February 28, 2014

Commentary on the Book of Genesis

By: Tom Lowe

                    

Lesson II.C.1: Definite Promise of a Son. (Gen. 15:1-6)  

 

Genesis 15:1-6 (KJV)

1 After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.

2 And Abram said, Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?

3 And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.

4 And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.

5 And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.

6 And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.

 

 

Introduction


Throughout his life Abram manifested a strong faith in God. It was easy to let this trust shine forth in hours of triumph. When he remembered God’s wondrous promises to him, he took comfort from the fact that their fulfillment was to be in and through his seed. But when he grew old and saw that the end of his days was near and that he was still childless, he was tempted to be discouraged. His faith in the promises wavered. How could God fulfill His promises now? When would he fulfill them? Abram needed assurance. And so God spoke to him in what we call the Abrahamic Covenant. This chapter introduces the Abrahamic covenant by which God promises him an heir and eventual descendents who will one day possess the land of Canaan. After Abram’s rescue of Lot and the blessing from Melchizedek, the Lord formerly made a covenant with Abram, thereby confirming the promise given earlier (Gen. 12:2-3). God warned, however, that there would be a long period of enslavement (Gen. 15:13).


The Prophet Isaiah wrote about trusting God: “Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the word of his servant? Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God (Isa. 50:10; NIV). At times even the most dedicated Christian feels “in the dark,” and wonders why God is so far away.


Abraham had experienced what has been called by some, “the dark night of the soul.” The term comes from a sixteenth-century spiritual classic with that title by St. John of the Cross. Based on the night scenes described in the Song of Songs, the book tells how the child of God enters into deeper love and faith by experiencing temporary darkness and seeming separation from God. It is not an easy thing to experience, but is sometimes necessary. Abraham had three great concerns—his safety, his heir, and his land. During that “dark-night” experience God met all three.


Outline of Chapter 15

1.       A general assurance of God’s kindness and good-will to Abram (v. 1)

2.      A declaration of the purpose of God’s love (vv. 2-21)

a.      The divine promise; Abraham is justified by faith (vv. 2-6)

b.      God promises Canaan to Abraham for an inheritance (vv. 7-11)

c.       The promise confirmed in a vision (vv. 13-16)

d.      The promise confirmed by a sign (vv. 17-21)

Commentary

 

1 After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.


The previous chapter focused upon Abram’s actions in rescuing Lot, but this chapter deals with his emotions, including the “horror of great darkness” concerning God’s promise to Abram of safety, an heir, and the land of Canaan. People with faith are also people with feelings, and their feelings must not be doubted or ignored. Many orthodox Christians are inclined to emphasize the mind and will and minimize the emotions, but this is a serious error that can lead to a distorted view of life.


We are made in the image of God, and this includes our emotions. While it is unwise to trust your emotions and bypass your mind, or let your emotions get out of control, it is also unwise to suppress and deny your emotions and become a religious robot. In the Psalms, David and the other writers told God honestly how they felt about Him, themselves, and their circumstances; and this is a good example for us to follow. Jesus was a real man, and He expressed openly His emotions of joy, sorrow, holy anger, and love.


“After these things” refers to the conquest of the invading kings; and “the word of the Lord” is a phrase used in conjunction with a vision, to denote a prophetic message.  “Fear not . . . I am thy shield” implies that Abram is in need of protection. But now that the battle was won, why would Abram be afraid? For one thing, he was human; and our emotions can “fall apart” after we pass through a time of danger and difficulty. This helps to explain why Elijah was so discouraged after the victory over Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 19). After the mountaintop comes the valley. Another factor was that the four kings might return with reinforcements and attack Abram’s camp. Abram knew that eastern kings did not take defeat lightly or let enmity die down quickly. And suppose Abram was killed. What would happen to God’s covenant and promise?

 

You certainly ought to “listen to your feelings” and be honest about them. But don’t stop there: Take time to listen to God, and receive His words of encouragement. This is the first time in the Bible you find the phrase “the word of the LORD came”; it is used more than 100 times in the Old Testament. The faith that conquers fear is faith in the Word, not faith in feelings.


This is now the forth time God has appeared to his friend, Abraham. God is developing this man and bringing him farther along. He does well to appear to him now, because Abram has taken a tremendous step of faith in going out and rescuing Lot and in turning down the booty the king of Sodom offered him. God spoke to his friend by name—The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3). Dear reader, your heavenly Father knows your name, in fact He knows everything about you, but he loves you anyway. I will never cease to be awed by that wonderful revelation.


This is also the first time you find the assuring words “fear not” in the Bible. God repeated them to Isaac (Gen. 26:24) and Jacob (Gen. 46:3) and often to the people of Israel (Ex. 14:13; 20:20; Num. 14:9; Deut. 1:2). The “fear not” promises in Isaiah are good to read and ponder when you find yourself dealing with fear (Isa. 41:10, 13-14; 43:1, 5; 44:2, 8). Where there is great faith, there may also be many fears. Paul admitted to being afraid: “For when we came into Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within” (2 Cor. 7:5). God takes cognizance of his people’s fears, though he keeps it secret, and He knows their souls. It is the will of God that his people should not give-in to the reigning fears, no matter what happens. God assured Abram of safety and happiness and that He would keep him so for as long as God Himself watched over him, which was for eternity.


God’s remedy for Abraham’s fear was to remind him who He was: “I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.” God’s “I am” is perfectly adequate for man’s “I am not.” “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). Your life is only as big as your faith, and your faith is only as big as your God. If you spend all your time looking at yourself, you will get discouraged; but if you look to God by faith, you will be encouraged. God said, “I am thy exceeding great reward” or in other words, “You did well to turn down the booty. I am your reward; I intend to reward you.” Oh, what can God do for a man today, when he is willing just to believe God and look to Him!


God is our shield and our reward, our protection and our provision. Abraham didn’t have to worry about another battle because the Lord would protect him. And he didn’t have to regret losing the wealth offered him by the king of Sodom because God would reward him in far greater ways. This is the Old Testament equivalent of Matthew 6:33 [But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.] and Philippians 4:19 [And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.]. God is the only one who can offer you protection and provision and keep His promises—“For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless” (Ps. 84:11).


If you think Abram is one of these pious boys who gets his halo shined every morning, you are wrong. Abram is very practical, and he is going to get right down to the nitty-gritty now. I think God likes us to do that. I wish we could get rid of this false piousness and the hypocritical attitude that so many fundamentalists assume today. Notice what this man Abram says—it is quite wonderful.

 

2 And Abram said, Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?

3 And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.

God had promised Abraham that his descendents would be as numerous as the dust of the earth (Gen. 13:16) and that they would bring blessing to the whole world (Gen. 12:1-3). All the promises Abram had received depended on him having an heir, but Abraham and Sarah were still childless, even after ten years in the land; and if Abraham died the only heir he had was his “chief of staff”—Eliezer. (He may be the servant mentioned in Genesis 24:2) Theoretically, Eliezer could have provided Abram with heirs, but one can appreciate Abram’s heart cry for an heir from the union of Sari and himself. Lot was no longer in the picture, and Abraham’s other relatives were 500 miles away in Mesopotamia. What had happened to the promise?


Abraham’s concern was not for himself and his wife, though like all eastern couples, they wanted children. His concern was for the working out of God’s plan of salvation for the whole world. God had a glorious plan, and God made a gracious promise, but God seemed to be doing nothing! Abram and Sarah were getting older, and time was running out.


When the Lord promised Abram that his reward would be great, the patriarch immediately asked what he would receive since he was childless. This shows his faith. His vision was not blinded by Bera’s offer (Gen. 14:22-24); Abram still had only one hope, the original promise God had given (Gen. 12:2-3). His concern was expressed by a marvelous word play on his household servant’s origin: this Eliezer of Damascus is the possessor-heir (lit., “son of possession”) of my estate. It is as if Abram was stressing to God that a mere servant would become his heir.


What Abram is saying to God is this: “I don’t want more riches; I don’t need that. I am childless and I want a son. You promised to make me a father of nations and that my offspring will be as numerous as the sand on the sea shore. But I don’t even have one child!” According to the law of that day, the code of Hammurabi, Eliezer, his steward, his head servant, who had an offspring, would in time inherit everything if Abram did not have a child. This was a well-established custom in Mesopotamia between 2000 and 1500 b.c., whereby childless couples adopted an heir (in some cases a former slave). Adoption contracts stated that a natural son subsequently born would replace the adopted son as chief heir.


One of the basic lessons in the “school of faith” is: “God’s will must be fulfilled in God’s way and in God’s time. God did not expect Abraham and Sarah to figure out how to have an heir; all He asked was that they be available so He could accomplish His purposes in and through them. What Abraham and Sarah did not realize was that God was waiting for them to be “as good as dead” so that God alone would receive the power and glory.

 

Though we must never complain about God, yet we have permission to complain to Him; and to state all our grievances. It is easy for a burdened spirit to open its case to a faithful and compassionate friend. Abram’s complaint was that he didn’t have a child; that he was not likely to have any; that the desire for a son was so troublesome to him that it took away all his joy and comfort. If we suppose that Abram’s reference was to the promised seed, his desire was very commendable. It is good to share your concerns with the Lord, even if what you say seems to evidence unbelief or impatience in your heart. God is not deaf to your questions or unconcerned about your feelings. He did not rebuke Abraham; instead He gave him the assurance he needed. “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you (1 Pe. 5:7).


4 And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.

5 And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.


The Lord strongly answered, “This man (not even using Eliezer’s name) will not be your heir.” God made it clear that Abraham alone would be the father of the future heir. The phrase “Out of thine own bowels” refers to physical procreation (a son would come from Abram’s own body).  But note that nothing is said of who the mother will be. Humanly speaking, it was impossible for Sari to have a baby, since she had passed the time when she could bear a child. But Abram believed God’s promise, and God declared him to be righteous. The truth of Justification by faith is repeated in Romans 4:3, Galatians 3:6, and James 2:23. Heirship depends upon Sonship (Rom. 8:14-17). Then God drastically assured Abraham that this one heir would be the father of so many descendents that nobody would be able to count them (“tell”, means count). About 30,000 stars are listed in the General Catalog used by astronomers, but it is estimated that there are 100 billion more. This is remarkable. First God said to him that his offspring would be as numberless as the sand on the sea shore, and now he says they will be as numberless as the stars in heaven. Abram could not count the stars. He could see approximately four thousand, but there were probably over fifty thousand in the area where he was looking. God did not say that Abraham would have that many descendents but that, like the stars there would be too many to count. Whether Abraham looked down at the dust (Gen. 13:14) or up at the stars, he would recall God’s promise and have confidence. The word by which God created the stars would also guarantee Abram’s seed. The promise was repeated to Abraham (v. 22:17) and reaffirmed to Isaac (v. 26:4). Abram couldn’t count his offspring, and you couldn’t do it today.


This man Abram actually has two seeds. He has a physical seed, the nation Israel, and he has a spiritual seed, the church. How does the church become Abraham’s spiritual seed? By faith! Paul told the Galatians that they were the sons of Abraham by faith in Jesus Christ—not in a natural line, but a spiritual seed—“If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:29).


6 And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.

Promises do us no good unless be believe them and act on them. Abraham had already trusted God’s promise (Gen. 12:1-3) and proved it by leaving home and going to Canaan (Heb. 11:8). But Genesis 15:6 is the first reference in the Bible to Abraham’s faith. It is the John 3:16 of the Old Testament; and for this reason, the New Testament writers use it to illustrate salvation by faith. There are only five words in the Hebrew original of Genesis 15:6, but what a wealth of meaning they contain. The verse is quoted three times in the New Testament: Galatians 3:6; Romans 4:3; and James 2:23. The three key words are believe, counted, and righteousness. Listen to this passage in Romans: “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about--but not before God. What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Rom. 4:1-5).


What does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it (that is, his faith) was credited to him as righteousness’"—for that is what it was not, but that is what God credited it. “Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation.” If you can work for your salvation, then God owes it to you. But, dear reader, God never saves by any other means except grace. He has never had any other method of saving, and if you ever get saved, it will be because you believe God, you accept Christ as your Savior, and you believe God has provided salvation for you. “However, to the man who does not work [no works at all] but trusts God who justifies the wicked [What kind of people? Wicked people.], his faith is credited as righteousness.” His faith is credited for what it is not, that is, for righteousness. Abraham just believed God. He just accepted what God said, and he believed God. That is the way you get saved: to believe God had done something for you—that Christ died for you and rose again. God will declare you righteous if you will simply accept Christ.


In the third chapter of Galatians we have the same great truth: “Consider Abraham: He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you. So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (Gal. 3:6-9). The faith which Abraham had, made him faithful to God, but he was not saved by being faithful. He was saved by believing God. This is extremely important for us to see.


This is one of the greatest statements in the Scriptures. “Abraham believed God,” which is literally, “Abraham said, ‘Amen, to God.’” The Hebrew word translated “believed” means “to lean your whole weight upon.” Abraham leaned whole on the promise of God and the God of the promise. We are not saved by making promises to God, but by believing the promises of God. In the Gospel of John, which was written to tell people how to be saved (John 20:31), the word believe is used nearly 100 times. Salvation is the gracious gift of God, and it is received by faith (Eph. 2:8-9).


What was Abraham’s greatest need? Righteousness. This is the greatest need of people in our world today, “for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3.23). “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). It is not enough to be “religious”; God demands that we have perfect righteousness, or He will not allow us to enter His heaven. Righteousness means having a right relationship with God. In Deuteronomy 6:25 and 24:13, this righteousness is attained by obedience to the Law; but here, Abraham who had no Law to fulfill, was nevertheless made righteous.


How did Abraham receive this righteousness? He believed the Lord, and righteousness was imputed to him. “Impute” means “to put to one’s account.” On the cross, our sins were put on Jesus’ account (“numbered [counted] with the transgressors,” Isa. 53:12) when He suffered the punishment that belonged to us (Isa. 53:6). When you trust Him, His righteousness is put on your account—“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21)—and you stand righteous and forgiven before a holy God. The Abrahamic Covenant did not give Abram redemption; it was a covenant made with Abram who had already believed and to whom righteousness had already been imputed. The Bible clearly teaches that in all ages imputed righteousness (i.e., salvation) comes by faith.


Abraham proved his faith by his works when he offered Isaac on the alter (James 2:14-24). Abraham was not saved by obeying God, or even promising to obey God; but by his obedience proved his faith. Sinners are not saved by faith plus works but by a faith that works.


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