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Now Read: Genesis 15
In chapter 12 we were introduced to Abram, a deeply flawed individual. While he initially put his faith in God, it wasn’t long before he abandoned his trust in God in fear for his life. But then in chapters 13 and 14, Abram redeemed himself by showing complete and utter trust in God’s provision and protection, even when up against seemingly insurmountable odds. His faith had been renewed, and he established himself as one who serves “God Most High”.
Now, as we come into chapter 15, after Abram has demonstrated near unwavering faith, God comes to Abram in a vision. “Do not fear Abram, I am a shield to you, your reward shall be very great.” (15:1). We see time and time again whenever God, or God’s messengers, appear in just about any form to a human being the first words spoken are “Do not be afraid.” We often forget just how powerful, just how magnificent, just how Holy God truly is. But in the Bible whenever a person actually experiences the awesome Glory of God their first reaction is that of overwhelming fear. A sinful and unholy person SHOULD be afraid of an almighty, all powerful, and holy God. Sin cannot survive in the unveiled presence of true Holiness. And while in situations like this God is obviously not revealing Himself completely, He is obviously revealing himself enough that the soul of an unholy sinner feels the terror of the presence of a Holy God.
But God tells Abram to not be afraid. For God is pleased with Abram after he has shown himself to be a faithful servant of God, God says to Abram, “your reward shall be very great.”
But Abram is concerned.
Abram remembers the promise that God made to him before he set out from his family home in Ur of the Chaldeans, “I will make you a great nation” (12:2) God had said. But thus far Abram, who is now becoming an old man, has had no children at all. His wife Sarai, we were told all they back in Genesis 11:30 was barren. How could God make Abram into a great nation if he has not one single descendant? Abram laments this to God, “O Lord God, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house if Eliezer of Damascus?” (15:2) Without any children the heir to his household isn’t even a member of his family, but some man from Damascus (likely a trusted servant that Abram had brought into his household during his travels). Has God forgotten the promise that He made to Abram?
God has not forgotten.
God assures Abram, “This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.” (15:4) God here is promising Abram a son of his own that will become his heir. But if that isn’t enough, God continues, “He took him outside and said, ‘Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’” (15:5) God is not only promising Abram a single child, but He is promising Abram descendants beyond numbers. God is reaffirming to Abram the promise that He made to him back in chapter 11.
And Abram believes in God’s promise. “Then he believed in the Lord; and He [God] reckoned it to him as righteousness.” (15:6). Note that Abram is not righteous. We saw very vividly in Chapter 12 just how unrighteous Abram can be. But here Abram believes in the Lord, and God is crediting that belief to Abram as righteousness.
After we are told that Abram’s believe is reckoned to him as righteousness, God continues with his promise to Abram, “I am the Lord who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it.” (15:7) And even though we have already been told that Abram “believed in the Lord” Abram does something strange, he asks God for assurance. “O Lord God, how may I know that I will possess it?” (15:8) I don’ think that we are to assume that Abram here is demonstrating a lack of faith. Just 2 verses ago we were told of Abram’s belief and faith in the Lord. Abram has faith, but he wants assurance that his faith is well placed.
And God gives Abram His assurance, in the form of a covenant.
God instructs Abram to bring several animals and birds, and sacrifice them. Abram cuts them in two, and lays each half opposite from each other (creating an “aisle” with sacrificed flesh on either side). God then put Abram into a deep sleep and revealed to Him what his descendants had in store for them. He tells Abram how his descendants will one day be put into bondage, as slaves in Egypt for four hundred years, but that ultimately God will deliver them from their bondage and bring them back to this promised land and give it to them.
And then God seals the covenant with Abram, “It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces [of sacrificed animals]. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram saying, ‘To your descendants I have given this land …’” (15:17-18)
This might seems like a very odd thing to us in the 21st century. But it was an ancient practice that when one party was making a solemn vow to the other they would seal their promise by walking down an aisle with pieces of slaughtered animals on either side. The slaughtered animals (cut in half) was to represent what would happen to the person if they broke their solemn vow. As they processed down the aisle of blood they were in effect saying, “May I be slaughtered, just as these animals, should I break my word.” Think of the cliché promise of truthfulness that we all said at one time or another as children, “cross my heart and hope to die” which is in essence say, “May I die if I am proven a liar”. This is the exact same thing, only on a more gruesome and bloody scale.
The “smoking oven and flaming torch” represented presence of God moving through the aisle of slaughtered animals. This was God solemnizing his covenant with Abram. God was not simply saying, “I promise to give this land to your descendants.” God was making a serious and solemn oath to Abram with a ceremony of sacrifice and blood. God was demonstrating to Abram just how serious His promise was. God was giving Abram assurance.
There are a couple of things we can take away from this chapter.
- Here we see the foundation for our salvation: By grace, through faith
“Then he believed in the Lord; and He [God] reckoned it to him as righteousness.” (15:6).
This is probably one of the most important verses in the entire Bible. I know that is a fairly bold statement to make, but I think it is true. Our entire Christian faith hinges on this statement.
This verse serves as the foundation for our salvation as told in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” We take it for granted that belief in God, and Jesus Christ, grants us salvation from our sins. But it is important for us to remember that there is no work, there is no piety, there is no righteousness on our parts that can earn our salvation. We are mired in sin, and are completely incapable by any perceived goodness on our part to redeem ourselves from the muck that we have wallowed ourselves in.
But God, through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus, has granted us the gift of eternal Life. If we will but believe in Christ and put our faith in Him, we will be saved. The apostle Paul says it best, “More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (Philippians 3:8-9)
God is willing to accept our belief in Him, and credit to us as righteousness. We are not righteous. We are sinful. But Jesus Christ was righteous. And God in his infinite grace and mercy accepts our belief in Him and uses it to impute the righteousness of Christ upon us. God is not simply forgiving us of our sins. He is actually giving us His righteousness. He is not simply turning a blind eye to our transgressions; he is setting us free from the bondage of sin all together. We need no longer wallow in the filth of our sin any more, but can rise above it with the righteousness of Christ living through us. The promise of Jesus is not just that He will forgive our sins, but that he rescues us so that we need no longer live in the bondage of sin.
And this promise all starts right here with Abram.
The mercy which God has given us, God is first showing here to Abram. Here Abram believes in the Lord, and God is crediting that belief to Abram as righteousness. Without God crediting Abram’s belief as righteousness, there is no Christ freeing us from our sin through faith.
But what is belief?
I should point out that belief is not simply believing that God or Jesus exists, or simply acknowledging Jesus’ sacrifice. This is not belief about God, this is belief in God.
We need to believe in Jesus, like Abram believes in God when God is promising an old childless man that he will be the father of a nation of people more numerous than the stars.
We need to believe in Jesus, like Abram who trusts in God to stand up against the might of the armies of the 4 kingdoms to rescue his nephew Lot.
We need to believe in Jesus, like Abram who is so devoted to God that he turns down the offer of untold wealth and glory offered to him from the King of Sodom.
We need to have belief in Jesus that results in complete surrender to His Lordship over our lives. Only then will our belief be credited to us as righteousness.
- God expects faith, but gives us assurance that faith is justified
God promised Abram that He would give the land to Abram’s descendants, who will be as numerous as the stars. Note that even though Abram, “believed in the Lord, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” Abram still asks God for assurance.
One would think that if the Almighty Creator promises you something, that would be enough. God’s character is unquestionable, and when He tells you something, you can take that the bank. And yet, not only did Abram ask God for assurance, but God actually gave it to him.
First of all, God did not brush off Abram’s request for assurance or rebuke him for lack of faith. It reminds me of the story of the resurrected Christ meeting his disciple Thomas: “But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”” (John 20:24-29)
Thomas loved Jesus. Thomas was willing to give everything he had to follow Jesus. But he also wanted to be sure that what he was giving his life to was real and true. That’s a very reasonable thing to want. Let’s be honest, the story of the resurrection of Jesus is in many ways, “unbelievable.” It flies in the face of everything we know about natural law. When someone is dead, they are dead. And as much as I’m sure Thomas wanted to believe that Jesus had reason, he simply could not accept it without seeing it for himself.
And Jesus does NOT chastise him for that. Jesus does not condemn Thomas for his lack of faith. No, He shows Thomas His hands and His side. He gives Thomas proof so that he would believe in the seemingly “unbelievable.” And in so doing he actually provides us with the most encouraging evidence for why we ought to believe. It is well documented that nearly all of the apostles were ultimately martyred for their faith, many in horrible and gruesome ways. Many people might be willing to die for something that they believe is true. But no one would be willing to die for something that they know to be a lie. The apostles’ faithfulness to the point of brutal and painful death gives us assurance that they actually saw the risen Christ. Jesus says “blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” By saying this he is not rebuking Thomas for wanting to see for himself. But Jesus is simply recognizing that many, like us, who will not have the chance to see the risen Lord in the flesh. And it is because Thomas saw and believed that we can use his faith as sound assurance in our belief when we cannot see. And that is a truly blessed thing.
Just as God gave Abram assurance of his promises, so God gives us assurance of our salvation. “He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:12-13)
God didn’t just give Abram a promise. He gave Abram an assurance. God didn’t just promise us eternal life. He gave us His only Son to secure it for us. What could be greater assurance than that?
Next Post: Genesis 16 – Hagar: The Least of These
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