that
God’s Covenant is a Sovereign Covenant (Genesis 15:12-17).
A. Abraham Did Not Enter into a Co-Equal Covenant with God.
1. God’s covenant is sovereign and one-sided (Genesis 15:12-17).
2. What’s even more important is the fact that God’s covenant is unconditional.
3. There are no conditions listed here at all.
4. God establishes this covenant completely of His own sovereign and independent will.
5. Nothing Abraham does affects God’s decision.
6. Abraham’s marriage and family will develop and grow within the promises of this covenant.
B. Abraham Will Receive a Family and a Place. (Genesis 15:18-21).
C. God Reaffirms This Covenant with Three More Covenants .
1. In Deuteronomy 29-30, God confirms this covenant with the Palestinian Covenant, a covenant that guarantees Israel the land as He promised to Abraham.
2. In II Samuel 7, God confirms this covenant with the Davidic Covenant, a covenant that not only guarantees Israel the land but also confirms the promise of seed by declaring that Messiah will be the Son of David and rule on his throne.
3. Finally in Jeremiah 31 God confirms the universal blessing dimension of the Abrahamic Covenant with the New Covenant, the covenant that takes the promises to Abraham and makes him a blessing to all the nations through his seed, Jesus, the Son of God.
4. These covenants, the Abrahamic, the Palestinian, the Davidic, and the New, form the structure of the Bible and are the sovereign, unconditional solemn, formal, unbreakable promises of God that guarantee us eternal life and form the context for our marriages and our families.
Now what’s the point of all of this?
There is a very vital point.
Abraham and Sarah show us a covenant couple trying to cope with God’s aims and purpose in the light of His covenant.
God has made a covenant with them, and this covenant defines their family and their place. All that will occur in their marriage depends on this covenant. The only they can fulfill their marriage is to live within the confines of this covenant.
So it is with us.
God has made a covenant with us as well, and our marriages and families depend on that covenant. We need the new hearts and the Holy Spirit of the New Covenant. We need the communion table with its self-examination and forgiveness. We are helpless to live out our marriages without His sovereign grace working within us. We thought marriage was for our happiness, but it is in fact for God’s glory and our growth. God uses marriage for those who marry as what may be the chief instrument to make us like His Son.
God gives us each other to make us like Him.
When we jump out of a marriage because it is tough, because he is dull or she is ditsy or because he is irresponsible or she is uptight, we jump onto a sidetrack of pain and struggle and confusion that introduces much unnecessary struggle and hurt in most cases. We don’t need to jump ship as much as we need to start listening to one another, really to hear one another, rather than trying to change one another and strong arm one another into becoming just like us or our dreams or our expectations. If we know Christ we shall all become like Him, but there is the hard way and then there is the hardest way! And divorce is by far the hardest way!
Why does God give a life-sentence to two incompatible people to live together in the same tent?
Because it is through this covenant the God works to make us what He designed us to be AND to accomplish an even greater purpose than this.
Look at something else, at what happens in the marriage covenant because of the greater covenant.
No matter what Abraham and Sarah to tear their lives apart God acts to keep His promise to put their lives together through His greater covenant.
Abraham has already disobeyed God two times, with Lot and Egypt, yet God reconfirms His covenant. Abraham will disobey God yet again with Ishmael.
Yet God will keep His covenant.
This shows God’s sovereignty.
This shows God’s faithfulness.
And this shows God’s grace.
God keeps His part even when Abraham doesn’t keep His.
And so it is with us.
God Keeps His Part Even When We Don’t Keep Ours!
God Is Faithful Even When We Are Unfaithful.
So why should we keep our part?
To experience the fullness of God’s grace, to avoid the destructiveness of self-imposed pain, to turn from the hurt that comes to our children, to grow and mature and overcome our self-centeredness, our selfishness, our pride and willful independence.
There are many such answers, none of which will mean anything to us as long as we are self-centered and not God-centered. And no one can do this apart from the New Covenant!
But there’s one more implication that comes out of the reality that our marriages are personal covenants within God’s universal covenants.
Here it is.
Our Marriage Covenant Reflects God’s Greater Covenant.
The chief way that those around us realize the greatness of God’s covenant is through our covenant.
Turn with me to Ephesians 5:31-32.
Our marriages show the love between Christ and the church to the world around us. If we are unfaithful to our covenant, we give the world the impression that God is unfaithful to His covenant. After all, if God can’t preserve our marriages and turn them into something others want, why should they trust Him for eternal life?
Are there no exceptions to this reality?
I do counsel separation for physical abuse, sexual abuse, and times when a wake-up call is needed. The laws of our times are against the healing of marriages, and we must seek to change these laws.
Yet, the question I asked a few moments ago does make sense.
If God can’t take a broken wreck of a marriage between those who claim to know Him, of if He can’t take a mediocre marriage and turn it into a vibrant and rich one, then why should anyone around us trust Him for eternal life?
This is a great and valid question!
Marriage is a covenant within a covenant. Abraham and Sarah show us a covenant couple attempting to understand how to live within God’s greater covenant. And they teach us what all who keep God’s marriage covenant teach everyone else:
God Works Through Our
Faithfulness to Show His Faithfulness.
This means that our unfaithfulness to the vows we have made makes God out to be unfaithful--or certainly unessential--to those around us. For this reason, we must be faithful to our vows. The point is this:
We Must Be FAITHFUL TO GOD’S FAITHFULNESS
So Others Will Come to Faith in Him.
Why, then, does God sentence two incompatible people to live for life in the same tent?
Is He sadistic?
We must take some responsibility for our own choices. Opposites do attract. We are selfish and self-centered and self-interested and we choose what we get. But beyond that, having made our choice, staying with it is the key way we are faithful to God’s faithfulness so others come to faith in Him.