Verses 1-16: Reaffirmed Promises
After the events play out within which Abram saves Lot and declines to take any gifts or spoils from the king of Sodom, God’s words come to Abram in a vision. God encourages Abram to maintain his faith and to not be afraid. To Abram, God is:
- A shield and a protector
- An exceedingly great reward
Due to Abram’s sacrifices, we know that he was obedient and grateful. But Abram saw a problem: he had no heir. Sonship and passing lineage was very important to the people of Abram’s time. It is true that Abram had a designated heir, but this was not a blood-born heir.
God renews His covenant to Abram by telling him not to worry: Abram’s progeny will be as numerous as the stars in the sky. God also reminds Abram that he brought him out of Ur to inherit the land. Verse six tells us that Abram believed and that God credited him for his faith. When Abram asks God in verse eight, “Lord God, how shall I know that I will inherit it?”, it is not an indication of Abram’s lack of belief, but Abram was asking for a sign of the promise.
The animal sacrifices that were to be part of the sign are another precursor of sorts of the prescribed sacrifices that God will eventually require of His people. Abram protects these sacrifices from scavenging vultures while waiting for the sign from God. Verses 12-16 are unique in this context:
“Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him. Then He said to Abram: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”
To directly reconfirm the promises to Abram in the above passage, God brings a sleep upon Abram that is reminiscent of the sleep that He brought upon Adam in Genesis 2:21. The “horror” and “great darkness” that Abram experiences is an indication of man’s reaction to being in the presence of the almighty and holy God. There is a dread, a fear of coming face to face with our creator. When God further explained the promises to Abram in these verses, Abram was exposed to the weight and impact of the presence of our Creator.
Verses 17-24: The Sign
The sacrifices that Abram laid out and protected from vultures are now subject to God’s sign in these verses. After the sun goes down, a smoking oven and a burning torch come and they pass between the halves of the sacrificed animals. This was a significant sign in the accepted symbolism of the time as part of making and sealing a pact. It would have been recognized as a “parity treaty,” essentially communicating the idea that those in the pact would become as the sacrificed animals if they did not keep their part of the agreement.
It is important to remember a couple of things in light of this idea of the parity treaty. For one, this affirmation from God to Abram is not labeled as a parity treaty by the Bible and therefore cannot be explicitly defined as such. In fact, we cannot be absolutely sure that God was trying to communicate via pact to Abram the same sentiment that men recognize as part of the parity treaty. Second, God is faithful to keep His promises in any condition, under any circumstance: Deuteronomy 7:9: “Therefore know that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments.”
God did not need nor was He required to satisfy Abram’s request for a sign, but it says much about His faithfulness and and dedication to fulfilling the promises to Abram that He did provide one. Canaan is going to be delivered as God promised, and nothing is going to stop God from fulfilling this. The list of nations listed in the closing verses of chapter 15 defined the borders of the land and what would eventually be delivered to Abram’s descendants.
Tonight I encourage to rest in the knowledge of salvation, in God’s sovereignty as the Creator and in the knowledge of His grace through His Son Jesus Christ.
Romans 4:20-22: ““Therefore know that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments.”