Rev. Slopsema is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
And the Lord said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward:
For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed forever.
And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered.
Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee.
Then Abram removed his tent, and came and dwelt in the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron, and built there an altar unto the Lord.
There are three things worthy of note in this passage.
First, the Lord reaffirmed His promise to Abram to give the land of Canaan to him and his seed. This promise had been made earlier, as the Lord led Abram into Canaan initially (Gen. 12:7). But there had been a division between Abram and Lot. Lot had left for Sodom and Gomorrah. This was a low point for Abram. And so the Lord reaffirmed His promise.
Secondly, the Lord instructed Abram to journey through the land of promise.
Thirdly, after touring the land, Abram built an altar to worship the Lord.
As we meditate on this passage, we must bear in mind that God’s promise to Abram is essentially the same promise He gives to us. He will give to us and our children the land of Canaan. We too must tour the land of promise as Abram did. And we must take our children along with us. As we make that tour we must, with our children, build an altar in order to serve the Lord.
A wonderful promise!
How desolate Abram must have felt. He and Sarai had no children. His only relative, Lot, had left. And Lot had taken the best of the land, near Sodom and Gomorrah. The Lord appeared to Abram, instructing him to lift up his eyes (were his eyes downcast in discouragement?) and look from the place where he was northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward. Abram was on a ridge between Bethel and Ai. This was a high point of the land, from which he could see a great distance. Northward he could see the mountains that one day would divide Samaria from Judea. Westward and southward he could see what later were Benjamin and Judah. Eastward were the dark mountains of Moab.
A twofold promise was given to Abram. First, the Lord would give to Abram and his seed all the land that Abram could see. Second, the Lord would make Abram’s seed to number as many as the dust of the earth, i.e., an innumerable throng.
This promise arose out of God’s covenant with Abram. Soon God would promise to establish His covenant with Abram and his seed, for an everlasting covenant (Gen. 17:7). That covenant was an intimate relationship of friendship and fellowship, a beautiful relationship that God Himself establishes, maintains, and preserves. In that covenant of friendship the Lord would be the God of Abram and his seed. As their God, the Lord would live with them in intimate fellowship, save them, protect them, and provide for all their needs. This wonderful promise concerning Canaan and Abram’s seed arose out of that covenant.
We must be careful to understand the meaning and extent of this promise.
God promised Abram that his seed would be a great number.
It is important to understand who are the seed of Abram. They are not all the Jews, as many claim. The seed of the covenant is not a natural seed but a spiritual one. The great seed of Abram is Christ (Gal. 3:16). It is in Christ that the promises of God’s covenant to Abram are realized. In turn, all that belong to Jesus Christ are the seed of Abram. “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:29). We belong to Jesus Christ by faith. Consequently, “they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham” (Gal. 3:7). And behind that faith stands God’s eternal election. Where is this believing seed found? In the Old Testament this seed was found almost exclusively among the natural descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Since the coming of Christ, this seed is found among all nations.
The promise to Abram was that this believing seed would be an innumerable throng. “And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered.”
But there was more to the promise. God promised that He would give to Abram and his seed the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession. And in Canaan He would live with them, care for them, provide for them, and bless them forever. This promise was fulfilled, in part, about 400 years later, when God gave to the nation of Israel the land of Canaan for her possession. There the Lord lived and dwelt with Abram’s seed for many generations. However, the earthly Canaan was a picture of a heavenly Canaan, i.e., of heaven itself in a new creation. Abram himself understood this, so that, according to Hebrews 11:10, 16, he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. He desired a better country, that is, an heavenly. This heavenly Canaan was ultimately what Jehovah promised to Abram and his seed.
This promise is to us and our children. As believers we are the spiritual children of Abraham. We too belong to this same covenant. The heavenly Canaan is promised to us in the great seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ. What is most wonderful is that this promise is also to our children. God promises to give us His elect children, with whom He will also establish His covenant. The promise of the heavenly Canaan is to them as well. We can expect to live forever with our covenant children in Canaan under God’s blessing.
An important tour!
God called Abram to “Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee.” Abram was to do so at that time. During the course of his life, as he sojourned in Canaan, he would traverse much of this territory. However, he was also to take this tour now, which evidently he did.
The purpose was to strengthen Abram’s faith. What a wonderful promise God had given to Abram. Yet, at this point, he had none of what God had promised. He had no seed. He owned not one piece of land. It was owned by others, mightier than he. And so it would remain for a long time. It took a strong faith to believe God’s promise and live in the hope of its fulfillment. Abram had faith by the work of grace. But his faith needed to be strengthened. This was accomplished at this time by going through the land to see what God had promised.
We are in the same situation. God has promised to us and our seed the heavenly Canaan. We have neither seen it nor do we have a clear conception of what it is like. We have in God’s covenant a foretaste of it in the salvation we enjoy. Yet, what awaits us belongs for the most part to that which eye has not seen. We can believe God’s promise of the heavenly Canaan and look forward to it in hope only by faith. As members of the covenant we have such a faith. It has been given us by God. But that faith must be strengthened.
We strengthen our faith in God’s promise by taking a tour of Canaan. No, we don’t take this tour by going to the holy lands. This is a spiritual tour through the Bible, in which we consider the promises of God as well as the works of God in Christ to secure these promises. This tour takes us to the battle scenes of the Old Testament, where God in His power preserved His people in Canaan with great victories over their enemies that were often far superior in strength. This tour takes us to the manger of Bethlehem, where we witness the birth of the Son of God in our flesh. This tour takes us to the cross, where we witness the atoning work of Christ that obtained for us the heavenly Canaan. This tour takes us to the empty tomb, to witness the resurrection and Christ’s exaltation into the glory of the heavenly Canaan. This tour takes us to signs of the times, which assure us that Jesus is coming again to judge the living and the dead.
This is a tour that we must take daily and continually.
This is a tour we must take with our children. Abram did not have any children at this time. But we have children. And the promise is for them as well as for us. We must take them on this tour by teaching them the Scriptures. And where we are not equipped to teach, we must have them taught by the church and, whenever possible, in the Christian school.
The result of such touring will be that we and our children will become strong in faith to believe the wonderful promises of God, to live in hope and to enjoy a rich foretaste of what is to come.
An appropriate altar!
When Abram finished his tour of Canaan, he built an altar. The location was in the plain of one named Mamre and in what later would be the city of Hebron. This would become one of the centers for Abram’s life in the future.
The altar that Abram erected was to worship the Lord. Wherever Abram stayed for a while, he built an altar. At that altar he would call upon the name of the Lord (Gen. 13:4). To call on the name of the Lord is an act of worship. When one calls on the name of the Lord, he thanks and praises God for all the blessings and promises of the Lord. He also seeks the Lord’s blessing. This was done in the Old Testament around the altar and the sacrifices that pointed ahead to the great sacrifice of the cross.
This worship was in response to the promise that God gave to Abram. What wonderful promises Jehovah had given to Abram. Abram had toured the promised land to confirm his faith. The response of faith is to call upon the name of Jehovah in worship, especially to thank and praise the Lord.
This we too must do.
What wonderful promises Jehovah God has given to us His people.
As we tour the promised land in Bible study, our faith in His promise is confirmed.
Let us, then, call on the name of the Lord in worship. Calling on the name of the Lord no longer involves the altar but centers now on the preaching and the sacraments. Let us in gratitude call upon the name of the Lord to praise and thank Him.
Let us do this in our homes and in public worship.
Let us do this also with our children.