Verse by Verse Study of Genesis 15:1-21
In Genesis 14, Abraham had just gone through astonishing circumstances in which he had made extraordinary self-sacrifice, but now he felt afraid and in need of encouragement. Now in Genesis 15, God speaks to Abraham’s fears and doubts and reminds him that he is our shield and our great reward!
God Speaks to Our Fears
God speaks to us in a variety of ways, and in Genesis 15:1 God spoke to Abraham in a vision. Abraham had just returned victorious from war. He had defeated four kings and their armies with his 318 trained men. But he was afraid, possibly expecting an attack of retribution.
On a brief side note, I always like to point out when Bible translations differ from one another. In my podcast I like to use the New Living Translation because it uses a modern language and is easily understood by people from all walks of life. But here is an example of when it is a good practice to compare Bible translations.
Genesis 15:1 in the NLT says that this event happened “Some time later”, while other translations such as the New King James Version (NKJV) or the New International Version (NIV) say “After this”, meaning after what just occurred in the previous chapter. This gives us context as to why Abraham is afraid in Genesis 15.
We don’t know if Abraham went to God with his fears, but whether he did or not, God knew his innermost thoughts and he knew what he needed to overcome his worst fears.
2 Timothy 1:7 says, “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (ESV)
Isaiah 41:13says, “For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say, ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you.’” (ESV)
These verses tell us that fear does not come from God, yet he knows that we do fear because of our fallen nature. God wants us to come to him and trust in him – to know that no matter what we face, he is upholding us.
God is Our Shield
God is our Provider, and this means more than simply food on the table and a roof over our heads. In fact, many people go without food or shelter, but that doesn’t make God any less of a provider.
God provides us with what we truly need in each circumstance, and in this moment, Abraham needed a shield. God gave Abraham a reason to put away his fear: God had made a promise to Abraham, and God intended to keep it.
We all can struggle with anxiety and fear, but God has made many promises to us as believers, and his promises far outweigh any earthly trouble!
God is Our Great Reward
In Genesis 14, Abraham had denied himself great reward offered by the king of Sodom. But now in Genesis 15:1, God tells Abraham that he is his “great reward”. God was telling Abraham that though he sacrificed for the Lord’s sake, Abraham would not be the loser for it. God would more than make up for Abraham’s sacrifice.
God is our reward. He will reward those who remain faithful. Sometimes, we tend to live like God’s reward is a consolation prize – that we must live a life of sacrifice, humility, and persecution, while missing out on all that this earth has to offer.
But this is no consolation prize! Paul encourages us to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14 – ESV).
In Jesus, we have an eternal prize – a prize that nothing else can come close to in comparison!
Abraham was Honest About His Doubts
God had caused Abraham to prosper materially, but Abraham passionately wanted a son and descendants as the Lord had promised. In Genesis 15:2, Abraham feared that his heir would end up being Eliezer of Damascus is chief servant and assistant.
But Abraham was boldly honest before the Lord. This is a good example of how we should pray. Rather than hold in his frustration, he brought it before God with an honest heart.
We often hold back from God, but God wants an intimate relationship with us. He already knows our heart and our thoughts, and like Abraham, he wants us to boldly come to him.
God Answers Abraham’s Doubts with a Promise
In Genesis 15:4-5,God heard Abraham doubts and his response was not, “Why do you keep doubting me?”, but rather he reaffirmed his promise with Abraham. He told Abraham he would have a son and as many descendants as the number of stars.
Abraham needed to be reminded of the promises of God, and we also need reminders. When we don’t spend time in the Word, and when we don’t really know or understand what God has promised us, it becomes difficult to walk and live by faith.
God also explained exactly what he meant in his promise to Abraham. He wasn’t referring to spiritual descendants, believers in Christ, but an actual physical descendant. This was necessary because we sometimes misunderstand God’s promises.
And God not only told Abraham about his promise, but this time he even demonstrated it with a sky full of stars. This speaks to God’s patience with us in our unbelief, and it also demonstrates that God is a God of clarity. When God speaks to us, he speaks clearly and without confusion.
God Counted Abraham as Righteous
Genesis 15:6 is a well-known passage. Paul refers to it in the book of Romans. Abraham heard all that the Lord said to him, and it says, “he believed the Lord, and he counted him as righteous” (ESV).
There is either righteousness or unrighteousness, but there is nothing in between. Being counted as righteous meant that God saw Abraham as blameless and without sin. Why? Because Abraham believed God – he had faith. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and the way to have a right relationship with God has always been, and will always be, by faith.
God was not saying Abraham was righteous or would always have to maintain a perfect and sinless record from that point on, but that God counted him as righteous. This is not a work that we can accomplish, but God’s work through grace when we believe.
And this is not God pretending that we are righteous, but rather it’s a real righteousness through the work of Jesus Christ. Jesus is our righteousness, and he stands in our place before God (Romans 4:1-3).
God Invites Abraham to Enter into a Covenant
In Genesis 15:7-8,God reaffirms his promise to give Abraham an inheritance of land, but Abraham’s doubts surface again. He boldly asks God for proof of his promise – “how am I to know that I shall possess it?” (ESV).
Abraham had no title or deed to the land. He had nothing to prove that the land belonged to him other than the promise of God. Therefore, Abraham was asking God to prove to him that this promise would come to pass.
In Genesis 15:9-11, God invites Abraham to join him in making a covenant, and Abraham begins to prepare. This sounded like a strange shopping list: a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon. But Abraham understood God perfectly because this was customary way of completing a contract in his time. God was telling Abraham to prepare the contract for signing.
Abraham prepared all the animals as was customary by cutting the animals in half and laying them down on the ground forming a path. Each party making the covenant would walk down that path together, sealing the agreement.
Then Abraham waited for the Lord.
How to Enter Into a Covenant with God
In Genesis 15:12-16, we read about a prologue to the covenant.
Some people have misunderstood this part of the passage, believing that Abraham accidentally fell asleep, and therefore God’s blessing would also come with hardship.
But notice the wording of Genesis 15:12, “As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram.” (ESV). God caused Abraham to fall into a deep sleep. But why? Was this not meant to be a covenant they would make together? And why does it seem like Abraham’s blessing would come with a curse?
Well first, lets address Abraham’s blessing and inheritance. Abraham would have many descendants and the land did belong to Abraham and his descendants, but God was giving Abraham special foreknowledge of the realities they would face. For 400 years they would endure slavery and hardship, yet after this period they would return to their promised land with great possessions.
All blessing, and no hardship, is not a good thing. This kind of life only brings complacency. Imagine how the generations following Abraham would have become if their lives contained only blessing. Though we wish to be without them, trials and tribulations are how we grow in our faith.
God Makes a Covenant on Our Behalf
In Genesis 15:17-21, it describes how God completed the covenant alone. God walked through the path of animal carcasses on his own while repeating his promise of an inheritance of land. He quoted the specific lands Abraham was being given, making it clear this was not a figurative or spiritual promise, but real.
God made this covenant with Abraham, but he did it on his own. He made a covenant on Abraham’s behalf. Why? Because we have nothing to offer God. We cannot earn God’s blessing or grace. It is freely given when we have faith.
God never intended Abraham to perform this ritual with him, but he allowed Abraham to witness him do it, giving him the proof that Abraham asked for.
When walking through the sacrificed animals, God presented himself as two emblems: a smoking firepot and a flaming torch:
- God presented himself several times as smoke or a cloud: Exodus 13:21-22, Exodus 19:18, and 1 Kings 8:10-12. This image symbolizes the presence of God.
- God also represented himself as fire on several occasions: Exodus 3:4, Exodus 13:21-22, 1 Kings 18:38, 1 Chronicles 21:26, and 2 Chronicles 7:1.
A Divine Covenant, not a Mutual Agreement
Genesis 15 offers us such a beautiful picture of God’s heart and how he thinks! Abraham, an ordinary man and often a failure, is counted as righteous by God because of his faith. And because of his faith, God made a covenant for Abraham on his behalf.
Jesus body was broken for us, and God walked that Covenant alone, on our behalf, so that we could enter into a relationship with him my faith.
The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament, and the God of the today. His way of making covenants has not changed and all we must do is have faith!
Our Covenant God by Kay Arthur. Everything God does is based on his covenant and when you come to understand this, you’ll come to understand the most stabilizing, and most freeing truths you’ll ever know!
Leave a Reply