Open your bibles to Genesis 15. We are picking up where we left off last week considering the covenant God made with Abram. We have already considered the call of Abram pointing out the God’s call involves a separation from a past that is filled with idolatry and sin, it involves the promise of several blessings, and it compels us to worship. This week’s passage narrows in on two particular blessings that Abram was to receive.
Before we read this passage let us look to the Lord in prayer for his help in understanding it.
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.” 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.” 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.
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.
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.”
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.”
This is the Word of the LORD.
In Genesis 12, God called Abram and gave him several promises. By the time we come to Genesis 15, not one of those promises has been fulfilled. Abram was promised he would be great nation (which implies he would have a lot of children), and his offspring was promised a land to inherit. The problem is that Abram doesn’t have a son, nor does he have an inheritance to pass on.
First, we will look at the promise that God Gives Hope (1-6). Second, we’ll see that God Gives Assurance (7-11, 18-21). And third, we will note how God Gives Grace (12-17).
I. God Gives Hope (1-6)
In the opening verse of this section we have language depicting a hard break from the previous narrative. So the fear associated with Abram here probably doesn’t refer back to the war that took place in chapter 14. He probably isn’t afraid of the losing kings retaliating. But, rather, Abram’s fear appears to stem from a growing concern that the promises of God might not be fulfilled in the way he expects. So we see in this passage he not only wants to know what God has promised, but how those promises will be fulfilled.
Let me reiterate this point, Abram’s struggle is not one of unbelief, but one of faith. Abram is trusting God, but he is questioning how and when the promises will be fulfilled. He comes from a position of faith, but that faith is mixed with the reality of his circumstances and the weakness of his flesh.
In other words, there is room for doubt in the life of a believer. We see this doubt expressed in two ways. First, in verse 2, Abram says, “O Lord God, what will you give me…” How can I trust you? Then in verse 9, Abram says, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” I’m not sure I can trust myself? There is a sense in which Abram is saying, I’m wrestling with doubts about you and I’m wrestling with doubts about myself. It is as if Abram is saying, “I believe, help my unbelief.”
Abram is given the promise of offspring. God will provide him with a child of his own. Not only that, but his descendants will be like the stars in the sky.
Abram waited 25 years for his first son. He was 100 years old when Isaac was born. When we look at chapter 25 we will consider this in more detail, but at this point I want you to consider how Abram’s situation is related to a theme that we see throughout Scripture. It is quite remarkable to consider the theme of “waiting”. Abraham must wait 25 years for the birth of Isaac. Joseph spent 13 years serving in Potiphar’s house and more than 2 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Moses flees Egypt and spends 40 years as a shepherd before God calls him to return and lead the Israelites out of Egypt. David waited 14 years from the time he was anointed as king, to the time he actually takes the throne. You see waiting in the story of almost every major character in the Bible.
For Abram, this was a future hope, but we have the privilege of seeing the fulfillment of this promise. The Church is that fulfillment. We are children of Abraham by faith.
I don’t know what it is you’re waiting for, but I don’t doubt for a minute that every one of you can relate to this situation. The goal that will finally bring us lasting contentment seems just beyond our reach. Waiting is not easy, especially when it turns from anticipation into frustration. The deciding factor in determining whether our waiting is something we can enjoy is the presence of hope. When we wait with a hopeful expectation, we can endure any length of time. But this isn’t some generic hope that God provides. It is a confident hope in God’s ability to provide all that he has promised.
In 2 Peter 3:8-9 we read, “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
God not only provided Abram with the promise of offspring, he also provided Abram with the promise of land.
God Gives Assurance (7-11, 18-21)
God brought him out from his homeland so that he might bring him into a better land. Hebrews 11:8-10 reminds us that Abraham was looking beyond the physical land of Canaan to his eternal inheritance. Our inheritance is the New Heavens and the New Earth.
Randy Alcorn tells the following story, “In 1952, a young woman named Florence Chadwick stepped off Catalina Island, into the Pacific Ocean. Her goal was to swim to the shore of mainland California, 21 miles away. It was foggy and chilly. She could barely see the boats alongside her. Florence swam for fifteen hours. She begged to be taken out of the water. Her mother, in a boat alongside, told her she could make it. Finally, physically and emotionally exhausted, she gave up and stopped swimming. They pulled her out. Then, when Florence Chadwick was on the boat she discovered the truth: the shore was less than half a mile away. She was 98% of the way home. At a news conference the next day she said this: ‘All I could see was the fog…I think if I could have seen the shore, I would have made it.’”
Endurance is not only related to the object of our hope, but the confidence we have in obtaining that object. When we give up in a race it is because we have lost confidence in our ability to keep it up. We lack the assurance that our body can continue. More often than not, our mind has given up well before our body is actually out of energy.
Abraham’s faith was not always strong. Like every other major bible character, he had his faults and setbacks. What enabled Abraham to endure the waiting was not an unwavering faith. His confidence was shaken several times. What pulled him along and moved him forward was a gracious God and nothing more. The strength of Abraham’s confidence didn’t cause him to persevere, but it was God’s own covenant faithfulness.
Abraham would not fail, because God cannot fail. And that leads us to our final point…
God Gives Grace (12-17)
Abram had nothing to contribute to the covenant relationship. He had no treasure (14:21-23). He had no son. He had no land. He couldn’t even offer God his own faithfulness (12:10-16). Abram’s condition is one of helplessness. He has nothing to offer God. And yet, God makes his promises in spite of Abram.
What is going on in this passage (vv.12-17)? This is how covenants were ratified in the ancient near eastern context. The vow takers would act out the curse of the covenant.
We see this exact description in Jeremiah 34. The leaders of Israel realize they had broken their covenant vows, so they seek to renew their commitment to the covenant by taking this self-curse. Of course, as soon as God delivered them from the Babylonians they went back on their word. So Jeremiah 34:18-21 declares God’s response, “And the men who transgressed my covenant and did not keep the terms of the covenant that they made before me, I will make them like the calf that they cut in two and passed between its parts—the officials of Judah, the officials of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, the priests, and all the people of the land who passed between the parts of the calf. And I will give into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their lives, into the hand of the army of the king of Babylon which has withdrawn from you.”
It is important to know that whenever a covenant was being made between unequals, such as when one nation conquered another nation. Only the vassal (servant) would walk through the pieces. So Abram would have been very familiar with this kind of ceremony, as well as the original readers. Everyone reading this for the first time would have totally anticipated Abram to walk through these animals he has lined up.
But instead, beginning in verse 12 we read that Abram is placed under a deep sleep (remember Adam?) which denies him the possibility of participating in the ceremony. And a great darkness falls upon him and in verse 17 we read that a “smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.” This is the same language used to describe the smoke and lightening that descended upon Mount Sinai during God’s covenant with Moses (Exod. 19:18). Clearly, we have a picture of God passing through these pieces alone!
God is declaring, “May I be torn to pieces. May I be cut off if I am not faithful to my covenant!” What is also amazing is that Abram did nothing! God is promising on Abram’s behalf too! “If either one of us fails—I’ll pay the penalty!”
How can this be? The same darkness that fell upon Abram, fell upon the cross of Christ (Mark 15:33). Jesus was “cut off” from his Father (Isa. 53), bearing the full weight of God’s wrath. As the sole participant in the ceremony of Genesis 15, God promised to bear the responsibility of the covenant. As covenant breakers, all of us are deserving of death and separation from God. But instead of giving us wrath, God took the covenant curse upon himself when Jesus Christ died on the cross in our place.
In the Covenant of Grace, God secures our enjoyment of the reward by bearing the penalty of our sin. Specifically speaking to those who belong to the covenant community: God has secured your hope, he secured your assurance, and every blessing that is yours in Christ Jesus—by sending his only Son to die in your place.
Jesus Christ was cut off so that he can bless you even though you fail him!
The theme of the covenant with Abraham is what God will provide. It has nothing to do with Abraham and everything to do with God. The fact that he was literally placed into a coma during the inauguration of the covenant testifies to this reality. And while that is easy to understand, it isn’t necessarily the easiest thing to accept. Abraham contributed absolutely nothing to this covenant relationship. But God was faithful to fulfill every one of his promises.
- Just like God promised innumerable offspring to Abraham, there are children of faith throughout the world who testify to God’s continuing faithfulness to that covenant promise. Are you one of them?
- Just like God provided the Israelites with the land of Canaan, he has promised to bring us all the way home, to the New Heavens and New Earth. Are you waiting for that day with hope?
- Just like God promised to bear the covenant responsibilities in Abram’s place, so he promises to take the punishment of everyone who places their faith in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Is that what you believe?
Can you accept this gift of mercy and grace? Maybe you already know what God offers. But like Abram, you wonder how he is going to provide it for you. The answer to that question is found in the New Testament. Luke 22:20, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Jesus paid the price of the covenant curse.
How can you receive the reward? It is as simple as recognizing your need for a Savior and placing your faith in him. Repent and believe! You can do that right now, right where you are. You don’t have to wait for the right moment. Now is the right moment. “Now is the day of salvation!” (2 Cor. 6:2).