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Genesis 15:1. The word of the Lord came to Abram.] Heb. There was a word of Jehovah to Abram. The force of the expression is, that the word efficaciously was; was made to be. This is the first instance in which the phrase, “word of the Lord “is applied to a Divine communication. Vision. Chal. In a prophecy. Prophets from the earliest times were called “seers.” (1 Samuel 9:9., 2 Samuel 24:11.) I am thy shield. The personal pronoun is emphatic. Thy exceeding great reward. The LXX renders, Thy reward shall be exceeding great, a translation favoured by the Heb. accents.
2. Lord God.] Heb. Jehovah Lord. The name Adonai is here used for the first time. It denotes one who has authority; and, therefore, when applied to God, the supreme Lord. Seeing I go childless. Heb. I am going childless, i.e., “I am going out of the world in this condition.” The steward of mine house. Heb. The son of possession of my house, i.e., heir, into whose hands Abram’s possessions must descend in consequence of his childless condition. This Eliezer of Damascus. “Though he is said to have been in Abram’s house (Genesis 15:4), yet his parentage was of this Gentile city; and Abram refers to it as conveying a reflection on his forlorn and desolate case. This is commonly supposed to have been the same servant as in ch. Genesis 24:2” (Jacobus).—
Genesis 15:3. One born in mine house.] This is not to be taken literally; but has the deeper meaning of one attached to, or a dependent of his house—an expression designating the most esteemed servant who was on the way to become his heir.
Genesis 15:6. Believed in the Lord] Heb. Jehovah. “The Heb. term aman, from which we have our word amen, meaning to be sure, and then to be assured, or confide in.” (Jacobus). Counted. Heb. word signifies to think, devise, and then to reckon or impute, i.e., to set to one’s account. Applied also to reckoning iniquity at law (Leviticus 7:18, 2 Samuel 19:19, 2 Kings 12:15). Righteousness, or justification.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Genesis 15:1-6
THE RATIONALE OF FAITH IN GOD
The central thought here is the faith which Abram had in God, and by which he attained to righteousness. That faith was not the spontaneous product of his soul, but rather the blessed result of God’s gracious dealings with him. Faith is not a special creation; it has an ancestry. It is a living thing, and derives its life from other lives. The history of Abram shows that our act of faith implies certain previous advances towards us on the part of God.
I. Faith in God supposes a Divine revelation. Abram here appears as a prophet, for he was visited by “the word of the Lord.” The Lord revealed to the patriarch certain relations in which He stood to him, and His power and willingness to bless him. We can have no religious faith without a Divine revelation, for faith must have some sufficient object in which to repose. The beginning—the first generating principle of all spiritual religion—is “the Word of the Lord.” “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” The voice of God, man’s hearkening to that voice, and his belief thence arising—these are the links in the golden chain of human salvation. God speaks, man listens, and the heart believes. From the nature of the Divine utterance to Abram we learn the character of that revelation which is able to win the confidence of man’s heart, and therefore to produce true faith.
1. We must have a Revelation of a Personal God. A “word” must come to us embodying a thought of the Supreme Mind. It is not enough that we feel the impressions of some mysterious Power pervading all things. We can have no true faith—in the sense of loving trust and confidence—in an universal Principle of Nature, or in a Force, or in Law. These abstractions are too remote, severe, and relentless for the heart of man. Our souls “cry out for the Living God.”
2. That revelation must exhibit God in loving relations to man. If God had no merciful designs towards man, no willingness to protect him from evil, or to bestow good, His revealed word could only have the effect of increasing man’s sense of helplessness and his misery. That Being who is to win the loving trust and confidence of the human heart must in Himself be lovable. Goodness is the very essence of the Divine nature—the reason of the Divine name. Good and God are only different forms of the same word. The “word” which came to Abram brought him such a message of God as would encourage him to exercise the strongest faith. Not only was God’s kindness revealed to the patriarch, but also His sufficiency. Unless there is power to perform, the mere disposition to do good must leave many evils untouched; but kindness allied with might is an effective power of blessing. It was not only as good, but also as all-sufficient, that God revealed Himself to this father of believers.
(1) As able to protect him from all evil. Man in this world is exposed to many dangers which threaten his comfort and peace of mind—dangers from the malice of the wicked, from natural evils which hurt the body, and most of all from those spiritual evils, which hurt the soul. While he stands in dread of these he cannot perform that loving and cheerful service which should be rendered to God. Fear—in the sense of the dread of some hostile power—paralyses. If man is to serve God in the willing obedience of love he must be assured of protection from all evil. Hence the Divine message to Abram was prefaced with the assuring words, “Fear not.” Therefore Abram could hear with a calm confidence the promise, “I am thy shield.” God is a defence; and from the comfort of this truth the believer takes courage to perform his duty. This protection is one of the first gifts of God’s salvation, and clears the ground for His service. When we are “delivered out of the hand of our enemies,” we can “serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life” (St. Luke 1:74-75).
(2) As a sufficient portion. Abram was not referred to many sources from which he might expect deliverance and blessing. He was only pointed to one all-sufficient source. All the good which his soul could feel and know was summed up in that one promise, “I am thy exceeding great reward” (Genesis 15:1). He who believes in God is saved from the distressing perplexity of making up the fund of his soul’s blessedness out of portions collected from different quarters. There is one fountain of good, for there is one God. When God is “the portion of our inheritance,” we can want nothing. Thus the unity of the Divine Nature is the simplification of duty. And it saves the mind and soul from distraction when we have only to look to one Divine source and be blest. He who possesses God has a satisfying reward, and can neither desire nor want more.
II. The act of faith rests upon a Divine promise. To Abram the promise was that he should have an heir, and that his seed should be as the number of the stars of heaven (Genesis 15:4-5). This promise really contained the germ of all human salvation; but in this simple and undeveloped form Abram believed it, and that act is declared by an inspired authority to be an act of faith. At a great crisis in his life Abram cast himself entirely upon God and trusted His word of promise; and though he could not know what immense blessings were hidden in that word, yet his receiving it and acting upon it was genuine faith. The Divine promise is necessary to each act of faith. For—
1. Faith is the present realisation of some good which we hope for. We rest that hope upon the promise of God; but this is more than hope to us, it is a present reality. Faith substantiates the promises of God—makes them the solid and fixed possessions of the soul.
2. Without a Divine promise, faith becomes mere adventure. We may have a general belief that God is good, but vaguely to trust in that goodness is, in particular instances, of the nature of an experiment, and lacks that joyful confidence which belongs to an act of faith. When we desire some special blessing, unless God pledges His word to give it to us, our prospect of obtaining it is but a mere perhaps, and lacks the solidities of faith. The believing soul feels the sureness of the word of God and trusts it without anxiety as to the result. When God binds Himself by a promise, He comes down to the capacity of His creature, man, and makes faith possible.
III. There are difficulties of faith which God is ready to meet. The promise which God made to Abram became a source of severe trial to his mind. Time was rapidly passing with him—he had well-nigh reached the confines of his mortal day, and the promise was not only yet unfulfilled, but more and more seemed to wear the look of an impossibility. He is afraid that the promise—at least in the shape in which he looked for it—is only too likely to fail. The shadow of doubt seems to have touched his soul. He is bold enough to utter his fears to God. “And Abram said, Lord God, what wilt Thou give me, seeing I go childless?” (Genesis 15:2.) The one gift which was necessary to make the promise good had been denied. Abram’s reason and experience were all against his faith; and for awhile he appeared as one who wished to hold his ground, but did not know how the struggle would end. There are difficulties of faith which may cause doubt, even in those who have believed and whose hearts are, at bottom, true to duty and to God.
1. Such difficulties are part of our trial in this present state. Faith would not be the vigorous thing it is unless it was tried with sufficient severity. Hardships and endurance only serve to make it more robust. If all was fully known, plain and clear, present and in actual possession, then, what religious men understand by faith would be impossible. Faith must seek its object through darkness and disappointment. It is God’s will that we should pass a portion of our existence in acting upon certain spiritual convictions where we cannot possibly have knowledge; and it is part of our trial to be obliged to trust even when appearances are against us.
2. Such difficulties need not overtask our faith. God’s dealings with Abram show that the trial of our faith, though it may be severe, is not too great for us, “He knoweth our frame—He remembereth that we are dust” (Psalms 103:14) Our Heavenly Father meets his believing children in their difficulty and relieves them. He does this—
(1). By not chiding them for their doubts. God did not blame Abram because he was weary of waiting for the promise, and his faith had begun to waver. He who “upbraideth not” dealt tenderly with his servant. Doubt, when bold and wilful, is a sin; but when forced upon us by the difficulties of our situation is an infirmity of our poor human nature which God will readily pardon.
(2). By giving clearer revelations of His will concerning us. The promise made to Abram that he should have a numerous seed did not seem likely to be fulfilled in the way which he had hoped. He had begun already to think of some other accomplishment of that promise which yet fell below what would be his natural expectation. “Lo! one born in mine house is mine heir” (Genesis 15:3). But God in mercy revealed His will more clearly, and encouraged His servant by a more definite promise: “This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir” (Genesis 15:4). Thus God supports our failing faith by casting a cheering and revealing light upon His own word.
(3) By giving confirmation of our faith. Abram had been summoned to look at the dust of the earth and the sand of the sea that he might gain an idea of his innumerable seed (Genesis 15:5). Now he is bidden to look at the starry hosts of heaven, that he might have a new impression of his vast posterity. A new direction given to our thoughts often freshens the powers of the soul and relieves us. Our light grows clearer and we become more confirmed in our convictions of the truth. The firmament would henceforth have a new meaning for Abram—the bright expression of the covenant promise. God will confirm the faith of those who are sincere so that it shall rise above all difficulties. Both His works and His word will have an ever-increasing interest and significance for us.
IV. Faith in God is man’s only righteousness. Abram’s faith, under this encouragement, rose into heroic vigour. “He believed in the Lord; and He counted it to him for righteousness.” To believe in the Lord signifies much more, and makes larger demands from us, than merely to believe Him. We may believe the truth of God’s existence and nature, and of the revelation which He has given us, yet this may be nothing more than the assent of the understanding. When we say we believe a man, we assent unto the truth of his statements; but when we say that we believe in him, we rise to a loving trust and confidence. We have a delight in his person, we have reliance and trust in his character. So it is with our faith in God. We are assured of His word, and we lovingly confide in it. We are not saved by an operation of the intellect alone; it is the heart which believes. This is the essential characteristic of true faith whatever be the degree of light we have. Abram and the patriarchs had not that clear knowledge of Christ and His salvation which we possess, but they trusted their all upon God’s word at some great crisis of their lives, and were thus accounted righteous before Him. Faith is ever the same though knowledge varies. Abram trusted in God with the belief of the heart, and this was his righteousness. From his case, we learn—
1. That man has no righteousness of and from himself. St. Paul takes Abram as a typical instance of the justification of believers, and is careful to show that he had no native righteousness which could procure his acceptance with God. “For if Abram were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory—but not before God” (Romans 4:2). Sin has made man altogether helpless in the matter of his salvation.
2. Man cannot attain righteousness by obedience to the works of the law. This would require that our obedience should be perfect both in kind and degree, and this it is impossible for fallen man to render. If we regard our obedience as the ground of a claim upon God, we shall find that His justice can look at nothing but what is perfect and entire. In the Gospel plan of salvation, God regards the perfect righteousness of Christ and accepts those who believe in Him. Salvation is not the wages of work, but the gift of God.
3. Man can only possess righteousness by the gracious act of God. By nature he has it not, nor can he win it. Therefore he can only have it by Divine favour. Even faith is not the meritorious cause of justification, having no more efficacy in itself for this end than any other act of the soul. The very nature of faith is to look beyond itself. Faith is but the instrument which grasps the promises of God, and even that instrument is of Divine workmanship. God must have all the glory in the salvation of man.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Genesis 15:1. The Lord manifested Himself to His servant Abram—as He has to the human race—by speech. The Bible contains the formed thoughts of the Divine mind.
It would be impossible for us to attain to any knowledge of God, sufficiently full and clear, unless He reveals Himself. No being can know any other being by study alone. Observation and reflection will give us some information concerning another, but we know very little of him until he declares himself. Our knowledge of our fellow-creatures would be scanty and uncertain without the aid of some revelation of man to man. How much more necessary it is that God should declare Himself!
There are four ways in which we may have knowledge of God.
1. By observation.
2. By reflection.
3. By Revelation
4. By faith. It is only by the last two that we can obtain that sure knowledge of God upon which the soul can rest.
The “word of the Lord” came to Abram with a view that it might afterwards be embodied in a life. Such communication had reference to the promised seed in which God, who once spake to our fathers by prophets, should speak by a Son.
If God had never spoken to man the fact would be so strange and contrary to rational expectation that it ought to be accounted for.
Abram had reason to fear.
1. His enemies, though subdued for a time, might recover their strength and seek to be revenged upon him.
2. He was still a stranger in a foreign land, and the people might combine against him as an intruder.
3. He probably felt that despondency which follows upon the excitement of great enterprises.
4. The promise seemed further from accomplishment than ever, at least in that form in which he expected it.
God’s children are first invited to cast their burden upon Him, and thus they are set free for His service.
This first prophecy, beginning to unfold the peculiar history of the Old Testament Church, may be regarded as in some sort parallel to that last Revelation of John the Divine. It is not, therefore, altogether a fanciful analogy which would connect the day here spent by Abram with that on which John records that he was in the spirit.
1. In either case the interview begins with the same gracious words of encouragement addressed personally to the prophet. “Fear not,” says “One like unto the Son of Man” to the Apostle (Revelation 1:17).
2. We may suppose that Abram, like John, “heard behind him a great voice as of a trumpet,” and turning saw a glorious person, and, seeing him, “fell at his feet as dead” (Revelation 1:10-17). The Lord found it necessary to say to him, as to John, “Fear not.”
3. The argument suggested for the removal of this fear is the same in both instances, being simply the gracious manner in which the person speaking discovers himself, and makes himself known. “It is I”—“thy shield and exceeding great reward.” “It is I, the first and the last, the Living One.”
4. In both cases there is an appeal to the past. “I am thy shield.” There is surely here a reference to the battle and victory. Dost thou not know me, Abram? It was I who shielded thee in the battle, and rewarded thee in the victory. Didst thou not forego all other recompense for me? And have not I been thy reward? Even so the risen Saviour reminds His servant John of a deadlier fight and a more illustrious triumph (Revelation 1:18).—(Candlish).
Nothing less than a Living, Personal God can satisfy our souls, or allay our fears, as we look out upon the dread realities around us.
I am thy shield. See a like promise to all believers (Psalms 115:9-11). The shield is betwixt the body and the thrust; so is God betwixt His and harm. He beareth them as on eagle’s wings” (Deuteronomy 32:11). The eagle fleeth with her young on her back; there is no shooting them but through her body. No evil can befall the saints but through God.—(Trapp.)
When God is ours we have all that is sufficient for defence and reward. This promise involves eternal life; for men who are brought into such personal relations with God can never die.
1. I, JEHOVAH, the self-existent, the Author of existence, the Performer of promise, the Manifester of Myself to man, and not any creature however exalted. This was something beyond a seed, or a land, or any temporal thing. The Creator infinitely transcends the creature. The mind of Abram is here lifted up to the spiritual and eternal.
(1) Thy shield.
(2) Thy exceeding great reward. Abram has two fears, the presence of evil and the absence of good. Experience and conscience had begun to teach him that both of these were justly his doom. But Jehovah has chosen him, and here engages Himself to stand between him and all harm, and Himself to be to him all good. With such a shield from all evil, and such a source of all good, he need not be afraid. The Lord, we see, begins, as usual, with the immediate and the tangible; but He propounds a principle that reaches to the eternal and the spiritual. We have here the opening germ of “the Lord our righteousness,” redeeming us on the one hand from the sentence of death, and on the other to a title to eternal life.—(Murphy).
Genesis 15:2. It is allowable to saints to speak their perplexities to God, and to consult Him regarding their future.
Faith may be sorely tried, still the soul may hold its ground if it does not despair of God.
The pious complaint of human weakness before God, must be distinguished from the impious murmurs against God (Exodus 5:22; Exodus 33:12-15; Numbers 11:11; Numbers 11:21; Joshua 7:7).
There is a freedom from exaggeration in the pictures of God’s saints which we have in the Bible. Abram shows himself to be thoroughly human in these words of complaint. He was no fanatic or enthusiast. His faith was no easy virtue, but one to which he attained with difficulty.
Sacred history shows us that God’s saints, in all ages, have experienced many difficulties in accepting and relying upon His truth. Thus they were not credulous, and this fact tends to strengthen our belief in the truth of Divine revelation.
Thus Abram opens his whole heart to God. He has no reserve, and no guile; he does not keep silence when his sorrow is stirred—painfully or sullenly musing when the fire burns (Psalms 39:0). He does not dissemble or disguise his anxious doubts and fears. He may be obliged to restrain himself in the presence of the weak or the wicked among his fellow-men, who might have no sympathy with his infirmity; but before his God he may lay bare his inmost soul, and make all his thoughts and feelings known. And even if they be thoughts of unbelief, and feelings bordering upon sin—the suggestions of sense and sight contending against faith—the groanings of the flesh lusting against the spirit; better far that they be spread fairly out in the gracious eye of the blessed Lord, than that they be nursed and pent up in his own bosom, under the cover of a cold formality, or in the trembling obsequiousness of superstitious bondage.—(Candlish.)
Genesis 15:3-4. I have no seed, no fruit; as yet my only heir is this steward born in my house, “this Eliezer of Damascus.” Shall he, this spirit of bondage, be the seed? Can this be the promised blessing. Surely there must be something better? So argues faith, even in its depression; and the Lord at once answers that this steward, this spirit of bondage, is not the promised seed: “This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels, he shall be thine heir.” Precious words, but no less a trial to the spirit of faith, which against hope believes in hope.—(Jukes: “Types of Genesis.”)
In the time of the greatest depression of our soul we are often nearest to the attainment of the promises, as the darkest hour of the night is that which precedes the dawn.
God was straight at hand to help Abram’s infirmity, and to raise up his faith that began to flag and hang the wing, as the best faith will, if long put to it.—(Trapp.)
God speaks to the very point of our fears, and makes known His will more clearly to all who patiently wait for Him.
We can safely leave to God the manner in which He shall fulfil His word. If we only have faith in Him the event will prove to us that His promise fails not.
Genesis 15:5. The worship of the stars, which was one of the earliest forms of idolatry, is here virtually forbidden. God Himself points them out as His works, and is therefore distinct from them as He is from all nature. They may confirm and illustrate God’s word, but they are not Himself.
The stars teach us much concerning God.
1. His wisdom and skill.
2. His power.
3. His constancy and faithfulness.
4. His righteousness—by the order and accuracy of their movements.
5. The deep peace in which He dwells, and which He gives to all believing souls.
6. The glory which surrounds God, and which shall distinguish the eternal reward of His people (Psalms 19:0; Daniel 12:3).
The promises of God, like the heavens, contain one depth after another, and issue in such glorious things as pass man’s knowledge.
As God had commanded him to view the land, and see in its dust the emblem of the multitude that would spring from him; so now, with a sublime simplicity of practical illustration, He brings him forth to contemplate the stars, and challenges him to tell their number, if he can, adding, So shall thy seed be. He that made all these out of nothing by the word of His power, is able to fulfil His promises, and multiply the seed of Abram and Sarah. Here we perceive the vision does not interfere with the notice of the sensible world, so far as is necessary (Daniel 10:7; John 12:29). (Murphy.)
The large terms of this promise point to something more than the natural seed, even to the innumerable hosts of those who are of faith, and are therefore “blessed with faithful Abram.” In the numberless stars we have a picture of the triumphs of redemption.
Seest thou these hosts of heaven? Canst thou reckon them? No. But He who speaks unto thee, can. He can count them. He telleth the number of the stars; He calleth them all by their names, and to thee He saith, “So shall thy seed be.” Here is the perfection of science—the highest sublimity of the most sublime of all the sciences—the most glorious lesson in astronomy the world ever learned. In the still and solemn silence of earth’s unbroken slumber—under the deep azure arch of heaven—not a breath stirring—not a cloud passing—then and there, to stand alone with God, to stand with open eye and behold His works, to stand with open ear and hear His word—His word to thee! These stars, canst thou number them? Look now towards heaven and tell them; these all, I ordained, and even such a seed have I ordained to Abram. Such a lesson might Chaldean sage or simple peasant learn of old; and such far more may be the lesson now, as science reveals her myriads of new worlds, and threads among them her lofty and mysterious way, till the aching sight begins to fail, and the imagination itself to reel.—(Candlish).
Abram had good reason ever afterwards to remember God, when he looked upon the starry heavens. It is well for our comfort and the strengthening of our faith, when the sight of God’s works brings home some of His promises to us. The works of God have for us those lessons of spiritual truth which we bring to them. The more dealings we have with God, the more do they speak to us of Him.
It is a conjecture besides the scope of the Scripture, though harmless, that by the dust should be signified Abram’s natural seed, which are earthy, and by the stars, his spiritual seed, which are heavenly: for the scope of both signals is to answer Abram’s doubts about his solitariness, that he had no child, and this God doth by the promise of a numberless seed unto him—as the dust, or as the stars.—(Hughes.)
Genesis 15:6. Never till this time had Abram exercised that true and simple faith which rests solely upon the promise of God, and staggers not though there be no present performance, and sense can discover no way out of the natural difficulties which seem to make the accomplishment of the promise impossible. Abram had sufficient religious principle to obey God’s command in going to the land which He would show him; and the promise that God would make of him a great nation had awakened a certain expectation in his breast; but some new experience of difficulties, and of God’s dealings with him, were necessary to ripen this into faith. When everything like expectation must have been dead, then faith sprang up within his soul—the principle of a new life.
Faith in God is the soul’s victory over the difficulties—1 Of absence. The things believed in are far removed from sight.
2. Of the non-fulfilment of promises. They are still future—beyond and above us.
3. Of seeming impossibilities. Sense declares against the reality of the objects of our faith.
There can be no true faith unless the soul is reduced to that simplicity in which it looks only to the promise of God. The believer cannot stand upright unless his eye is fixed in one direction. He is like a man on a great height who must look up, and not down, for that would bring giddiness, which would be his destruction.
From first to last Abram believed in the Lord, and through his faith alone, the righteousness in which he believed being imputed to him, he was accepted as righteous. But, generally, he was called simultaneously to believe and to act; his faith and his obedience were, as it were, combined and mixed up together, and, even to himself, the warrant of his peace and hope might not always be quite clear. It was fitting, therefore, that once, at least, he should be brought into a position in which all ambiguity must necessarily be cleared away, and the simple and glorious truth be made plain and palpable to his soul. Such an era such a crisis, was this precious night on which he stood alone with God under the azure sky—with no possible condition to fulfil, and no work at all to do. God speaks—Abram believes—and all is settled, and all is sure.—(Candlish).
The time when faith flames high is the time when we are shut up to the necessity of taking God simply at His word.
The soul can only find rest when we trust in God’s promise, not asking how it may be accomplished, or perplexing ourselves with the difficulty of reconciling sense and faith.
The Lord brought the same promises before Abram, though in an expanded form. Thus faith has been kept alive in the Church through all ages, not by turning it into sight by means of accomplishment but by the re-assertion of old truths. In the progress of revelation we have but added light upon God’s merciful will towards mankind.
And He counted it him for righteousness.
1. From this we learn, implicitly, that Abram had no righteousness. And if he had not, no man had. We have seen enough of Abram to know this on other grounds. And here the universal fact of man’s depravity comes out into incidental notice, as a thing usually taken for granted in the words of God.
2. Righteousness is here imputed to Abram. Hence mercy and grace are extended to him; mercy taking effect in the pardon of his sin, and grace in bestowing the rewards of righteousness.
(1). It is not of the nature of righteousness. If it were actual righteousness, it could not be counted as such. But believing God, who promises blessings to the undeserving, is essentially different from obeying God, who guarantees blessings to the deserving. Hence it has a negative fitness to be counted for what it is not.
(2). It is to trust in Him who engages to bless in a holy and lawful way. Hence it is that in the sinner which brings him into conformity with the law through another who undertakes to satisfy its demands, and secure its rewards for him. Thus it is the only thing in the sinner which, while it is not righteousness, has yet a claim to be counted for such, because it brings him into union with one who is just and having salvation. (Murphy.)
Here first, the full importance of faith comes into view. Here also, first, the reckoning of righteousness corresponding therewith. From this point onward, both fundamental thoughts run through the Holy Scripture. (Romans 4:0; James 2:0) The future of the Evengelical Church was prepared on that night. It was the one peculiar blooming hour of all salvation by faith. But we must not, therefore, so weaken and lower the idea of righteousness, that we should explain it as equivalent with integrity, or in similar ways. Righteousness is the guiltless position or standing in the forum of right, of justice. The forum in which Abram stands here, is the forum of the inward life before God. In this he was, on the ground of his faith, declared righteous, through the word and the Spirit of God. Hence, we read here, also, first of his peace (Genesis 15:15).—(Lange.)
Here we learn the high antiquity of Evangelical faith, for the principle of faith is the same, whatever be the objects which God promises—land, a numerous seed, or any other blessing. God’s promise will enlarge its meaning. Every other good will flow from it as the believer advances in the capacity to receive and enjoy. In the light of an advanced revelation, we find that a land involves a better land, a seed a nobler seed, a temporal an eternal good. Thus God is ever leading His people on to greater and better things which He has prepared for them that love Him.
So ends the trial through the word, while out of the trial faith reaps fresh blessing, even righteousness. Faith takes God to be God, and thus honours Him far more than by many works. And therefore God honours faith, “counting it for righteousness,” more precious to Him than gold, yea, than much fine gold. Surely in a world where nearly all doubt God, the sight of a poor barren creature in utter helplessness resting on God’s promise must be a spectacle even to heavenly hosts. Even the eyes of the Lord run to and fro through the whole earth seeking it, and where He finds it He makes Himself strong in behalf of it.—(Jukes: “Types of Genesis.”)
Though Abram believed God when He left Ur of the Chaldees, yet his faith in that instance is not mentioned in connection with his justification. Nor does St. Paul argue that doctrine from it, or hold it up as an example of justifying faith. The instance of his faith which was selected by the Holy Spirit as the model for believing unto justification was that only in which there was an immediate respect had to the person of the Messiah. The examples of faith referred to in Romans and Galatians are taken from his believing the promises relative to his seed; in which seed, as the Apostle observes, Christ was included (Romans 4:11; Galatians 3:16). Though Christians may believe in God with respect to the common concerns of this life, and such faith may show that they are in a justified state; yet this is not, strictly speaking, the faith by which they are justified, which invariably has respect to the person and work of Christ. It is through faith in His blood that they obtain remission of sins. He is just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus.—(Fuller.)
Faith is not—
1. The moving cause of justification, which is the Divine love, mercy, or grace; and hence we are said to be justified by grace (Romans 3:24; Titus 3:4-7).
2. Nor the meritorious cause, which is the redemption of Christ (Romans 3:24-25; Isaiah 53:11; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Hence we are said to be justified by Christ (Galatians 2:17).
3. Nor the efficient cause. This is the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:7).
4. Nor the instrumental cause on the part of God. This is His Word, His declarations and promises respecting our pardon (John 15:3).
5. But it is the instrumental cause on our part. This is faith in Christ as the Son of God, the Messiah, the Saviour—able and willing to save (John 3:16-18; Galatians 2:16). This implies—
(1). That we come to Him (John 6:37; John 7:37; Matthew 11:28).
(2.) That we trust in Him, as delivered for our offences (Romans 4:25)—trust in His blood (Romans 3:25).
(3.) That we receive Him (John 1:12).
(4.) That we trust in God’s mercy and promises through Christ (Romans 4:17-23). Thus, in different senses, we are justified—by grace, by Christ, by the Spirit, by the Word, by faith.
Genesis 15:9. Take me.] Heb. Take for me, i.e., Take and offer for me. Three years old. Denoting, say Kalisch, “the perfection of their species.”
Genesis 15:10. Divided them.] In this manner animals were prepared for the ratification of a covenant. Hence the Heb. for to make a covenant is, to cut a covenant. The custom was to cut the animals intended for sacrifice in two, and then to pass between the parts (Jeremiah 34:18-19, Psalms 50:5). “It consisted in cutting the throat of the victim, and pouring out its blood. The carcass was then divided length-wise, as nearly as possible into two equal parts, which being placed opposite to each other at a short distance, the covenanting parties approached at the opposite ends of the passage thus formed, and meeting in the middle, took the customary oath.” (Bush). Laid each piece one against another. Heb. Gave every one’s part, or piece, against his fellow, i.e., laid head against head, shoulder against shoulder, etc., so that the covenanting parties might pass between them. The birds divided he not. As there were two birds, they could be separated so as to make a space between them, without the necessity of their division. It was afterwards commanded in the Law not to divide birds in sacrifices. (Leviticus 1:17). Fowls were regarded as mere appendages to the sacrifices.
Genesis 15:11. Fowls came down upon the carcases.] Ravenous birds of prey, such as eagles, vultures, kites, etc., which feed upon dead bodies.
Genesis 15:12. Deep sleep.] The same expression is used of Adam: Genesis 2:21. The LXX has ecstasy—a supernatural trance.
Genesis 15:13. Know of a surety.] Heb. Knowing know. A stranger. This refers chiefly to Egypt; but their sojourn in Canaan, where they lived as strangers, is also included. Four hundred years. “400 years is the manner of speech of prophecy, taking the greater and round numbers. It was really 430; see Exodus 12:40. The devices resorted to in order to produce exact agreement are beneath notice.” (Alford).
Genesis 15:16. Fourth generation.] “The fourth generation of the Isaaelites who went down to Egypt should return and possess Canaan. This was the result. Caleb was the fourth from Judah, Moses was the fourth from Levi; or Isaac, Levi, Amram, Eleazar, may represent the four generations.” (Jacobus). “In the fourth, age. An age here means the average period from the birth to the death of one man. This age or generation ran parallel with the life of Moses, and therefore consisted of 120 years. Joseph lived 110 years. Four such generations amount to 480 or 440 years.” (Murphy). Amorites. The general name for the Canaanitish tribes.
Genesis 15:18. River of Egypt.] Some suppose the Nile is meant; but to this others object that the region from the Nile to the Euphrates includes a wider dominion than Israel ever attained. Hence it has been conjectured that the reference is to the Wady el Arisch, which is called the “Brook of Egypt.” “It is true that the domain of Israel never reached exactly to the river Nile. But nothing between them and the Nile was independent of them. Virtually this was the extent; and as Kurtz remarks, these two rivers are considered here as the representatives of the two great powers of the East and the West; and the meaning of the promise is, that the land and commonwealth of the descendants of Abram should be independent, and continue by the side of and between these two empires, and that no other empire or nation should permanently bear independent sway in the districts which lay between Judea and these two great empires.” (Jacobus).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Genesis 15:7-21
THE CONFIRMATION OF FAITH
Abram had now that faith by which he was regarded righteous in the sight of God. But faith is only the beginning of the spiritual life, which, as in the case of all life, is a season of weakness. Therefore it must be strengthened and encouraged and brought into further development. God graciously confirmed the faith of His servant, so that he might have entire confidence in His ability to accomplish the word of promise. He who gives spiritual life to the soul is ready to give it more abundantly. We may learn from the instance of Abram how, when once we have faith, we may reasonably look to God for the further assurance of it. How was Abram’s faith confirmed? The answer to this question will be a guide and comfort to believers in all ages.
I. Faith is confirmed by the remembrance of God’s past dealings. The soul that has believed has already passed through some stages of spiritual history in all which the Divine goodness and leading were manifest. When faith wavers, or its life is in danger of growing feeble, it is well for us to review the past and to remember what God has been to us. We may use memory to stimulate both faith and hope. This was the use the Psalmist made of the past mercies of God: “Because thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings I rejoice” (Psalms 63:7). The several parts of this act of remembrance may be gathered from God’s dealings with Abram in this solemn transaction.
1. We should call to mind what God is. Abram was reminded of the majesty, the glory, and unchangeable nature of that Being with whom he had to do. The Lord announced His own awful name, “I am JEHOVAH” (Genesis 15:7). God’s name is Himself, and could we learn and know the mysterious secret of it, we should see an end to all our soul’s fears. God is the All-sufficient One, and if we but know that, we need want no more. But such is the frailty of our nature that we are under the necessity of ever reminding ourselves of fundamental truths. If the life of faith is to be maintained, the soul must frequently cast itself upon God. In the presence of His power and unchangeable purpose of goodness, we can have no fear that His promise shall fail.
2. We should consider the steps by which we have arrived at what we are already. Abram, now, for several years was conscious of God’s dealings with him. He had ordered his life by God’s direction. He had experienced many proofs of His favour, and of His power to deliver in the time of danger. The Lord reminded him of these things. “I am JEHOVAH, that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees” (Genesis 15:7). That journey was long, leading through various prospects, and through paths of chequered experience; but God was with him and led him on. Abram may now confirm his faith by looking at the steps which God had already taken to secure to him the land of promise. Part of the Divine plan had been already accomplished, for God brought him out of Ur that he might give him possession of Canaan. This was surely enough. Will God now falter or fail in the midst of His work, and not go on unto the end? The believer can look back upon all that God has done, and upon all the way by which he has been led, and take courage.
3. We should keep that purpose of God before us in reference to which we first exercised our faith. “I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it” (Genesis 15:7). Abram’s attention is called to the purpose which God intended for him from the very first. God had promised him the land, and on that word he had ventured to hope and trust. All God’s dealings were tending towards the fulfilment of this promise. “I called thee, and promised to bless thee; and whatever may be the darkness of the troubled scene now to be set before thee, it is thy privilege still to know that He who brought thee out of Ur to inherit this land is ‘the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever’ ” (Candlish). All God’s dealings with believers now tend to the working out of His original purpose concerning them, which is to unite them to Himself and bring them to glory. If we remember what is the end of our high calling of God, we have no cause to fear. We have no need to be discouraged because of the way. Our faith, like that of Abram, rests upon the promise of God that He hath provided for us a better place.
II. Faith is confirmed by covenant. The Lord had entered into covenant with Adam and with Noah, but this is the first time that He makes a covenant with Abram. The patriarch needed encouragement. He was not yet in possession of the land which was promised, and the disclosures of the future of his race, which were shortly to be submitted to him, were not altogether cheering. A covenant is granted, not that God requires it for Himself, but for our sakes. We require the definite word, and that it should be confirmed by some act. God thus makes agreement with man, and ties Himself down to conditions. Consider the exact place which this covenant held in the spiritual history of Abram.
1. It was a token and pledge of God’s promises, not a concession to unbelief. Abram desires that his faith should be confirmed by some sign or token. “And he said, Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?” (Genesis 15:8). This request was made after he had exercised genuine faith, and had been accounted righteous and accepted in the sight of God. This was not the demand of doubt or of unbelief, made in the spirit of an evil and adulterous generation which seeked after a sign. To require a sign before believing, and as a necessary condition of that act, is a sin. It is presuming to dictate to God, as if we had made up our minds not to agree to His terms until we heard them, or until He should come round to ours. But when we first rest our faith upon God’s bare word, we then may humbly hope for some token and pledge of His promises. That living thing called faith yet needs an atmosphere constantly renewed, fresh and invigorating. The fitting frame of mind for every child of God is, “Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief.” So it was with Abram. He believed, and had acceptance and peace; but the future was dark and he was compassed about with infirmity. “Whereby shall I know that I shall inherit the land?”
2. It was a covenant made by sacrifice (Genesis 15:9-10). In every covenant, some token or sign must be given as a common point of meeting for God and man. Thus, in the case of Noah there was a sign or token, but this is the first time in which God prepares for a covenant with man with all the formality of a sacrificial transaction. This shows that the gospel idea had now reached a farther stage of development. This transaction pointed to the sacrifice of Christ. Abram’s sacrifice was to consist of animals of three years old, which was the time of full vigour. They were to be unblemished, and of the best. Such was “the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.” He was cut off in the time of his full strength. He was holy, and without spot. He was the flower and perfection of the race—the new and better beginning of humanity. In the tokens of this covenant there are two principles recognised, as bearing upon the great sacrifice for sin.
(1.) That life comes through death. These animals were slain, as plainly to set forth that death is the consequence of sin. It is also the means of life, for God’s covenants convey the gifts of mercy and salvation. Through the death of God’s Great Sacrifice we have life. In human experience we have some imperfect analogies to this. The sufferings, and even the death of men, are often the hard conditions securing the good of the race. The death of the mother is often the life of the child. Death for death is the stern requirement of our salvation, but He who saved us had strength beyond the power of death, and rose again for our justification. He brought life from the dead.
(2.) That this sacrifice pointed to a greater whose intent was to bring man into union with God. The animals were divided, according to the custom in such solemnities (Genesis 15:10). The parties were to pass together between the parts of the sacrifice, as denoting that they were thus at one. “The unity laid down in the covenant is hereby expressed. The division of the sacrifices into two portions represents the two parties to the covenant. As these portions constitute in reality one animal, so these two parties to the covenant are joined into one” (Kurtz). The form of the word “atonement” shows that it signifies that we are made one with God. To knit together again the broken relations between God and man is the great work of Christ.
3. It was a covenant which was so ordered as to give a further exercise to faith. When the sacrifice was all made ready, there followed a time of silence and suspense. Abram can only with difficulty keep off the devouring birds of the air which fall upon the divided fragments. He watches anxiously till the close of day, when he becomes weary and falls into a heavy slumber. A mysterious darkness surrounds him. Light at last shines forth out of it, and the symbols of the Divine glory appear, but still the waiting for them was a trial. While mankind was waiting for Christ, it was a time of darkness, suspense, and trial. While the Deliverer was only promised, it was difficult to keep even the most prophetic souls always awake.
III. Faith is confirmed by a further discovery of the Divine will. Abram was a prophet, and it was necessary that he should know what was the mind of God, that he might be able to interpret it for the benefit of the Church. It was necessary that God should reveal His will. But the principle still holds good in the case of each believer, that God always rewards obedience by a further discovery of His will. “If any man,” says Jesus, “will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine.”
1. This discovery was preceded by a revelation of the awful majesty of God. There was an “horror of great darkness” upon Abram (Genesis 15:12). This produced a state of mind which is proper when God is about to grant an audience with His creature. This feeling of awe and horror was often an attendant upon special prophetic revelations (Job 4:13-14; Daniel 10:8).
2. The future was unfolded. Not for the benefit of Abram alone, as an individual, but for that of the Church. Israel for four hundred years afterwards would have these words to ponder, and even after that to contemplate the still further issues which would be prepared. Of the future, which was here unfolded to the prophet, it may be observed—
(1) That it was not altogether a cheering prospect. Abram’s seed were to be strangers in a land that is not their own, to be condemned to a debasing and cruel servitude for four hundred years. The immediate future of his race was drawn in sad colours. Prosperity would only be granted after many years of grievous trouble. This is a picture of what the Church is, and will be throughout history. Her life is a transcript of that of her Lord’s. It was necessary that He should first suffer, and afterwards enter into His glory, and so His church must pass through weary seasons of darkness and trial before she sees full prosperity and enters into her joyful reward. God’s revelation does not hide from believers the troubles they may expect in this life. But—
(2). It would be bright in the end. After a previous affliction for four hundred years Abram’s posterity were to be delivered from the House of Bondage (Genesis 15:14). The afflictions of God’s saints are intended to issue in blessing. The “horror of great darkness” which fell upon the patriarch was a picture of the prospects of his race, which at first were discouraging, but afterwards joyous. God was about to create a people for Himself, and as in the creation of the world so it was here, there was darkness first and then light. This is also the order of the spiritual history of the individual. The new life of souls begins in sorrow, but ends in blessedness. In that prophetic picture of the afflictions of his posterity there were two things which would comfort and assure the mind of Abram. One was that God would punish the instruments of their affliction, “Also that nation whom they shall serve will I judge” (Genesis 15:14). Those who afflict God’s people bring down upon themselves His judgments in the end. Such is the terrible law of retributive providence as seen in the course of human history. God may use a nation as a rod to afflict His people, but afterwards He breaks the rod in pieces. No weapon that is formed against them can prosper. The Church is too strong to be broken by the powers of this world, for those who have opposed her have either been brought to submission, or have been blotted out of the family of nations. Another consolatary thought was that there were reasons for the delay of the promised blessings. “For the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full” (Genesis 15:16). He who is Lord of all must rule over the wicked as well as the righteous. His longsuffering towards sinners is often a reason why He delays the deliverance of His people. They must abide the time of God’s forbearance with those who afflict them. It should reconcile us to the prosperity of the wicked to remember that God allows evil in this world sufficient time to work out its own recompense. It is enough for us to know that what is right and true shall triumph in the end, and what is wrong and false shall be destroyed after it has had a fair trial. The Church cannot enter into her complete reward until the measure of the world’s iniquity is full.
IV. Faith is confirmed by the display of the Divine glory. “And it came to pass that when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces” (Genesis 15:17). Here was a twofold symbol of the glory of God.
1. The Divine glory in the overthrow of evil. The smoking furnace was a symbol of the Divine wrath, and would represent God’s vindictive judgments upon their oppressors. This was the smoke of destruction—the consuming fire of God’s anger which burns up all evil. When the Lord comes it will be to take vengeance upon sinners as well as to reward His saints. God is true to His nature when He punishes, for nothing that is unholy can live in His sight.
2. The Divine glory in salvation. The burning lamp was a symbol of the light of salvation—of Christ, the Saviour of the world. This is that glory of God, the contemplation of which gives joy. Without this the thought of God would be terrible to the soul. We might admire God’s wisdom, and stand in awe of His power and justice; but it is only when we know Him as the God of Salvation that our meditation of Him can be sweet. Our souls could not endure under the awful majesty of God unless we had the comforting light of His salvation. It is observable that God alone passed between the sacrifice. Abram had but to stand by and do nothing. He had asked a sign, and must wait for God. The covenant was one of grace, and God must first give before He requires any work on man’s part. He alone will have the glory of our salvation.
V. Faith is confirmed by the prospect of a peaceful death, and of re-union with the spirits of the just. Faith in God cannot content itself with the present life. He who is our covenant God is ours for ever, and holds an eternal relation to our souls. Those to whom God gives Himself can never die. The words spoken to Moses, “I am the God of Abram, and of Isaac, and of Jacob,” are quoted by our Lord as a proof of the immortality of man. They imply that the real life of these men had not been extinguished by death; they were all living in the sight of Him from whose eye no human being could wander. “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for all live unto Him.” To Abram, God gave the promise, “Thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace” (Genesis 15:15). To go from one place to another, and there to join companionship with others, is not annihilation. It may imply a change in the mode of existence, but the continuity of it is not broken. The Fathers were still living, and Abram was to join their company when God had prolonged his life to a “good old age.” He would come slowly and late to the grave, but his end would be peace, and that rest which God grants His people when they have laid down the burden of this life. God confirmed the faith of Abram by promising him this blessedness hereafter. Faith must fasten upon the future. To every faithful believer God gives the promise of a peaceful end, and of reunion with the spirits of the just.
1. This prospect renders the life of the believer independent of the earthly fortunes of the Church. The children of Abram, after much affliction, were at length to see prosperity. Abram would not live to enjoy it, and that melancholy thought may have oppressed him. But now he is assured that it shall all be well with himself. His own being was safe amidst all the varied fortunes of his people’s history. It is but poor comfort if we only believe in the immortality of the race, and not of the individual soul. Unless we have the blessed prospect of seeing the goodness of the Lord in what is truly “the land of the living,” our souls may well faint under the mystery of an existence, which without that blessed hope is meaningless and vain.
2. This prospect deprives the grave of its terrors. Abram, like all his fathers before him, must go to the grave, but it would be in peace. He would enter the assembly of those who were living in God’s sight. No alarm on meeting God in that world where the soul must be conscious of His presence. Thus faith transfigures that terrible thing, death, and makes it the gate of life. This, the first mention of the grave in the Bible, is cheerful and friendly, because the promise of God lighted it up with the life beyond.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Genesis 15:7. In that early age of the world the name of God was no mere designation of some mysterious Power, of which men were vaguely conscious, nor was it a convenient abstraction, but a solemn reality to those simple-minded but earnestly religious souls who used it. That name signified what God was, and who.
Enough for faith to know that God is by necessity what He is. This knowledge affords a stable centre where the heart can rest, and the intellect can afford to wait for such increase of knowledge as God may be pleased to grant.
He saith unto him—God expressly making out his mind to Abram—I am Jehovah who now speak unto thee, who was, is, and is to come, who calls that which is not as if it were, and can make to be what and when I please; so that thy faith need not stagger concerning anything that I speak unto thee. All being is within the compass of mine.—(Hughes.)
In this passage, God does seem to lay emphasis on his name, Jehovah, notwithstanding what is said afterwards: “I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name God Almighty, but by my name Jehovah was I not known to them” (Exodus 6:3). Nor is there any real inconsistency here. It cannot be meant in that passage that the name Jehovah was literally unknown to the patriarchs, or that God in his intercourse with them never appealed to it. The idea rather is, that as God appeared in their days chiefly in the giving of promises, whereas in the time of Moses He appeared to fulfil them, His attribute of power was that principally concerned in the former case, and His attribute of faithfulness in the latter. The patriarchs had to look to Him as God Almighty, able, in due time, to accomplish all His promises which He was then giving them. Moses and the Israelites were to know Him as Jehovah, unalterably faithful after the lapse of ages, and fulfilling His promises given long before. Still, it does not follow that the view of God implied in His name Jehovah was altogether concealed from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; or, that it was never used to impart to their souls strong consolation and good hope through grace. On the contrary, the Apostle, writing to the Hebrews, expressly tells us that to Abraham God sware by Himself; or, as he explains it, in support of His unchangeable word, appealed to His unchangeable nature or name. (Hebrews 6:13-18.) And if, on any occasion, His name of immutability was likely to be thus used, it was at the opening of such a revelation as this.—(Candlish.)
The record of God’s gracious dealings with His saints is an encouragement to all who shall hereafter believe. Hence the value of sacred biography.
What God had already done for Abram ought to strengthen and confirm his faith.
1. God brought him out of the land of his birth, which was defiled by idolatry.
2. All the events of his life were working towards the end contemplated by the promise.
3. God had deposited in his mind the seeds of religion, which would grow into a church.
Let the remembrance of what I have done for thee confirm thy confidence, since every former mercy is a pledge of a future. God giveth after He hath given, as the spring runneth after it hath run. And as the eye is not weary of seeing, nor the ear of hearing, no more is God of doing good to His people. “Draw out thy loving kindness,” saith David (Psalms 36:10, marg.), as a continued series or chain, where one link draws on another to the utmost length.—(Trapp.)
Genesis 15:8. The same request may be made with two different minds. Zacharias (Luke 1:18) asked this in unbelief; the Blessed Virgin (Luke 1:34), as Abram here, in faith, humbly yearning for further assurance. God, who sees the heart, answers accordingly.—(Alford.)
Abram grants God to be Jehovah, showing that his faith was still strong. The sign was needed, not for his own sake, but for the sake of his posterity, who might be tempted to despair on account of the slow realisation of the promise. In His dealings with individual saints God has often in view the future welfare of His Church.
Many instances are recorded where God has been graciously pleased to give signs to His people for the confirmation of their faith when there was not any doubt upon their minds respecting either His faithfulness or power. When He appeared to Gideon (Judges 6:14-21), and told him that He should deliver his country from the yoke of Midian, Gideon said, “If now I have found grace in Thy sight, then show me a sign that Thou talkest with me.” In answer to which, God caused a fire to come out of the rock and consume the kid and cakes which Gideon had prepared for Him; and presently afterwards (Judges 6:36-40) He gave him another sign, making the dew to fall alternately on the fleece and on the ground, while the other remained perfectly dry. In the same way He gave to Hezekiah a choice of signs, offering to make the shadows on the sundial go backwards or forwards ten degrees, according as he should desire. (2 Kings 20:8-11.) From hence it appears that the inquiries which proceed from faith are good and acceptable to God.—(Bush.)
Even where faith is real it has a right to seek for its full assurance.
He desires a sign, not that he believed not before, but that he might better believe. How great is God’s love in giving us sacraments, and therein to make Himself to us visible as well as audible.—(Trapp.)
We should be anxious to make our inheritance in the heavenly Canaan sure. It shall be given to those for whom it is prepared, but we may well be concerned as to whether we ourselves shall have part or lot in it.
Genesis 15:9. Abram must be prepared for the revelation which God was about to give him, by being reminded that he was not fit to approach God, except through an appointed way of mercy.
The outward signs of our faith, and the means of our redemption, are not left to man’s device. God Himself appoints them.
The animals prescribed are of the three kinds afterwards allowed by the law for sacrifice; and the birds are those repeatedly mentioned in the law as those to be brought for offerings. The animals were to be each three years old, denoting the perfection of their species. But we Christians cannot shut our eyes to a deeper symbolism in this sacred number, especially when we remember that this part of the covenant symbolism was to be “for ME,” i.e., to signify God’s part of it. (Alford.)
The soul believes that it shall be even as God has promised, but it does not yet understand how or through what experiences the blessing is to come. In answer, therefore, to the promise it says, “Whereby shall I know,” etc. The Lord replies by a command to sacrifice, and in this worship and sacrifice His way is manifested. Beside the altar light breaks in. Faith may be strong while yet in outward things; but light comes while we stand before the Lord, by the holy altar of burnt-offering. At every stage we prove this. Noah is taught much beside his offering. (Ch. Genesis 8:20-22.) So, too, is David in later days. (Psalms 73:16-17.) Abram, no less, by the altar learns the reasons for the delay in the possession of the inheritance. There is opened the experience of his seed; there again the covenant is renewed and added to. (Jukes: “Types of Genesis.”)
Genesis 15:10. The universal Eastern custom was to divide the sacrifices, as Abram did, and both the contracting parties passed between the halves. Here one alone of the parties, Jehovah, thus passed. Abram’s part of the covenant was the obedience of faith; and God on account of this entered, He, the righteous God, into bond with Abram, thus made a contracting party with God, and therefore accounted righteous. (Alford.)
In the Gospel covenant the only-begotten Son passes through between God and us. Christ gathers together in one all those things which sin has sundered and scattered.
Genesis 15:11. Having made ready the sacrifices, he waited, perhaps, for the fire of God to consume them, which was the usual token of acceptance. But meanwhile the birds of prey came down upon them, which he was obliged to drive away. Interruptions, we see, attend the Father of the Faithful in his most solemn approaches to God; and interruptions, though of a different kind, attend believers in their devotions. How often do intruding cares, like unclean birds, seize upon that time and those affections which are devoted to God? Happy is it for us, if by prayer and watchfulness we can drive them away, so as to worship Him without distraction.
Evil thoughts have a terrible power to come down upon us and enter our minds, even when we are able to shut out other influences.
Evil thoughts, unless we make an effort to drive them away, must spoil our sacrifice, which should be kept pure.
No sooner are the bodies of the beasts offered, and the parts laid open before the eye of God and the worshipper, than the fowls came down to mar the offering. So when the believer has set before him the sacrifice, and in the contemplation of it would fain learn to see and feel with God, the fowls, “evil spirits in heavenly places,” powers within or without subject to the wicked one, messengers of “the prince of the power of the air,” come to distract our communion. He that has stood beside his offering knows what distractions these winged messengers cause, while we rise up like Abram to drive them away.—(Jukes: “Types of Genesis.”)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Genesis 15". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30