Tuesday, March 29, 2016

ABRAHAM: Count the Stars


“Then He brought him outside and said, ‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be’” Genesis 15:5.


The general gist of what we are looking at in the following is: Every Christian is a star, but only God can count us!

The Lord has already told Abram of His plan to make Abram “a great nation” in Genesis 12:2. “You shall be a blessing … And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” 12:2b&3b. So what’s the problem? Well Abram’s wondering where his descendants are going to come from. He has no children. He’s not getting any younger and neither is his wife Sarah. And to complicate matters we’re told in Genesis11:30, “Sarai is barren.” Yet the LORD has stated that through his descendants, not only will Abram be blessed, but so will all the families of the earth.

We see then that the Lord has already promised Abram a future blessing. He already knows something of the magnitude of this blessing. He already knows that this promised blessing has to do with making restitution for his sins. He already knows this because he’s been building altars of sacrifice around the place, (see e.g. Genesis 12:7, 8; 13:4, 18). He already knows his sin needed to be paid for – the sacrificial animal was a picture of that. He already knows that the animal he places on the altar is merely a substitute for himself. He already knows that the promised blessing has everything to do with the removal of his sin. And he already knows because the Lord has already revealed it to him! So, what then is the problem?

The Problem

Can’t Abram just believe the promise and get on with it? Isn’t that how the Old Testament saints were saved, i.e. through believing the promise of salvation? So here we meet the problem face to face. It’s subtle, so pay attention! I put it to you that there’s a difference between believing IN the things a person says and actually believing in that person. It’s the difference between believing in a promise or believing in the one who makes the promise! I said it was subtle, didn’t I?

Let me see if I can explain this further. New cars come with a manual, don’t they? – an instruction book. If you follow the instructions in that manual your car should run great. Follow the manual or instructions for anything, washing machine, video-player, TV, automobile, whatever, and you have a money back guarantee you’ll have no problem. In other words the instruction manual is a sort of promise, isn’t it? It’s promising that if you put the nuts and bolts on the right way and press the proper switches the thing will work!

Now, I don’t have to tell you that the Bible is a manual of sorts. And I don’t have to tell you lots of people use the Bible as a manual. They get results – from a well-ordered family to a well-ordered society. You only have to trust in the promises of Scripture and put them into practice to see that they work. But here’s my point: Do you know the person who wrote the manual for your car? Do you know the person who wrote the manual for your washing machine, toaster, video-player? Maybe you trust in the Bible – as your manual! Maybe you’re just trusting in the promises the Bible makes – do this or that and you’ll be all right! But are you trusting in the One who wrote the Bible?

If you’re still having a problem seeing how you can separate the promise from the promise-maker, then consider the Mormons. You’d hardly meet a nicer bunch of people than the Mormons. Some of you will remember the Osmond family who were big in the seventies and eighties. They were a musical band of pop-singers (if you don’t know!). The Mormons exemplify a great deal of what the Bible teaches, don’t they? But who would dare say that the Mormons know the One who wrote the Bible? Jesus addresses this very thing where He says to the Pharisees, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” John 5:39-40. The Mormons, (unlike Christians who are Trinitarian and therefore worship one God), are tri-theists and thus worship three gods. Thus the Mormons have another Jesus, i.e., a Jesus different to the One revealed in the Bible!

So, what does all of this have to do with Abram? Well, up till now he’s been trusting in the promises of the LORD. The LORD has promised him land, and He has promised him descendants. And the Lord has promised that all the families of the earth shall be blessed in Abram! So, here’s Abram’s problem then: How is this promised blessing supposed to come to pass without an heir, i.e., without a son from his own loins? His redemption, his forgiveness of sins, his eternal life, his blessing depends upon this heir. That’s what the promises are all about. That is how Abram understood them.

Abram’s problem then is this: Where is the substance of the promise? Where or who is the One in whom I’ve to put my trust? “I know he’s to be somewhere in among my descendants. But how can this be since I personally don’t have any!” So Abram starts going on to God about his servant Eliezer having to be his heir. And that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to him. It’s like when the angel Gabriel told Mary the mother of Jesus that she was going to conceive. “How can this be?” she asked, “Since I do not know a man.” Mary was also reminded that Elizabeth her relative who was called barren conceived a son in her old age. “For with God nothing will be impossible” is what she was told. Abram, in our text, is suffering something of the same problem as Mary. He knows what God’s planning to do because God has already told him. However, he’s struggling to understand how God is going to execute His plan. So the issue of offspring is weighing heavily on Abram’s mind (e.g., Genesis 15:2-3).

So let’s look a bit closer at what’s going on and see if we can find the solution to the problem.

The Promise

We’re going to see, in the words of a couple of the commentators that, “Abraham’s faith was faith in the God who had promised, [and] not merely in what had been promised.” The Lord has come to Abram in a vision. The whole of Genesis 15 records what happened in that vision. I’m not going to digress too long to talk about the nature of visions in the Bible. We’re more interested in the contents of the vision than the nature of the actual vision itself. However, we do need to make a couple of general comments on the nature of this vision because it does have an effect on the way we are to understand its content.

Before His Church had His completed written revelation, i.e., the Bible, the Lord used other ways to reveal Himself and His Plan of Redemption to His people. The Plan of Redemption as it is revealed is called the Covenant of Grace by theologians. God reveals Himself in His Covenant of Grace. The Bible, i.e., the Scriptures, is the record of this. Jesus, as stated earlier says, “These are they which testify of Me” John 5:39. And as the Apostle Paul says about Jesus, “All the promises of God are in Him Yes and Amen” 2 Corinthians 1:20. And he also says, “There is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus” 1 Timothy 2:5. We should keep in mind that Christ is the go between God and men. Christ is the One who represents God before men. And He also is the One who represents men before God. He alone is the Mediator.

So then, in the Old Testament Christ the Mediator mediated between God and men in various ways. God was making Himself known to Abram by that method of revelation known as “vision.” Let me read a portion of Scripture which might help us. Then we’ll get into the more important content of the vision. The Book of Numbers 12:6-8, “Then He said, ‘Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, make Myself known to him in a vision, And I speak to him in a dream. Not so with My servant Moses; He is faithful in all My house. I speak with him face to face, even plainly, and not in dark sayings; and he sees the form of the Lord...’”  So we see then, Abram is a prophet of God because the Lord has made Himself known to him in a vision, (see Genesis 15:1). The curious thing about this passage is that the Lord seems to be making Himself known to Abram in a vision and in a dream! In Genesis 15:12 we’re told, “a deep sleep fell upon Abram.” However, there’s something we need to remember from the Numbers 12 passage: When the Lord made Himself known face to face, (literally, mouth to mouth in the Hebrew), the revelation was more clear than in a vision or dream. Face to face revelation is plain as opposed to dark sayings or riddles in vision or dream. It’s the difference between truth by parable and truth by verbal proposition. However, the Lord is revealing Himself to Abram in a vision and also a dream.

Abram’s mental faculties would be heightened and intensified by a power-surge from the Lord. Yet because of the nature of the revelation, Abram would still be straining his eyes to see. The Apostle Paul says what I’m trying to say in these words, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face” 1 Corinthians 13:12a. The element of mystery is gone when the Lord makes Himself known face to face. We see then in Genesis 15 that the LORD is making Himself known to Abram, as it were, in the dark. “Oh for a match to strike for a glimpse of my Lord’s face!” Alas Scripture says, “The just [i.e., the justified, the righteous] shall live by faith” Romans 1:17.

If you were to think about it, one might get the impression that Abram’s more interested in what the LORD has promised than in the LORD Himself. We’ve already noted Abram’s concern about not having any offspring of his own, i.e., descendants whom the LORD has promised him. Therefore we might be forgiven for being all the more suspicious of this in light of what the word of the Lord says to him in Genesis 15:1 “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” We noted above that some wish to translate this: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your reward shall be very great.” And we must admit that it is possible to translate the Hebrew that way. But surely context has everything to do with it? The question before us is this: Was it the LORD HIMSELF that Abram wanted or was it the LORD’s reward? Was Abram trusting in a promise or was he trusting in the LORD? Did he believe the things of God or does he believe in God? Does he have faith in the manual or does he have faith in the one who wrote it? We’ve already seen that this is not the same thing! It’s the difference between believing God because He gives you things and believing in Him because of who He is! It can be the difference between following the teaching but not the teacher. This is why I don’t like the translation, “I am your shield, your reward shall be very great.” Because translated thus, look at what it makes Abram to be saying in the next verse, “Lord God, what will you give me, seeing I go childless?” It makes Abram (whom the New Testament calls the “Father of the Faithful” out to be interested mainly in what the LORD has promised him and not so much in the LORD Himself! “Abram, your reward shall be very great” “O goody! What am I going to get? Let me see, I wouldn’t mind some of those descendants You promised me seeing I’m childless.”

There are people who treat God like the great ATM in the sky. They punch in their secret code while they make sure no-one’s looking over their shoulder. They make the impersonal transaction and they’re off to spend their inheritance. However, real Christians want to talk to God face to face. They’re interested in Him. They want to talk to Him and God in turn is interested in the real Christian.

Notice in our passage that the “Word” of the LORD is conversing with Abram. He’s concerned about Abram, “Abram, do not be afraid.” Does this sound like someone you know? The One who says to His disciples, “Fear not!” The One who says, “Lo, I am with you always – I am your shield.” The One who is called Immanuel “God with us.” It is He who is talking to Abram. It is He who is Abram’s exceedingly great reward! He is the Word who would become flesh and walk on this earth for some thirty three years. He is the One who would one day say to Thomas, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” He is the One talking with Abram in this vision. He is the One who makes known God. He is the One IN whom Abram is trusting. He’s the One who is making Himself known in this vision and speaking to Abram in a dream as God.

So, how do we know positively and absolutely Abram’s trust is in the writer of the manual rather than the manual itself? Genesis 15:6, “And he believed IN the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” Your Bible might have decided to leave out that little insignificant word. But believe me, the word “in” is in the Hebrew without dispute! And as we’ve seen, it makes the whole difference between Abram believing in the promises, and believing in the One who makes the promises. Abram, as we’ve seen before, didn’t put his faith in riches – even when those blessings and riches came from, or were to come from, the LORD. No, Genesis 15:6, “Abram believed IN the LORD.” Here is that great doctrine taken up in the New Testament, i.e., the doctrine of Justification. The great doctrine which was rediscovered at the time of the Reformation. It’s the doctrine which is the very heart of the Gospel of Salvation!

But just one last “kick at the cat” as they say, before we begin to tie things in a nice bow. And you’ll probably want to take me outside and clobber me for saying this! But what we’ve looked at is the difference between clinging to the old rugged cross and clinging to Jesus! I love that old hymn. It’s one of my favorites. However, if you’re clinging to a lump of wood – then let go!

Lots of people the world over know what Jesus did. But the question is not: Do you know what Jesus did? But rather do you know Jesus Himself? And of course, we learn more about Him through the things He did while on earth. We learn things about God through the things that He has made, which is to say that we can know something of the Creator by studying His creation. However, Paul in Romans 1:25 speaks of those who worship the creature or creation rather than the Creator. So, subtle as it is, using the same line of reasoning, I believe we need to be careful to believe in the One who makes the Promises, and not just the promises themselves.  It’s not “Whosoever believes Him’ but rather it’s “Whosoever believes IN Him shall not perish but have everlasting life!” Abram believed IN Him and the LORD accounted to him for righteousness.” He believed because the Lord had made Himself known to him, which is to say that the One who wrote the Book appeared to him, albeit in a vision and a dream.

The Profusion

We have a question left unanswered. Why was Abram so concerned that he was childless, i.e., that the LORD had given him no offspring? Well, I put it to you that Abram was keen as mustard to share his reward! He wanted EVERY family in the earth to be blessed with his blessing. Abram loved God and he loved his neighbor as himself. But he needed a son in order for the blessings to flow to all the nations. Because that’s the way the LORD had already promised to him that it would happen.

Genesis 12:3b, “And IN you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” The blessings on the families or nations would come through Abram and his offspring. As the Apostle says, “Those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham” Galatians 3:9. Abram’s chomping at the bit to see the promised blessings poured out on the whole world! As Jesus said, “Your father Abram rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” The Day when Jew and Gentile, ALL the nations would know His God – in whom he was trusting.

And Abram along with all the saints in heaven long for the day, “When the earth shall be covered with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” Had Abram been interested more in the promises than the LORD Himself, surely the LORD would have rebuked him? But instead look what our gracious LORD did for our father Abram. In Genesis 12:4 the LORD reassured Abram that Abram would produce a son from his own body. And in the very next verse says, “Then He brought him outside and said, ‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’” And you thought heaven was practically empty, didn’t you? You thought that most people were going to hell, didn’t you? Well, all I can say is what the LORD says, “Count the stars – if you are able to number them”

Well, in Abram’s eyes you are a star! How does it feel to be a star? Every time Abram looked at the starry skies he’d see you in heaven. I’m sure if you read Psalm 19 right about now it would begin to make a great deal of sense. Let me try you with the first couple of verses, “The heavens declare the glory of God: and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals KNOWLEDGE.” Whether you’re in Scotland or upside down in Australia look now to heaven! As Abram looked at his descendants (including even you and me) in the stars do you think he knew our names? No, but the One in whom he put his trust knows our names! The Psalmist says of the LORD, “He counts the number of the stars; He calls them all by name” Psalm 147:4. The Lord in Isaiah 40:26 says, “Lift up your eyes on high, and see who has created these things, Who brings out their host by number; He calls them all by name, by the greatness of His might and the strength of His power; not one is missing.” Jesus Christ says to His Father, “Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled” In John 17:12b.

Oh yes if you look at the night sky you’ll see that by far the majority stay put. However, you will see one or two moving about the place. Jude speaks of them where he says, “[They are] wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever” Jude 13. But what about the vast majority? Well the prophet Daniel says, “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever.” Daniel 12:3. So count the stars – if you are able to number them.


Arithmetic was never one of my strong points. But I don’t think all Abram’s spiritual children have been called into the church yet. In fact I don’t think we’re anywhere near the number of the stars in heaven. So we can see that we’ve still got lots of work to do. So keep on telling your neighbors about Christ. And if they say to you that the church is just about dead, you tell them what the Lord told Abram. “Count the stars if you are able to number them.” But keep your eye on the One Scripture calls “...The Bright and Morning Star.” Make sure, like our father Abram, you are believing IN the LORD!

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