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15:1 After these things the word of Yahweh came to Abram in a vision, saying, Don’t be afraid, Abram- The fear was initially of the retribution by other tribes of Canaan after the dramatic victory of Abraham at Damascus (see on Gen. 14:14).

One of the strongest of the Abraham family’s characteristics was fear, almost to the extent of psychiatric paranoia. Abraham (Gen. 15:1; 20:11), Hagar (Gen. 21:17), Lot (Gen. 19:30), Sarah (Gen. 18:15), Isaac (Gen. 26:7,24; 31:42, 53, Jacob (Gen. 32:7,11; 46:3; 28:17; 31:31), his sons (Gen. 42:35; 43:18,23; 50:21), Joseph (Gen. 42:18). This is really some emphasis. Fear and lack of faith are often associated (Dt. 20:8; Jud. 7:3; Mt. 25:25; Mk. 4:40; Lk. 12:32; Rom. 8:15; Heb. 13:6; 1 Jn. 4:18; 2 Tim. 1:7; Rev. 21:8). Again, this list is impressive. Yet despite their fear, their lack of total certainty at times that God would keep His promises , the patriarchs are held up as examples of faith. If their fear had not been recorded, would the record of their faith mean much to us? Unlikely. They had so much which militated against a life of faith: by way of hereditary characteristic, surroundings, past experience of life etc. Both Isaac and Jacob feared they would die well before they did (Gen. 47:9; 27:2); they feared death in that their future was ever on their mind. Yet evidently their fear was mixed with faith.

I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward- Abram was fearful that after his dramatic victory at Damascus (see on Gen. 14:14), the other tribes would attack him. But he is therefore promised that he would be shielded. And his refusal to enrich himself from the spoil was responded to by God promising "great reward" in compensation. Abram's refusal to enrich himself and focus simply on saving his brother was evidently very pleasing to God. "Reward" carries the idea of wages. God does pay back for devotion to His people, but not necessarily in material terms.

The promises to Abraham were extended in Genesis 15, with more specifics added about the "seed". But the context of the giving of those promises is again Abraham's weakness. After the conflict with the surrounding kings recorded in Genesis 14, Abraham is comforted: "Fear not, Abram: I am your shield" (Gen. 15:1)- as if Abram was starting to doubt in God's continued ability to protect him. God's assurances continued: "I am your exceedingly great reward" (Gen. 15:1). The Hebrew mind would've understood "reward" in this context to refer to children- Ps. 127:3 is explicit: "Children are the inheritance given by the Lord, and the fruit of the womb is his reward" (s.w.). The "reward" is paralleled with the inheritance of children given by God. Jer. 31:16 likewise speaks of a woman bereft of her children being "rewarded" with more children.


15:2 Abram said, Lord Yahweh, what will you give me, since I go childless, and he who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?- This is the classic response of someone who wants children more than anything else. No promise of reward and material blessing will compensate for that hunger and gaping hole. The response is absolutely psychologically credible. But we must bear in mind that a chieftain like Abram may well have had children by concubines, and Gen. 25 lists some of them. But he genuinely felt childless. This is a window into how closely connected he felt to Sarai, and how he had accepted her barrenness and yet remained committed to her. We recall how unfaithful he had been to her when he first visited Egypt, and I commented there that neither God nor Abimelech punished him, but rather blessed him. That lack of a punitive discipline actually resulted in his becoming more committed to Sarah in the long term. And indeed it is clear from both Scripture and human observation that God often doesn't punish in this life on a measure for measure basis. Rather the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer- because all such shall be recompensed at the day of judgment. This provides a window onto how we ought to use or not use punitive response, especially in domestic and church life.

We wonder why Eliezer is called "Eliezer of Damascus" and yet also one born within Abram's household (:3). He was perhaps called "of Damascus" in memory of his heroic almost singlehanded victory at Damascus (see on Gen. 14:14,15).

Abraham doesn't just accept on faith God's assurances of :1. He speaks as if he somehow didn't believe that those promises meant that he personally would have a child; it's as if Abram were saying 'OK, I hear You, but whatever these promises of Yours mean, reality is, I am old and childless... can't You find a way to give me children?'. "Since I continue [Heb.] childless" indicates his frustration. God had already promised to "give" the land to Abraham and his seed (Gen. 12:7; 13:15); and now Abraham complains that God hasn't 'given' [s.w.] him a seed. One can possibly detect an anger with God, at best a frustration, when he comments that all he has is his steward Eliezer ("this Eliezer of Damascus") as "the son of my house / family" (Gen. 15:2, Heb. ben bayith, son of my family)- as if to say 'All this You've promised me- is to go to him, is this guy to be this wonderful promised seed, and I for now get nothing? Was that the whole purpose of calling me out of Ur?'.

Indeed, Keil and Delitsczh suggest the correct interpretation and translation here as being: "Of what avail are all my possessions, wealth, and power, since I have no child, and the heir of my house is Eliezer the Damascene? The Hebrew for "heir" can suggest the seizure of possession; thus Abraham could even be viewing Eliezer as effectively grabbing what he thought should be his personally.

 

In my opinion, Abraham's comment "this Eliezer of Damascus..." is another indicator of weakness in this undoubtedly great man. Eliezer is presented as a man of faith, of extreme loyalty to Abraham, with a wonderful humility in seeking the good of Isaac, the man who displaced him as heir of so much. His comment that God "led me- even me- straight to the house" (Translation of E.A. Speiser, Genesis (New York: Doubleday, 1964) and Derek Kidner, Genesis (London: Tyndale Press, 1967) p. 148) further indicates a commendable humility. Indeed, the way Eliezer refuses the greetings of polite custom in order to get on with God's work (Gen. 24:33) appears to be used by the Lord as a model for His preachers (Lk. 10:4). A window into Eliezer's faithfulness is provided by considering how Laban calls him "O blessed of the Lord", but Eliezer replies that in fact "the Lord has greatly blessed my master" (Gen. 24:31,35). His focus was not at all upon himself but rather upon Abraham his master. Yet Abraham appears to almost despise Eliezer, his bitterness at not having a seed by Sarah got the better of him at that moment- so it seems to me. There seems a designed contrast between Eliezer and Jacob. Eliezer with utter integrity says that God has given him "success" (Gen. 24:12) in seeking a wife for Isaac; whereas Jacob uses the same word in lying to his blind father about why he had so quickly brought venison: "Because God granted me success" (Gen. 27:20).

So Abraham was hardly at his spiritual best when God gave him the promises of Genesis 15. The first use of a word in the Bible is often significant- and the first time we meet the Hebrew word nathan, to give, is in Gen. 1:17, where we learn that God 'gave' the stars to humanity on earth. It's as if God is now testing whether Abraham will make the connection or not- for He takes Abraham out to see the stars, shining up there in the sky as proof that God really can give stars, has already done so and continues to do so... and challenges Abraham as to whether or not he can believe that truly, his seed will be given to him likewise, as many as those stars (Gen. 15:5). And Abraham made it through the hoop. His awareness of the word of Gen. 1:17, that God really had given us the stars, his faith in the word, worked within him to bring forth the yet greater leap of faith- that really, so would his seed be. And God was thrilled. That man, standing there in the Middle Eastern night and beholding the stars, touched the heart of God by his internal attitudes... the sense within his heart that yes, OK, yes, somehow, yes, so will my seed be, somehow I will have my own child... And it was counted to him for righteousness. The same desperate struggle for faith was seen in the Lord in His final moments upon the cross- for He there reflected, according to Ps. 22:30, that a seed would indeed serve God, and it shall be accounted [s.w. "numbered" as in 'a seed which cannot be numbered'] for a generation. The childless Lord Jesus, with all against Him, facing His death with His lifework apparently a failure, His spiritual children [the disciples] having fled... was in the position of Abraham. And Abraham's faith surely inspired Him. And so it will each of us, when it seems that really life has failed, our efforts have got nowhere, family has broken up, children hate us, our best aspirations just never worked out... in those moments, in whatever form they come, we are to be inspired by Abraham. And we too can go out and view the stars which God has given, and keeps on giving, and believe again that ultimately He will give us the land, and in some form our seed will eternally endure.

Moses was bidding the people see their connection with their father Abraham, who then lived with Canaanites also in the same land. Gen. 15:1 introduces us to Abraham as a man who had God as his "shield"; and Dt. 33:29 concludes the Pentateuch by saying that Israel as a nation should be happy because they have Yahweh as their "shield". See on Gen. 13:3; Gen. 17:1.

15:3 Abram said, Behold, to me you have given no seed: and, behold, one born in my house is my heir- Abraham's faith in the promises is repeatedly held up as our example (Heb. 11:8,12,13 and elsewhere). Abraham "believed in the Lord, and he counted it to him for righteousness" (Gen. 15:6) is quoted three times in the New Testament. But how deep was Abraham's faith? Immediately before Abraham's oft quoted profession of faith, he had said: "Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless... behold, to me thou hast given no seed, and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir" (Gen. 15:2,3 AV). His faith in the promise of a seed was surely shaky at this time. Did he not have something of our Christian hypocrisy? Yet, sandwiched in between these two expressions of his partial faith, Abraham rises within his heart to a level of faith which so pleased God. "He believed in the Lord" seems to refer to an attitude deep within Abraham's heart, as he gazed up at the stars and reflected in God's promise: "So shall your seed be". God saw that, even if it was only a temporary peak, and was pleased with it; even though at the time, Abraham was weak in faith and even in a sense "ungodly", as Paul observes.

It may be that Abraham realized his own spiritual weakness at this time, if we follow Paul's argument in Rom. 4:3,5: "If Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory...(but) Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness... to him (alluding to Abraham) that worketh not, but believeth (as did Abraham) on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith (like Abraham's) is counted for righteousness". Surely this suggests that Abraham felt ungodly at the time, unworthy of this great promise, recognizing he only had moments of faith, and yet he believed that although he was ungodly, God would justify him and give him the promise, and therefore he was counted as righteous and worthy of the promise. There is certainly the implication of some kind of forgiveness being granted Abraham at the time of his belief in Gen. 15:6; righteousness was imputed to him, which is tantamount to saying that his ungodliness was covered. In this context, Paul goes straight on to say that the same principles operated in the forgiveness of David for his sin with Bathsheba. It would actually appear that Paul is writing here, as he often does, with his eye on deconstructing popular Jewish views at the time. Their view of Abraham was that he was perfect, "Godly" in the extreme- and Paul's point is that actually he was not, he was "ungodly", but counted righteous not by his acts but by his faith. For documentation of Jewish sources, see S.K. Stowers, A Rereading Of Romans (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994); A.J.M. Wedderburn, The Reasons For Romans (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1988).

15:4 Behold, the word of Yahweh came to him, saying, This man will not be your heir, but he who will come out of your own body will be your heir- Abraham had been promised a son in Genesis 15; and yet there was no specific mention that this would be by Sarah. God had promised that "one born of your own bowels" would be his son (Gen. 15:4 AV). Yet according to Rom. 4:19, Abraham at that time did not consider the "deadness of Sarah's womb"  to be a barrier. That indicates to me that he considered Sarah as his "own bowels". Note how in Semitic thought, Paul used the same idea when he asked Philemon to receive Onesiphorus as "mine own bowels" (Philemon 12). Another person could be considered "mine own bowels" if they were that close. When God promised Abraham that "of [his] own bowels" he would have a son, Abraham didn't selfishly think that this just meant that he would have a child. He considered his wife Sarah as his "own bowels", and so he assumed this meant that she would bear the child. In this we see a commendable unity of Abraham and Sarah; he thought of her as he thought of himself. In an age of polygamy and concubines, this was unusually wonderful. He could so easily have just gone off and slept with a woman to test out God's promise and have a child. And yet, as often in Abraham's life, he didn't maintain that level of spirituality. For he gave in to Sarah's badgering him to sleep with her slave girl Hagar, and the whole incident has been recorded with allusion to Adam wrongly hearkening to his wife. It has been pointed out that in case of a wife being infertile, the man usually took another wife and didn't just sleep with his slave girl. See on Gen. 16:2.

 

Progressive appreciation of the Lord Jesus can be seen in the lives of Paul, Peter and many others. Abraham’s appreciation of the promises relating to the Christ-seed also grew over time. When the promise was first given, he seems to have assumed it referred to his adopted son, Lot. Thus Abraham offered Lot the land which had been promised to Abraham’s seed (Gen. 12:7 cp. chapter 13). But after Lot returned to Sodom, Abraham looked to his servant Eliezer as his heir / seed (Gen. 15:2,3). Thus God corrected him, in pointing out that the seed would be from Abraham’s own body (15:4). And so Abraham thought of Ishmael, who was a son from his own body (although Yahweh didn’t specify who the mother would be). When Abraham’s body became dead, i.e. impotent, he must have surely concluded that Ishmael was the son promised. But again, Abraham was told that no, Ishmael was not to be the seed; and finally God told Abraham that Sarah would have a child. Their faith was encouraged by the incidents in Egypt which occurred straight after this, whereby Abraham prayed for Abimelech’s wives and slaves so that they might have children- and he was heard. Finally, Isaac was born. It was clear that this was to be the seed. But that wasn’t all. Abraham in his final and finest spiritual maturity came to the understanding that the seed was ultimately the Lord Jesus Christ. He died in wondrous appreciation of the Saviour seed and the way of forgiveness enabled through Him. Note the huge paradox in the promises- a paradox of grace which comes true in some form for all those who receive them.

15:5 Yahweh brought him outside, and said- It must have been an Angel that led Abraham out of his tent to a suitable spot and made those promises.

Look now toward the sky, and count the stars, if you are able to count them. He said to Abram, So shall your seed be- According to Jewish midrash, Abram and his father Terah were leading diviners of the stars in Ur (See M.E. Stone and T. Bergren, eds., Biblical Figures Outside The Bible (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1998) pp. 151-175 for references). 'Terah' can mean 'brother of the moon', and Ur and Haran were noted centers of moon worship (M.W. Chavalas, 'Terah' in T.D. Alexander and D.W. Baker, eds., Dictionary Of The Old Testament: Pentateuch (Leicester: IVP, 2003) p. 829; V.P. Hamilton, The Book Of Genesis: Chapters 1-17 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990). In this case, the invitation to Abram to count the stars and discern there his future seed was a calling to reject his entire former world-view, to admit his helplessness in counting the stars, to throw himself upon God's grace rather than the strength of his own former education, wisdom, and inherited ability to discern the stars.

15:6 He believed in Yahweh- When we read that Abraham "put his trust" in God (Gen. 15:6 Heb.) we are to understand that he 'said amen' to God's promises. "Amen" comes from the same Hebrew root as he'min, to believe, or, more strictly, "to affirm, recognize as valid". He got to a specific point where he said "Amen" to God's word; and I wonder whether he said "Amen" out loud, as the crowning pinnacle of the belief in God which was going on within him. For this reason I suggest we say "Amen" at the end of a prayer, out loud. Maybe we need to reflect for a moment on what we have asked for from God, which promises of His we have pleaded in our prayer- and then 'Amen' it.

Yet this peak of faith in Abraham is found between evidence of his weakness of faith. We've seen this in the early verses of Gen. 15. And now, having risen up to this peak of faith, we soon find him doubting again: "How shall I know that I shall inherit [the land]?" (Gen. 15:8). And again, this makes Abraham yet the more real to us, who likewise find it so hard to maintain peaks of faith.

Abraham believed God in Gen. 15, but the works of Gen. 22 [offering Isaac] made that faith “perfect”. Through his correct response to the early promises given him, Abraham was imputed “the righteousness of faith”. But on account of that faith inspired by the earlier promises, he was given “the promises that he should be heir of the world” (Rom. 4:13). That promise in turn inspired yet more faith. In this same context, Paul had spoken of how the Gospel preached to Abraham in the promises leads men “from faith to faith”, up the upward spiral (Rom. 1:17).

The huge importance attached to faith in Gen. 15:6 would be pointless if obedience to the Law was what guaranteed the promise of inheritance the world- as Jewish theology taught about Abraham. The promise of the Kingdom would become irrelevant because Paul has demonstrated in Romans 1-3 that all men, Abraham included, are sinners, law breakers, and condemned before the judgment seat of God. Nobody would therefore inherit the promised Kingdom, and so the promise of it would have been pointless.

And He reckoned it to him for righteousness- It may be that Abraham realized his own spiritual weakness at this time, if we follow Paul's argument in Rom. 4:3,5: "If Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory...(but) Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness...to him (alluding to Abraham) that worketh not, but believeth (as did Abraham) on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith (like Abraham's) is counted for righteousness" . Surely this suggests that Abraham felt ungodly at the time, unworthy of this great promise, and yet he believed that although he was ungodly, God would justify him and give him the promise, and therefore he was counted as righteous and worthy of the promise. There is certainly the implication of some kind of forgiveness being granted Abraham at the time of his belief in Gen. 15:6; righteousness was imputed to him, which is tantamount to saying that his ungodliness was covered. In this context, Paul goes straight on to say that the same principles operated in the forgiveness of David for his sin with Bathsheba.

Paul says in Rom. 4:23 that this was “not written for his sake alone”.  Where was it written? In some unrecorded Scripture? In God’s heavenly record book? Or is the allusion to the finality of the legal case now concluded, that ‘it was written’ in the sense of legally concluded, under the hammer, so to speak? The suggestion is that right now in this life, if we really believe God’s offered salvation, or perhaps, for so long as we believe it- we are written down as declared right before His judgment. In this case, Paul is interpreting the comment in Gen. 15:6 “And it was imputed unto him for righteousness” as a writing in Heaven, the court secretary writing down the outcome of the case. The Jews taught that justification would only be at the future day of judgment (see D. Moo Romans 1-8, Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1991) p. 293). Paul is teaching that in fact we can be justified, declared right with God, here and now; and we ought to be able to know and feel that.

Paul’s whole ‘Abraham’ section in Romans 4 is written in the style of Rabbinic Midrash, with Gen. 15:6 as the verse being expounded. Paul’s point is that Jewish and Gentile believers can trace themselves back to Abraham because the family likeness is in faith not circumcision. Jewish proselytes were forbidden to call Abraham “our father” (C.K. Barrett, From First Adam to Last (New York: Scribner’s, 1962) p. 31).

There are some implied gaps within the record in Gen. 15:5,6: God brings Abraham outside, and asks him to number the stars [gap]; then He tells Abraham "So shall thy seed be" [gap]; and then, maybe 10 seconds or 10 hours afterwards, "Abraham believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness". Those 10 seconds or 10 hours or whatever the period was, are summarized by Paul as how Abraham "in hope believed against hope" (|Rom. 4:18). His no-hope struggled against his hope / faith, but in the end his faith in God's word of promise won out. "According to that which had been spoken, So shall thy seed be" implies to me that he kept reflecting on those words: "So shall thy seed be" (three words in Hebrew, ko zehrah hawya). And we too can too easily say that we believe the Bible is God's word, without realizing that to just believe three inspired words can be enough to radically change our lives and lead us to eternity. I'm not sure that Abraham's ultimate belief of those three words ko zehrah hawya just took a few seconds. According to Paul, he "considered... his body"- he reflected on the fact he was impotent (see Gk. and RV). Katanoeo, "consider", means to "observe fully" (Rom. 4:19). He took full account of his impotent state, knowing it as only a man can know it about himself. And he likewise considered fully the deadness of his elderly wife's womb, recalling how her menstruation had stopped years ago... but all that deeply personal self-knowledge didn't weaken his faith; he didn't "waver", but in fact- the very opposite occurred. He "waxed strong through faith... being fully assured that what [God] had promised, He was able also to perform". As he considered his own physical weakness, and that of his wife, his faith "waxed" stronger (RV), he went through a process of becoming "fully assured", his faith was progressively built up ("waxed strong" is in the passive voice)... leading up to the moment of total faith that so thrilled the heart of God. And so it can happen with us- the very obstacles to faith, impotence in Abraham's case, are what actually leads to faith getting into that upward spiral that leads towards total certainty. Abraham's physical impotence did not make him "weak" [s.w. translated "impotent" in Jn. 5:3,7] in faith- it all worked out the opposite. For his physical impotence made him not-impotent in faith; the very height of the challenge led him to conclude that God would be true to His word, and he would indeed have a child. For when we are "weak" [s.w. "impotent"], then we are strong (2 Cor. 12:10). Thus the internal struggle of Abraham's mind led his faith to develop in those seconds or minutes or hours as he reflected upon the words "So shall your seed be". He "staggered not at the promise" (Rom. 4:20), he didn't separate himself away from (Gk.) those three Hebrew words translated "So shall your seed be", he didn't let his mind balk at them... and therefore and thereby he was made strong in faith ("waxed strong in faith" Rom. 4:20 RV). This process of his faith strengthening is picked up in the next verse: Abraham was "fully persuaded that what [God] had promised, he was able also to perform" (Rom. 4:21). There was a process of internal persuasion going on- leading to the moment of faith, which so thrilled God and was imputed to Abraham for righteousness. And of course Paul drives the point home- that we are to have the faith of Abraham. As he believed that life could come out of his dead body ("dead" in Rom. 4:19, with a passive participle, implies 'slain'), so we are to believe in the resurrection of the slain body of the Lord Jesus, and the real power of His new life to transform our dead lives (Rom. 4:23,24). Gal. 3:5,14 puts it another way in saying that if we share the faith of Abraham at that time, we will receive "the promise of the spirit through faith", the enlivening of our sterile lives. And this takes quite some faith for us to take seriously on board; for as Abraham carefully considered the impotence of his physical body, so we can get a grim picture of the deadness of our fleshly lives.

It was radical for Abraham to be told that God would impute righteousness to him. For in those times, righteousness was a concept associated with a person remaining within their existing communal relationships. Von Rad quotes contemporary documentation to this effect: "A man is called righteous who conducts himself properly with reference to an existing communal relationship... just [justified] is the man who stands with his community" (Gerhard von Rad, Genesis (London: S.C.M., 1963) p. 180). The whole message to Abraham of justification by faith and imputed righteousness must be seen against this backdrop. The same radical call to break away from our surrounding society and its worldviews and concepts of righteousness is required by all who have received the same promises made to Abraham.

Abraham's weakness at the time of the Genesis 15 promises is perhaps behind how Paul interprets the star-gazing incident in Rom. 4:3-5. He is answering the Jewish idea that Abraham never sinned (see on Rom. 4:2). He quotes the incident, and God's counting of righteousness to Abraham, as proof that a man with no "works", nothing to glory before God with, can believe in God to "justify the ungodly", and thereby be counted righteous. Understanding Abraham's mood as revealed in Gen. 15:1-4 certainly helps us see the relevance of all this to Abraham. And it helps us see Abraham more realistically as the father of us all... and not some Sunday School hero, well beyond our realistic emulation. No longer need we think "Abraham? Oh, yeah, Abraham... faith... wow. But me... nah. I'm not Abraham...". He's for real, truly our example, a realistic hero whom we can cheer and pledge to follow. For Abraham is an example to us of God's grace to man, and a man in all his weakness and struggle with God accepting it and believing it, even when he is "ungodly", rather than a picture of a white-faced placid saint with unswerving faith:

"What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, hath found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not toward God. For what saith the scripture? And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh, the reward is not reckoned as of grace, but as of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness" (Rom. 4:1-5).

It is in the very struggle for faith that we have that we show ourselves to have the family characteristic of Abraham. That moment when the "ungodly", doubting, bitter Abraham believed God's promise is to be as it were our icon, the picture we rise up to: "Even as Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness. Know therefore that they that are of faith, the same are sons of Abraham" (Gal. 3:6,7).

The struggle within Abraham at the time is brought out by Paul in Rom. 4:18-24, which seems to be a kind of psychological commentary upon the state of Abraham's mind as he stood there looking at the stars in the presence of God / an Angel ("before him [God] whom he believed", Rom. 4:17): "Who in hope believed against hope, to the end that he might become a father of many nations, according to that which had been spoken, So shall thy seed be. And without being weakened in faith he considered his own body now as good as dead (he being about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah's womb; yet, looking unto the promise of God, he wavered not through unbelief, but waxed strong through faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what he had promised, he was able also to perform. Wherefore also it was reckoned unto him for righteousness. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was reckoned unto him; but for our sake also, unto whom it shall be reckoned, who believe on him that raised Jesus our Lord from the dead".

It may be that Abraham realized his own spiritual weakness at this time, if we follow Paul's argument in Rom. 4:3,5: "If Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory... (but) Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness... to him (alluding to Abraham) that worketh not, but believeth (as did Abraham) on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith (like Abraham's) is counted for righteousness". Surely this suggests that Abraham felt ungodly at the time, unworthy of this great promise, recognizing he only had moments of faith, and yet he believed that although he was ungodly, God would justify him and give him the promise, and therefore he was counted as righteous and worthy of the promise. There is certainly the implication of some kind of forgiveness being granted Abraham at the time of his belief in Gen. 15:6; righteousness was imputed to him, which is tantamount to saying that his ungodliness was covered. In this context, Paul goes straight on to say that the same principles operated in the forgiveness of David for his sin with Bathsheba.  It would actually appear that Paul is writing here, as he often does, with his eye on deconstructing popular Jewish views at the time. Their view of Abraham was that he was perfect, "Godly" in the extreme- and Paul's point is that actually he was not, he was "ungodly", but counted righteous not by his acts but by his faith.

 

15:7 He said to him, I am Yahweh who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give you this land to inherit it- As demonstrated in my notes on Gen. 11:31-12:4, Abram didn't respond very fully to the command to separate from his relatives and leave Ur. Gen. 11:31 is clear that his father took him out of Ur. Abram admits himself that it was God who caused him to wander from Ur (Gen. 20:13, see note there). Here again we see God's grace. Abram was called, but didn't want to respond, and God "brought" him out, almost making him obedient. The inheriting was to be in the Kingdom age, according to the New Testament; it was to be an eternal inheritance, requiring Abraham to be immortalized. Yet to receive that promise, Abram had to leave Ur and enter the land in his life. And so it is with us- we enter the Kingdom in a limited sense in this life, and that is the guarantee that we shall receive the eternal inheritance.

15:8 He said, Lord Yahweh, how will I know that I will inherit it?- This is hardly the language of full faith. Without the New Testament commentary upon Abraham, we would not perhaps consider that Abraham displayed great faith in the majority of Divine interactions with him which are recorded in the Genesis record. The faith which was counted to him for righteousness was a weak faith, and as such, he becomes an example of faith which we can relate to.

15:9 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- As noted on :10, the entire procedure here was contrary to how mutual covenants or religious sacrifices were made at the time. There was no priest or altar. These were not required- because this was a one-sided, unilateral covenant of grace from God directly to Abram, and it didn't require such instruments of mediation. The "three years old" feature may perhaps point forward to the Lord's three year ministry, as it was through His life and death that the new covenant [which is the promises to Abraham] was confirmed. The dove and pigeon were the offerings of the poor in later Mosaic legislation. Rich and poor, male and female, were all represented within the Lord's future sacrifice, which was clearly in the Father's mind at this point.

15:10 He brought him all of these, and divided them in the middle, and laid each half opposite the other; but he didn’t divide the birds- The idea of the dead animals in the ceremony of Gen. 15 was to teach that 'So may I be dismembered and die if I fail to keep my promise'. Jer. 34:18 speaks of how Israelites must die, because they passed between the pieces of the dead animal sacrifices in making a covenant. But here in Gen. 15, it is none less than the God who cannot die who is offering to do this, subjecting Himself to this potential curse! And He showed Himself for real in the death of His Son. That was His way of confirming the utter certainty of the promises to Abraham which are the basis of the new covenant which He has cut with us (Rom. 15:8; Gal. 3:17). The "blood of the covenant" doesn't mean that the blood of Jesus is or was the covenant; the covenant is a set of promises to us, namely the promises to Abraham and his seed. The blood of Jesus is the token of that covenant, the sign that this is all so utterly and totally true for each one of us. The Lord died, in the way that He did, to get through to us how true this all is- that God Almighty cut a sober, unilateral covenant with us personally, to give us the Kingdom. It's as challenging for us to believe as it was for Abraham and his earlier seed: "This divine-human bond gave to Israel its most distinctive religious belief, and provided the basis of its unique social interest and concern. Outside the Old Testament we have no clear evidence of a treaty between a god and his people". What the theologian calls a unique basis for "social interest and concern" we can re-phrase more bluntly: We simply can't be passive to such grace, we have no option but to reach out with grace to others in care and concern- and we have a unique motivation in doing this, which this unbelieving world can never equal. Yet if unbelievers can show the huge care and self-sacrifice which they do- we ought to be doing far more, seeing we have an infinitely stronger motivation.

15:11 The birds of prey came down on the carcasses, and Abram drove them away- These birds represented the pagan nations which Abram so feared would take vengeance upon him for his dramatic victory at Damascus described in chapter 14, which is the background to this covenant. Abram singlehandedly drove them away, one man made thousands flee (see on Gen. 14:14). The Hebrew here implies that Abram alone drove them away.


15:12 When the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. Now terror and great darkness fell on him- It's perhaps significant that Abraham laid out the required animals, and drove away the birds that kept trying to feed on the carcasses- but then, Abraham falls asleep, and can't do this any more. And the birds are warded off instead by the burning torch- the same Hebrew words are used about the cherubim (Ez. 1:13; Ex. 20:18), and the idea of a burning torch is used to describe the Lord Jesus on the cross (Jn. 3:14-19 Gk.). It's as if again Abraham had to be taught that all these promises and the covenant ensuring them were all of grace and not his own strength. For he would lay down in the sleep of death, the horror of great darkness, and it will be the grace and glory of God which fulfils the covenant and preserves Abraham's seed from the birds of prey- and not Abraham's own efforts.

The "horror" that Abram experiences is a lack of faith in Yahweh's opening encouragement to him, to "fear not" (:1). All the way through, we see his weak faith, and God's grace. It could even be that Abram here has a nightmare, in which all his faithless fears come true; the pendulum swings from faith (:6) to unbelief. But in that low swing, God makes a unilateral covenant of grace with him, just as many of the Kingdom prophecies were given to Israel at low points on their spiritual graph.

The Lord, it seems to me, feared death more than any other man. He knew that death was separation from God, the wages of sin. Different people have varying degrees of fear of death (e.g. the unrepentant thief was totally resigned to it). It would seem that the Lord had the highest conceivable level of unresignation to death, to the point of being almost paranoid about it- even though He knew He must die. Two prototypes of the Lord had similar experiences. Abraham suffered “an horror of great darkness" (Gen. 15:12), in an event rich in reference to the crucifixion. And Job’s sufferings were the very things which he “greatly feared" (Job 3:25). The Lord stood as a lamb dumb before His shearers; and the lamb is struck dumb with fear. This all makes the Lord’s death for us so much the more awesome.

15:13 He said to Abram, Know for sure that your seed will live as foreigners in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them- The contrast was with Canaan, which was to be "their" land.

They will afflict them four hundred years- Ex. 12:40,41 says that they were in Egypt for 430 years. God is not as it were watching His back, always seeking to forestall possible criticism by petty men; the 400 figure is approximate. Or perhaps we have here an example of where a time period is amended; in this case, because Israel needed another 30 years to come towards the maturity God sought in them before the exodus. The period is described as four generations in :16, so perhaps a generation then was about 100 years.

15:14 I will also judge that nation, whom they will serve. Afterward they will come out with great wealth- Note how it was the Egyptian people who were judged (Gen. 15:14), but elsewhere we read that it was their gods which were judged; their idols (“gods”) are used by metonymy to stand for those who believed in them. The “gods” are spoken of for a moment as real and existing, in order to show Yahweh’s total superiority over them to the point that they didn’t exist. Likewise “demons” is sometimes put by metonymy for those who believed in them (e.g. Mk. 2:32,34). The promise of material wealth was likewise a concession to the weakness of how Abram perceived things at that time.

15:15 But you will go to your fathers in peace. You will be buried in a good old age- His fathers were idolaters (Josh. 24:2), so to 'go to your fathers' is simply an idiom meaning that as they returned to dust, so would Abram. But he would have the blessing of long life, seeing that the blessings had a primary application; but his long life was but a dim reflection of the eternal life promised to him. Our present experience of the Kingdom of God is likewise but a fraction of that which awaits us at the Lord's return.

15:16 In the fourth generation they will come here again- See on :13. A generation at the time was judged as 100 years.

For the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet full- God is not passive and overlooking of unrepented sin, even though His patience and the high threshold level He sets before releasing judgment may make it look like this. Even with very sinful men, their continual sins still register in the feelings of God. The way God progressively senses the weight of accumulated sin is reflected in His description of the Amorites' iniquity filling up; or Israel marrying Gentiles "to increase the trespass of Israel" (Ezra 10:10). God sees some wicked men as more wicked than others; for He is sensitive to every one of their sins (e.g. 2 Kings 17:2). "For three transgressions and for four" of Israel or the Gentiles, God would still punish Jew and Gentile alike (Am. 1,2)- i.e. He still feels the fourth sin, He doesn't become insensitive after the third sin. And this doesn't only apply to His people; but to all sin, committed by anyone, anywhere. Thus Herod "added yet this above all" when he imprisoned John after also sinning with another man's wife (Lk. 3:20). We have an uncanny ability to become numb to sin the more we see or do it. But not so Almighty, all righteous God. This is a feature of His nature that needs meditation. "The Lord hath sworn by the excellency of Jacob [i.e. Himself, so important is this], Surely I will never forget any of their works" (Am. 8:7). "They consider not in their hearts that I remember all their wickedness" (Hos. 7:2). Sin is serious.

God’s anger will come up in His face against this world (Joel 3:2,13,16; Ez. 38:18-22; 39:17,20); and the world will be angry with God and His people in an unsurpassed way. The nations will be angry, and the wrath of God also will rise (Rev. 11:18). When their iniquity has reached a certain level, then judgment will fall (cp. Sodom and the Amorites, Gen. 15:16).

Apostate Israel are described in the very language of the adversaries / Satans of God's people. Because they acted like the world around them, from which they had been called out, they were ultimately judged by God as part of that world. The Jews forbad or hindered the apostles from preaching to the Gentiles “to fill up their sins… for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost” (1 Thess. 2:16). This is quoting from the LXX of Gen. 15:16 about the Amorites.


15:17 It came to pass that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold, a smoking furnace, and a flaming torch passed between these pieces- The way God confirmed the covenant here was an example of grace. The covenant God made with Abraham was similar in style to covenants made between men at that time; and yet there was a glaring difference. Abraham was not required to do anything or take upon himself any obligations- only God passed between the pieces, not Abraham. Circumcision [cp. baptism] was to remember that this covenant of grace had been made. It isn’t part of the covenant [thus we are under this same new, Abrahamic covenant, but don’t require circumcision]. The promises to Abraham are pure, pure grace. Yahweh alone passed between the pieces of the animals, represented by the flaming torch- presumably in the form of an Angel as a pillar of fire. There's no record of Abraham being asked to pass through them as was usual custom. The promise of God was therefore unilateral- pure grace. And yet by its very nature, such unilateral grace from God cannot be received passively. Although there was no specified response from Abraham, clearly enough he simply had to respond to such grace. It's been pointed out that Abraham was blessed by God, and yet the Hebrew form of the promise implies that he was commanded to therefore go forth and "be a blessing"- and his intercession for Lot and Sodom, his rescue of Lot in Gen. 14, were providentially arranged for him to practice that. A similar construction (an imperative verb string hyh + a noun) occurs in Gen. 17:1, "be blameless / perfect".

God's covenant commitment to us is amazing. Here, He made a one-sided commitment to Abraham. The idea of the dead animals in the ceremony was to teach that 'So may I be dismembered and die if I fail to keep my promise'. Jer. 34:18 speaks of how Israelites must die, because they passed between the pieces of the dead animal sacrifices in making a covenant. But here in Gen. 15, it is none less than the God who cannot die who is offering to do this, subjecting Himself to this potential curse! And He showed Himself for real in the death of His Son. That was His way of confirming the utter certainty of the promises to Abraham which are the basis of the new covenant which He has cut with us (Rom. 15:8; Gal. 3:17). Usually both parties passed between the dead animals- but only Yahweh does. It was a one-sided covenant from God to man, exemplifying His one-way grace. The Lord died, in the way that He did, to get through to us how true this all is- that God Almighty cut a sober, unilateral covenant with us personally, to give us the Kingdom. We simply can't be passive to such grace, we have no option but to reach out with grace to others in care and concern- and we have a unique motivation in doing this, which this unbelieving world can never equal. From one viewpoint, the only way we can not be saved is to wilfully refuse to participate in this covenant.

According to the research of E.A. Speiser, it was the weaker of the two contracting parties that passed between the dead animals, in order to show that they wished to die as those animals had done if they broke the covenant (E.A. Speiser, Genesis [The Anchor Bible] (New York: Doubleday, 1964), p. 112). By entering into covenant relationship, God was allowing Himself to be weak; although He cannot die by nature, He was willing to envisage Himself dying, such was His desire to demonstrate to us [for we too have had the Abrahamic promise made to us] how sure and certain His covenant is.

15:18 In that day Yahweh made a covenant with Abram, saying, To your seed I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates- The northern and southern borders are never clearly defined, perhaps because the extent of inheritance was to some extent open. The more they believed and responded, the more they would inherit. And it's the same with us.

15:19 The Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites- The ten tribes listed here in 15:19-21 as possessing the eretz may connect with the ten horns of the beasts of Daniel and Revelation, the ten latter day invading nations of Ps. 83 and Ez. 38, and the ten toes of the image of Daniel 2. All these speak of a latter day confederacy dominating the eretz, which is to be overcome by God's true Israel and their Messiah.

15:20 The Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim- The rephaim or giants were the ones which Israel feared the most. But they are listed here as just one of a number of equally powerless tribes.

15:21 The Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites- "The Canaanites" indicates that the ten tribes presented as inhabiting the eretz promised to Abram were in areas other than Canaan. Canaan was only part of the eretz promised, and we can conclude that if Israel had possessed Canaan, they would have been empowered to possess the entire area. God's scale of operation is therefore on a sliding scale, controlled, as it were, by our vision, faith and obedience.