Thank you for clicking on the podcast and checking it out, I am your host Randy Duncan, and we are making our way through the book of Genesis, verse by verse.
In the last episode we completed chapter 14, and discussed Abraham’s rescue of Lot. We were introduced to a character named Melchizedek, and we also said a few words regarding the character and actions of the King of Sodom after Abraham’s return from battle
Which brings us now to chapter 15. Chapter 15 involves God’s covenant with Abraham.
V1 – After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”
I want to stop right there and say a couple of words about how God begins his communication with Abraham. His first words are “ Fear not”. Or “Do not be afraid”. There are a couple of different thoughts as to why God would begin his communication this way.
First off, there is the thought that if you encountered God directly, you would certainly be afraid. After all, Adam was. Jacob was. Moses was. And this is the case very often in the Bible when men are approached even by angels. They fall to their knees in fear, and even the angels have say “Fear not”.
In Luke chapter 2, where the angel announces the birth of Christ, it tell us 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
Another example is when the angel Gabriel is sent to tell Mary that she would give birth to the Savior, what does he tell her? Luke 1:30, tells us “And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God”
After Jesus had been crucified and had been in the tomb for 3 days, and the women went to the tomb, Matt 28:2 says “and there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. BTW, these guards were not pansies. They were professional Roman soldiers. And if Romans soldiers were accustomed to anything, it was war and death and discipline….and yet they were so scared they trembled and were frozen in fear
Rabbi Harold Kushner has pointed out that the most frequent statement of God to man in the Hebrew Bible is “Do not fear”.
There are so many examples that I could spend an entire episode on only this topic, but I think you get the point. If an angel can have this effect on humans, what do you think the actual and literal presence of God would do to them? Would do to any of us? I think we are all guilty at times of forgetting about God’s perfect holiness and indescribable power and what that would be like to truly encounter. And I know that we are to go to God in prayer, boldly, and pour out our hearts, and speak to him, and lift up our concerns and hopes, and our hurts, and petitions. But I think sometimes we can forget that we are to also have an awe of God, a majestic reverence for who and what He is. That we can become a bit callous to the awesomeness of God.
But, I don’t think Abraham was to that point yet, because the first thing God says to him is, “fear not”.
There is also the thought that God is telling Abraham here to “fear not”, because he is afraid of another attack or revenge from the kings he defeated when rescuing Lot. In the second half of V1, God tells Abraham, “I am your shield”. So if Abraham had any fears of retribution from the other Kings, God here is setting his mind at ease. And telling him that God is his protector. And as a lesson for us all, the greatest antidote to fear, is faith in God
The last thing God tells Abraham in V1 is that “your reward shall be very great”. If you remember from last episode, Abraham turned down the spoils of war that were rightfully his to take, and also declined the offer to take the spoils of war offered to him by the King of Sodom. But here, God is telling Abraham that his reward for faithful service is worth much more than some tainted loot from a wicked king of Sodom.
V2-3 – 2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.”
Notice that this is the first time Abraham speaks to God. Abraham has followed God, leaving his family, leaving his home, cutting ties with his family, becomes a wanderer, had his life placed in jeopardy more than once, and now, this is the first time he speaks to God!
And what does he say? “Oh Lord, what can you give me? For I continue childless! It is like Abraham is finally pouring out his heart to God. It’s like he is saying, “God, what can you give me? I am already wealthy, I don’t need more riches. The yearning in my soul is for a child. And here I am, still childless”. And no material possessions or wealth can equal the blessings of a child.
Abraham goes on to explain that since he is childless and has no heir, that one of his servants, Eliezer, will be his heir. And numerous documents in the ancient near east describe how a servant could become the heir of a childless couple. Typically the servant would perform duties that the son would otherwise perform, such as maintaining the household, caring for aging parents, and performing certain rites at their funerals.
Well, God answers Abraham in V4-6, which read 4 And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” 5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6 And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
So God tells Abraham, “No, your servant will not be your heir. Your own son will be your heir. In fact, the Hebrew means that “none but your very own issue shall be your heir”, or “one from your very loins will be your heir”.
And God takes Abraham outside and tells him to look toward heaven, and number the stars if he is able”. Well, at that time, Abraham would probably have been able to see around 3000 stars with the naked eye. But, of course, he would not have been able to count them. And even if he could count the ones he could see, Abraham had no idea just how many stars there actually were. We can’t even get our head around the number of stars today, which has been approximated to be 10^23, which is equivalent to all the grains of sand on all the beaches and deserts on the entire earth. The point God is making to Abraham is that Abraham will have many, many descendants, so many that he wouldn’t be able to count them.
V6 – speaking of Abraham, 6 And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
Now, again, we could easily spend an entire episode on this one verse. There is a lot packed in this verse.
So God counts Abraham’s belief, his trust in God, as righteousness. Abraham places his trust in God. Listen closely to what Paul writes in Galatians 3:8-9, where he tells us 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith
So what Paul is saying here is that just as Abraham was justified and considered righteous because of his faith and trust in God, so will those of us who place our trust and faith in God, in Jesus Christ.
I want you to pay close attention to this…For Abraham to believe in the promise of God that he would bring forth a son from a dead source (speaking of Sarah’s inability to have children) is the faith equivalent to you and I believing in the Gospel and the resurrection of Jesus, our savior, from the dead. That bears repeating.
I normally don’t quote this many verses at one time, but here I think it’s really important. Because I cannot say it or explain it any better than Paul did in Romans 4:19-25 when, explaining how Abraham’s faith in God was similar to the faith we have in Jesus, when he writes “19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness] of Sarah’s womb. 20 No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” 23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
So why did God count Abraham as righteous? Because he trusted and believed in God. How does God count righteousness to you? How are you going to be saved? How will you have your sins forgiven by a holy and righteous God? The same way. Because you trust in Him, you believe him, you place your faith in Him. It has nothing to do with any of your good works, good deeds, what you did for your community, or society. Isaiah 64 tells us that our own self-professed righteousness is like used menstrual clothes to God, filthy.
Ephesians 2:8-9 says 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Galatians 2:16 tells us “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
Folks, the bottom line here is that Abraham was counted as righteous because he trusted and believed in God.And if we want to be justified, like Abraham, we too have to believe and trust in God, to place our trust in Him that Jesus came to pay the penalty for our sins, and to save us, to reconcile us to a right relationship with God. Because we don’t have the ability to do that for ourselves.
And the good news is that Romans 10:9 tells us that 9… , if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
I almost feel like I should just end this episode right there. But no, we will finish this chapter. V7-11….7 And he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” 8 But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” 9 He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. 11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
So Abraham asks God how he will know that he will possess the land. In other words, he is asking God what’s the process going to be here? How will I go about obtaining this land? You know, when do I act? Can you show me a sign that this will happen? And we see more in V13 about that. But first, God responds by telling Abraham to gather some animals. Although there is not going to be a sacrifice in this episode, the animals listed are all species that could be offered as a sacrifice.
Abraham then cuts them in half. Well, why did he do that? Who told him to? Not God. But maybe the list of animals suggested to Abraham that God was about to make a covenant with him. The Hebrew actually says “to cut” a covenant. Abraham was obviously familiar with this procedure, and so he doesn’t question anything.
It’s important to understand covenants in the Ancient Near East. One of the ways people made covenants back then was to cut up animals, just as we see here, it was an important part of the treaty-making process. It was important because, the way it worked was that the men would pass between the two halves of the animals and confirm or ratify the covenant. The meaning was that the one who broke the covenant would suffer the same fate as the animals just did. So the cutting up of the animals was a notice to the potential violator of the covenant of their fate should they break the covenant.
V11 – tells us that when birds of prey came down Abraham drove them away. It is interesting that this detail is included, but it may be a metaphor to represent Pharaoh, or the Egyptians, who will threaten the emergence of the nation of Israel that God has promised. But here, As Bruce Waltke says, “Abraham is symbolically defending his promised inheritance from foreign attackers.”
V12-16 – 12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. 13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”
Now it says that a deep sleep fell on Abraham. This is the same Hebrew word, tardema, (tear -dee ma) used to describe the sleep that fell on Adam when God performed surgery on Adam and created Eve.
It also says that a dreadful and great darkness fell on him. This is most likely one of two things. Either this great and dreadful darkness is a symbol of Israel’s impending enslavement in Egypt, where, incidentally, God also brings about the unique darkness as the 9th of 10 plagues of Egypt. Or, this great and dreadful darkness could be associated with Abraham’s dread of the awareness of God’s Divine Presence
Then God says to him, “Know for certain that your offspring will be soujorners in a land that is not their own, and will be servants there, and will be afflicted for 400 years”. Wow! This is probably not what Abraham was expecting to hear! The land of course is Egypt, and is a reference to the fact that the Hebrews would be taken captive by Egypt, and would be enslaved for 400 years. 400 years! Think about that for a moment. The United States is only 225 years old! That is just a little more than half the amount of time Israel would be enslaved under Egypt.
But God also tells Abraham that he will bring judgment upon the nation that they serve, and will bring them out of that nation with great possessions. And that is exactly what we see happen with God’s10 plagues upon Egypt, and then the subsequent Exodus from Egypt led by Moses under God’s guidance.
He also tells Abraham that he will go to his fathers in peace. He is telling him that he will die in peace, but he will live to a ripe old age. It is interesting that in the Old Testament, only Abraham and Isaac are described as dying in peace and at a ripe old age. But that is truly a blessing, because there aren’t many people who get to die in peace. We often hear the phrase after someone dies “may he rest in peace”. When we say that, we are sort of making a statement that the person will hopefully now get to catch up on some much needed and well-deserved rest. Well, I don’t want to rest in peace, I want to die in peace. Knowing that I am in a right relationship with God based on my position in Jesus Christ. Any other death would be frightful and dreadful.
But then God also tells Abraham that his offspring will return to this land after four generations, which of course, the Bible is using generations as lifetimes, which were around 100 years at that time. Biblical scholar William Albright explains that the Hebrew word for generations originally meant lifetimes, and that the early Hebrews dated long periods of time by lifetimes, or a cycle of time, not generations.
But then God also makes an interesting statement . God says that the “iniquity of the Ammorites is not yet complete”. God will bring Israel back to the land he has promised them, and will drive the Ammorites, or the Cannanites, out of the land, bringing judgment on them for their corruption. But God will not do that yet, as the level of their corruption and evil has not yet reached a level that they deserved exile from the land. Israel must wait on God’s timing .
This is also a demonstration of God’s patience and righteousness, as he does not bring punishment on the inhabitants of the land prior to their deserving it. It is similar to God bringing judgment on the whole earth with the flood back in Genesis 6. God didn’t bring that judgment until the earth was fully corrupt. And we are going to see very shortly that the same principle applies before God destroys the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
So, finishing up this chapter, verses 17-21 read – 17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, 19 the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.
So we finish this chapter with God promising Abraham, making a covenant with him, that his offspring will possess the land. God will give them this land that is described. It lays out the boundaries of the land using rivers, and lists ten of the representative people groups who currently live there.
V17 says that when the sun had gone down, and it was dark ,that a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between the pieces of animals. Remember, the way the covenant was ratified was for both parties to pass between the animals, and understanding that if one of the parties broke the covenant, that the same thing that happened to the animals would happen to them. In other words, both parties passed through the animals.
But what is happening here? What is Abraham doing at this time? He is asleep. Remember, a dark sleep fell upon him, so he didn’t pass through the animals. It says that a smoking pot and a flaming torch passed through the animals, not Abraham.
God passes between the pieces of animals alone, without Abraham. God is represented here by the smoke and fire, which are frequent symbols of Divine Presence, symbols of God’s presence. This also foreshadows the pillar of fire and cloud that will lead the Israelites in the wilderness after their exodus from Egypt. So God is invoking a curse upon himself if he fails to keep the covenant. And this is a unilateral covenant, as Abraham does not take part in it. He is asleep. This is all on God. God is making this covenant by Himself. It is unconditional on Abraham’s part.
And so, to close out this chapter, I just want to re-emphasize one thing we discussed about verse 6, where it tells us that Abraham believed God, and God counted to him as righteousness.
This verse is very important to understand, and it is foundational to the doctrine of what we call justification by faith, and not by works. In other words, it is by faith you are saved, not by your works.
You see, just like us, Abraham was not sinless. But, he believed God concerning the birth of a son from the dead. And God counted that to him as righteousness. Abraham is the model for our faith in the resurrection of Jesus, the son, from the dead, and that if we believe and trust in God, that God will count it to us as righteousness, and save us. In John 12:44 Jesus said. “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me.’.
And I leave you this week with a word from Jesus, who said in John 5, “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.