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Covenant Father 5: God's Covenant with Abram - Genesis 15

In Genesis 15, when God makes His covenant with Abram, He confirms His promises by means of His presence. Genesis 15:17 is at the very heart of God’s covenant with Abram, which is the covenant that Jesus Christ came to fulfill, which is the covenant that secures your salvation. In this chapter, God answers two questions for Abram, and since Christians share in Abram’s covenant through Christ, God answers these questions for us, too.

First, Abram asks: “What’s my reward? What’s my blessing? What will you give me?” In other words, “Why follow God?” Abram wants to know why he has left his home and his family behind, why he has taken up residence in a hostile and frequently barren land, why he has ended up in international conflict with the surrounding kings, and why he turned down the blessings from the king of Sodom. What does Abram get out of following God? Why should he follow this God instead of some other god who demands less and offers more? When God promises him a reward, Abram follows up by asking: “How do I know?” That is, how can I be sure? You’ve made a promise; on what basis do I believe that promise? Is my faith in your promise an irrational leap in the dark, or is my faith based on something solid, something firm, something sure?

God doesn’t rebuke Abram’s questions, and so when Christians have those same questions, God doesn’t rule them out of bounds. Because they are important to God’s people, they are important to God. When you wonder “Why am I following God? Is it really worth it?” and when you ask “How can I know for sure that God’s promises are true?”, God graciously answers.

Here’s how God answers Abram. God is the one who initiated the conversation, coming to Abram in a vision to tell him not to fear reprisal from the four kings, because God is his shield, and not to have second thoughts about turning down the riches of Sodom, because the reward that God will give him will be very great.

That’s what prompts Abram to ask just exactly what that reward is going to be. He’s been promised land as an inheritance, but he doesn’t have anyone to give it to. He’s been promised offspring, but the closest thing he has to an heir is an adopted foreign servant.

God replies by pointing Abram to the stars as signs of God’s promise to give him offspring from his own body. Abram understands and believes God, and God counted it to him as righteousness. That’s the gospel right there: faith takes God at His Word, and God declares that you are righteous through that faith.

Just like the stars were the sign that confirmed the promise of offspring, Abram wants a confirming sign to seal the promise of a land to inherit. And the sign that God gives Abram comes in the form of a ritual oath where animals are sacrificed and parties to the covenant pass through the pieces as a way of binding themselves to the covenant (see also Jeremiah 34).

In this case, though, instead of both Abram and God passing through the pieces, God puts Abram in a deep sleep and passes through the pieces alone. God is the one who makes the covenant, by appearing in fiery glory as a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch, promising by His appearance that even if it means His death, this covenant with Abram will be kept!

Genesis 15 is full of gospel. Here we see that salvation is from the Lord, and is not based on our works. Here we see that righteousness comes by faith, by taking God at His Word, and not on the basis of keeping the terms of the covenant. And here we see hints and foreshadowings of Abram’s offspring Jesus. In the fullness of time, when God was ready to deal with iniquity once and for all, He sent His own natural born son, not an adopted son like Abram, but, by the miracle of the incarnation, still truly Abram’s offspring. Jesus bore the curse of the covenant on behalf of covenant-breaking men, and ensured that God’s covenant promises were kept in spite of our failings. And when Jesus arose from his deep sleep of death in the tomb, God gave Him the promised reward: “Ask of me, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance.” (Psalm 2:8).

That’s what Abram saw, although through a glass darkly, as he looked at the stars and as the fire pot and the blazing torch passed between the pieces. But when he saw it, he believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness. Abram rejoiced, because he foresaw his promised reward, and because God confirmed it for certain by covenant.

Posted on Thursday, April 06, 2017 by CJ Bowen