In Genesis 12 God made a covenant promise to Abram that God would make him a great nation, bless him, make his name great, bless those who bless him, curse those who curse him, and that through in him all the families of the earth will be blessed. But now quite a bit of time has passed since those promises were uttered. For Abram, none of these promises have occurred that God promised to him and he is beginning to question these promises because of God’s apparent delay. When large amounts of time pass without seeing God’s promises fulfilled it causes us to question if these promises will happen. An obvious example is that Jesus promised to return, yet nearly two thousand years have elapsed since the promise. So we can doubt if God will do what he promised. In this lesson we are going to look at how God strengthens our faith to put our trust in him and the response we must have to our Lord.
The Struggle Over the Promise (15:1-3)
Notice that God comes to Abram first. Abram does not have to complain. God knows exactly what is going on in the heart of his servant. The word of the Lord comes to Abram in a vision. This description sets up Abram as a prophet. The words, “The word of the Lord came to…” is the formula for designating a prophet in scriptures (cf. Hosea, Joel, Micah, Haggai, Zechariah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel). The word of the Lord came to prophets in a vision and Abram experiences this. God tells him, “Do not fear.” God knows Abram’s fears. Abram did not have to explain. But God does not merely say for us to not fear. God gives reasons why. Abram is not to fear because God is his shield and his reward will be very great. Listen to the answer God gives. God is all you need! Be satisfied in him! God is the one who protects and God is the one who gives security to Abram. Rest in the protection of God. God’s message is simply, “I’ve got this. I’m your shield. Trust me.”
But notice that Abram now express what his concern is. He declares that this promise cannot happen. Abram continues childless and God has not given him a child. Remember that Sarah is barren and has no children. Remember that God’s promise has come to a hopeless couple. Abram expresses this hopelessness. We have no children. We cannot have children. You have not given us children. My servant Eliezer is going to be his heir (remember that Lot is now out of the picture, living outside of the promised land on the east side of the Jordan River). God does not zap him for saying this. God is not incredulous over Abram’s doubts. We have the freedom to take our doubts and fears to God. Sometimes we might think of God as completely inapproachable and before whom we must never have a doubt or fear. But this is not how God pictures himself as he deals with his people. We have the freedom to have those moments of uncertainty and to take those concerns to God.
The Strength of God’s Assurance (15:4-5)
God gives assurance to Abram. God gives Abram a greater foundation to put his hope in him and to quell his concerns. Eliezer is not going to be Abram’s heir. Your very own son will be your heir. The literal Hebrew is useful here: this child will come from his own loins. Your own flesh and blood (NIV) will be the heir of the promises. Then God offers more assurances to Abram. Look at the sky and number the stars, if you can. Your offspring will be that numerous. What a picture! If you can get away from the city lights and look up at the stars, there are thousands and thousands of stars that are visible. This is a powerful visual to Abram.
God gives Abram a picture to help our faith so that the promise can be further impressed upon us. God does not make the promise more sure, but makes you more sure of his promises. Think about how many pictures God has given us to help our faith because more sure in his promises. From pictures that we enact from baptism to the Lord’s Supper, these things are given to us to confirm these promises.
Counted As Righteous (15:6)
With this, Abram believed the Lord and God counted that faith as righteousness to Abram. This is an amazing statement and we must consider fully what this means. Abram considered God as reliable, capable of fulfilling his promise. This is what faith that depends on God looks like: looking at God’s faithfulness and his ability to keep his promise. God can do it and God will do it! Abram considered this and believed.
We have the tendency to hold this concept backwards in our minds. Abram did not believe and then the promises were given to him. It was the promises first, then faith. God’s steadfast covenant love generates and grows our faith. Our mighty God who works marvelous things invites a mature faith and helps us grow our “less than mature” faith to that point. These pictures and promises are to help our doubts and draw us to greater faith in our Lord.
Now this is what is truly amazing. When Abram believed, righteousness was credited to Abram. Faith is the point when we are credited as righteous. We are not credited righteous at perfection, law-keeping, or personal holiness. Abram did not need to achieve accomplishments or have enough acts of obedience. Abram believed and it was credited to him as righteousness. This explains Abram’s obedience throughout his life that we read about. His faith explains his obedience and his faith was the solution to his tensions concerning God’s promises. His actions were the outcome of his faith. His righteousness was God’s doing. Notice that the text does not say that Abram earned righteousness. Notice that the text does not say that Abram deserved what was given to him. All that Abram did was put his trust in the word of the Lord. By doing so, the Lord graciously counted that faith as righteousness to him. The New Testament quotes this in Romans 4, Galatians 3, and James 2 to argue that faith has always been the means of justification. Justification by faith is not a New Testament concept but has always been what God expects of his people.
Please consider that we must have faith even in this truth. Our desire is to try to do certain things to make us feel like we have earned some sort of righteousness before God. Earning any kind of righteousness before God is completely impossible. The Law of Moses would be given to Israel so that they would learn that they cannot perform the Law and earning righteousness before God is not possible. We must have faith in the fact that by putting our lives in God’s hands and fully trusting him, he will credit us as righteous, even though our lives have sin in them. Think about how amazing this is and how this is to build our faith! You and I are sinful people who the scriptures describe as completely sinful and unrighteous (Romans 3). However, God will credit us before him as righteous, even though our actions do not show this, by believing in the Lord. Faith is reliance on God’s promise of overcoming the present sinful life and giving us eternal life. To say this another way, the future of God’s goodness is open to people who will give their lives to that future life God offers. They do not seek to hold on to the present life nor try to conjure an alternative future of their own. They look forward to what God is offering and wait for those promises to happen. God credits us as righteous when we live our life in that faith. How can this not cause us to fall on our faces in praise, worship, service, love, and obedience to our God who would make such a glorious offer!
Continuing Faith (15:7-21)
This does not mean that we will never have a doubt or concern again. Even after this declaration, God speaks to Abram and tells him that he will also possess this land. Notice that Abram questions how he is going to possess it (15:8). Again we see that God already knows Abram’s fears. Abram still possesses some concerns and doubts and again God reassures Abram. The Lord desires to reassure his people when they are in doubt about his promises. Therefore God shows a picture of his faithfulness to his covenant in verses 9-18. This is a ceremonial inauguration of the covenant. God gives Abram another picture to confirm this promises. I want us to consider that God did not have to do this. God did not have to continue to give pictures. He could have just told Abram to believe it. But God confirms the promises to Abram.
Abram’s offspring are going to possess this land, but they are going to possess this land soon. Notice in verse 13 that it was going to be another 400 years before his offspring possessed this land and it would not be a time of peace and comfort, but a time of affliction. These verses give all the details of what God is going to do. God is in control of this and please notice that God has reasons for what he is doing. In verse 16 God explains that the sins of the Amorites were not complete. More time would be needed. But the point is that God has a reason for what seem like delays. To God these are not delays but the full purpose and plan of God. To us we think something has gone wrong. But this is the call for us to have full faith in his word.
To us, God has made great promises (Hebrews 9:15) which can seem to be delayed by suffering and death (2 Peter 3:9). But God has guaranteed that his word is sure and nothing can destroy or detour his promises. The best picture we have to confirm his promise is the cross of Jesus. The cross of Jesus, along with the picture of baptism and the picture of the Lord’s Supper, to remind us of God’s covenant. These pictures do not make God’s promises more sure, but they make us more sure of God’s promises. The ending to Peter’s second letter is appropriate for building our faith as we end this lesson from the life of Abraham.
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:9–18 ESV)