Genesis 15 - God's Covenant w/ Abram
So, after Abram's victory over the four kings and his generosity to Melchizedek, the word of the Lord came to him. "Do not be afraid, Abram." The Lord is assuring Abram that after such a defeat he would not have to be afraid of the retaliation of his enemies. The Lord would protect him, "I am your shield," He says. God comforts Abram, declaring Himself to be personally responsible to defend Abram. *However, a shield is only effective if it is clung to tightly. So, Abram has held tightly to the Lord. And just in case Abram thought that what he had received as a reward from this battle was great - not only the spoils, but the great name- the Lord reminds him that He is his "very great reward." Not only is the Lord the giver of the reward, but He is the reward itself. And how great a reward!
Abram is still worried about not having an heir. He tells God that his only option is to give his estate to Eliezar of Damascus, one of his household. Abram accounts his childlessness to God saying "You have given me no children;" and decides that he will take the matter into his own hands. He we see again that Abram believes the Lord and desires to follow Him, but he feels he must help God out. How often do we hear from the Lord and then make our own assumptions about how to go about the task which God desires of us? I know I am guilty. But the Lord is gracious with us. He does not rebuke Abram, but corrects his thinking. He takes him to look at the stars, "count them" if you can. Look at what great things I have done, Abram. Do you not think I have greater plans that you can come up with? The same way you can not fathom the possible number of stars in the heavens, so you can not fathom the ways I will work in your life. How often do we forget the great works of the Lord? He sends a reminder every morning and every evening as the sun rises and sets, and somehow in between we forget. "So shall your offspring be." Can you imagine how wide-eyed Abram must have become at such a declaration? If the Lord made a sky like that, surely he can do anything. "Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness." Abram put his faith in God, and God counted it as righteousness. It wasn't by his deeds, but by his faith. If not even Abram's deeds can save him, how much less our own offering of deeds. The Lord wants our faith.
Next God gives Abram the promise of land. Since his faith has been strengthened, Abram does not question this promise. It only makes sense that if we have the promise of the seed, we have the promise of the land. When we have Christ, we naturally believe the promise of Heaven. The Lord explains His earlier actions, they did have purpose. "I… brought you out of Ur … to give you this land…" There are many times that we won't see the purpose of God's plan until the purpose is at hand. We must use past acknowledgements of God's plans as assurance of purpose for current situations. Abram then asks God for a sign. He is starting to realize his own faults - doing things his way when he becomes fearful - and asks God to provide reassurance for the time when his faith might waver. Have you ever asked God for a sign? Use this example as a test next time you ask for a sign. We are not to ask for signs as 'proof' of God's truth. Abram didn't say, "I don't believe you unless you show me a sign." Abram believed the Lord, and asked Him for a sign to reassure his faith. Signs follow those who believe. God was not disappointed in Abram for asking such a request. "With prayer and petition make your requests known unto God." (Phil. 4.6) When we ask of our Father earnestly, we will receive.
So the Lord answers Abram's request. He asks Abram to prepare a sacrifice. The cattle were at least 3 years old so they would be at their strongest. God only wants the best. We have no recorded specific instructions, most likely because Abram was knowledgeable as to the proper preparations. Cutting the animals in half was customary of sacrifices that were to confirm covenants (Jer. 34:18,19). It seems much time had passed, for birds tried to eat the sacrifices. Abram was sure to shoo them away. Are we as careful as Abram when it comes to our spiritual sacrifices? Do we keep close watch so that nothing disturbs them until the Lord has approved of them?
Abram had to wait all day for God to answer him. We know that it was early morning when he first asked about the sign because God had just shown him the stars. And now, we have the setting sun. Many times God will keep us waiting to strengthen our faith, for we don't know how long we will have to wait, but we do know the answer will come. Suddenly Abram was in a deep sleep. One much like that of Adam. We must keep in mind that God put him in this sleep so that the natural world would not be a distraction. A horrible darkness came upon him. Many times God's people, though we are children of light, walk in dark places. God puts us through the bad, so we might understand the greatness of the good. God tells Abram that his seed will suffer before finally settling in the promised land, and God will judge those who cause the suffering of His people. However, Abram would be peacefully buried. He would die still a stranger in the land. But this also spares him the pain of enduring the suffering along with the rest. Many times God takes away from suffering those who are highly favored.
And now, a departing word from John Wesley. "When the sun was gone down the sign was given - The smoaking furnace signified the affliction of his seed in Egypt: they were there in the furnace of affliction, and labouring in the very fire. They were there in the smoke, their eyes darkened that they could not see to the end of their troubles. 2. The burning lamp speaks comfort in this affliction; and this God shewed Abram at the same time with the smoaking furnace. The lamp notes direction in the smoke; God's word was their lamp, a light shining in a dark place. Perhaps too this burning lamp prefigured the pillar of a cloud and fire which led them out of Egypt. 3. The passing of these between the pieces was the confirming of the covenant God now made with him. It is probable this furnace and lamp, which passed between the pieces, burned and consumed them, and so compleated the sacrifice, and testified God's acceptance of it, as of Gideon's, Jdg_6:21, Manoah's, Jdg_13:19-20, and Solomon's, 2Ch_7:1. So it intimates, That God's covenants with man are made by sacrifice, Psa_50:5, by Christ, the great sacrifice. God's acceptance of our spiritual sacrifices is a token for good, and an earnest of farther favours. " [John Wesley]