15 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:
“Do not be afraid, Abram.
I am your shield,
your very great reward.”
2 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?”3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”
4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
7 He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”
8 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”
9 So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”
10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half.11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.
12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”
17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates—19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”
(Genesis 15:1-21 NIV)
As we take a quick overview of where we’ve been, Chapter 13 was Abram and Lot going their separate ways, with Abram showing love and grace to Lot; Chapter 14 was Abram rescuing Lot, with Abram again showing love and grace to an ungrateful Lot. As we step into Chapter 15, we see God blessing Abram and making a covenant, a promise to him.
Remember in Chapter 14 how Abram rescued Lot, his family, and his possessions from their captors? And remember how Abram did not accept the reward that the king of Sodom offered him (including its intended strings that would have made Abram “owe” a favor back to the king of Sodom)?
All those events did not make Abram a popular man; in fact, Abram made enemies that day. With Abram’s fearful nature, he was likely worried about reprisal from either or both of those groups because of his decisions and actions.
So the Lord addressed those fears at the beginning of Chapter 15, telling Abram to not be afraid, that He (God) is Abram’s shield, Abram’s protector against his enemies.
God also promised to be Abram’s reward. Abram was already a wealthy man; he did not want more material possessions – and he desperately wanted a son to carry on the family name as God had promised. Abram was not being ungrateful – he was simply asking God to honor the promise that He had made to give him (Abram) a family, a son.
God was not going back on His promise to Abram. God told Abram to go outside; God used the stars in the sky to illustrate His point that Abram would one day become a mighty nation, with descendants more than Abram could count, just like the stars in the clear nighttime sky.
When God took Abram outside and showed him the stars, Abram believed God. Moses tells us that God counted Abram’s belief as righteousness. Remember that Abram was not known as a righteous man like Noah. In fact, this is the first time that Abram is associated with God’s righteousness.
To be clear, God did not equate anything that Abram did as being righteous; it was Abram’s faith and trust in God’s promise that God saw as being righteous. Abram did not earn God’s favor by his actions, but rather by his faith. The Apostle Paul further elaborates on this fact in Romans Chapter 4. Note also that Abram did not put his faith and trust in some object or idea but in the person of God.
God then reminded Abram that He had given Abram the land for his promised offspring, a place to call their home. Abram, being an old man, asked the Lord for a sign, a promise that God would, in fact, give him and his descendants a place of their own. Abram could not defend a land that big on his own; and with no descendants yet, there was no one to help him manage the land and take over when he died.
The Lord addressed Abram’s fear and gave Abram a view of the future for him and his descendants. The view included a tremendous blessing and inheritance, but also included incredible suffering. The book of Exodus is the fulfillment of God’s promise of enslavement at the hands of the Egyptians, the suffering of the Jewish people, and the Jews’ return to the promised land and God’s generous provision and reward.
God then makes a covenant, a promise with Himself on behalf of Abram, a promise for land that Abram’s descendants can call home.
Notice in Chapter 13 verse 15 the Lord had said, “I will give you this land…” (future tense); in chapter 15 verse 18, the Lord said, “I give” (NIV) or “I have given” (NASB) “this land…”. With the covenant, the promise, God has already declared something in the future to be true in that day. The promise would be 400+ years in the future, but the deal was sealed as Abram watched that evening.
Remember Noah’s blessings and curses to his sons, and how Ham’s descendants would serve Shem’s descendants (chapters 9 and 10)? The Lord reiterates Noah’s proclamation in verses 19 – 21 of chapter 15. Want to see for yourself? Cross-reference the names of the tribes in 15:19-21 with those in 10:13-18. There are a few name differences, but the majority there are the same.
May we be like Abram and trust God even in our fear, following the Lord in faith.
May our faith for the present and the future not be in blind faith itself, or in a sign, an idea, or a thing, but in the person of God, in His Son, Jesus Christ.