The Gospel in the Old Testament
We are studying the life of Abram, his journeys in Canaan and Egypt, his failures and successes in trusting God to protect and provide for him and his meeting with the great "type" for Christ's future priesthood, Melchizedek, after his defeat of the northern kings in saving his nephew Lot. We will see the same patterns of promises and then failures as Abraham continues his journey of faith.
The Promise Renewed – Chapter 15
After the battles he has fought we see Abram feeling his own mortality, beginning to wonder how God is going to fulfill certain parts of the promises He has made.
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.
- Genesis 15:1
God reassures Abram after the tremendous battle that he has been in. There are some interesting ideas introduced in this particular verse:
- First time the expression "word of the Lord" appears here to signify God Himself. In John the Word becomes flesh, but here for the first time the Lord comes to Abram as the Word.
- The "word" is a vision of some sort, the Lord revealing Himself somehow to Abram in order to offer reassurance and renew the promise.
- These are the first "I am" passages in the Bible. I am thy shield. I am thy reward.
- Jesus often used this manner of speech to describe Himself: I am the light of the world; I am the way, the truth and the life; I am the door, the vine, the alpha and the omega.
- The first, but not last time, the admonition "fear not" appears as a way of reassuring Abram. Adam heard the voice of the Lord and was afraid but Abram is told not to be afraid when he hears the voice of the Lord.
- When Abram hears the word he is not afraid because he believes God.
Comparison between Adam and Abraham:
- Adam received a fig leaf to cover his shame, Abram receives a shield.
- Adam is the father of all men, Abram is the father of all who believe.
- Adam loses paradise, Abram is promised the Lord Himself, the creator of paradise as his reward.
2Abram said, "O Lord God, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" 3And Abram said, "Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir." 4Then 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." 5And 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." 6Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.
Abram is comforted at God's word of encouragement but his brush with death now focuses him on the main issue and that is an heir.
- He hears God's promise of having many descendants in the future but so far he does not have a son of his own.
- What he sees is that his steward, who is not even a family member, will inherit everything. Apparently Lot has not returned to live with him.
In this same vision the Lord assures him that he will, from his own seed, produce a child (still in the realm of possibilities because so far as he knows, he is not barren or sterile as he knows Sarai is).
God renews the promise and this time compares his future generations to the stars in heaven.
Another first here in verse 6 is the word "believe", and combined with the words "counted" and "righteousness" we have the core of the Christian faith described in this one verse. Let us look at each word:
- Believe: to accept as true; also means to trust, to support.
- Counted: originally meant to "weave" but came to mean to impute or regard, to consider. You give to someone certain credentials or credibility for a certain reason. For example, to give someone an "honorary" degree.
- Righteousness: first use in this way in the Bible. A moral justness or cleanliness. A virtuousness.
When these ideas are put together they teach that God gave Abram a moral rightness (that he did not otherwise have or obtain) because Abram accepted as true what God had promised him.
I explained earlier what a "type" was – a type is a person, event or thing that prefigures, billboards or prepares us for something, someone or some event in the future. For example, Melchizedek was a "type" for the priesthood of Christ. The Ark was a "type" for the church. Animal sacrifice was a "type" to prepare our minds to understand the sacrifice of Christ.
Abram is a type for every Christian. God imputes or gives or considers us righteous (morally acceptable to Him and thus worthy of heaven) because we believe what He tells us is true. What He tells us to believe is that Jesus is the Christ and that we should obey Him. If we believe in Jesus then several things naturally follow:
- We reject sinfulness as a way of life.
- We are baptized according to His command.
- We follow Him in this life into the next.
The confusion in the religious world is that some teach that so long as there is an intellectual assent or agreement that we accept as true what God has said, God imputes righteousness to us.
Our study of the life of Abraham will show that when Abram believed God, he was entering a relationship where his belief led him to serve and obey God throughout his entire life.
God did not impute righteousness upon him just because he said he believed or because he managed to do everything right. He imputed righteousness to him because his belief led him to enter into a faith relationship with God where he trusted God to fulfill His promises regardless of his ups and downs in their relationship.
That is why this story is here as a type, to prepare us for our own relationship with God. Each one of us has a relationship that is as deeply personal and involved as Abraham's was.
God imputes righteousness upon us because through faith, expressed in repentance and baptism (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38 - which is how God commands believers to respond to Him: to express our belief), we enter into a lifetime relationship with Him.
We are then continually and fully righteous (we do not get any more pure or saved than at the moment of baptism), we continue to be fully righteous because we believe that God will accomplish all the promises He has made to us (resurrection, glorified bodies, eternal life) despite the ups and downs we experience in our walk with Him.
7And 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." 8He said, "O Lord God, how may I know that I will possess it?" 9So 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." 10Then 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. 11The birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, and Abram drove them away.
12Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him. 13God 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. 14But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions. 15As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age. 16Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete."
17It 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. 18On 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:
19the Kenite and the Kenizzite and the Kadmonite 20and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Rephaim 21and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Girgashite and the Jebusite."
In the balance of the chapter, Abram wants God to give him a sign that these things will be so. In Abram's time the idea of eternal life, as we think of it today (personal conscious existence without end), was not as developed as it is now. God has revealed to us, through His Word, a more complete idea of what eternal life is like.
For Abram, the idea of a son and descendants was as close to the concept of eternal life as he understood (the idea of living on through his descendants was why the matter was so important to him).
Therefore, as a sign, God gave him a vision of his future generations (good and bad). He then makes a covenant sacrifice between the two of them with interesting features:
- Each of the 5 acceptable animals were laid out to sacrifice, cut in two with half of each placed on either side with a space in between. The fact that there were 5 indicates that the cost of the promise would be great. The custom of the day was that when a covenant was made each person would pass between the rows of the sacrifice to show that they were bound by the covenant that the sacrifice represented and ratified. The idea was that if either broke the covenant then the death of the animal would no longer be sufficient and the death of the offending participant might be required.
- After the initial preparations, nothing happened immediately signifying how long it would take for God to fulfill this promise. Abram even had to chase away birds of prey who wanted to destroy the carcasses – a symbol of Satan's constant attempts to destroy God's relationship and promises to man.
- The vision then takes a dark turn to describe the suffering of his descendants in Egypt and their eventual freedom.
- The smoking furnace and flaming torch passing through between the sacrifice symbolizes God's presence passing through the two parts of the offering. Note that only God goes through the middle and not Abram (it was custom that both parties go through). This is to signify that the covenant needs only God's ratification to be complete. In a covenant between God and man, man agrees to enter into it, but the conditions and guarantees that it will be fulfilled all belong to God.
- God now clearly indicates the second part of His promise to Abram (the first was that he would father a son), and these would be the geographical boundaries of the land promise. From the desert in the south to the Euphrates in the north. All the peoples that would be conquered.
- Under Solomon and Jeroboam (I Kings 8:65; II Kings 14:25) this promise was ultimately fulfilled in a physical way and the Jews did rule all of this land.
- God also gives us a guarantee of our promise. His "Word" describes the resurrection of Jesus; His eventual return and judgment; the trouble we will suffer before the end comes (Revelation) and what we must do to remain faithful. The Word is our vision and guarantee of the future.
This vision reveals the fullness of God's promises that include prosperity, protection and posterity are now made by God and confirmed by Him through a covenant.
1. We are saved by faith
What saves us is that we are morally perfect and acceptable to God. What makes us moral and pure is that God considers us this way, imputes this to us and gives us this condition freely and fully. What causes Him to give this to us is that we believe Him in the same way that Abram did. We enter into a relationship with God like he did. God says that He will accept us if we accept Christ and when we do He considers us acceptable to Himself. We initially express that belief by repenting of our sins and by being baptized (Acts 2:38) and we continue to be saved by continuing to believe.
We will see that Abram had many serious challenges after he entered into his faith relationship with God. The thing that kept him a righteous man while he was failing or succeeding was not his degree of success or failure, it was his belief that God would fulfill this promise despite his failings. Faith keeps you righteous, not perfectionism.
2. We will succeed by faith
Even though Abram had ups and downs, ultimately God fashioned him into a faithful servant. The promise is not that God will accept a bad person because he or she believes. The promise is that God will take a bad person who believes and make a righteous person and a faithful servant out of him.
Abram lived a long time and God made a great servant out of him, however, His promise to us is that whatever He does not finish here, He will complete in heaven.
- Summarize Genesis 15:1-6 and answer the following questions:
- What can we learn from Abraham based on this event?
- How does the promise to Abram, regarding his descendants numbering more than the stars, directly apply to us?
- Why would God delay giving children to Abraham and Sarah and how does that apply to us?
- What is the significance of Genesis 15:7-19?
- How do you define faith?
- How can you use this lesson to grow spiritually and help others come into a relationship with Jesus?