Behold, Dreadful and Great Darkness

Will you always remember where you were on Monday, August 21 at 2:30 pm? A friend called it “The coolest thing ever experienced. Ever.” I read that some people cried. Some schools did not allow students to go outside. Some schools rescheduled all afternoon activities. Some schools decided to not even meet for the day. There was light and then there was darkness. It was the total eclipse of the sun.

“Monday’s eclipse, however, felt different, more intimate somehow. It was the first in a century to cross the continental United States, coast to coast, and the first since the republic’s foundation that will pass directly over only this country. It felt — at a time of political division and upheaval — like a personally addressed note from the universe: Hey, America, forget the other stuff for a second. There are bigger things in this galaxy. That overshadow us. That can unite us. Just look up.”[1]

If We Would Just Keep Looking

What happened after we looked up? Protests continued that evening. Kyrie Irving was traded the next day. A commentator was removed from a football game because his name is Robert Lee. Following August 21 at 2:30 pm, we looked up and then moved on.

Genesis 15:7-21 is like Monday’s total eclipse. It is like the total eclipse because it involves the sun. Look and listen to Genesis 15:12. “As the sun was going down…” Then look and listen to Genesis 15:17, “When the sun had gone down…” It is like the total eclipse because there was light, but then there was darkness. Look and listen again to Genesis 15:12. “As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and deep darkness fell on him.” Look and listen again to Genesis 15:17. “When the sun had gone and it was dark, behold…” And it is like the total eclipse because it involves looking.

Look and listen a third time to Genesis 15:12. “As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and deep darkness fell on him.” Pay attention to the word behold. Look and listen a third time to Genesis 15:17. “When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold…” Pay attention to the word behold. This word is used four times in Genesis 15, but three times (cf. 15:4, 12, 17) it is used just for us that we might look!

Behold! And it is not a matter of forgetting for a second all the stuff happening around us. Do not even for a second forget the stuff happening around us. In the midst of all the stuff just look and keep looking. The eclipse last Monday was something to see. It had a point. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). And here we are in Genesis 15:7-21 and as we read, there are these pauses meant to grab us. Look. And keep looking. Not in the sense of searching. It is more in the sense of see and hold your sight there. See and keep seeing what?

And He Said to Him

Notice the first few words of Genesis 15:7. “And he said to him.” The word “and” is important because it connects what is being said next to what was written previously. And written previously is this tremendous simple sentence which is meant to grab our attention that we might see. “And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” We spent much time on this one sentence last week, but just be reminded of it. Be reminded that this one sentence is meant to grab our attention that we might look. The rest of Genesis 15 is very concerned that we keep looking. And we are asking, keep seeing what? It begins here in verse seven which intentionally follows verse six. “And he said to him, “I am the Lord.”

In Genesis 15:5-6, God leads Abram outdoors to look, to just look up and see the stars. And Abram saw the stars, and beyond the stars the promise, and beyond the promise, God himself.[2] Abram responds with what is most likely a vocal “Amen” – it is so! Then what follows is from God himself a vocal “I am the Lord.” I am the self-existent, eternal, unchangeable and unchanging, faithful God. So, see and keeping seeing what? Who God is.

When God declares who he is, he immediately refers to his works. Notice that God tells Abram that he is the one who brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans. Do you know the Ten Commandments? Better yet, do you know how the Ten Commandments begin? The first commandment is “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). But this is not how the Ten Commandments begin. The commandments do not begin with commandment number one. Rather the Ten Commandments begin with “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 20:2). It begins the very same way as Genesis 15:7. The Ten Commandments begin with who God is. Who is he? “I am the Lord.” It is the name Yahweh. God is the self-existent, eternal, unchangeable and unchanging, faithful God. Know his name, see and keep seeing who God is in his works.

How Am I to Know?

In Genesis 15:1-6, God reiterates to Abram the promise of offspring. In verse seven, after God declares who he is and refers to his works, God reiterates to Abram the promise of the land. Genesis 15 is precious. It is precious because Abram is alone with God. It is the first time that God and Abram share in a conversation together. They are enjoying fellowship. And in it, it is so precious, Abram asks God two heart-felt questions. Genesis 15:8 is the second heart-felt question. “How am I to know?” Notice the word know. It is the Hebrew word yada. It is used to mean to know intimately; to really, really know. Abram is not asking how am I to know that you are self-existent, eternal, unchangeable, unchanging and faithful. Instead, Abram asks, “How am I to know that I shall possess the land?” God then has Abram gather 5 animals including birds and cut them in half, except the birds.

God will use these animals in answering Abram’s question. Keep in mind Abram’s question. How am I to know?

Behold, Dreadful and Great Darkness

God waits. God waits to answer Abram’s question. It took some time to gather those animals and do as God prescribed. Part of the reason is that God is making Abram wait for the answer to his question. God waits for the sun to begin to set (15:12). Notice what comes next, the word behold – look! As God is about to give the answer a dreadful and great darkness overwhelms Abram. This has to be more than what Abram bargained for, but he asked the question! It is like the total eclipse. This is not meant for Abram to forget for a second the stuff around him, but to sustain him in the stuff around him. What is it?

Look at the start to the answer to the question. It is verse thirteen. “Know for certain.” It is the Hebrew word yada. But it is actually given twice. “Yada yada.” And instead of talking about the land, God tells Abram about his offspring. It is the offspring that God said would be beyond number! This offspring will spend time as sojourners, strangers, aliens, people without any rights in a land that is not even theirs. It gets worse. And there they will be servants, slaves. It gets worse. They will be afflicted. They will suffer. And it gets even worse. They will suffer for four hundred years.

But notice verse fourteen. It begins with one of the greatest words in the Bible – but. “But I will bring judgment on the nation they serve.” Who will bring the judgment? It is God and who is he? He is the self-existent, unchangeable and unchanging, faithful God…even in suffering. And notice that God refers to his works. I will bring judgment. And what comes from this judgment? “…they shall come out.” Look at verse sixteen. “And they shall come back here.” Now look ahead at Exodus 20:2. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Abram’s offspring will come out and come back because God will bring them out and bring them back. And it is only because of who God is.

Back to Abram’s question. How am I to know that I shall possess it? Look and listen to Genesis 15:15. “As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age.” In other words, you will not possess this land. You will die in peace at the end of a full life. How does this answer Abram’s question? Better yet, how can Abram die in peace knowing that he will never possess the land and suffering awaits his offspring? Keep thinking about his question. How am I to know? He will rest in who God is. God is self-existent, eternal, unchangeable, unchanging and faithful. The people reading this for the very first time are the ones who experienced the affliction and getting out of Egypt and getting back to the land. What are they to see and keep seeing? God is self-existent, eternal, unchangeable, unchanging and faithful. They know this because of his works.

Again, God is waiting. “For the iniquity of the Amorites [inhabitants of the land] is not yet complete” (15:16). The inhabitants of the land are wicked (cf. Leviticus 18) and they have not reached the limit of their wickedness. And God is waiting to judge their wickedness. Why? “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4). God’s justice will reign down upon the Amorites who are godless and sinful, but he is demonstrating his patience toward them that they might repent. Remember, there is a king in this land who is a witness to them. His name is Melchizedek, king of Salem – king of righteousness and king of peace.

When the Sun Had Gone Down

Then the sun goes down and there is nothing but darkness. We have not forgotten about those animal halves. Keep thinking about his question. How am I to know? These animals point to sacrifice. They have been laid out in two parallel rows. It was customary in Abram’s day that when two people entered into a binding agreement together, a covenant, that an animal would be sacrificed, split in half, and the two parties would walk together between the animal. It was a way of saying, “If one us breaks this covenant, may it be done to us as was done to this animal.” This was serious. It was like saying, “May I be cursed.” Keep thinking about his question. How am I to know?

Notice Abram was asleep and he does not walk through the animal pieces. But verse seventeen tells us that the Lord made a covenant with Abram. The self-existent, eternal, unchangeable, unchanging, faithful God made a binding agreement with Abram. And verse seventeen tells us that a smoking fire pot and flaming torch passed between the pieces. These were visuals symbolic of the presence of God (cf. Exodus 3:2; 13:21; 19:18; Deuteronomy 4:11). God alone walked through. In a sense, he alone was saying, “May it be done to me as was done to this animal if this covenant be broken.” May I be cursed.

Three times in Genesis 15 we are told to behold, to look. This passage is meant that we look and keep looking at him who is self-existent, eternal, unchangeable and unchanging and faithful. We are to keep looking at God. Keep thinking about Abram’s question. How am I to know? Our view of God is everything.

Jesus the Christ is the self-existent, eternal, unchangeable, unchanging, faithful God. He said so and when he did the world’s greatest army fell to the ground (John 18:6). A few hours later, his works would be on display. It is the cross. There his arms were spread wide and nailed to the cross. There was found a new covenant. There the Bible tells us that he became a curse for us. It was to redeem us so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to us. The blessing is to be able to call him our God and we his people (Galatians 3:13-14). And look! It all points back here to Genesis 15:7-21.

Look and keep looking! Your view of God is everything. He is self-existent, eternal, unchangeable, unchanging and faithful. His works do not fail. Dread and darkness may overwhelm you. Suffering may last a really long time. But. But he is your God. Look and keep looking.

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:8-9).

[1] https://nedispensaries.com/the-total-solar-eclipse-is-sweeping-across-the-united-states-washington-post/

[2] R. Kent Hughes, Genesis: Beginning and Blessing, page 229.

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