Genesis 15 (NRSV)
God’s Covenant with Abram
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”
Abram needed a shield because he was expecting to be attacked. He needed reward because he had just forfeited great reward offered from the king of Sodom. God is telling Abram that though he has sacrificed for His sake, he will not be the loser for it. God will more than make up what Abram has given up for the Lord, because God knows how to answer all our needs.
2But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 4But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”
And one of those descendants will be the Bright and Morning Star, Jesus Christ.
6And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.
Here in Genesis is one of the clearest expressions in the Bible of the truth of salvation by grace, through faith! Paul explains it further:
Romans 4:18-24 (New Living Translation)
Even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping—believing that he would become the father of many nations. For God had said to him, “That’s how many descendants you will have!” And Abraham’s faith did not weaken, even though, at about 100 years of age, he figured his body was as good as dead—and so was Sarah’s womb.
Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God. He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises. And because of Abraham’s faith, God counted him as righteous. And when God counted him as righteous, it wasn’t just for Abraham’s benefit. It was recorded for our benefit, too, assuring us that God will also count us as righteous if we believe in him, the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.
7Then he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.”
8But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?”
9He 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.”
10He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two.
Abram understood God was telling him to get a contract ready for signing. In those days, contracts were made by the sacrificial cutting of animals, with the split carcasses of the animals lying on the ground. Then both parties to the covenant would walk through the animal parts together, repeating the terms of the covenant. The Lord made a covenant in Genesis 15:18 is literally, “the Lord cut a covenant.”
Jeremiah 34:18-20 makes reference to this same practice of a covenant made by cutting animals and repeating the oath of the covenant as one walks through the animal parts.
The symbolism was plain: first, this is a covenant so serious it is sealed with blood; second, if I break this covenant, let this same bloodshed be poured out on my animals and me!
There is no mistake about it: when Abram has his doubts, and wants assurance from the Lord, God says to him plainly, “Let’s sign a contract and settle this once for all; this land IS yours.”
11And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
12As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. 13Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know this for certain, that your offspring shall be aliens in a land that is not theirs, and shall be slaves there, and they shall be oppressed for four hundred years; 14but I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15As for yourself, you shall go to your ancestors in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16And they shall come back here in the fourth generation; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”
Until the time was right, God’s people were to wait — through four hundred years of slavery and the hair-raising exodus; they were to wait even though the waiting was long, difficult, and painful. Are you ever frustrated because God does not immediately act to meet your need or fulfill your expectation? What purposes might God have in allowing you to wait?
And one other thought — since waiting and worrying/discouragement/patience seem often to go together: once a friend told me, “Disappointment is the gap between your expectations and reality.” I have found that helpful, since I prefer to live my life in reality and not in false hopes!
17When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, 19the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”
HERE is a request for our own vision — “Be Thou My Vision,” played on cello and piano by David Abramsky, with pictures from the San Francisco area. Lyrics below.
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.
Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower:
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.
High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.