Genesis | Chapter 15

Genesis 15:1-21

“Exceeding great reward”

  1. Intro.
  2. Vs. 1-6 Faith’s reward
  3. Vs. 7-21 An agreement of assurance


This chapter introduces a lot of firsts in scripture:

  • 1 first use of the “word” in scripture
  • 1 first use of the words “vision”, “fear not”, “shield” “reward” and “I am”
  • 6 first mention of belief or faith
  • It is also the first time that we are introduced to one of the most important doctrines in all of scripture, “justification by faith”. This doctrines, as well as this section of scripture answers the questions:
    1. How can a person be declared right before a Holy God?
    2. Is there a difference between how this was done in the OT and the NT?

Vs. 1-6 Faith’s reward

Vs. 1 This verse reveals four things to us:

  1. The timing: “After these things”. The reference is to what had just taken place, victory, blessing and self-denial. It is easy for us to understand the need to start fresh with God after our failure but here we are given the truth that we are often in greater danger after our success then we are our defeats. When you look in the gospels at the recorded incidences of Jesus’ all night prayer sessions you will find them strangely mentioned after great success in Jesus’ ministry instead of before.
  2. How God reveals: “the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision”. This is the 4th time God has come to Abram, but it is the 1st time we are told that He did so by the “Word of the Lord”. We have the method by which the Lord refreshed Abram “the Word of the Lord” in a “vision”. This word vision appears only four times and every time it appears it implies divine revelation. The Word of the Lord has come in the Bible to people in many different ways; personal appearance, audible voice, dreams, visions, angels, Holy Spirit working upon the heart making the service of the teacher or prophets words come alive. However Heb. 1:1-2a tells us that “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son.” When we are in need we can be refreshed by the word of the Lord.
  3. Common fears: “Do not be afraid, Abram”. The fact that God says to Abram “Do not be afraid” indicates that he was afraid. This phrase appears in scripture 84 times. Based upon the Lord’s two assurances we have clues as what caused Abram to fear, they are the same two fears that we all have:
    • Shield”: The presence of something outside our control. You have a shield to protect you from something being shot or throne at you from the outside. We all have a fear of something or someone doing something to us outside of our control. Evidently Abram feared retribution being taken upon him for his action against the four kings or perhaps in regards to not making an alliance with the King of Sodom. And God says, “I’ve got your back! “?
    • Reward”: The absence of something good. Here the fear is not getting something that others have or not getting our fair share. To this fear God will say that He is our exceedingly great reward. The Lord handles our two fears by giving us more of Himself then we will not be paralyzed by fear instead we will be freed up to minister to others.
  4. Our reward: “I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward”. The antidote to our fears is God Himself. We are told two ways in which He alone is our reward. Notice first he use of the phrase “I am” it is the first time that we have seen it in scripture but it won’t be the last. In John 8:56, 58 Jesus said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad. Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” This is perhaps the incident that Jesus is referring too. The Lord tells Abram that He is the self-existing One who alone is perfectly able to shield us from all harm and evil. Isa. 54:17 says, “No weapon formed against you shall prosper”, 2 Cor. 10:4 says that, “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds”. God never tells us not to be afraid that He does not give Himself as the reason not to be.

Vs. 2-3 Abram address the Lord as “Adhonay Yahweh” or Lord of all Supreme God which shows us that Abram is not doubting God’s power to perform that which He promised but rather his understanding of how this would be accomplished. “What will you give me” ought to be rendered as in one translation “LORD All-Powerful, you have given me everything I could ask for, except children”. God had already promised Abram twice before (12:2 and 13:16) descendants yet 10 years had passed and still there was no sound of little feet running around. By now he and Sarai were well past the age of child baring. In fact this is reflected in his words to the Lord as “I go childless” is literally “stripped” of children. The one that would be the heir of his entire house was Eliezer (God is my help). Abram questions not God’s ability but rather the way in which it’s going to be accomplished. God knows what we think and feel so it does no good to keep, those doubt to yourself tell it to Him so that He can minister to us.

Vs. 4-6 Abram speaks to God about his inability to understand how God is going to accomplish that which He promised and God answers his with a further promise not a rebuke. Even though he has told Abram three times that He will give him an heir he does so again in a fourfold manor.

  1. Vs. 4 “This one shall not be your heir”: God tells Abram that He has not forgotten His promise
  2. Vs. 4“But one who will come”: He reminds Abram of His original promise in 12:2, 13:15-16.
  3. Vs. 4“From your own body shall be your heir”: He gives Abram further specific understanding of His promise so that Abram would not misunderstand what God was going to do.
  4. Vs. 5 “Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be”: Finally God confirms it with an illustration showing Abram His power to perform the impossible. The God who made the heavens out of nothing but His word in power with be able to bring forth descendants from a barren womb in deed one would even be the “bright morning star”.

Vs. 6 The root of the word “believe” in Hebrew is where we get the word amen “believe”  means, “it is so”. The idea here is when you believe you are saying “it is so” “believe”  not “may it be so”! Simply put when we believe we are confirming our belief by a constant continual trust based upon Who he is therefore we are going to alter how we think feel and act! Faith takes God at His WORD and responds to His Word before He even performs it. The object of Abrams faith was, “in the LORD”. Because Abram said “it is so” to the Word of the Lord his saying and acting upon this was accounted to him as righteousness. This tells us that Abram had no righteousness of his own! The Bible speaks of two types of righteousness “free from sin or the act of being and doing right”.

Vs. 7-21 An agreement of assurance

Vs. 7-11 Right after Abram stated his complete trust in God, God now establishes an agreement with him. This agreement or covenant is not on equal terms, as Abram like us could never keep his end of the deal. So we see that it is God who:

  • Promises
  • Gives
  • Assures

Abram did nothing to earn his rightness before God and he will do nothing in keeping the agreement instead the agreement is based completely upon God’s character. God wants Abram to understand three things about His agreement with us in verse 7:

  1. I am the LORD”: The agreement comes from the unchangeable God which is based upon His nature. God wants us to view His promises towards us from the perspective of Who He is in His character and nature not from the perspective of our present circumstances or situation. So He simply says, “I am the Lord!”
  2. Who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans”: Here God reminds Abram of what He had already accomplished in his life. The point is dealing with God’s faithfulness in spite of Abram’s faithlessness. “You were a nobody living no where, going no place and I brought you out because of My love!” Everything that Abram had experienced was because God had kept His promises even when Abram had not. God is the promise keeper we are the promise breakers!
  3. To give you this land to inherit it”: He wants Abram to know that He has a purpose and a plan for he and his descendants. It would still be another 15 years before Isaac would be born and yet He wants Abram to know that even in this long wait there is a purpose and a plan.

Vs. 8 Abram had no deed to the land in fact he had nothing to show anyone that what God said was true. All he had was God’s Word on it which was good enough for him but he desires some sort of visible pledge or guarantee. Abram did not want a sign in order to believe he wanted a sign confirming that he had believed.

Vs. 9-10 This reads more like a grocery list then it does as an answer to Abram’s request. Even though God’s promise was free to Abram based upon his faith it was very expensive to God. There were five kinds of clean animals that were accepted for sacrifice and each one of the five is to be brought here. These animals were to die and then be cut in half so that the two parties would both walk between the two halves of the sacrificed animals. The reason for the two halves was that there were two parties which were participating in the agreement. Abram had wanted a “contract” so God stoops down to earth’s level and gives Abram a contract. This conveys four things about this contract:

  1. Perfect sacrificeBring Me a three-year-old heifer, female goat, ram”: These animals were to be fully mature in their sacrifice. In other words they were to be perfect.
  2. Right offering: As I already said they were all considered “clean” animals. In other words the covenant had to be done with the right offering. Abram could not just bring any old animal no matter how perfect it might have been to him.
  3. Within reach of all: “a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” Later on we will see that these offerings were seen as acceptable by the Lord on behalf of those who could not afford the others. In fact according to Luke 2:24 this is what was offered at the birth of Jesus.
  4. Provided by the shedding of innocent blood: The only means of acceptance before the Lord is the shedding of innocent blood. In verse 18 it literally reads that the Lord “cut a covenant” with Abram.

Now looking over this again and you see this points to Jesus upon the cross for us!

Vs. 11-12 Birds in scripture are always a sign of opposition of the enemy. The Lord is showing Abram that as we wait for the Lord to ratify is agreement of grace we need to see that:

  1. It will take time for us to see what our hearts already possess by faith
  2. There will always be opposition to an agreement founded upon grace. It says “whennot if the vultures come down. Satan has always been opposed to the covenant of grace; he has always sought to devour God’s free offering to us. But we are to ward off the enemy, by drawing nearer the sacrifice.

There are three things on our part that will enable us to enjoy the benefits of God’s agreement of grace”

  1. Faithful obedience to do exactly what God said to ratify the agreement.
  2. Patiently watchful as he waited upon the Lord to fulfill His covenant.
  3. Separate from the cares of the world. God caused a deep sleep to come upon him so that he would not be distracted by the things around him.

Vs. 13-16 In verse 8 Abram had asked, “how shall I know” here God answers “know certainly”. The 400 years is most likely a rounded off number of the 430 years told us in Exodus 12:40. God tells Abram that his descendants will inherit the land some 400 years or 4 generations later. There are four parts to this prophecy:

  1. 13 His descendants will go through, exile, bondage and affliction. They will have no easy time just because of the agreement of grace made with Abram. Abram could tell Isaac and Isaac could tell Jacob and Jacob would tell his 12 sons and they would tell their children, that the tribulation would not cause them to think that God was not faithful to execute His promise.
  2. 14 Abram’s people will be a witness to God’s power and blessing. The nation that afflicted them will be judged, so that Abram’s people would not equate their circumstances with victory and defeat.
  3. 15 Though Abram would not live to see the personal fulfillment of God’s promise he would experience it Positionally.
  4. 16 God reveals to Abram the bigger picture in which he shows him that He will judge the nations that now occupy the land of promise. This shows us that God is patient and long suffering not wishing any to parish.

Vs. 17-18a God ratifying the covenant of grace with two distinct representations of Himself:

  1. Smoking oven”: The Hebrew word here suggests a common portable clay oven that was about two feet high looking like an inverted bowl with a hole on top. In Ex. 19:18 this represents the presence of God. Interestingly the oven was used by goldsmiths for the purpose of refining gold. It seems as though the idea here is that the purpose of God’s plans and covenant are to refine us into His image and reflection.
  2. Burning torch”: This reminds of Ex. 14:19-20 where we are told about the pillar of fire. It was this fire that consumed the sacrifice showing that God was satisfied with the offering.

Only God that passed through the two halves, that means that only God signed the contract, Abram never did thus the certainty of the contract was based only upon God. This speaks to the fact that it can never fail because God can never fail. One commentator put it this way “A divine covenant is not a mutual agreement on equal terms between to parities, it is instead a Divine promise assured!

Vs. 18b-21 Finally God gives Abram the boundaries of the land of promise which is from the Nile to the Euphrates. The land was only for a short time realized during Solomon’s reign but it will be theirs in the future. The 10 nations listed here have all gone without a mention in the world apart from the word of God yet God will be faithful to fulfill every one of His promises to us!