Living in the Gap (Genesis 15:1-21)
After his military victory against Chedorlaomer’s armies, Abram was met by two kings: Melchizedek, the king of Salem, and the unnamed king of Sodom. While Melchizedek celebrated Abram’s victory and blessed him, the king of Sodom offered him a business transaction: “Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.” (Genesis 14:21) Not wanting to be indebted to the king of Sodom, Abram refused to be rewarded by him.
The reward of faith is God himself, not merely his gifts.
By going to battle in Genesis 14, Abram probably made some powerful enemies who were bent on retaliation. So at the beginning of chapter 15, God assures Abram of his protection: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield…” Additionally, God will reward Abram, a reward which takes the place of the reward that he had refused to take from the king of Sodom: “your reward shall be very great.”
Many people would have been satisfied with the level of wealth Abram had achieved up to this point in his life (see 12:16; 13:2), and to have the promise of protection and reward would only increase that sense of security. But Abram wasn’t content with living comfortably. He wanted to see God’s promises fulfilled. What good are God’s rewards to him if he doesn’t have a son (v. 2)?
In response, God reminds Abram in no uncertain terms that his heir will be a natural-born son (vv. 3-4). Not only that, but Abram’s descendants will one day be as numerous as the stars (vv. 5-6). Despite how hopeless and far off that reality may appear to Abram, he considers God to be trustworthy and reliable. And God counts Abram’s willingness to trust him as righteousness.
While verses 1-6 reinforce God’s promise to Abram of offspring, the rest of the chapter reinforces the promise of land. After reminding him of this promise (v. 7), Abram wants some reassurance (v. 8). After all, the promise of offspring he can expect to see within his lifetime (he’ll have a son). But the promise of receiving the land of Canaan will take time.
The purpose of the covenant ritual described in the rest of the chapter is to give Abram assurance that God will fulfill this promise. He instructs Abram to take several animals, cut them in half, and lay them across from each other. The language of verse 12 (“sun was going down”, “deep sleep fell on Abram”, “dreadful darkness fell upon him”) creates an eerie and ominous atmosphere for what God tells Abram in verses 13-16: his descendants will live in a foreign land and suffer there. After four hundred years, he’ll judge the nation that oppressed them (Egypt) and bring them back to Canaan with great possessions (see Exodus 12:36).
At this point, God – depicted here as “a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch” (compare with Exodus 24:17; Deuteronomy 4:11) - passes between the animal pieces. “God is invoking a curse upon himself if he does not keep his covenant…Once the animal was killed, the one making the covenant could expect the same fate as the animal if he broke covenant.” (Bruce Waltke) In other words, God is taking sole responsibility for fulfilling this promise.
- In Paul’s time, many were saying that in addition to faith, one needed to be circumcised to be declared righteous by God. How does Paul respond to this in Romans 4:1-12? How does Genesis 15:6 play into his argument?
- Abram wasn’t concerned about living a comfortable life. He cared more about seeing God’s promises come to pass. In what ways does his example challenge you? When do you find yourself more concerned with material comforts than with growing in righteousness?
- According to Genesis 15:16, why does God delay fulfilling the land promise? (See also Deuteronomy 9:4-5.) Compare this with 2 Peter 3:9. What does this delay teach us about God’s character?
Genesis 15:6 – “And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.”
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