Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Bible and the Supernatural: A Covenant with Abram

Scripture: Genesis 15

After Abram left Egypt, he ended up parting ways with his nephew, Lot. Then Lot was captured during a war. Abram gathered the 318 trained men in his household and rescued Lot. Shortly thereafter, God once more approached Abram.

Observations: “Do not fear.” These are the words we so often associate with the appearance of angels and the interactions with God, probably because it does occur frequently later in the Scriptures.

But interestingly, this is the first time such a statement begins an interaction with the supernatural. So why does it appear here? Abram doesn’t act particularly afraid of God, neither bowing down nor falling on his face. Instead, he speaks rather boldly and directly to God: “What will You give me?” And it’s not like Abram hasn’t interacted with God before; he has heard directly from God three previous times (Genesis 12:1-3, 12:7, and 13:14-17), none of which are prefaced by a “don’t fear.”

Rather, Abram’s fear seems to have less to do with God and more with his circumstances. He just ticked off some pretty powerful people in Canaan with the rescue of Lot. Moreover, if Lot wasn’t safe, despite living near a walled city to which he could flee for protection, how much more vulnerable was Abram, living in tents and allied with no one? So it seems logical to assume that this command to not fear refers to the fear of circumstances and people, rather than of God, especially when God immediately follows the command with the reassurance that He was Abram’s shield of protection.

But the conversation doesn’t end there. God then proceeds to promise that Abram would have a son, which would eventually lead to numberless descendents. Now remember, Abram is between 75 and 86 years old at this time, and Sarai his wife isn’t much younger—between 65 and 76 years. God know all this, and still He promises the outrageous: Abram would have a son. Obviously this would take a miracle—an act of the supernatural—to fulfill.

Finally, after some additional promises and predictions about the future, these words are sealed with an act of the supernatural. From nowhere a torch and a firepot/portable oven appeared, and seemingly without aid, these inanimate objects moved between the pieces of meat Abram had presented to God! Does anyone beside me hear the theme from The Twilight Zone playing in the background? Yet the Bible does not lie. This really did happen, proving once again that truth is indeed stranger than fiction…

Significance: So what does this fourth encounter between God and Abram reveal to us about the supernatural?

First, the supernatural can defy “reality.” Things appearing out of nowhere, objects moving on their own—it does sound like something out of fiction, doesn’t it? In fact, if someone would try to say this happened now, we would be quick to scoff it off as an overactive imagination, to claim some logical explanation, and to wonder if the person was hallucinating. As a result, in our efforts to appear intelligent and sophisticated, how often has our “wisdom” blinded us to what both God and Satan are doing right in front of us? For Scripture tells us that not only could this happen, but also that it has happened…which means it could happen again and probably has happened again.

Second, God’s promised require supernatural fulfillment. God is adamant that when He acts, He alone gets the glory. So it only makes sense that when He promises to do something, it will be so big, so implausible, so utterly impossible that its fulfillment can come from Him alone. That way we can’t take the glory for ourselves or attribute it to anything else. Therefore, if we plan to claim the promises of God in our lives, it would follow that we should then expect the supernatural, in one of its many forms, to also follow. Otherwise, we might make the same mistake as Abram and try to fulfill God’s promises through human means—with dire consequences (see Genesis 16 and beyond).

Third, sometimes the natural is more terrifying than the supernatural. We often think an encounter with the supernatural, whether of God or of Satan, would be paralyzing. And sometimes, as we’ll see later, it can be. But this passage reveals that this is not always the case. Especially when a person has had regular encounters with the supernatural, as Abram did, the unknowns of our everyday and the worries about the future can produce the greater fear. At times like these, the cure for such fear is simple (though not always easy): focus on the greater, beyond-nature God we serve.  

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