By Sam E. Stone
For the past four weeks we have noted highlights from the opening chapters of Genesis, considering the creation, the fall, the flood, and the Tower of Babel. Today our focus centers on Abraham as we see God’s plan for man’s redemption begin to unfold. His initial call from God came while he was still in Mesopotamia (Genesis 12:1-3; see Acts 7:2). After moving to Canaan he and his family then had a sojourn in Egypt, and later separated from Lot.
In Genesis 15 Abram (as he was then known) asked God if his servant Eliezer would inherit his estate, since he remained childless (15:1-4). The Lord told him Eliezer would not, but instead “a son coming from your own body will be your heir” (v. 4)
A People in the Future
Genesis 15:5, 6
God took Abram outside and told him, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them
. . . So shall your offspring be.” Imagine looking into the sky on a clear night. How many stars can you count? Abram got the message! Abraham’s seed includes all who belong to Christ (Galatians 3:29). One day that group will compose a multitude so great no one can count it (Revelation 7:9).
Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness. Here for the first time in Scripture the principle of justification by faith is clearly set forth. Abraham is the father of all who believe (Romans 4:1; Galatians 3:6, 7). Salvation comes only through faith in Christ (see Acts 4:10-12). Abraham had unconditional faith in the Lord and his Word even when, humanly speaking, there was no reason to expect what God promised. Abraham demonstrated what he believed by what he did (James 2:21-24).
A Possession in the Future
Next God affirmed that he is the one who brought Abram out of Ur of the Chaldeans and directed him to this promised land. Reference is made to this in Genesis 12 as well. Hundreds of years later when Moses proclaimed God’s message, a similar statement is included at the giving of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2; see also 13:3-5).
Abram replied, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?” C. F. Keil writes, “(His question) was not an expression of doubt, but of desire for the confirmation or sealing of a promise, which transcended human thought and conception. To gratify this desire, God commanded him to make preparation for the conclusion of a covenant.” Abram wanted to know in greater detail how the promise would be fulfilled. The Lord prepared to show him!
God instructed Abraham to bring certain animals and birds that would be appropriate for this occasion. The ceremony described is also seen in Jeremiah 34:18, 19. God specified how the animals were to be cut in half and arranged. The heifer, goat, and ram were to be cut in two with a path between their carcasses.
James E. Smith notes, “To walk that path was to pronounce a self-malediction as if to say, May this terrible fate befall me if I fail to keep the promise I have given (see Jeremiah 34:18). Abram then waited for what he knew would be the most dramatic manifestation of God’s presence that he had yet experienced.”
Abram kept the birds of prey away from the dead animals all day long. Then he fell into a deep sleep and deep darkness came over him. We are not positive whether the “deep sleep” was something beyond what is normal or a part of the vision. Some suggest that the darkness was sent to make Abram aware of what his descendants would experience one day (Genesis 15:13).
A Promise to Abraham
Here for the first time, God’s promise to Abram is described as a covenant. In this case, both parties do not literally walk between the animal halves. This has been called a “grant covenant.” It is God’s to grant, and man need not respond. Rather than personally walking between the animals, God sent a smoking firepot and a blazing torch to go between them, representing the fire of his holy presence.
The location of the promised land is specified in detail not only by a clear statement of where it is, but also by naming the people now living there. In the fulness of God’s timing, Abram’s descendants will take over their homeland again. Their future is sure!
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.