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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
Genesis 15

 

 

Verses 1-21

THE PROMISE OF GOD AND ITS CONFIRMATION

Abram having proven that he was not seeking gain for himself, but depending on the God of heaven and earth, then the Lord gives him His word of wonderful encouragement, "Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward" (v.11). It is not simply that God would protect him and reward him, but rather that the Lord Himself was his protection and the Lord Himself his reward. Abram therefore was not merely to have confidence in what God would do for him, but to have confidence in God Himself. The Lord may allow circumstances to test us severely as to such things, but however adverse the circumstances, God's faithfulness and grace remain. Therefore, just as Abram had no reason for fear, so this is true for every believer: he may confide at all times in the Lord, and find the Lord Himself a wonderful reward as well as protection.

However, Abram's circumstances pressed deeply on his soul at this time, so that in responding to the Lord, he did not rise to the level to which God sought to lift him. He answers, "Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" Though God had promised him many descendants in Chapter 13:16, yet, as he says, God had not given him any offspring (v.3). He was no longer a young man and did not see any prospect of having a son.

But rather than reproving his lack of faith, God encourages his faith by telling him that Eliezer would not be his heir, "but one who will come forth from your own body shall be your heir" (v.4). God's promise was absolute, though it took longer to fulfil than Abram expected. Then God brought Abram outside and directed his eyes toward heaven. Could he count the stars? He did not tell Abram at the time that he could only see a very small percentage of the number of stars actually in the heavens, but tells him that his descendants would be as the stars (v.5).

Previously God had told him that He would make his descendants "as the dust of the earth" (ch.13:16). Thus there was to be both an earthly "seed of Abram" and a heavenly seed. God had wonderful purposes in view, higher than Abram would naturally understand. Yet we are told here (v.6) that "he believed in the Lord, and He reckoned it to him as righteousness" (NASB).

This expression "reckoned as righteousness" beautifully describes the truth of justification. Though in the flesh we are all far from righteous, yet God delights to count one righteous who has true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Though Christ had not yet come in Abraham's day, yet the Lord Jesus says in John 8:56, "Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it and was glad." Abram's faith in the living God was faith in the Lord Jesus, for Jesus is God. No doubt he did not know much concerning Christ, but it is not knowledge that justifies: God justifies by faith.

The basis of all blessing for the believer is in the fact of who God is. This is the reason that God reminds Abram in verse 7, "I am the Lord who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give you this land to inherit it." Thus Abram is encouraged to have fullest confidence in the living God and in what He says.

Yet Abram feels that his faith requires the help of some confirmation of the promise of God, for he asks, "Lord God, how shall I know that I will inherit it?" Surely God's word was enough, was it not? Yet we are all slow to fully rest in the perfect truth and reliability of that word alone. Later Abram had no difficulty in doing this, as Romans 4:19-21 shows, and his faith is beautifully seen in Hebrews 11:17-19. But his faith had by then been strengthened by God's encouragements.

Such encouragement is now given him beginning with verse 9. The absolute assurance of blessing for anyone is based upon the value of the sacrifice of Christ. Therefore God tells Abram to bring a three year old heifer, a three year old female goat, a three year old ram, a turtledove and a young pigeon. These are all important pictures of the sacrifice of Christ, each one indicating a different aspect of the value of that sacrifice. But the three cases of three-year old animals are intended to specially emphasize the resurrection of Christ. His sufferings and death are of infinitely great value in atoning for the guilt of our sins; but His resurrection is just as vital a matter, for it is this that proves God's acceptance of the sacrifice. Without this we could have no assurance that our sins are forgiven, but every genuine believer may be absolutely positive that he is accepted by God because Christ has been raised and glorified at God's right hand as the Representative of all those who are redeemed by His blood.

The heifer speaks of the faithful service of the sacrifice of Christ; the female goat speaks of its substitutionary value; and the ram of the devotion or submission of that wonderful offering. All of these are good to meditate upon, for they are all of vital value in regard to our being given absolute assurance of being accepted by God and having certainty of the future. The turtledove and the young pigeon indicate the heavenly character of the Lord Jesus, One who is not of this world, but the only One who could possibly be a sacrifice satisfactory to God.

In presenting these Abram divided the animals, but not the birds. This is because the animals speak of the Lord Jesus in His earthly walk and character of service and devotion to God. We may divide this for our own spiritual profit. For instance, in His service we see both unswerving faithfulness and truth on the one hand, and on the other hand gentleness and love. In His being our Substitute we are reminded that He must be totally without blemish or spot, a pure offering, but also that He must be so tender as to be a willing offering for us. In the ram character, He must be a submissive offering, yet not merely submitting through slavish fear, but One who has a genuine will. Such divisions are worth our meditation.

But the birds teach us that He has a heavenly character, high above our ability to contemplate. Though He is true Man, yet He is the Lord from heaven, and as such He is inscrutable. Instead of understanding this great glory, we only worship. Therefore the birds were not divided.

These were all presented to God in death, but not burned. The pieces were laid together, perhaps on an altar, though we are not told this. However, unclean birds were attracted by the dead meat, and Abram drove them away (v.11). These birds speak of Satan and his band of unclean spirits (Matthew 13:4; Matthew 13:19), always ready to steal away from us the priceless value of the sacrifice of Christ. Let us have energy of faith to drive these birds of carrion away, that the truth of Christ may be preserved to us in all its pure simplicity.

There is more added to the picture in verse 12. Verse 10 has shown that the offering of the Lord Jesus was a sacrifice; now we read of a deep sleep falling upon Abram. This speaks symbolically of the sleep of death, just as the sleep of Adam does in Genesis 2:21. Besides this, a horror of great darkness fell upon him. So the offering of Christ involved [1] sacrifice, [2] death, and [3] the awful darkness of being forsaken by God. How well worth our meditation all of these are, for they all emphasize the vital fact that it is the great work of the Lord Jesus alone upon which we can rest to find certainty of eternal blessing.

However, God then speaks to Abram, telling him to know with absolute certainty that his descendants would be strangers in a strange land, in bondage to a foreign nation for four hundred years (v.13). This would appear to be a hindrance to their blessing, but the very fact that God foretold this to Abram is evidence that God was in as full control of this matter as He was in control of the fact of their eventual blessing. In other words, the promise of God often involves long waiting, but this is intended only to be a needed trial of faith, for God's end in blessing is not affected by the affliction.

In the four hundred years of affliction for Abram's descendants in a strange land, we can see also a secondary application of the picture of the deep sleep and horror of great darkness that fell upon Abram. Israel was virtually a dormant nation when in Egyptian bondage, as in the misery of "a horror of great darkness" in some measure, though nothing like the Lord Jesus bore at Calvary. This was to be true for Israel for four hundred years, but again it has been true since Israel rejected their true Messiah nearly two thousand years ago and has suffered many horrors while in a deep sleep of ignorance concerning the fact that all their blessing actually center in the Lord Jesus Christ. Their eventual awakening will be like a resurrection from the dead (Romans 11:15).

God's promise included His judging the nation that oppressed Israel, and not only liberating Israel, but blessing them with great substance. This was true at the time of the exodus (Exodus 12:35-36), and it is typical also of the great blessing Israel will receive when at last the nation receives their Messiah who will liberate them from their bondage to sin which has enslaved them for centuries.

The promise as to Abraham's descendants then involved long years, but with absolute certainty of fulfilment. Now in verse 15 the Lord tells Abram himself that he would not remain on earth, but would go the way his fathers had (that is, through death), and be buried in a good old age. Indeed he would have a far better inheritance than his children, Israel. For Hebrews 11:10 tells us that Abraham "waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God," and verse 16 of the same chapter further assures us, "now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country." So that Abraham, even without the knowledge of every spiritual blessing in heavenly place in Christ, did not have his heart set on earthly things.

In the fourth generation Israel would return to the land of Canaan v.16), because only then would "the iniquity of the Amorites" be complete. God tells Abram this because He intended to dispossess the Amorites of their land in order for Israel to possess it, but would not do so until the wickedness of that nation had risen to a height that required the judgment of God.

God has been speaking to Abram while he was in a deep sleep. It may be that it is still in a dream that Abram sees the sun go down, for it is no doubt in a dream that he sees a smoking oven and a flaming torch (v.17). The smoking oven is another aspect of the sacrifice of Christ, for it speaks of the judgment of God which the Lord endured alone at Calvary. But the flaming torch tells of light arising after the judgment. The torch passed between the pieces of the sacrifice Abram had offered, indicating that true light results from the value of the sacrifice of Christ. In a secondary way the smoking oven pictures the affliction of Israel as passing under God's chastening hand, while the flaming torch shows that there is to be light and blessing at the end, when Israel finally recognizes the wonderful value of the sacrifice of Christ, their Messiah.

Verses 18-21 speak then of an unconditional covenant that the Lord made with Abram that day, telling him that He has given his descendants all the land from the river of Egypt (the Nile) to the river Euphrates, including land at that time possessed by ten different nations. when Israel returned from Egypt they did not possess anything like that whole territory, and never have. But the promise of God stands, and the fulfillment of this awaits the millennium.

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Genesis 15:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/genesis-15.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, October 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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