Gen. 15:1 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.
Gen. 15:2 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?
Gen. 15:3 And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.
Gen. 15:4 And, behold, the word of the LORD came 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.
After the events just discussed, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision. Abram responded as if this was normal; there is no doubt in his mind that it is God. God told Abram again that He was his protector and would reward him greatly. In talking with my daughter one morning, she pointed out that the shield protects one’s most vulnerable parts. An “exceeding great reward” makes reference to benefit or worth that cannot be matched.
Stedman: “This is what God is saying to Abram -- I am your shield. Abram, a practical defense against any force that would destroy you. Fear not. Nothing shall touch you unless I permit it.”
Abram replied with human logic. He questioned God—not in disrespect, but with a heart of wanting to understand. Abram wanted to know how God planned to bless him since he had no son. He also recognized that this was because God had withheld this blessing. His heir at this time was a servant in his household. (Seems like it should have been Lot.) Then God told him that a son from his own body (his own seed) would be his heir.
Gen. 15:5 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.
God told Abram to look at the stars (which I am sure he could see clearly without all the man-made lights of the city interfering). His offspring would be as numerous as the stars.
As I was reading through this section again, I couldn’t help but remember my experience on the island of Eleuthra when, for the first time, I saw the Milky Way and all the stars so vividly with no light pollution. It brought tears to my eyes it was so overwhelming!
Gen. 15:6 And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
Abram believed the Lord, and his belief was credited to him as righteousness. (We can never attain righteousness through our own efforts. The fact that he was trusting God to work through him—faith—was righteous before God. Cf Heb 11:6)
Hebrews 11:6 “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”
Gen. 15:7 And he said unto him, I am the LORD that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it.
Gen. 15:8 And he said, Lord GOD, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?
God then reminded Abram that He is the same Lord who brought him from Ur to take possession of this land. Again, Abram questioned—How can I know this? In other words, give me a sign. The Jews became known by their desire for signs; it must have been an inherited trait from the founder of their nation.
1Corinthians 1:22 “For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom….”
Gen. 15:9 And he said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.
Gen. 15:10 And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not.
I’ve read that this was a ritual used to seal a covenant or promise between persons.
Stedman gives more insight: “Each of these animals and birds is a picture for us of Christ, our sacrifice….In the heifer or ox, patience and strength are symbolized….The she-goat is the symbol of nourishment and refreshment for the soul. The ram is the picture of power, of might in warfare. The birds are a picture of gentleness and grace, the Spirit of God at work. It is significant that all the animals were to be three years old. This is a reference to the public ministry of our Lord which lasted for three years.”
Gen. 15:11 And when the fowls came down upon the carcases, Abram drove them away.
I had a note in my Bible that the picture of the birds of prey is symbolic of Satan trying to thwart God’s plan.
Gen. 15:12 And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him.
Gen. 15:13 And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years;
Gen. 15:14 And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.
Gen. 15:15 And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age.
Gen. 15:16 But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.
Abram fell into a deep sleep and was surrounded by a great fear. I just noticed that the “he” in verse 13 seems to refer to the “horror of great darkness.” There are other places in scripture that equate the presence of God with darkness—Exodus 20:21, Deuteronomy 5:23 and 1Kings 8:12. The first two reference times that the presence of God produced a holy fear in the people. I think it reflects a natural response to the presence of a holy, righteous God. Even in his sleep, Abraham sensed His presence.
Then God spoke to him and told him what to expect in the future:
That events unfolded just as God said testifies to His omniscience.
Gen. 15:17 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.
God sent fire to burn the meat. It was a sign that confirmed Abram’s message from the Lord. This promise was unconditional—nothing was required of Abraham to ensure its fulfillment.
Another great Stedman application: “This, too, is the whole story of the Christian life. Once you begin to set foot on the land of Spirit-given power, you discover Jesus Christ is always a furnace or a lamp to you. When self begins to threaten, he is a furnace -- burning, scorching, searing. When self is judged he immediately becomes a lamp, flooding the whole life with radiance and glory.”
Gen. 15:18 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:
Gen. 15:19 The Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites,
Gen. 15:20 And the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims,
Gen. 15:21 And the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.
God promised Abram and his descendants the land from the river of Egypt (the Nile) to the Euphrates. This would involve destroying the current residents of this area. As the list is given, we have to remember that the people of these nations are idolatrous. (I’ve had a hard time in the past reconciling God’s justice in commanding the Israelites to destroy these people. Verse 16 indicates that God allowed them plenty of time to repent, to the point that their cup of sin was full and demanded judgment be delayed no longer. That is when He allowed the Jews to go in and conquer the land.)
The future described to Abram included much good news, but also some bad news (mistreatment and enslavement for a long time). We are never told Abram’s response to this message? Did he not want to know why slavery and harsh treatment had to be part of their experience?