This article is part of a series of articles that resulted from my time preaching through the book of Genesis. The commentary on the passage is my own, resulting from hours of research and exegetical study. It is my intent to draw a biblical theology chapter by chapter through the book of Genesis that places the events of the narratives into the broad picture of the entire Bible, demonstrating the progressiveness of theology and the sufficiency of every Word of Scripture. It is my prayer that these articles are helpful to those seeking a better understanding of the book of Genesis and of the Bible as a whole. The sermon series and other resources can be found at www.fbcroxana.com.
Abram left everything to obey the LORD’s command in order obtain the promises of God. He had left his home and family to go to a foreign land. Many years later, he was still waiting on the promises to be fulfilled, trusting that God would indeed fulfill His Word in His own time. However, recent events must have shaken Abram, causing him to wonder if he would live to see the promises. If he died, then how could the promises come true? For the promise included many descendants and pertained to their ownership and rule of the land of Canaan.
Abram had just returned from battle, where he and his allies defeated a large army in battle in order to rescue his nephew, Lot, who had been abducted because he was living in Sodom when it was defeated and raided. He must have been reflecting upon the possibility that he may have been killed in the process of rescuing Lot. If he had died in battle, he would never see the promises. God Almighty would have failed, and would have proven Himself not to be Almighty or All-Knowing. But at this crucial moment, God spoke to Abram, and assured him that everything He spoke to him would come to pass, and nothing can prevent it. It is an unalterable and an irrevocable promise to Abram and to his descendants.
1 After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying,
“Do not fear, Abram,
I am a shield to you;
Your reward shall be very great.”
God assured Abram that He would not allow him to be harmed before His promise to give him a son was fulfilled. All of God’s promises are certainly true, and believers need only trust that God will bring them to pass. Thus, God promised that Abram’s reward would be very great, for he would surely see the fulfillment.
2 Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir.”
After so many years, Abram thought that God had waited too long to give him a child of his own. So he wondered what the replacement reward would be. He had expected a child, but now wondered if God’s promise had changed. If he had died in battle, Abram’s household would have passed on to the eldest servant in his household.
4 Then behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.” 5 And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”
God reassured Abram that the promise of a son still stood. In fact, this son would become countless children. Nothing had changed. Even though Abram may have supposed it to be beyond the ability of the LORD, he was learning that God was capable of bringing such a thing about. After decades of marriage, Abram knew that he and Sarai could not produce a child by natural means, especially since age was also quickly becoming a factor.
6 Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.
This is an Old Testament verse that every Christian should know by heart. Abram believed in Yahweh. He trusted what God promised. He was assured by the words that were spoken to Him. He believed that the LORD was able to do what He said that He would do. Based on this faith, Abram was justified by God. He was counted righteous in God’s eyes, not because of any good work, but simply because he believed the word of God.
7 And He said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it.” 8 He said, “O Lord GOD, how may I know that I will possess it?” 9 So He said to him, “Bring Me a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, and laid each half opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds. 11 The birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, and Abram drove them away.
God had Abram prepare a covenant ceremony that was typical of the day. The cow, goat, and ram were split in two and laid opposite each other. The two birds were laid opposite each other as well. This formed a morbid walkway for the two covenant parties to walk through in order to establish the covenant. The picturesque message was that if either of the parties violated the covenant, the other would come and split the violator in half just like the animals they were walking through. After Abram prepared the ceremony, he waited for some time for the LORD to come and make the covenant, for he was driving the birds of prey away from the carcasses until the sun was going down.
12 Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him. 13 God said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. 14 But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions. 15 As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age. 16 Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.”
God told Abram that He would indeed become a great nation of descendants, but they would be enslaved in a foreign land for four hundred years before God judged that land and brought the descendants of Abram out. This is a prophecy, of course, about the people of Israel being enslaved in the land of Egypt after fleeing there by the command and providential working of God to survive a famine. God promised that Abram’s descendants would leave Egypt very prosperous, just as Abram had left Egypt. But Abram would not see any of this. This was several generations after Abram.
By saying this, God showed Abram that His plan would unfold over many generations and not all at once. This also served as a reminder to Israel when they read this, that God had had a purpose in their slavery, and had brought them out just as He said that He would. Finally, this is a reminder to us today that we must look at the overall picture of what God is doing and realize that He requires faithfulness and obedience even when we face affliction and persecution.
Lastly, God told Abram that his descendants would return to the land of Canaan in conquest. It would not happen beforehand, because the iniquity of the Amorite was not yet completed. There is a limit to the transgression of a nation. When that limit is reached, God judges that nation. This had already happened to the whole earth in the Flood, and we will see this again at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in chapter 19.
17 It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I have given this land, From the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates: 19 the Kenite and the Kenizzite and the Kadmonite 20 and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Rephaim 21 and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Girgashite and the Jebusite.”
During the darkness, God appeared as a smoking oven and flaming torch to pass between the pieces by Himself and with Himself. Abram was not a part of the covenant, for Abram had no ability in himself to fulfill the covenant. God promised Abram that He Himself would give the land of Canaan to his descendants. This is even yet future, for the nation of Israel never extended their borders from the river of Egypt to the river Euphrates. But one day, the Messiah will come, all Israel will be saved, and the Kingdom of Israel will be prominent upon the earth.
The Abrahamic Covenant is very important for the understanding of the Scriptures. It affects every area of theology, being especially important when studying eschatology (the study of the end). It affirms and fills in previous information pertaining to the covenant. God promised to give Abram and his descendants all the land of Canaan (something even yet future), innumerable descendants, and kings (fulfilled especially by Jesus Christ who will return to rule). The kingdom will be a source of divine blessing for those who bless them, and God curses those who curse it.
Through Abram’s descendants came the Messiah, Jesus, who died to take away the sins of the world; and whoever blesses Jesus is blessed with eternal life, but whoever curses Jesus and rejects Him is cursed with everlasting destruction. God will surely bring the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant to pass, ushering in the Kingdom of the Messiah. But before the Kingdom, there will be a tribulation unlike any other that will come upon those who reject God, turn their backs on the nation of Israel, and refuse the gracious offer of salvation from sins through faith in the Messiah.
Read Chapter 14
Read Chapter 16