And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace…
In this whole striking and impressive narrative there are teachings of the utmost interest and value; and I would fain extract alike from the sacrifice, the furnace, and the lamp, guiding light and strengthening cheer for Abraham's spiritual seed today.
1. Note, first, that Abram's long and lonely hours of watching came to an end at last, and that patient waiting upon God obtained its due reward. You, too, may find that your offering of ardent prayer, or self-sacrificing deed of service or of suffering, may seem for long unanswered and in vain. Yet, though the vision tarry long, still wait for it; the day may slowly die, the night may gather round before the gladdening light shall come, but it shall come, and turn the darkness back again to dawn.
2. Note, further, that from every offering to God — the song of praise, the fervent prayer, the submissive will, the good deeds, or the consecrated life — we need to drive, with watchful hand and eye, the vultures of evil thoughts and selfish aims and worldly motives and Satanic temptations away. Now, as then, man's extremity is God's opportunity, and still the unclean spirits which haunt and harass the Christian, even at his devotions as well as otherwise, are scared off just as they circle round for a final swoop, and wing their baffled flight away!
3. Note, further, that the mysterious furnace and the supernatural lamp were seen in direct connection with the chosen sacrifice. They moved to and fro upon the altar and among the consecrated offerings, and were seen nowhere else. Now, see how this applies to the seed of Abraham, the Israelitish race. They were a chosen people, selected and set apart out of all the tribes of men to be, in a sense, absolutely singular — God's own people. This choice on God's part, and this consecration on theirs, was symbolized and ratified by altar sacrifices and the fire from heaven. Their consecration to God brought the furnace of purification and the lamp of illumination, in order to fit them for the high and glorious destiny to which they were called. In the life and death of Jesus Christ, too, Abram's glorious seed, the vision was fulfilled. How clearly we can see the "smoking furnace" in the sore affliction through which He passed! Yet, ever amid all, through the whole of His sharp pilgrimage, He had ever the light and the comfort, the cheer and the guidance, of the "burning lamp." By His conscious sinlessness, His secret mountain intercourse with God, by the baptism of the Brooding Dove, by the Father's voice and presence, by saintly messengers from heaven, by perpetual gift of gracious power, the "burning lamp" of light and love moved along through all His life of sacrifice, up the hill of Calvary, through the sepulchre, and from Mount Olivet up to the hills of God! The patriarch's vision is fulfilled, too, in the history and experience of the Church of God, the true Israel, the spiritual seed of Abraham. The Church of Christ, the guild and family of true believers throughout all the world, is also, like Abram's sacrifice, the elect of God. It is a chosen nation, a royal priesthood, a peculiar people, elect, precious. By holy dedication the Church lays itself on the altar of its Lord, and offers perpetual sacrifice through the blood of the Atoning Lamb; and God says of it, "I will be their God, and they shall be My people." Here, again, we see how consecration is linked with purification and illumination — here, again, the Chosen Sacrifice is subjected to the smoking furnace and burning lamp. The smoke of the one and the gleam of the other can be traced all along the line of the Church's march. You can see the reek of the furnace in the rage of Herod, in the cruelty of Domitian, in the savagery of Nero, the passion of the English Mary, the atrocities of papal Rome. You can catch the reflection of the furnace glow in the sword of Mahomet, the rocks of Madagascar, the dungeons of Naples, the stakes of Smithfield, and the Inquisition of Spain. In some form or other, today, the "smoking furnace" moves through the pilgrim and militant Church of Christ. But, as with Israel of old, as with Jesus, the Church's Head, so the Church itself has never been without the glow of the "burning lamp." God's Church has never lost the light of truth, never been robbed of the divinely-kindled lamp of Love! I want to extract one more lesson for personal application. The singular vision of Abram is equally fulfilled in the life and lot of every Christian believer. Like Abram's offered victims, the Christian, too, is the chosen and consecrated possession of the Lord. He hath presented himself a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, and in return, "the Lord hath set apart him that is godly for Himself." And here, again, in the individual, consecration is attended by purification and illumination. The living sacrifice goes hand in hand with the smoking furnace and the burning lamp. In the Christian life the smoking furnace is full often seen and felt. The path of suffering, test, and trial must be trodden by every child of God. This Christian must carry along a painful bodily ailment. That one must go mourning because of an absent face, a silent voice, a vacant chair. Another must struggle, baffled and perplexed with temporal and financial cares, half worsted in the fight. And still another weeps over a blighted hope, a thankless child, or an unfaithful friend. Everywhere, and with everyone, the smoking furnace moves in and out along the consecrated life. But still, in the Christian's lot the "burning lamp" holds precious and abiding place. The word of promise, grace, and guidance is with him all the way. The "candle of the Lord" burns in his heart; the lamp of eternal truth and love burns with a quenchless fire, casts a guiding light on his heavenward path, sweeps away the mists even from death's deep river, expels the shadows from the very grave, and is reflected by the jasper walls that gleam on the hills of God! Is Abram afraid of the smoking furnace? In the light of the burning lamp he reads, "Fear not, Abraham, I am thy shield, thy exceeding great reward." Does Paul's thorn rankle so deep that he pleads thrice with tears and sighs to be delivered? The burning lamp flings the promise on the smoke cloud — "My grace is sufficient for thee," and at once the apostle "glories in his infirmities and praises God in the fire!" So with thee, O Christian! In thy trials thou shalt have triumphs, in thy sorrows thou shalt have solace. For thy trouble thou shalt have double; in tribulation shall come compensation, and always and ever the smoking furnace shall be held in check by the gleam of the burning lamp! Do you ask in doubtful wonder why a consecrated life should be so closely linked with affliction? I answer that the furnace is the purifying agent making the sanctification perfect and the sacrifice more precious and complete. The furnace, too, endows the consecrated soul with the properties of steel, gives the tempered hardness and solidity of character which enables the Christian to fulfil the Apostolic counsel — "Quit you like men; be strong!" That was the end of Israel's sore distresses. "Behold I have refined thee," says Jehovah — "I have chosen thee out of the furnace of affliction." Even of Jesus it is said that He learned obedience by the things that He suffered, and that by suffering He was made perfect as the Captain of our salvation. Take heart, then, O thou follower of the Captain. If that is the way the Master trod, should not the servant tread it still? Make thy sacrifice thorough, willing, constant, and entire.
(J. J. Wray.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces.