Open your bible to Genesis 15, and the first two words are, “After this.” After what? Ok, open your bible to Genesis 14.
II. A Promise Given, Genesis 15:1-3
Let me summarize what’s happened with Abram recently. In Genesis 14, Abram’s nephew Lot had settled down with his family near Sodom and Gomorrah, hardly the best decision Lot had ever made. An intense geopolitical power struggle was going on, and I count no less than 9 kings and kingdoms that were at war. Four of the kings conquered and pillaged Sodom, and Lot was captured and hauled off as a slave.
Abram had a mighty army of… 318 people. More than enough, with the Lord’s power. Abram routed the four kings, recaptured all the possessions and people, including Lot. And he gave all the remaining captives and possessions back to the King of Sodom, saying (in Genesis 14:22-23),
But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’
Abram made it clear that if and when Abram received all the things that God had promised to Him, that God alone would get the glory.
Ok, let’s go back to Genesis 15:1 –
After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:
“Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.
Now God says to Abram, you have chosen wisely. You have chosen a way that pleases me. The Lord your God will be your very great reward. And do not be afraid that the kings will return to attack, for I will also be your shield.
Trusting in the Lord can be hard. We have our sense of self, our entitlements, our wants and needs, and we’ve placed them on the throne of our hearts as idols to be worshipped. We follow our idols instead of trusting in the Lord. We leave our church and bible study on Sunday morning, and by Sunday night we’ve forgotten what it was that resounded in our heart earlier in the day.
The Lord makes His promises to us, but we find it easier to trust in ourselves. Sometimes it’s terrifying, to place our trust in something besides ourselves. Sometimes it seems stupid. “You’re building a *what*, Noah? Dude, it’s not even raining.”
The bible tells us that trusting in the Lord will seem foolish, but we are to do it anyway. Proverbs 3:5 should be a memory verse for all Christians,
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
Paul reinforced this in his letter to the Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 1:15,
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
God has chosen the foolish things of this world to shame the wise, and the weak things of this world to shame the strong.
Now, after Abram’s battles with the four kings and then rescuing Lot, God comes to Abram and says, “Do not be afraid.” Did you know that in the bible, every time God says, “Do not be afraid,” He then tells us why we should not be afraid?
This is the very first time in the bible, “Do not be afraid” is said. I read somewhere that the bible says, “Do not be afraid” 365 times, one for every day of the year, a daily reminder from God to be fearless in our Christian faith every day.
God tells Abram, “Do not be afraid, Abram, because I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” God gives Abram two reasons not to fear. The first is that God Himself will be Abram’s shield. God will protect Abram. God protects you and me, too. We may face calamities, loss of loved ones, but these are temporal things. Jesus says in Matthew 10:28,
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
There’s that “do not be afraid because” statement again. God is our shield against the devil; in John 10:28, Jesus says he gives us eternal life and no one will snatch us out of His mighty hands. God is our shield. Psalm 3:3 we sing,
But you, Lord, are a shield around me,
my glory, the One who lifts my head high.
But the second reason not to fear, God tells Abram, is truly amazing. Not only will God be Abram’s shield, God will also be Abram’s reward. Not just any reward, but an exceedingly great reward. There is no greater reward than God. Gold and diamonds are insignificant compared to the God who created gold and diamonds. Compared to God, all the plunder Abram just gave back to the King of Sodom is like dust.
But what does it mean to have God as a reward? How can God be a reward? We belong to Him; He does not belong to us. How can God, the Creator of the universe, give Himself as a reward to humans, let alone a single person?
Abram may have been confused by this as well. Maybe in his own mind, Abram is thinking, “God can’t mean that He will give Himself to me. He must mean He will protect me and provide for me. That must be what God means.” But that is not what God means. God means that God Himself is what Abram is seeking. God Himself is what Abram wants. God Himself is what Abram needs. God Himself is the missing piece of Abram’s life. God Himself is Abram’s exceedingly great reward.
What do we pray for? We often pray for what we do not have but we think we need. We pray for physical needs like food or money. We pray for wisdom to make good decisions. Sometimes, when we do not understand what God is doing, we pray for understanding. We pray for encouragement when we feel the trials of life are overwhelming. We pray for protection from those who are against us. We pray for healing and life and health. We pray for truth and a better understanding of God’s plan. We pray for God to be able to use us.
These are all good things to pray for.
In Genesis 15:2, Abram had concerns, prayers, requests from God. And God says, “I know. I am going to give myself to you. And in Me, all your needs will be met.”
Are our prayers met the same way? I believe they are. In the Gospel of John, we find seven “I am” statements.
- “I am the Bread” (John 6:35)
- “I am the Light” (John 8:12)
- “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58
- “I am the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11)
- “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25)
- “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6)
- “I am the True Vine” (John 15:1)
Everything we ask, everything we imagine, everything we need or want is found in Jesus. We all want something from the Lord, but God wants us to want Him. We want some answer to prayer, but God wants to give us Himself. It is in Him, that all these other things are found. When Jesus Christ is our everything, we can go hungry, we can wander without direction, we can wonder how that bill will get paid, we can have health problems and family crises and still have a peace that passes all understanding because Christ is ours to hold. Jesus says we will live the abundant life if we find all we need in Him. Our minds are so earthly focused, it is hard to understand how just by loving Christ and enjoying His presence that we can have the contentment, joy, peace, and happiness that would never be ours otherwise – even were God to grant us all the things we prayed for.
It is so hard to fix our eyes on Jesus Christ alone. We want to focus on the things that come through Him and from Him, rather than focus on Him. Jesus says, “I give everything I am to you,” and we reply, “yes, but what about my Christmas list?” So I am in full understanding when, after God tells Abram that God Himself will be Abrams very great reward, Abram says in verse 2 –
But Abram said, “Lord GOD, what will You give me?”
Isn’t that we often pray? “Oh Lord, thanks for everything, your promises, your comfort, your Holy Spirit. But what will you give me?” Abram wants a son.
III. A Promise Believed, Genesis 15:4-6
Then in Genesis 15:4, God promises Abram that Abram will have a son of his own. And not just a son, but more descendants than Abram can count. God and Abram go outside and look at the stars and says that if Abram can count them all, that’s how many his decedents will be. And Abram believed.
Let’s not overlook the importance of this statement. Genesis 15:6 –
Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
Believe in the Lord, that He is who He says He is. He is the great I am. He has sent His son for the transgressions of our sins, and we are now washed clean in His sight.
How can we know God keeps His promise? How do we know that when we die, that we have eternal salvation, freely available to all who believe? Abram is a great testimony. He believed God. God credited it to him as righteousness. Not because Abram was a great guy and has some nice sheep and goats, but because He believed. And Abram, on this expression of His faith, was declared righteous.
Is this same credit is available to you and me, just by believing? How can we believe? By choosing to believe. We believe by choosing to believe that God is who He says He is, that all creation belongs to him. Romans 4 – the entire chapter – is devoted to this one sentence, that Abram believed the Lord and he credited it to him as righteousness. Romans 4:18-25 –
Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.
In one of the great mysteries of this universe, at least to me, is that God keeps His promises to us. And if we only believe that Christ died for our sins, then God will forgive our sins and credit our belief to us as righteousness.
It’s not about how fervently we pray, how many times we attend bible study, how often we do good things for those who can’t. We do those things out of love, but it’s not our prayer or our service or our worship that gives us salvation. It is our belief. God wants us to believe in Him.
What did Abram believe? Was it merely the promise of more grandchildren than he could count? There’s more to it than that – in John 8:56, when Jesus was talking to Jews who were trying to kill Him, He says,
Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.
If Romans 4 tells us that Abram was the father of all Gentiles, then Jesus says that it was Abram’s faith in the future Messiah that brought Abram joy. Abram, as well as countess others throughout the Old Testament, are saved through their faith in the future Messiah yet to come. Abram believed in the coming Messiah for eternal life, and that the Messiah that would come through Abram and his descendants. It is at this point, when Abram believed the Lord that the Lord credited him with righteousness.
When we believe God’s Word, that God gives eternal life to everyone who believes in Jesus for it, like Abram, we are declared righteousness by God. There is no other way to receive eternal life. Abram believed the promise, and so was justified. Of all the ways that God gives Himself to us, this is the greatest. God told Abram in verse 1, “I will be your great reward” and now Abram has received God’s righteousness as part of that reward. No matter what happens in life, if we have Jesus, if we have God as our reward, we have more than everything we need.
The promise has been given, the promise has been believed, and now we will see the promise guaranteed.
IV. A Promise Guaranteed, Genesis 15:7-21
In Genesis 15:7 –
Then He said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.”
God has made this promise to Abram already in chapters 12 and 13, but perhaps Abram is wondering when God’s going to keep his promise. Genesis 15:8 –
And he said, “Lord GOD, how shall I know that I will inherit it?”
Abram says, “Well, ok, God, I trust you that you’re going to give me a son. But how can I know you’re also going to give me the land?” Abram is already 85 years old at this point, and he and his 318 men in his army aren’t getting any younger.
God then makes a covenant with Abram, a complex scene that involves sacrificing animals and dividing them in half. Some commentaries tell me that this symbolized a way back then to seal a deal. The two people would sacrifice and split their animals in half, then walk in between the pieces. The thought was that, if I break my side of the covenant, may I become like this sacrificed animal and be split in two.
Now in these more modern days, we are much more civilized. We don’t divide animals in half. Now it’s the lawyers who are animals trying to divide the people in half. But I digress.
But this covenant with Abram isn’t fulfilled with both partners walking between the animal pieces. No, a blazing torch appears and passes between the pieces alone, symbolizing that God alone will fulfill His promise to Abram. Abram doesn’t need to do anything except believe in the Lord. The Lord makes this promise to Abram in Genesis 15:13-16 –
Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”
This is a prophecy about the future. God has delayed his promise in order to show Abram, and show the Israelites that it is not by their effort that His covenant will be fulfilled. It is by God’s faithfulness alone His promises are fulfilled. God tells Abram that his descendants will go to a land that is not theirs and be slaves for 400 years. When that time is up, the nation they serve will be judged. Abram’s descendants will then come out of the land with great possessions. Before all of this happens, Abram will die in peace.
Why is God telling Abram this? Because the promise of the land will not be fulfilled in Abram’s time. Abram may be getting impatient to get some of the land that God has offered to him, but God says that the promise of the land will only be fulfilled with Abram’s descendants, long after Abram is dead. The reason for this is because the iniquity of the people dwelling there is not yet complete.
And when God walks through this covenant alone, God is saying that He alone will fulfill this covenant. No matter how Abram sins or fails to live up to God’s standards, God reassures Abram that God’s promise will be fulfilled.
Just like our relationship with Jesus Christ. It is a one sided covenant. God asked Abram to bring the animals, which Abram did. But God walked through them alone. God asks us to believe in Jesus Christ for eternal life. But God paid the penalty, bought our salvation, and guarantees it all by Himself. God requires nothing from us except to believe in Him and have it credited to us as righteousness. He does not demand anything of us. Eternal salvation is a one-sided covenant which cannot be broken.
God does it all. God does not meet us half way. God doesn’t even meet us most of the way. God does it all. We do nothing. In legalistic churches and groups, we talk about being committed to Christ, about the works we must do to secure our salvation, about have a Christian must say, believe, and do certain things.
But God’s covenant with us reveals something else entirely. We aren’t the promise keepers. God is. He makes the promises to us, and He keeps them all by Himself. We don’t give ourselves to God. He has already given Himself fully and completely to us. We don’t make covenants with Him. He makes covenants with us, and there is only one name to sign on the bottom – His.
Jesus says in Matthew 11, “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” There is no labor, no hard work, no effort involved. Paul writes similarly in Philippians 1 that He who began the good work will carry it on to completion. Philippians 2 says that it is God who works in you both to will and to do His good pleasure. God does it all in us and through us.
Are you still trying to win your salvation? Are you still trying to prove that you’re worthy enough to enter His kingdom? It’s time to lay those burdens down at the foot of the cross. Just trust in the Lord. Trust in His unconditional promises to you. Don’t try to meet God half way. Let Him do it all in you and through you for His good pleasure.
We talk about “accepting” Christ, but this a term not found in the bible. What we “accept” is an understanding that God has called us and is calling us. We realize that we are wretched and naked without God. There is nothing we can do to clothe ourselves on our own, but we trust in the Lord, trust in the promise of Jesus that when we put on Christ, we are then clothed and beautiful. Perhaps we do not feel our prayers being answered today, but God will fulfill each and every promise He makes.
And when we feel that when we have found Christ, our journey is not complete. We find Christ so that we can seek Him more. We accept Christ so we can accept Him more. We acknowledge Him as our Lord so that He may command and lead us to pastures green, the land He promised unto Abram, and the salvation promised unto us.
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
To God be the glory.