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Chapter 15

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God's Covenant With Abram (ch. 15:1 - 19)


Verse 1 tells us that some time after the events of chapter 14 God spoke to Abraham in a vision.  Not every time we see God speaking to Abraham we know just how He spoke, but this time it was in a vision. 


God told Abraham not to be afraid.  As expected, mere man does fear when He comes in contact with the Most High God, even if it was in a vision.  God told Abraham that He would be his shield.  The shield speaks of protection. 


God also says that He is Abraham's "very great reward."  As Christians, we often think of things as being rewards.  We often think that God will someday reward us with a crown, or whatever.  But really, as this passage clearly states, the most important reward we'll receive is God Himself.  Yet that being said, you might view the covenant of this chapter, which is known as the Abrahamic Covenant a reward as well.   


In verse 2 Abraham says, "O sovereign Lord."  The Hebrew for this is "Adonay Yahweh".  We've talked about "Yahweh" before, meaning, "I am".  "Adonay" implies "ownership".  Abraham is saying that the "I am' is his owner.  He belongs to "Yahweh". 


God first comes to Abraham.  Once God introduces Himself, Abraham takes the opportunity to ask God to give him a biological son.  Having sons were so important in those days to carry on the family name and tradition.


We see the name "Eliezer" in verse 2. He was Abraham's servant, and would have become Abraham's heir if Abraham did not have a biological  son.  This is what Abraham did not want to happen.  Of course, if you understand the story of Abraham as interpreted throughout the Bible, you will certainly conclude that Abraham's problem was God's will.  It only goes to show that not all problems are from the devil or made by man.  God can be behind our problems as well.  This will also show that God is always made perfect in our weaknesses.  By this I mean that God can use us best when we are unable to do His will in our own strength. 


Abraham repeats himself in verse 3 by telling God once again the "He has not given him a son," therefore Eliezer would become his heir.  The one new thought we have hear is that Abraham viewed God as being the one who gives children to parents.  This isn't normally our western way of thinking, but it was Abraham's way of thinking.


In verse 4 "the word of the Lord came to Abraham."  When the text speaks of "the word of the Lord", as it does here and elsewhere in the Bible, it means that God has a specific thing He wants the recipient of the word to both hear and to understand.  In this case God tells Abraham that Eliezer will not be his heir, but a man-child will be born from his own body.  Eliezer was not born from Abraham. He was simply a servant.


In verse 5 God tells Abraham to look up into the sky and see the stars.  God says that His offspring will number as many as the stars n the sky.  At this point I need to distinguish between the word "offspring" and the word "descendents". When the Genesis account uses the word "descendents" plural, and it's usually in the plural form, it means all the descendents born through Abraham and his children. That's Israel, since Abraham's descendents became Israel.  Yet when the text uses the word "offspring", or "seed" in the KJV, it does not mean "descendents".  Paul, in Galatians 3:16 tells us how to interpret this word.  To make a long story short, Paul says that the one offspring spoken of here is Jesus.  Jesus would be born from the lineage of Abraham.  Read Galatians 3 to understand.


Therefore, when God tells Abraham in this specific setting that his "offspring" will number as many as the stars in the sky, that offspring speaks of Jesus.  That means that because of, and through Jesus, Abraham will have a great number within his family tree, and when you combine this with other Scripture, this number is great due to the fact that Gentiles are included.


When God promises Abraham great numbers here, this specific  promise comes through Jesus.  As Paul says, Jesus is the offspring, but we will note later on in this chapter that the descendents of Abraham, that's Israel, will also get the same promise.  


Verse 6 gives Abraham's response to what God had just promised him.  The text says that Abraham believed what God said.  He actually trusted God to do as He said He would do, even though what God said He'd do was humanly impossible.  Because Abraham trusted God, God then viewed Abraham as a righteous man, even though in reality he was not righteous.  Paul, in Romans tells us all about the trust that Abraham had, and relates it to us in New Testament times.  Paul says that God viewed Abraham as being righteous solely based on the fact that he trusted in God.  He trusted God to do as He said He would.  Paul then goes on to say that salvation, that which was promised by God to mankind is then by faith, that is, by trusting in God. 


Abraham was viewed as righteous because he trusted God, and by the same token, we are viewed as righteous by God as well, if we trust Him for our salvation.  It is not a matter of works, not a matter of anything that we do.  It's all a matter of God being faithful to His word and us trusting Him.


Righteousness is the state of being where one is perfectly right in the essence of who he is all the time, even as God Himself is perfectly right in the essence of who He is all the time.  It's more than doing right, it's being right.  It's a state of being, which is different than simply doing right things. 


In verse 7 God reminds Abraham that He is the one who brought him out of Ur into the land that was promised to him.  The issue of the land is a big issue and we will come across that again.


In verse 8 Abram asked God how he could know for sure that this promised land would be given to him.  One might wonder that if God spoke to you, you wouldn't have any doubts, but it's clear that Abram had some doubts.  It is also clear that Abram, even though in the land did not yet possess the land.  So the rest of this chapter is God's response to Abram's doubt.


In Old Testament times, among the Jews, and also among other ethnic people, when two people entered into a covenant there was normally some kind of ritual.  Usually it required the shedding of blood.  The two parties would state their part to play  in the covenant and also state the penalties for withdrawing from the covenant.     


So in verse 9 God tells Abram to gather up a heifer, a goat, a ram.  These animals were to be three years old. He was also told to get a dove and a young pigeon.  The animals being three years of age is most likely prophetically significant.


In verse 10 and 11 God tells Abram to cut the animals in half and place each half across from the other half.  He was not to cut the birds in half.   While doing this, scavenger birds attempted to swoop down and eat the animals that he had cut in half and he drove them away.  One might see some prophetic significance in this as well, that is, the scavengers being demons.    


In verse 12 we note that Abram falls into a deep sleep.  He didn't just fall asleep.  He fell into a deep sleep, and it was God who put him to sleep.  Besides this deep sleep, dreadful darkness fell over him.  I don't believe this sleep or this darkness is an ordinary thing.  I believe God put Abram into this deep sleep, and I believe God sent the darkness.   I also believe that this darkness is prophetically significant, especially in relation to the darkness that fell over the world while Jesus was hanging on the cross.  Beyond this, I'm not quite sure what this darkness represents.  Could it be an evil darkness.  God was about to do something significant and possibly satan was trying to interfere. 


It is interesting to note that the Hebrew root from which the Hebrew word for "dreadful"  here  means to "twist or to bind".  This is interesting since this covenant ritual is a binding of a contract.


Once Abram is in this deep sleep, the first thing that God tells him is found in verse 13, and it wasn't really good news.  God told Abram that his descendents would be enslaved and mistreated for four hundred years. 


Then in verse 14 God tells Abram that the nation that enslaved his descendents would be punished for the way they treated Abram's descendents.  This is actually in conjunction with the first recorded words we have God speaking to Abram.  In Genesis 12 2 and 3 God told Abram that He'd curse any nation that cursed Him.  So, what God says here is consistent with what He said earlier. I believe these words still have significance for today.


Verse 14 also says that Abram's descendents would come out of this slavery and they'd come out with great possessions.  Time and time again throughout the Old Testament we see the descendents of Israel being enslaved, and then being rescued.   Another thing we always see in Jewish history is that the nation that enslaves Israel is actually acting on God's behalf in order to bring judgment to Israel.  Yet even though God uses that nation for His purpose, He judges that nation for what they did to Israel once Israel's judgment is complete.           


The next thing God tells Abram is found in verse 15.  The first thing concerned Abram's descendents.  The second thing concerned Abram himself.  God said that he would die in peace at a good old age. 


In verse 17 we have mentioned the Amorites.  This was one of the four nations that Abram helped fight the battle with in Genesis 14.  They subsequently become a thorn in the side of Israel throughout the Old Testament.  God speaks of the "sin of the Amorites" reaching its full measure.  This suggests to me that national sins are a reality.  God knows when the peak of national sins will increase and seems to bring judgment on these nations when this peak comes about.  I believe that God still judges nations today when their national sin reaches its peak as well. You might wonder if the western nations today are fast reaching their peak of national sins.


Verse 17 speaks of a fire passing between the pieces of animals.  As was often the case with covenant rituals back then.  The participants would walk through the pieces of animals as they lay on the ground, but not so in this case.  Abram was asleep.  God alone walked through the pieces.  This is very significant because God made this covenant with Himself.  He did not make it with Abram.  Abram was asleep.  God simply agreed with himself to fulfill what was promised in this ritual.  The keeping of this covenant did not depend on what Abram or his descendents did.  God alone would keep this covenant all by Himself.


Verse 18 says, "on that day".  This is to emphasize that right then, during that ritual, on that particular day God promised Abraham something.  The promise was that He'd give this land to Abrahams descendents.  It was a specific piece of land that stretched from the Euphrates River to the River of Egypt. 


You will note that in Numbers 34:1 through 15 this land is mentioned again.  God tells Israel to go an possess this land.  You will notice the land in Numbers 34 does not match up with the land in Genesis 15:18.  The eastern boundaries are different.  In Genesis the eastern boundary is the Euphrates River , while in Numbers it's only the Jordan River .  There's a vast and large area between these two rivers.  The Jordan River is close to Jerusalem.  The Euphrates  River is close to Babylon , in modern day Iraq .  Even in Joshua's day Israel did not get this land.  Israel has never got all the land, especially all the land free from enemy occupation.  This will come about in the thousand years of Christ's rule on earth.


The question then arises.  "Why the difference between Genesis and Numbers?"  I believe God did promise the land all the way east to the Euphrates River, but not to the people of Israel in the days of Numbers, in the days of Moses.  Again, it will be given to Israel when Jesus returns and redeems Israel.       


Verse 19 states the nations that were presently living n the land of promise. 


This covenant of Genesis 15 concerns Abraham, his descendents, and his offspring getting the land in which he presently lived, and even more land than that.  In verse 5 the land is promised to his offspring who Paul says is Jesus, and in verse 13 the land is promised to the descendents who is Israel.  This has been a debated issue for centuries.  Some suggest that this land was given to Israel, and then they forfeited it by being unfaithful to God,  never to get it back again.  But the story of this chapter is all about Abram being put to sleep and not  participating in the covenant ritual that signifies that this promise was all about God's doing.   Abram and his descendents would have no part in its fulfillment. We also know from other times when God speaks to Abram About the land  that the promise would be forever, not just for a time being.  Israel did lose some land.  They never got it all in the first place.  They will get it all at some future point.  It will be God's doing, not their doing, and they will possess the land for ever, and forever means forever.


We must distinguish here between the singular word "offspring" and the plural word "descendents".  Paul tells us that because the word "offspring" is singular it can only refer to one person, and he says that is Jesus.  What Paul doesn't comment on in Galatians 3 is the word "descendents" which is obviously plural.  I conclude that offspring then refers to Jesus, and descendents still refers to Israel.  It can't refer to Jesus.  So God promised both Jesus and Israel this land. 


Hebrews 6:13 and 14 are relevant to this chapter.  The writer of the book of Hebrews says that God made a promise to Abraham, and since there was no one greater than God to swear by, He swore by Himself.  That's the main theme to Genesis 15.   So you can be certain that what God promised here in Genesis 15 will be fulfilled, even though it's not fulfilled as yet, and even though there is no human way it can be fulfilled.  


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