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“…the LORD made a covenant.”

In this chapter we see Abram as a mere man like ourselves. He believed, then he did not; he trusted, then he doubted. Are we not all like this? God repeatedly made him the same promise, and even when the promise came to Abram in a vision, divinely, he continued to doubt and asked for some kind of proof. God told him what to do and then graciously proceeded to give him proof.

Christians are just like that. It sometimes amuses me, and sometimes irks me, when I hear certain Christians always proclaim their triumphs. They make out to their peers that they are always loving, always trusting, always truthful, always faithful, always believing in God! What nonsense! Even Abram, father of nations and loved of God, made an utter fool of himself, made mistakes, lied, forgot, trusted, had faith, doubted, and needed much reassurance. Do we think we are better? I know I am not!

We are sinners saved by grace, not by our own prowess! As such we are prone to the wiles of the devil and even to the failing power of our ‘old man’. We can fail just like Abram and we can soar into the heavens, just like Abram. We are as he was – human and sinful – so we share his failures as well as his successes.

Though we human beings are as we are, God knows it, and He continues to ply us with promises and wonderful gifts and benefits. We do not deserve any of them, but they are given for the sake of Jesus Christ. He bought us with a price and so God honours the sacrifice of His Son by giving us, His adopted children, His gifts and many undeserved benefits... such is His mercy and grace.

Verses 1-5

  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.”

After the war with the kings had ended, God came to Abram in a vision. That is, His ‘word’, dabar, literally meaning God’s utterance based on His command or promise. In this case, it was a promise.

What was this vision? Was it audible only, or did it include a person, perhaps an angel of God? The vision, machazeh, was given to Abram as part of an ecstatic state. This should not be taken to mean that Abram was trying to attain to it, or that it is usual. It simply means that God wished to speak to Abram and to do so He suspended normal life occurrences. The text tells us that the visit was at night (see later commentary). It was not like an ordinary dream, but was a special visit by God, a breaking into time of the eternal. Though called a ‘vision’ it was very real, as real as Abram’s everyday life.

The root, chazah, means to ‘see’ or to perceive, either with the eyes of with the intelligence (mind), or even to prophesy. So, the word itself, without further qualification, does not tell us if God (as Christ) appeared personally to Him to speak, or an angel, or if the vision was just words. It does not matter: what matters is that God spoke directly to Abram, which is a gift of the greatest moment for any man. Does this occur today? Yes, it does. But, only in the Biblical sense, not in the charismatic sense, which is false. To deny such a visitation is to deny all gifts and visitations by God, as any truthful theology will confirm. And to deny all, would be to deny God Himself, for it is He Who gives the gifts, and He has never rescinded them.

God told Abram not to be afraid – He was His protector and also the Giver of rewards. Possibly, Abram, though brave enough to attack his enemies and overcome them, might have been fearful of the consequences. Often, Christians are like this; we overcome in a particular situation, maybe against a foe of the Gospel, but, on reflection, we might slide into anxiety, wondering what the enemy will do next. This is a wrong attitude. If God gives us a victory He will maintain it. Obviously, Abram was fearful, and God wanted him to be at peace.

God was his ‘shield’ or magen, buckler, the one who would defend him. In ancient times a buckler was a man who carried the shield. He stood between his master and the enemy, protecting (ganan) him to the death. The darts of Satan cannot get past this divine buckler! And, on top of protecting him, God said He would give him immense rewards, sakar – wages. This was not promised on the strength of his success at war or in getting Lot back. It was for his continued trust on the Lord. The wages of sin is death; the wages of faith is heaven and God.

Abram then made a strange response. Here was almighty God promising great rewards and protection, yet Abram’s response, though honest, was comparatively weak and pathetic… something we can all relate to! Instead of thanking God, Abram complained – what can God give, when his deepest desire is to have a child to be his earthly heir? How could he become father of many if he had no children?

What does Abram’s reference to his steward have to do with this? “the steward of my house is Eliezer of Damascus.” This might mean he was from Damascus, but Hebrew sources suggest that his name was, rather, Dammesek Eliezer (‘God is help’). Hebrew scholars say that Eliezer resembled his master (Genesis 60:7).

What was Abram really saying? Ordinarily, his son would have been his heir, but without a son, his estate would fall to his chief servant. Eliezer would have been highly trusted, for he would run all of Abram’s affairs. In ancient Hebrew times a childless couple would, after the age of childbearing had passed and a child was clearly not forthcoming, ‘adopt’ a servant or slave. He would promise to look after them in their old age and organise their funerals. In return he would become their heir. So, there was no slight upon the man, only a heartfelt wish to have a blood-son to whom would be given his family name.

Abram continues his complaint: Look! You have not given me an heir, so my servant will be my heir. Showing divine patience, God responded: Your servant will not be your heir. Your heir will come from your own loins.

Then, God took him for a short walk ‘abroad’, chuwts –‘outside’. Therefore, we know that when God spoke with him, Abram was in his tent in the early evening (see verse 12), and was then asked by God to ‘go outside’, as the rest of the verse suggests: “Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars…”

God asked Abram if he could count the stars in the universe. That uncountable number, said God, is the number of your descendants, who would come from your immediate heir. They will be so numerous, they will be like stars in the endless universe. Being human, we often forget God’s promises. Here, God reminds Abram of his previous promise.

Verses 6-11

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

  2. 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.

  3. And he said, Lord GOD, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. And when the fowls came down upon the carcases, Abram drove them away.”

Abram “believed in the LORD” and ‘he’ (God) “counted it to him for righteousness.” That is, Abram was right before God. His faith was his salvation. Then, God reminded him of His divine intervention in Abram’s life for a purpose – ‘I brought you out of Ur of the Chaldees so that you would take this land for yourself and your heirs.’

Abram, still anxious, asked how he could be sure that the promise was to come about. God responded: ‘Get me a three year old female calf and goat, a three year old ram and a turtledove and young pigeon.’ Abram obeyed, killed them all, and laid them separately, keeping the birds together. Carrion birds swooped down to pick at the meat, but Abram drove them away, protecting the sacrifices. Was this the age-old desire of men to ‘pay’ for something given freely by God, an early image of self and Arminian-style human ‘free-will’? We are not told.

Verses 12-17

  1. “And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him.

  2. 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;

  3. And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.

  4. And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age.

  5. But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.

  6. 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.”

The vision came just before sunset. We know that the vision was not itself a sleep state, for we are now told that after the vision he went into a deep sleep. God again spoke to him and Abram was filled with terror. The terror appears to have been that God was not with him, as the root of chashekah, chashak, suggests: to be hidden, become dark, to confuse or to obscure.

Is this how God dealt with Abram’s apparent wavering faith? First Abram believed, then he doubted. We are all like this at times. Perhaps, by taking Abram into the deepest despair, God could show him its opposite – complete and utter trust.

Often, when we enter into this desert place, or where we say God is distant, it is God’s way of showing us the opposite, pointing to His warmth and presence. That is, what we call darkness and being alone, is actually God’s presence being appreciated by His seeming absence! All along, He is not absent but near, prompting us to believe by showing us what darkness is like. King David often experienced these moments.

God does not leave him in his terror: ‘You can be assured, Abram, that your descendants will be taken captive in a foreign land, where they will be treated badly for 400 years. For mistreating your descendants like this, I will judge that nation. And your people will emerge free and safely, and very rich.’ This is a definite allusion to Egypt and the escape of the Hebrews under Moses. ‘You, Abram, shall die in peace, at a good old age. But, the fourth generation of these descendants will again know trouble, for they will know the sin of the Amorites against them.’

Then, God answered Abram’s query: how should he know the promises will actually come about? When it was completely dark, God caused a smoking furnace and a burning lamp to move between the pieces of meat. The smoking furnace was a smoking hot oven, tannuwr, and the burning lamp was a burning torch, lappiyd, signifying that the sacrifices were burnt by God by divine power. This was Abram’s proof, for it was not of this world.

Verses 18-21

  1. “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:

  2. The Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites,

  3. And the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims,

  4. And the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”

“In the same day” can either mean that same night, or in the same period, e.g. the next morning. God made a covenant with Abram, a promise. He again promised that He would give Canaan to Abram’s descendants, stretching from the river Nile to the river Euphrates. And all the land presently owned by the residing tribes would belong to the coming Hebrews.

The tribes included the Kenites (‘smiths’) who lived between southern Palestine and the mountains of Sinai; the Kenizzites (‘descendant of Kenaz’; Kenaz was a grandson of Esau, so they possibly inhabited Edom); the Kadmonites (‘easterners’) who lived in Canaan; the Hittites (‘descendant of Heth’, the second son of Canaan), who firstly inhabited what was to become Turkey, and then later lived in northern Lebanon; the Perizzites (‘belonging to a village’) who lived in southern Canaan; the Rephaims – the race of giants who were ravaged during the previous wars; the Amorites of eastern Canaan; the Canaanites themselves, descendants of Canaan; the Girgashites (‘dwelling on a clayey soil’), who were also descended from Canaan and lived east of the sea of Galilee; and the Jebusites (‘descendants of Jebus’, third son of Canaan) who lived in or near what was later to become Jerusalem. All of these would know the efficiency of the Hebrew warriors about 400 years later.

Thus, God always follows His promises with action, at some time in history. For us, time is of the essence, but to God time does not really exist, so any ‘time’ is within His power! The reason for God’s apparent slowness in answering our pleas, is part of His power and authority... though we might not understand, He always answers when we rely on His promises. And, for Abram and his wife Sarai, the answer began in a most surprising way, and continued for several centuries.


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Bible Theology Ministries - PO Box 415, Swansea, SA5 8YH
United Kingdom