We continue looking at the truth of God’s covenant of grace. It is a relationship of fellowship and friendship. It is a relationship of God’s grace to us in Christ Jesus. It has cosmic significance—all of creation is included. Now we move in this message to Genesis 15, where God speaks to Abraham, the father of believers. We read in Genesis 15:5, 6: “And he [God] brought him [Abram] 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. And he [Abram] believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” Then we skip to Genesis 15:17, 18. “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. In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates.”
Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness. What great faith God worked in Abraham! Called out of Ur of the Chaldees, he followed that call. He trusts in God and builds an altar among the heathen and confesses his God. We see that faith at times falter, when he leaves the land during famine, when he gets himself deeper and deeper into sin and trouble. But the Lord is faithful in His covenant. He has mercy and He delivers Abram and brings him back to Canaan.
Abram denies himself in order to avoid strife with his spiritual brother Lot. Later, by faith, Abram accepts the position of a king. The followers of Abram have victory under him, and Lot is rescued. Abram is blessed.
It is precisely this victory that brings up the situation that we read of now. Abram begins to wonder if his own heir will receive the land of promise. God reassures Abram. God promises to preserve and keep him in the land of promise. God reviews His covenant with Abram. We, too, need the kind of reassurance that Abram received here. God blesses His people, provides for them, and keeps His covenant.
Yes, this text is all about the certainty of the covenant. Abram believed God. God comes to Abram and says, “Fear not. I am thy shield and I am thy exceeding great reward.” It seems that Abram had some reason to fear. Abram is eighty-five years old at this time. A good many years had passed since the Lord had called him out of Ur of Chaldees. God had promised him children and had promised him the possession of the land of Canaan. The promise, however, had not been fulfilled. There was no sign of its fulfillment. In fact, it became more and more impossible, humanly speaking, that Sarai would have a son. This is burdening Abram’s heart and mind at this time. We read in verses 2 and 3: “And Abram said, Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless…. And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed.”
Now, with this recent victory over the wicked kings of Canaan, Abram feels fearful and dejected. Maybe you are surprised at that. Perhaps you feel that he should have been cheerful and courageous. But remember Elijah after his victory on Mt. Carmel? Never was there a prophet so fearful and dejected. There was good reason. The same with Abram. There is a reaction after a great victory of faith. There is a period of dejection and spiritual weakness. I am sure that most of you have seen those mountain peaks and valleys in your own spiritual life. Abram could well expect the powers of the East to return and seek vengeance upon him. Notice aso that Abram refused the spoils offered to him by the king of Sodom. He refused to be a part of them. So, he was still considered the outsider in Canaan and was viewed by Sodom and Gomorrah and others with jealousy and hatred. So, rather than feeling at the height of power and personal security, Abram felt vulnerable and alone.
Yes, Abram was left alone again. He had just had that wonderful fellowship with Melchizedek, and now that was over. Perhaps he felt that Lot had learned his lesson and would return to him. But Lot returned to Sodom. Therefore, Abram is left to himself and left to lean only on the Lord his God.
In addition to this, there is yet no sign of the fulfillment of God’s promise. Oh how Abram needed those reassuring words: “Fear not, Abram. I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward.” Abram was afraid, not because there was something wrong in his Christian life. He was walking in God’s way. He had obeyed. He believed. He had served Jehovah. He built an altar. He was willing to be a stranger in the land. It was in his obedience that Abram needs God’s reassurance. God protects and cares for His people. “Fear not, Abram. I will be thy shield and thy exceeding great reward.”
That God is Abram’s shield means that God sees and knows all the dangers that threaten Abram. It does not mean that He is going to keep enemies and dangers away. But God will lead Abram safely through them. But the shield is temporary. That reward, that exceeding great reward, is lasting. And that reward is that Jehovah is his God, Abram loves Him and has fellowship with Him.
So Abram says, “Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless.” And in verse 8, Abram goes on to ask, “How shall I know that I shall possess it, that is, all of this land?” The promise of a seed and land go together. He did not have that seed yet, the seed that would be ultimately Christ Jesus. Without that seed, despite all of Abram’s wishes and powers, Abram would be cast into hell. Without the Seed, Christ, he would never inherit the city that has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. How could God be his shield and give him an exceeding great reward if that Seed did not come, was not given to him to give redemption? God had to give what He promised. Abram’s question showed his awareness of his need of redemption and for his sins to be forgiven. Where is the seed? How shall I possess the land?
Listen to God’s answer. God appears to Abram in a vision. The whole of chapter 15 in Genesis is a vision. A vision, unlike a dream, comes to one when a person is awake and full of the Spirit. God answers the question of Abram about the seed by saying, “Abram, look toward heaven.” Ah, yes. If we in our problems would seek answers by looking toward heaven! “Abram, look toward the heavens. Count the stars. So shall thy seed be.” What a tremendous promise. A sign for Abram, not just that one night, but every night again and again through the long years that Abram would have to wait. A tremendous sign for Abram, who yet had no son and for whom hope seemed hopeless, if not impossible.
In a physical sense, Abram ends up having many seeds. We think of the Jews and all the descendants of the Jews but, more importantly, the true seed of Abram that God would give included not just the Jews, but Gentiles. Japheth enters into the tents of Shem. They are the elect, predestined before the foundations of the world. Think of Romans 9:7 and 8. It is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are reckoned as descendants. Do you know what that means, fellow believers? We are the seed of Abram. What an innumerable seed.
Yet, when pointing to the multitude of stars, God points specifically to one Seed. The innumerable seed did not save Abram. The innumerable seed is possible because of the one Seed (see Gal. 3:16). There we read specifically that the promises were made to Abraham and his seed (singular, not plural), not referring to many, but to one, which is Christ. Count the stars. Innumerable seed through the one Seed, Christ Jesus.
There is the basis for our forgiveness and our union with God. The basis is this Seed, Christ Jesus. God establishes His covenant, and Abram’s seed is in Christ Jesus. Count the stars, an uncountable number. This sign is also God’s gift to us, for you and I are creatures of sight, are we not? What we can see, we can believe. That is why God gave us visible signs. To Noah it was a rainbow in the clouds. To Abram it is the stars in the sky. When Abram is dejected and lonely, God brings Abram out to see the stars, to reaffirm his faith in God’s covenant. In the same way, the church today seems so small. There is so much apostasy around. Will God preserve us and our children in this wicked world that hates us and allures us? When we doubt, let us go out and count the stars according to the Word of God and receive reassurance.
There is a specific number of stars as there is also a specific number of God’s children. God has determined His elect. Each and every one of them shall surely be gathered. As each star has its place, so each child of God has his or her place. Though the devil tries hard, God’s people remain fixed. No one can snatch them out of the Father’s hand. Each star has its own place night after night, recognized generation after generation. So also with God’s people seen in their generations.
But there is a second question, not only about the seed but, “Lord God, how shall I know also that I shall possess the land?” God answers Abram by telling him to prepare a sacrifice. The animals are to be cut in half, placing the two parts one against the other and not cutting the birds but placing them over against each other. That was a well-known procedure to Abram. The two parts of the cut sacrifices represent intimate fellowship and friendship. The two parts share the same life blood. What a most intimate union of fellowship, a union to be broken only by death.
In answer to Abram’s question, God’s covenant is symbolized. A covenant of fellowship and friendship, intimate communion; and in that friendship, God blesses His people. He is their Friend. He makes Himself known to them and they love Him.
Now God shows the certainty of His covenant. Ordinarily, when a covenant was made between two people, both parties would walk through the pieces of the animals. That meant that both promised to keep the promises and obligations of the covenant. They would both rather die than violate the covenant. But in Abram’s vision, only the Lord God passes through the animal parts. Notice that Abram is passive. He is sound asleep. God, as a smoking furnace and a flaming torch, passes through the sacrifice alone.
That symbolism is not difficult to understand. Do you remember that pillar of cloud/fire between the Israelites and Pharaoh’s hosts, holding back the enemy, while giving light to God’s people? The furnace is symbolic of judgment and wrath for God’s enemies. The flaming torch is light and joy and salvation for God’s people. Thus represented, God alone passes through the parts of the sacrifice. What is taught here? It is God’s covenant, dependent upon Him alone. Remember, He said, “I will establish my covenant.” God establishes His covenant; God fulfills His covenant; God will realize His covenant; God will maintain, preserve, and glorify His covenant. God is faithful to His covenant, faithful even unto death. That is represented here in the passing through the parts of the sacrifice.
Oh, how our God did realize His covenant in just that manner. In Christ, God passed through the death in the flesh in order to establish righteousness and reconciliation. Oh, Abram, you asked how you would be made sure that you would possess the land? God gives you a sign, a sign of the smoking furnace and the lighted torch, a sign of His covenant, a sign of the certainty of that covenant because it depends only upon God. Abram, how do you know that you will inherit the land? How do you know that you will be in that city that has foundations, whose builder and maker is God? The answer is: The covenant is not dependent on you. It is not dependent upon God and you together. But it is dependent upon God alone!
There is more, briefly. Abram’s part was to be obedient and to wait. He is awake. He drives away the vultures, the birds of prey. They symbolize enemies, hostile powers of earth and hell that would seek to destroy the covenant as the birds would eat the meat. That is also our part as believers. To wait and obey. We are to fight the good fight of faith, to stand for God’s cause in a hostile world. In waiting for the inheritance, there is a period of terror, of horror of darkness. It was symbolic of the bondage in Egypt and later in Babylon. Terrible times would be coming for the cause of God’s covenant. But that horrible darkness finds its fulfillment in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ at Golgotha.
Darker times are yet in store for God’s people. Darker and darker till finally there is the Antichrist here in the world. But this is important: When the darkness and the horror are greatest, then the Lord comes. He comes for judgment and salvation. The seed of Abraham, after the horror of Egypt, did inherit the land. But, of course, that is only a type of the church. The church is preserved. After the horror and tribulation and final judgment, they will inherit the new creation where God will dwell with His people.
Abram’s questions are answered. What about the seed? Count the stars. What about the land, shall I possess it? God establishes His covenant. God is able. God is faithful even to death—Christ’s death on the cross. Yes, it is through that one seed that we will inherit the land of rest. Abram asked his questions, and in verse 6 we read: “He believed the Lord.” He believed that he would be given that innumerable seed. His faith included more because he was accounted righteous. He believed that God would provide the Seed. He believed that Jesus Christ would be given. Signs were given to strengthen and reassure his faith, faith that is knowledge and then confidence, a hearty confidence. He is righteous, with a righteousness provided by the Seed that would go the way of death on the cross. The covenant is maintained.
What faith of our father Abraham! That faith must be present in you and in me in the church today. Faith in the Seed, faith in Jesus Christ, faith tied to His cross and death.
At times we doubt. Our fears are present. We wonder if God will save us. We wonder about our children. We wonder about the devil’s attempts. Will he undermine the church and our youth and destroy? God establishes His covenant. God also fulfills His covenant, will realize that covenant, maintains and preserves that covenant. God is faithful, even unto death, yea, the death of the cross.
That faith of Abraham must prevail. We must believe the great promise of God, the certainty of His covenant. It is He, He alone, as a torch and as a furnace, who walks through the parts of the sacrifice. Christ went to death to ensure that the covenant of grace is maintained and will be realized.
Let us pray.
Father in heaven, we thank Thee for the faith of Abraham, established by Thy Word and by signs in creation and in the vision. O Lord, establish our faith in Thy covenant promises. Thou wilt, certainly, maintain Thy covenant of grace with us in Christ Jesus. Amen.