Genesis 15: A Gracious Covenant Confirmed
Did you know Genesis 15:17 was R.C. Sproul's favorite verse? God has an answer of pure grace for anxious Abram, and reveals the unilateral nature of the covenant in its establishment.
Have you ever felt alone? While Abram is not entirely alone, he has been stripped of much and he needs fresh encouragement.
Genesis 15 is the record of God putting fresh hope into Abram, strengthening his faith by revealing more of His plan and making a covenant with him.
This entire chapter is filled with divine communion. It is remarkable that a) God would commune with man, b) that He would comfort, c) that He would communicate protection and provision. That’s how it begins and continues.
v. 1 - Abram is lying awake one night and God appears in a vision to him with a “fear not.” Perhaps he feared that this victory in rescuing Lot might lead to a retaliation. Or perhaps he is having second thoughts regarding the decision to move from Ur to Canaan. God promises to protect (shield) and provide (reward) for Abram.
v. 2–3 - But Abram is human. All he wants is an heir, and he expresses that to God that the only heir he has is his hired servant.
v. 4–6 - so God underlines to Abram that He has a plan to give him an heir. More than that, God shows him the stars to show him his descendants will be as numerous as the stars, and Abram believes God. I do not believe this to be his conversion, because I believe that has already happened. However, the ground of his salvation is revealed here. His faith is said to be the reason he obtained righteousness. How? Romans 4 uses Abraham’s faith as an example of all saving faith. reveals that God preached of Christ to Abram.
v. 7–8 - But God had not only promised to Abram an heir, He also promised the land. God restates that intention and Abram questions, how will I know? It’s like he is saying, Lord I believe, help thou mine unbelief.
v. 9–10 - God calls on Abram to get animals according to an ancient practice whereby men would vow to one another. They did not reassure by means of a signature like we do, but by shedding blood. Get animals, cut them in half, and lay them out with the intention that both parties walk through the midst of them, essentially saying to one another ‘so be it to either of us if we do not keep our word.’
v. 11–16 - while Abram is waiting for God, birds are trying to eat the dead animals. But God does not show up until Abram falls asleep. Then God reveals to him:
First, that his descendants will be enslaved and will not obtain the land until after they have been in bondage for 400 years.
Second, when they come back to the land they will be rich and multiplied, and God will be ready to remove the inhabitants of Canaan because of the extent of their sin.
v. 17-18 - here is a most marvelous text. Why? Abram awakens to see:
First, God makes a covenant with Abram, vowing that it will be as He has promised.
Second, the terms of the covenant entirely rests on God, and nothing to do with Abram. It is unilateral. That is why the symbol of the presence of God passes through the animals without Abram. It will be fulfilled by grace alone.
From v 1. we should learn, not that God gives blessing, but God is the blessing. God is the ultimate reward of life. Do you believe that? Why is it that we seldom reflect it?
Abram displays a practice of holy argument in this chapter? He makes inquiry, almost challenging God. Not in a rebellious way, but from a position of burden and bewilderment. Lord, “What wilt thou give me?” Christian, learn to unburden your heart honestly, yet reverently before God.
Whether you take the view that Abram was saved in Ur, or saved here, we must note that he is justified before he is circumcised. Religious ceremonies do not save. Children, if you have been baptized it does not mean you have been converted.
The language of v. 12 is mysterious. Abram falls asleep, probably due to exhaustion. He was up all night with God showing him the stars, and then he spent the day gathering and killing animals and waiting on God. But why the horror of great darkness? It is likely that God made him to feel the grief of his posterity being enslaved. Whatever the case, God reserves the right to bring His people through seasons of darkness. The passage reminds us of the darkness that fell upon the cross during the sufferings of Christ. Whatever darkness you face, thank God it is not the darkness of the cross or of hell.
Note the benevolence and patience of God. God will not utterly destroy the Amorites for 400 years, even though they stand in the way of an immediate fulfillment of God’s promise. God bears long with the ungodly. So ought we.
Do you struggle with doubts? Do you wonder if God will keep HIs Word and save all sinners who come to Him in faith? Look at v. 17 and ask yourself if God is going to fail and allow Himself to be divided in half because He failed to keep His Word. He It will never happen! You can trust Him to save you and keep you. This is the covenant of grace, and it requires no input from you to be fulfilled.
“A covenant is a bond in blood sovereignly administered. When God enters into a covenantal relationship with men, he sovereignly institutes a life-and-death bond. A covenant is a bond in blood, or a bond of life and death, sovereignly administered.” — O. Palmer Robertson