Genesis 15. Abram Was Saved By Faith.
Key Note: God was Abram's great reward. Saving faith. The treaty ceremony. Prophecy of Israel in Egypt and later occupation of Canaan.
Genesis 15 is a high-point in Old Testament history. The chapter contains one of the most important verses in the OT, one that is critical to understanding our salvation. The events apparently happen in one day, starting at night and ending the next night. God had intense interactions with Abram. Land, progeny and mid-Eastern history are the subjects. There are moments of high exaltation and deep gloom.
15:1 God spoke to Abram in a vision: "Fear not, Abram,I am your shield and your very great reward." The shield reassured him after the recent victory over the Mesopotamian kings and provided God's security against the threat of retaliation. The four kings had previously subdued Canaanite cities and returned to capture them again when they rebelled. How could this small band of 318 servants prevail against established armies? God must shield him. Peace is assured for him and his family.
The great reward is God Himself.
15:3 Then Abram pressed God on the unfulfilled promise, specifically the son God had promised. At present, Eliezer of Damascus, the Syrian steward of his household, would be his heir.
15:4–6 "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 descendents be.'
'And He believed the LORD and He reckoned it to him as righteousness."
We will return to this verse in discussion. God promised that Abram's offspring would be from his own body, and that their children would be like the stars in number. The stars visible to the naked eye are about 7000. But the Milky Way overhead is like the dust of the earth. (13:16). Nevertheless, this promise was not to be realized for centuries.
15:7–8 God reiterated that Abram had been given Canaan as an inheritance. Abram asked for confirmation: "How shall I know that?" He was still a wandering nomad with no teritory of his own.
15:9–11 In response God set up a treaty ceremony. Abram was ordered to kill three mature animals, cut them in half and lay them opposite each other, along with two small birds. In ancient times, participants in a treaty walked between the divided bodies of such animals and vowed to keep their word or become like the bodies they walked between.It invoked a curse on anyone who broke the covenant. It was called “cutting a covenant.” An example is found in Jeremiah:
"The men who transgressed my covenant and did not keep the terms of the covenant which they made before me, I will make like the calf which they cut in two and passed between its parts." (Jer.34:18)
The unique feature of this ceremony was that Abram did not participate; he did not have to make an oath. God put him into a deep sleep and two symbols of God's presence—a smoking furnace (like that used for smelting silver), creating darkness and cloud, and a torch, a light-source --passed between the pieces. Sacrifice had been made but an altar was not involved, so that neither worship nor forgiveness was the point. The ceremony assures Abram that he would not be threatened with condemnation, because God Himself validated the treaty and was responsible for its fulfillment.
“…since He had no one greater by whom to wear, He swore by Himself, saying ‘Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” (Heb.6:13–14).
That was also God's proof that Abram would inherit the land!
15:12–16 While Abram was asleep, he was also given a disturbing vision in answer to the question: "How shall I know that I shall posses it"--i.e., the land God promised him. (15:8). God unfolded the future: Israel would become enslaved in another land [Egypt] and return to Canaan after 400 years with great possessions. The cryptic expression "for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete." means that the peoples of Canaan had another 400 years to live before the Israelites would drive them out and replace them. That is a stunning testimony to God's planning and his patience with wicked people.
15:17–21 The final promise was that his descendants' lands would extend from the River of Egypt (not the Nile) to the Euphrates—a large territory. This promise was reiterated in Deut. 1:7,8) and realized by Solomon more than a thousand years later. IK.4:24
God is our exceeding great reward. With Him, we have everything. Without Him, we nave nothing.
God gave Abram His most assured guarantee that the promise He was making would be fulfilled. He initiated the traditional covenant made between individuals without Abram, the second party, participating except to observe. God put symbols of Himself between the pieces of cut animals, into the position of jeopardy, essentially swearing on Himself that the covenant would be carried out. We tremble to realize that the force of the covenant was to assure Abram that the tract of land between the Euphrates and the River of Egypt would belong to his offspring. (Heb.6:13). And the writer of Hebrews assures us that the covenant covers us as well (Geb.6:18), like an anchor for the soul.
The New Testament applies Genesis 15:6 to the salvation of believers in Christ: we are saved in the same way that Abraham was. In Romans 4 Paul uses Abraham’s faith as a basis of his chapter outline.
4:1–8 Faith-righteousness is a gift, not a reward for moral work.
4:9–12 Abraham's faith was exercised before he received circumcision; circumcision was a sign of the covenant and not the cause of it.
4:13–16 Faith came to Abraham before the Law was given by Moses (400 years later), so faith did not depend on his obedience to the Law. Gal.3:17–18 says the same.
4:16–17 His faith contained the promise that through him God would bless all the nations. This makes us Gentiles heirs to the promise. Gal.3:6–9 makes the same point.
4:18–25 His faith was firm in spite of the increasingly remote prospects for having a child, making him a model of steadfastness and hope for us.
Paul points out that God’s promise was through one “seed”, not “seeds”, that is Christ. Gal.3:15–16
Other NT sources help us to grasp how much Abraham might understand of God’s salvation.
“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a land which he was to receive as an inheritance…” “By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a foreign land…. For he looked forward to the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” (Heb.11:8,9,10)
Jesus makes the concluding argument. “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see My Day; he saw it and was glad.” (Jn.8:56).
So Abram’s faith was founded on the blessing that through him all nations would be blessed, and that the blessing would come through a human descendant whom he understood to be the Messiah. The blessing was the forgiveness of sins, as Peter said:
“You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God gave to your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘and in your posterity shall all the families of the earth be blessed’. God, having raised up His Servant, sent Him to you first, to bless you in turning every one of you from your wickedness.” (Acts3:25–26).
Do we realize that God Himself is our own very great reward? Gen.15:1