Big thank you to Heather for this week’s notes. It’s Genesis 15:1-21 today.
Our passage for today reveals an important step forward in God’s dealings with Abram and also with humankind, as God reaffirms his promises to Abram and makes a covenant to seal it. We can learn a huge amount about both God and Abram from this passage.
Here we have a conversation between God and Abram where Abram is honest with God about his concerns and God reassures him. God doesn’t take Abram’s questionings as doubting because Abram has the right attitude towards God – he acknowledges God as ‘the Sovereign Lord’ v2, thus demonstrating his complete loyalty, submission and obedience to one who is in overall control of everything. In this context, Abram can voice his deepest thoughts to God honestly and openly while still believing the promise.
God reaffirms his promise of a son and descendants as Abram looks up into the night sky and sees an image of countless stars – v5 ‘So shall your offspring be’ – a wonderful image which no doubt encouraged Abram often over the next 25 years of waiting, as he looked up at the stars and remembered God’s word to him. Jesus would later on establish another visible image for us, the simple bread and wine of the new covenant, to help us remember Jesus’ body, broken like the bread, and his blood poured out like the wine, for our forgiveness and reconciliation to God (Luke 22:17-19) – the visible symbols we use in our ‘communion’ service which can help us keep our eyes and hearts fixed on Jesus and the hope we have, even during difficult circumstances in our lives.
Abram’s response was total acceptance of God’s word – ‘he believed the Lord and it was credited to him as righteousness’. Our response to God’s word of forgiveness through the death of Jesus should also be complete faith…..that if Jesus died to bring us to God and rose again from death, then he is able to do even the humanly impossible and make us righteous in the eyes of a holy God. Much more is said about Abram’s faith in the New Testament, when Paul uses it as an example of saving faith and the life of faith (Romans 4).
God also here reaffirms his promise to Abram, about giving him the land of Canaan as a possession. For Abram, who was living as ‘an alien and a stranger’, this promise again must have seemed unattainable. But God here confirms his promise with a solemn covenant, an ancient ceremony in which usually 2 parties to an agreement would walk between the 2 halves of the slaughtered animals (v10 & 17) – this signified their oath to say ‘May it so be done to me if I do not keep my oath and pledge’. Here, however, only God walks between the slaughtered animals, in the form of fire and smoke (often a symbol in the Old Testament for the presence of God). It is God alone in His grace who is making the oath and the covenant. Abram can only be a recipient, contributing nothing.
So it is with us, with the New Covenant which Jesus made – we are recipients of God’s grace and mercy towards us – this is what constitutes faith…believing the covenant God has made with us through Jesus and serving Him as Lord.
Abram needed to exercise faith and patience. It was to be 25 years before his son Isaac was born and more than 400 years later that his descendants would possess the Promised Land. Here God graciously shares with Abram some of his plans, purposes and timings (v13-16), all underpinned by his absolute justice.
What we know from the New Testament is that God’s overall plans and purposes, along with the need for God to deal justly with the problem of sin once for all, would bring Jesus into our world, into this same land of Canaan (Israel), to die as the sacrifice for sin and fulfil God’s plan for salvation.
Isn’t that amazing grace, for Abram, and for us!
We often don’t understand God’s purposes and timings – God says through Isaiah ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord’. (55:8)
Let’s be assured that God has his own time for his purposes (2 Peter 3:9) and that God’s purposes are underpinned by his justice. If we are His children, through faith in Jesus, then we can also be assured that he is totally just but at the same time he is ‘the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:26), so that we can have confidence to come to God as our Heavenly Father.