GOD’S REVELATION OF HIMSELF AS SHIELD AND REWARD
We come to one of the high points of the Bible here in chapter 15.
Genesis 15:1-5 KJV
 After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.
 And Abram said, Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?
 And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.
 And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.
 And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.
After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.
- God’s first words fear not imply that Abram is afraid of something—perhaps the jealous neighbors noted in the Lesson Background. God can respond to Abram’s insecurity in a variety of ways. He can reprimand Abram for bringing Lot along in the first place. He can give Abram the silent treatment and allow him to stew in his own juices of insecurity. He can congratulate Abram for his great military potential and encourage him to accomplish whatever he puts his mind to. But God does none of these things. Instead, He calms Abram’s fears with a reminder that God alone is the source of Abram’s protection (shield) and prosperity (great reward).
- In identifying himself as Abram’s shield, God informs Abram that his security is not rooted in military prowess or in strategic alliances with neighboring peoples. This is an important lesson that the Israelites of the future will forget. In identifying himself as Abram’s reward, God is affirming Abram’s decision in Genesis 14:21–24 not to keep the spoils of war that were rightfully his according to ancient custom. In that act, Abram showed his trust in God as his source of prosperity.
And Abram said, Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?
- Protection and possessions are not Abram’s only concerns. He takes advantage of this unique opportunity to converse with God by raising a larger issue: it appears that the heir to his possessions and the promise will be a household steward, a certain Eliezer of Damascus.
And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.
- What Abram is saying to God is this: “I don’t want more riches; I don’t need that. The thing that’s on my heart is that I’m childless and I want a son. You have promised to make me a father of nations and that my offspring will be as numberless as the sand on the seashore.
- But I don’t even have one child!”
- According to the law of the day, the Code of Hammurabi, Eliezer, his steward, his head servant, who had an offspring, would in time inherit if Abram did not have a child.
And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.
- God makes it clear that Eliezer will not be Abram’s successor. On the contrary, Abram’s own child-to-be will be the heir.
- Notice, however, what God does not say: He does not say who will be the mother. In ancient society, it is common practice that if a man’s wife cannot have children, then a man may have children through one or more of his wife’s servants (as in Genesis 30:1–6).
- This possibility will indeed be tried by Abram and Sarai before God later reveals that Sarai will be the mother (17:15, 16).
And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.
- God uses a visual aid to remind Abram of the massive scope of the future that God has planned for him. Earlier, God used the illustration of the dust of the earth to show how many descendants will come from Abram (Genesis 13:16). Now God shows him the stars of the sky.
- Abram has no telescope, of course. In that respect, we can see many more stars than he could. But Abram has the advantage of not having artificial lighting to block his view. It is difficult for modern city-dwellers to see just how many stars Abram can see in his day!
This is one of the greatest statements in the Scriptures: “And he believed in the LORD.” What this means is that Abram said amen to God. God has said, “I will do this for you,” and Abram says to God, “I believe You. Amen. I believe it.” And that was counted to him for righteousness.
Genesis 15:6 KJV
 And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
- Since God originally made His promise to Abram, that man has relocated to a distant country, avoided a drought by laying over in Egypt, and secured an improbable military victory. Yet Abram still seems no closer to having an heir. Even so, Abram believes God! The God who has taken him thus far will finish what He began. This kind of faith is an example for God’s people in all generations (Romans 4:3, 9, 22; Galatians 3:6).
- Abram’s righteousness is not based on the number of sacrifices he offers, prayers he prays, victories he wins, or deeds he performs. His right standing before God is rooted in his unswerving faith that God keeps His promises. This does not mean, of course, that Abram’s deeds are irrelevant. If Abram had never put one foot in front of the other in response to his beliefs, had he not packed up and headed for Canaan to begin with, then his belief in God’s faithfulness would have proven hollow (James 2:20–24).
GOD’S COVENANT WITH ABRAHAM
Again, Abram is a very practical man. He believes in dealing with reality, and I think we need to do that. We need reality today in our Christian lives.
If reality is not in your life, there is nothing there. A great many people just play church today.
Abram is very practical. He wants to know something, and he would like to have something in writing.
Genesis 15:7-21 KJV
 And he said unto him, I am the LORD that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it.
 And he said, Lord GOD, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?
 And he said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.
 And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not.
 And when the fowls came down upon the carcases, Abram drove them away.
 And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him.
 And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years;
 And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.
 And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age.
 But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.
 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.
 In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates:
 The Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites,
 And the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims,
 And the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.
And he said unto him, I am the LORD that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it.
- Do you know what God is probably going to tell him?
And he said, Lord GOD, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?
- God is going to say, “Abram, I’m glad you asked Me, because I am going to meet you down at the courthouse; I will go before a notary public, and I will make real this contract which I am making with you. You are going to have a son. Meet Me down there, and I will sign on the dotted line.”
- Now, before you protest, let me say that you are right, that the Bible says nothing about God meeting Abram at the courthouse, and it says nothing about going to a notary public, but in the terms of the law of our day, that is exactly what God said to Abram.
And he said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.
- God told Abram to prepare a sacrifice. He was to get a heifer, a she goat, and a ram and divide or split them down the middle and put one half on one side and one half on the other.
And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not.
- The turtledove and the pigeon he did not divide, but put one over here and one over there.
- Notice Abram got everything ready according to God’s instructions.
And when the fowls came down upon the carcases, Abram drove them away.
- This is a very human scene. Abram gets everything ready, and while he is waiting for the Lord, the fowls of the air come down—the buzzard and the crow come down upon the carrion.
- Abram is there shooing them away, for they are ready to swoop down upon the sacrifice.
- If you had been there and had seen all this display of the sacrifices, knowing the custom of the day, you might have said, “Well, brother Abram, apparently the one you’re making a contract with hasn’t shown up. I guess he’s late!” Abram would have said, “No, I don’t think He’s late. He just told me to get things ready and that He would be here to make the contract.”
And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him.
- After God confirms His promise and acknowledges Abram’s faith, Abram asks how he can be sure (Genesis 15:8, not in today’s text). In response, God initiates a ceremony to affirm the covenant. This involves animal sacrifice (15:9–11).
- Yet the ceremony is not quite complete. God brings a deep sleep on Abram, perhaps one like Adam experienced before God fashioned Eve from his rib (Genesis 2:21, 22). But Adam’s “deep sleep” is not described as coming with the horror we see here. The language used perhaps reflects that what Abram is about to learn may not be pleasant.
And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years;
- Indeed, the news is not pleasant. Abram’s descendants will not possess the land of Canaan in any real sense for hundreds of years. First, they will be strangers in someone else’s land. Not only that, their hosts in that land will subjugate them for four centuries.
- This is an important lesson for Abram to learn: he must show patience with God. Abram must operate on God’s timetable. God has long-term plans. Sadly, Abram won’t learn this lesson fully, as we see him try to “push” God’s plan along with regard to having an heir (Genesis 16).
And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.
- Abram probably does not welcome this news of long-term enslavement. Yet God’s justice and concern for His people will be made evident when He resolves this ominous development. God will bring justice on the oppressors and will use those oppressors to prosper His people with material abundance. At the end of Genesis and beginning of Exodus, we learn that the Egyptians are those oppressors.
- Abram is learning what Paul affirms many centuries later in Romans 8:28: “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” This does not mean that our every experience will be enjoyable. But it does mean that God is sovereign and that ultimately He will keep all of His promises to us.
And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age.
- It is not for Abraham to experience personally the enslavement of God’s people. Though there will be additional struggles ahead, Abram will live many more decades and die peacefully at the age of 175 (Genesis 25:7).
But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.
- The reason that God allows His people to suffer prolonged hardship is stated in this verse. Apparently, the sin of those currently inhabiting the promised land has not yet reached a point that warrants their removal from the land. We should note that the term Amorites is used interchangeably with Canaanites in Joshua 7:7–9. Canaan is described as the father of the Amorites in Genesis 10:15, 16.
- Here again God shows His justice. It is a mistake to assume that God so favors His people that He is willing to bulldoze whoever may be in their way in order to accomplish what He wants. God so honors the dignity of the people living in Canaan that He refuses to punish them prematurely. Even though God knows He will eventually drive them from the land, He does not “cut to the chase” in order to execute His edict before it is justified.
- Thus God is in no rush with Abram and Sarai. God has a long time to work out His plans for His people. Of course, God could simply leave Abram and his descendants in Ur or Haran for another 400 years before the time is ripe. But God deems this faith-building process, this long, drawn out struggle, as essential to their formation as a people.
- God has infinite wisdom. God knows that a people that wanders without a home and that suffers the shackles of slavery will be best suited to be the kind of blessing to all nations that He is calling them to become.
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.
- God now provides Abram the sign he requested in Genesis 15:8. According to ancient practice, the two parties of a covenant or treaty split animals in two, and then both pass through the middle of the animals as a sign to one another that they will not forsake their commitment. In passing between the parts, each party is essentially saying, “If I drop my end of the bargain, may I become like these animals here” (compare Jeremiah 34:18).
- It is noteworthy that Abram does not pass between the pieces; only the symbols of God’s presence do so. The symbol of a smoking furnace resembles the oven used for baking offerings in Leviticus 2:4. The symbol of a burning lamp might reflect God’s judgment as in Job 41:19 and Zechariah 12:6.
- Though Abram has an important part to play, the primary role for him and his descendants is to bear witness to God’s fulfillment of His promises for His people and the world. This serves as an important reminder to Abram that it is not his job to engineer the fulfillment of God’s promise to him, but to wait on God’s timing and God’s strategy for fulfilling it.
- God and Abram are not equal partners, as in human-to-human covenants. And so it is yet today: our primary role is to respond faithfully to the tasks that God has given us and not try to remake the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19, 20) according to our liking.
In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates:
- God reiterates His commitment to Abram: God will give the promised land to Abram’s seed. This is all that Abram needs to know. Though he may want more, he will have to take God at His word—first spoken orally and now enacted in human terms with the kind of covenant ceremony with which Abram is familiar.
- Directly to the east of the promised land is a massive desert that separates Babylon from Canaan. Directly to the west is the Mediterranean Sea. So the only two borders Abram needs in order to identify the land of promise is one to the north, which is the river Euphrates, and one to the south, which is the river of Egypt.
- The river mentioned likely does not refer to the Nile River, but to a smaller, seasonal river. This is perhaps Wadi el-Arish, which serves as the traditional Egyptian border (see also Numbers 34:5; Joshua 15:4).
The Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites,
- God now marks out the land that He is promising to Abram.
And the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims,
- By the way, what did Abram promise to do?
- Nothing. He believed God.
And the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.
- And God will save you—save you by grace—if you will believe what He has done for you.
I hope that you have really enjoyed this post,
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