If you are like me, then I suspect that you have times in your life when you need assurance and re- assurance that you are indeed doing the right thing or whether you are on the right road. Often we tend to become anxious and fearful of the future in the light of present developments. Those can be dangerous times, depending who we are listening to. The Bible always directs us seek God and His Word. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God” (James 1:5). In the Christian ministry I have often needed to ask the Lord for assurance as to whether I was doing the right thing, and in doing so I have needed to search His Word. The counsel of Christian friends and colleagues who have drawn my attention to the Word of God in various matters has been invaluable.
In the text before us we have a situation in which we find Abram in such a position, and the situation arises as a result of the happenings in Chapter 14 and even before that! Let’s take a step back and take it from the beginning. We had met Abram in Chapter 12. He was a pagan man from Ur in Mesopotamia. God, the true God and Creator of the Universe did the unthinkable and spoke to him and revealed Himself to him. He said to Abram, “Leave your country and your family to go to a land which I will show you.” We are not told how it was that the LORD spoke, but it was such a powerful encounter that there was no doubt in Abram’s mind that the LORD God had spoken.
Abram’s move to the Promised Land would, however, not be without its challenges. We now must also remember that he is a descendant of Adam, whose original sin has affected the spiritual DNA of his entire offspring. Abram leaves Ur, by God’s command and by His promise of blessing, but he also leaves Ur as a fallen man, and it is going to show.
We see these two sides of Abram’s nature, portrayed in Chapter 12. One side portrays the real faith which he has in the God who has called him and who is going before him to the Promised Land [2:1-9]. The other side portrays his faithlessness, when upon arrival he faces a drought in Canaan. Instead of trusting God to provide, he is moved by fear, anxiety, doubt and this causes him to go to Egypt for help. There he encounters even more severe challenges, when he almost loses his wife and even his life [12:10-20]. Were it not for God’s sovereign love and grace to Abram, he would have never escaped from Egypt.
Chapters 13 and 14 are beautiful chapters as we see Abram resolutely trusting in his God. He makes a good decision as to where he should live in the promised land, while his nephew Lot makes a disastrous decision, based on what his eyes and his heart desire. He chooses to live close to the fallen world of Sodom. When Lot is taken captive and carried away by an invading army, Abram, full of faith rescues him with the help of his God against an overwhelming army. This remarkable victory does not go unrecognised, particularly by Melchizedek  the king of (Jeru) Salem, one of the many kings of a city state in that area. In the book of Hebrews we see that he prefigures the Lord Jesus Christ as a prophet- priest-king. Melchizedek recognizes a kindred spirit in Abram, and Abram does the same, as he pays homage to this king of Salem, in the giving of a tithe of everything that he had.
Chapter 15 starts with these words, ”…after these things the Word of the LORD came to Abram.” What things? The reference is obviously to the recent wars in Chapter 14. War has a very unsettling effect on people, creating anxiety about the future. Am I going to be safe here? Does my family have a future here? Abram’s greater concern however relates to his family’s future, with regard to his childless status: “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless… behold you have given me no offspring…” [vv.2, 3]. There is as yet no physical offspring to make this promise come true. At this stage, the arrangement is for Eliezer of Damascus, a son born in his home, whom he had adopted, to be the heir. Abram in his mind has much reason to be worried about the promise of God.
This is the first time in the Bible that the oft repeated and majestic phrase is used, “the Word of the LORD came to Abram…”. When we are anxious the most reassuring voice is the voice of the Father. And so, Abram need not fear! The God who is faithful to His promises is directing Abram’s heart with certainty and progressively, and while He does this, He is teaching Abram many lessons along the way. God does not dump His purposes on us all at one time. God is leading Abram, step by step. Our journey with God is designed for one step at a time, and always accompanied by faith in the promises of God. “Fear not Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” [v.1] And God comes to him with the reassurance that His promise first given in Chapter 12 will stand. He will have his very own son [v. 4] and through him his offspring will be as numerous as the stars of the sky [v.5]. As a result of this we read, “And he believed the LORD, and He counted it to him as righteousness” [v.6]. The first hurdle is overcome. By faith in the Word of God his anxiety is settled. The apostle Paul in Romans 4 and Galatians 3 explains and establishes the great doctrine of “justification by faith alone” on this text.
In verse 7 we find the second hurdle. God also promised Abram that he would possess a land as his inheritance. [v.7] The recent conflict in the Jordan valley has raised for him some serious questions about his future. Again, Abram anxiously asks the LORD: “How am I to know that I will possess it?”
The answer comes by way of another strong assurance from God.
God reminds him again, that He has brought him here from Ur. [v.7]. God had brought him from that land of idols, from the kingdom of darkness, so to speak, into this place where he will bless him and his descendants. God cannot lie. He cannot go back on His words, but Abram struggles, and the typical manifestations of our fallen nature in such matters are, as already indicated, doubt and anxiety. These are ultimately rooted in unbelief. We do not trust God to be true. This is a typical sin associated with the fall. There is very little difference between the doubts which the devil sows into the mind of Eve, “Has God really said?” [Gen. 3:1] and the doubt that Abram expresses here: “O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” The fact is that God has promised this to him at the very beginning [Gen. 12:2,3] of his encounter with him.
O the grace and the patience of our God! Knowing his weakness, God is willing to bear with him and provide Abram with more assurance. He begins with these weighty words: “I am the LORD.” [v.7] We hear these words again in Exodus 6:2,6,8 and 20:2 in the context of the giving of the 10 commandments, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery”. I Am is here. Do not fear! God is about to establish a strong bond, a covenant with Abram to provide Him with the needed assurance for the future. Remember that Abram did not have the full revelation that you and I have, living as people under the full revelation of the New Covenant by which we have been made secure with God by the Holy Spirit through the knowledge of Jesus’ death on the cross, for us!
So, how did the assurance come? In a way which Abram would have understood! A covenant!
God tells Abram to bring to him a three year old heifer, a three year old female goat, a three year old ram, a turtledove and a young pigeon [v.9]. Abram slaughters the animals and cuts them in half (except the birds) and lays the pieces opposite to one another. This all is deeply significant. Blood is to be shed, depicting the seriousness of this transaction! Only clean, mature, animals were to be used in this process, ranging from a heifer to a pigeon. The dove and the pigeon were included because the sacrifices must be within the reach of all. But the cutting of the animal sacrifices is particularly significant, because it underlies the symbolism of covenant. The Hebrew idiom for making a covenant can be better translated as “cutting a covenant”. In the ancient Near East such covenants were common, and the parties to such a covenant would walk between the pieces of carcass and say to each other , “As it is to these animals , so it will be to me and to you if we break the terms of this covenant.” Making a covenant was the strongest form of assurance in the Ancient Near East. It was thought of as unbreakable. And so here, God was saying to Abram that by this act, He was absolutely committing Himself to Abram’s future in terms of the land.
The unclean birds of prey that wanted to come down on the carcasses [v.11] are pertinent reminders that the terms of the covenant, and the people of the covenant are forever attacked by evil, unclean forces, and it is a tiring battle to keep these away . Abram fell asleep, probably from exhaustion, and a dreadful and great darkness fell on him. [v12] Many of God’s people, in their battle to remain faithful to God in the midst of life’s trials have experienced the dark night of the soul, and again I remind you that it is only the God who calls you, who keeps you in such times! But when you have come through these times you will have found yourself to having been greatly strengthened in your assurance by this experience.
In the midst of the darkness comes the prophetic assurance of v. 13: “Know for certain…. God shows Abram a panorama of the history of his descendants. He shows him that they would have to endure a four hundred year exile. This points forward to the times of the Exodus under Moses, when they had to suffer slavery in Egypt, and when God was refining them and preparing them for the Promised land. They would learn that by suffering they would inherit the kingdom of God. But they would leave that land and when they left, God promised Abram that they would come out with great possessions. Abram would not see that day. He would have died years before in a good old age. Abram himself would not see that day, but the fourth generation would, and they would come out of Egypt, as numerous as sand on the seashore. And God is doing so much more than our simple minds can fathom.
The Amorites, the people of the land of Canaan in the meantime would be piling up their sins and iniquities (Behold the patience of God towards sinners!), and then Abram’s descendants would return under Joshua as God’s instruments of wrath upon Canaan, and the land would be theirs.
Thank God then, that our days, that history , that the future are in His hands. There is nothing more reassuring than that !
The 15th Chapter of Genesis is a key chapter in the Bible, containing key Bible doctrines :
· Strong emphasis on the doctrine of Assurance, which is rooted in the promises of God. Twice in this chapter God answers Abram’s fundamental questions concerning his future.
· Strong teaching on the nature of justification by faith, a key doctrine in the Bible by which we are reminded that the faith by which we are justified is possible , because of God’s prior working in our life. Abram was called. That calling showed itself in a corresponding faith in God, which proved him to be a righteous and therefore a justified man.
· A strong reminder of the unbreakable nature of the covenant. For the Christian the New Covenant in Christ’s blood speaks of a better covenant, since this covenant is sealed in the blood of the Son of God , who loved us and who gave Himself for us.
· A strong reminder that our confidence in God is continuously assaulted and sometimes severely battered.
· A strong reminder that history and future is in God’s hands. God tells Abram accurately what must happen to his people.