Genesis 15

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Icon Mar 6, 2015

Main point
God is a gracious promise-making and promise-keeping God. His people are the undeserving recipients of his promised blessings.

Main purpose
Know that God is faithful and therefore respond in belief and obedience.

Supporting arguments
In chapter 14 we read about Abram’s military success, some hints at him bringing a blessing to the nations, and his demonstration of fidelity to God (and his priest). However chapter 15 opens with Abram in a pitiful and timid state, crying out to God for confirmation of his promised offspring (12:3, 7, 13:15).

Amidst the fear, the doubts, and the questioning from Abram, the overall impression from this chapter is that there is nothing particularly meritorious about Abram but for his believing the LORD in verse 6. It is to this undeserving recipient that God promises a very great reward (v1) in the form of innumerable offspring (v5) and an expansive and complete inheritance of land (v18-21) (The 10 people groups indicating a complete and whole number).

A plain reading of the chronology of the chapter suggests that God told Abram to look into the daytime sky to count the stars. If this was the case, then this adds another element to the belief of Abram; believe that God will provide innumerable offspring (as many stars in the sky), and, believe that God will do this despite an absence of any evidence (as the stars cannot be seen during the day).

Verse 6 functions as the fulcrum of the chapter, sitting between the promises of offspring and land, and making plain that Abram’s belief results in a right standing before God (credited as righteousness), which is the foundation upon which the covenant with Abram is established. It should be noted that Abram’s right standing then leads to expression and confirmation in his right living (Genesis 18:19, James 2:20-24), and ultimately serves as the platform for God’s blessing to the nations through the obedience of the nation of Israel. Note also that Abram was not the first to be credited righteousness through faith (Hebrews 11:7), but is recognised as being the model (or father) for all who believe in God, and ultimately in Christ, through faith (Romans 4:11-12, Gal 3:29).

A covenant ceremony of some kind, similar to that described in vv12-21, would have been a common practice of the ancient near East to bind parties to a long-term partnership. The precise meaning of each of the elements in the narrative is hard to determine due to a lack of direct corollary in either the Pentateuch or other writings from the same time period. However the one clear aspect of this covenant agreement is that it is God alone who binds himself to the covenant (Abram is in a deep sleep!), and in so doing, God binds himself to be responsible for delivering on all the promises of the covenant, ultimately fulfilled in the sacrificial death of the Son of God.

As it is God who initiates the covenant with Abram, God who binds himself to the terms of the covenant, and God alone who is able to fulfill the impossible promises of the covenant, it is the LORD God alone who should be believed and obeyed. How striking then are the sinful actions of Abram at the start of the very next chapter in believing the unsatisfied self-reliant urgings of his wife Sarai.

References

  • Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15 (Waco: Word, 1987), 322–335.
  • John H. Walton, Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 420–423.
  • Kenneth A. Mathews, The New American Commentary (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005)
  • Paul R Williamson, Abraham, Israel, and the Nations : The Patriarchal Promise and Its Covenantal Development in Genesis (Sheffield : Sheffield Academic Press,  2000), 260-267.
  • John E Hartley, Genesis (Understanding the Bible Commentary Series) (Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2012), 240-253