How can God be trusted? Will God come through on His promises? Whether young or old or somewhere in between, these two questions sit at the center of the soul. I’m glad you’ve come here today, not only because it’s Easter but because our text for the sermon today answers these two most pressing questions.
So, let’s turn to it now, Genesis 15, and feast on what God has set before us in it. But first of all, let’s pray and ask for God’s help.
Genesis 15:1, “After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”
“After these things” in v1 indicates that the word of the Lord comes to Abram on the heels of in chapter 14 where he won a great battle, rescued Lot, and was visited by the mysterious priest king Melchizedek. That this vision begins with the phrase “Fear not” leads us to ask, what does Abram have to fear? Sometimes those who receive visions from God in the Bible are in very frightful spots and the ‘fear not’ from the Lord is massively encouraging! But Abram doesn’t seem to be in a frightful spot, he just defeated a great king and all his allies. So, what does Abram have to fear, or why does God say to him “Fear not”? Well, frightening circumstances aren’t the only reason to be afraid. Have we forgotten who is speaking to Abram here? It might be a fearful thing to come against a great king in war, but it is a far more fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. So understandably the first words of God to Abram in this vision are “Fear not.”
God then sooths Abram’s fear by saying “I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” Abram now learns why he was victorious in the battle of chapter 14. It wasn’t because he was so mighty or so much stronger than the vast army, no, it was because God Himself has been and remains to be Abram’s shield. Then God promises that Abram’s reward will be very great. Be careful with this, it’s not a kind of prosperity gospel. Remember what happened at the end of chapter 14. Abram vowed to not even keep a penny of the riches of Sodom. So this reward could see this as a response to that, that God is repaying Abram for his faithfulness to Him with the great promise he’s about to hear. As true as that is, I think Martin Luther’s interpretation of this verse is also correct. Luther knew Hebrew very well and said this phrase could be translated like this, “I am your shield, your very great reward.” Meaning, God Himself is the very reward Abram will enjoy forever. Though these mighty kings might amass great riches, Abram is far richer, for he has the Lord.
But notice, Abrams initial response to the vision is a kind of disillusionment. Which is not uncommon in the Bible or in our own lives. It is often the case that great trial and struggle can follow great victory and triumph. See this in v2-3, “But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” This is the first time we hear Abram talk to God. He has heard from God before, but now he speaks back to Him.And the speaking is a perplexed wondering about what God is up to. After all God’s promised to make Abram into a great nation (12:2) and has promised that he’ll have offspring as numerous as the dust of the earth (13:16), but at the moment he still has no child. So he did what many childless men in this culture did. He legally adopted another to be his heir, who would be the guardian of his estate, caretaker for him and Sarai in their old age, and perform all the necessary duties as a son for them. This is the Eliezer of Damascus mentioned here.
Then, wonder upon wonder, see how God responds in v4-5, “And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
When Abram the man of faith becomes disillusioned God responds with a vivid display of His promise. It comes as another word from the Lord, who instructs Abram that Eliezer will not be his heir, but it will indeed be his own son. Then to drive this home to him in a clear manner, God invites Abram outside and asks him to look up. He does, and God says, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able…” Of course Abram can’t do that, no one but God can do that, but this is the point of God’s rhetorical question. To stun Abram with the greatness of God and the vastness of His great promise. Then as Abram is silent, unable to count the stars but keenly aware of how immeasurable and innumerable they are, God says, “So shall your offspring be.” Abram could’ve grown more foggy and more disillusioned than he already was in this moment as he heard this. I mean, he was still childless and old and with a barren wife, how could this even remotely become true of him? Was God playing some sick trick on him? No, this was grace. God had told Abram by His Word that his offspring would be innumerable. Now, in grace, God visibly shows Abram what he had already told him. Or we could say, in grace God now preaches to Abram’s eyes what He had already preached to Abram’s ears. This was a visible word to him.
See then, how Abram responds in v6, “And he believed the LORD, and He counted it to him as righteousness.” Despite the obvious circumstances of his old age and barren wife arguing against all of God’s promises, Abram believes that God’s Word is truer than all that opposes it. The word believed in Hebrew is aman which sounds an awful lot like our word amen. So in a sense Abram hears God’s word, sees the stars, and responds with strong faith by saying ‘Amen.’But let’s look at this closer. What is this belief or faith all about? To Abram, God’s word was not just a mere theory about how his life would turn out in the end, no. God’s word, to Abram, in this moment, became the one dominant voice around which his whole life would be organized. He was doubtful and disillusioned, but now through the word of God coming to him, Abram’s soul found rest as he believed the Lord.
And see what God did in response to Abram’s faith? v6, “And he believed the LORD, and He counted it to him as righteousness.” This word counted could also be reckoned, credited, or imputed. What’s in view in this word is what God did to Abram in response to his faith. Notice that Abram is not described here as one who had done, or was doing, or would do righteous deeds, no. He’s described as one who had faith and that faith is then counted to him as righteousness. Meaning, sinful Abram became righteous in God’s sight not as a result of any of his accomplishments, but only as a result of faith.
It is no wonder then, why so many NT authors pick up this verse, Genesis 15:6, to describe justification by faith alone, or what it looks like to trust in Jesus and be saved. Three NT locations stand out for their use of Gen. 15:6. Romans 4, Galatians 3, and James 2. In Romans 4 it’s the example of Abraham and David in view. That as they were saved, or counted righteous, by faith in God, and Paul’s point is that so too are we by placing our faith in Christ. In Galatians 3 it’s the offspring of Abraham in view. That Abraham does indeed become the father of a multitude in God’s time. But he isn’t father to Jews, no. Father Abraham is the father to all who trust in Christ. And in James 2 we see the result of Abraham’s faith in view. That works, good deeds, and righteous behavior flows out from faith not the other way around. And that if works are absent in one’s life, faith is dead, for it always produces works. I’m sure many of you have those verses in the Bible that are go to passages to encourage and ground you when you feel foggy or fearful, well, Gen. 15:6 was such a verse for many NT authors, which is why they quote it so much.
In 15:7 God speaks more saying, “And He said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” Here we see God restate what He has done for Abram. He had brought him out, to give him this land to possess. Sound familiar to anyone? Except for the recipient, v7 is identical with what Israel will hear God say after He rescued them from Egypt. Exodus 20:2 say “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” So what God tells Abram in 15:7 as He confirms His covenant with Abraham foreshadows what God will tell Israel as He confirms His covenant with them on Mt. Sinai. Which also shows us that the two most foundational events for the people of Israel, Abraham’s calling and the Exodus, begin with statements of God’s gracious work of delivering them, Abram out of Ur, and Israel out of Egypt.
But in v8 Abram responds with another question. “But he said, “O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” You might think this is a silly question, didn’t Abram in v6 put his faith in the Lord? Why now are there more questions? Well, perhaps because true faith will at times exist alongside deep questions. Not all have to struggle in order for their faith to be real, but it doesn’t follow that those do struggle and have deep questions lack true faith. We see Abram’s faith and his questions. And God hears him, and responds with instructions.
15:9-11, “He said to him, “Bring Me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.”
Abram knew what this meant. In this culture instructions like this could only mean one thing. A covenant is about to made, or more literally cut. This custom was simple, but profound. When two parties desired to make a solemn oath or a promise to one another they would gather up some animals, cut them in half, place the animal parts on opposite sides of each other making a path, and then the two parties would walk through the animal parts together, displaying that if they don’t hold up their end of the promise, what has happened to these animals will happen to them. So you see, the purpose of such a ritual was to bind one another together, with the result of either blessing or curse.
Abram did this, cutting all the animals he gathered in half except the birds (probably because they were too small), and for a time had to protect it from birds, perhaps because they were trying to eat the animal remains.
Now see v12-16, “As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”
As the sun went down, a deep sleep from the Lord came upon Abram and in his sleep great darkness seized him. This is not an evil darkness, it’s the presence of the Lord. Just like great darkness was present in Genesis 1 before creation, and just as great darkness fell on Mt. Sinai as Israel gathered before God, so too darkness surrounds Abram now. Then, Abram hears his descendants will dwell in a land that isn’t theirs and will suffer for 400 years. This is of course describing Egypt and the slavery of Pharaoh. But God will judge Egypt and Abram’s descendants will come out abundant. As for Abram he will endure to a good old age and die in peace, as his descendants come back to the land of promise. This would’ve been both shocking to Abram, it showed him the future, and encouraging, he now knew how God would care for His family.
Notice this will occur when the iniquity of the Amorites is complete. This small phrase shows us God’s patience. He only flooded the earth once it became wholly corrupt, He will only destroy Sodom and Gomorrah when He knows righteousness has departed the city, and so too, God will only bring justice and judgment on the Amorites and the rest of the promise land peoples when their sin has reached its limit. Then and only then will God lead the people in and clean house.
Now Church, see what could be the most astounding yet unknown verse in the whole of Genesis, 15:17. “When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.”
See what happened? The covenant path had been cut, remember symbolizing what would occur if one of the parties broke their end of the deal. Church, who walked through the animal parts? God alone! Fire is a frequent symbol for God all throughout the Bible, and here we see just that, a fire pot and flaming torch, signifying God’s presence, goes through the animal parts while Abram is sleeping, demonstrating that God alone would bear the curse if the covenant is broken. Question, will God be faithful to the covenant? Yes. Will Abraham and his descendants? No. Therefore, for the sin of God’s people covenant curse will come. But who will bear it? God alone! Next question, when did God bear the curse of His people? In Christ. Galatians 3:13, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us…” More on this in a moment.
Our passage ends with v18-21 saying, “On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.” These boundaries would become the borders of Israel in David’s time. Now we’ve seen the confirmation of the Abrahamic covenant. It began in chapter 12, but here it is confirmed in chapter 15 in between the animal parts.
Well, maybe your asking one question right now. What in the world does have to do with Easter? With resurrection? Answer: everything! Listen to how the Apostle Paul uses Genesis 15 in Romans 4:23-25, “But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in Him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”
See here the importance of faith on this Easter morn. Faith isn’t God but by faith Abram was linked to God. Or as many have said, faith isn’t the drink, it’s the straw. And it was by faith not works that Abram was counted righteous, made righteous, declared righteous. And so too it is for us. At the feather touch of faith in Jesus, the sinner is saved and counted righteous. Faith in the Jesus who was as Paul says, “…delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”
How can God be trusted? See Him tell you here, ‘Trust Me. I will make a covenant with you. I will be your shield, your very great reward. I will be God to you and to your descendants after you. And in time, though your sins are many, I will bear the curse for you. Trust Me.’ Church, in Christ He did just this, He came, He bore the curse, He died. And He rose! So too now all who trust in Him, will rise in the end as well!
Lesson? God can be trusted. He keeps His promises.
 Victor P. Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, NICOT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1990), 418.
 John D. Currid, Genesis 1:1-25:18, EP Study Commentary (Holywell, UK: Evangelical Press, 2015), 293-294.
 R. Kent Hughes, Genesis, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2004), 222.
 Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 419.
 Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Academic, 2001), 241.
 Derek Kidner, Genesis (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2008), 134–135.
 Hughes, Genesis, 224.
 Brueggemann, quoted in Ibid.
 Von Rad, quoted in Ibid., 225.
 Waltke, Genesis, 242.
 Hughes, Genesis, 229–230.
 This is called a self-maledictory oath. See Currid, Genesis 1:1-25:18, 298.
 Kidner, Genesis, 135–136.
 Waltke, Genesis, 244.