Change points.  Life is full of them.  You go through one stage of your life and, while you are in that stage, it looks as though that is the way your life is going to be.  Then something happens to give you a different direction and a different outlook.  It might involve a big change or it might only be a slight deviation, but it affects your entire life.  This chapter reflects such a change point in the life of Abram.


In Genesis 12-14, we can see Abram and his dealings with others.    First we saw him going down to Egypt in Genesis 12:10-20 where he was afraid for his life and had Sarai pretend she was his sister.  In Genesis 13 Abram returned to Canaan where there was friction between himself and his nephew Lot.  Finally in Genesis 14 Abram went to battle against the kings of the east in order to rescue Lot.  Throughout each of these chapters, the focus of the promise from God was largely upon the promise of the land.


Now there is a change.  Though the land will still be mentioned as a part of the promise, our focus will be more upon the descendants of Abram and the seed that shall flow from him.  This seed motif is a familiar one to Genesis.  It was introduced in Genesis 3 where we were given the promise of the seed of the woman.  It was traced through the line of Seth to Noah and then through Noah’s son, Shem, down to Abram.  The ongoing promise has been that there will eventually come a seed of the woman who will destroy the binding work of the serpent and who will reunite man with God.


With the promise to Abram, the promise has not been limited to one seed, but an entire nation that is to be devoted to the Lord.  This promise had particular ramifications to the original readers of the book of Genesis.  This promise concerned the Israelites in the wilderness for whom Moses was writing this work.





            After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, "Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great." (Genesis 15:1).


When Abram is told not to fear, that presupposes a problem.  The problem was that Abram was afraid.

The promise given to Abram is something that was needed on Abram’s part.  This is understood when we consider what took place in the previous chapter.  Genesis 14 tells of a conflict of kingdoms and of kings that saw invaders from the east coming against the inhabitants of the land of Canaan.  Abram entered into the fray when his nephew, Lot, was taken captive and Abram conducted a night assault, putting the invaders to route.  As our narrative opens, the battle has already been won, but there are no guarantees that the invaders will not return and seek retribution upon Abram for his part in their demise.


Furthermore, the actions of Abram in refusing the gift of the king of Sodom could have been taken as an insult.  The possibility for reprisal from this direction would have been an added worry.


God comes to Abram in a vision.  We have not been told up to this point how God communicated to Abram or the other patriarchs.  This is the first specific mention of a vision in Genesis.  There will be other dreams and visions to follow.


The significant thing about this vision will be that Abram is not only given verbal promises, but he will SEE a sign of confirmation so that He can believe the promises.  These promises are twofold:


           God will be his Shield:  Abram, I am a shield to you.


The shields of the second millennia before Christ were very large, often standing as tall as a man.  When such a shield covered a man, he was completely covered.  The image of the Lord as a shield pictured an all-encompassing work.


The Lord will be Abram’s protection and shield, whether it is from Chedorlaomer or from the king of Sodom or from the pharaoh of Egypt of from any other threat.


The promise of protection is one that God also gives to us.  He is our shield.  Proverbs 30:5 tells us that the Lord is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.  In the same way, 2 Thessalonians 3:3 promises that He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.


           God will give him a great reward: Your reward shall be very great.


Abram had refused the reward that had been offered to him by the king of Sodom; now he is told that the Lord would greatly reward him.


Jesus made the point in the Sermon on the Mount that you can seek the reward of men or you can seek the reward of God, but you cannot do both.  They are mutually exclusive.  You can do your good works to be seen of men or you can do them in such a way that you are doing them before the Lord (Matthew 6:1-5; 6:16-18).





The Lord had promised to Abram at the very outset that he would be the founder of a great nation (Genesis 12:2).  Since Abram was without children, he must have wondered whether this promise would be fulfilled through his nephew, Lot.  But then there was a separation between himself and Lot and the original promise was subsequently confirmed in Genesis 13:16 when God said that Abram’s descendants would be “as the dust of the earth” when it came to their numbers.  Abram therefore is in a quandary.  How can this promise be fulfilled if Abram has no children?


            2 And Abram said, "O Lord God, what wilt Thou give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" 3 And Abram said, "Since Thou hast given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir." (Genesis 15:2-3).


This is the only specific mention of Eliezer of Damascus.  We may surmise that he is the chief steward of Abram’s household and therefore served as his heir.  Excavations at Nuzi in the 1920's revealed adoption customs that shed some light on Abram’s reference to Eliezer as his heir. [1]  Would it be through this man that the promise given to Abram would be fulfilled?  No sooner is this idea presented then it is dismissed by the promise of God.


            4 Then behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, "This man will not be your heir; but one who shall come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir." 5 And He took him outside and said, "Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them." And He said to him, "So shall your descendants be." (Genesis 15:4-5).


This time the promise is even more specific.  Abram’s heir will be one who shall come forth from Abram’s own body.  He will be a physical son of Abram and not merely one who has been legally adopted.  The resulting offspring shall be virtually innumerable.  The same God who we are told created the heavens and the earth promises Abram that his descendants will be as innumerable as the stars of the heavens and as innumerable as the dust of the earth.





            Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6).

This single verse is quoted on three different occasions in the New Testament (Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23).  It serves to demonstrate that Abram received salvation through faith in the same way we believe and receive salvation through faith.


Notice that the result of Abram’s belief was that God reckoned it to him as righteousness.  Was Abram literally righteous in his own cognizance?  No.  But God counted him as righteous.  Abram was considered and accounted as righteous.


This idea of a reckoning of righteousness is at the heart of the doctrine we know as imputation.  By this term, we mean that God reckons or imputes or credits to us the very righteousness of Jesus Christ when we believe.  In the same way our sins were imputed or reckoned to Jesus when He was upon the cross, so His righteousness is imputed or credited to us.  2 Corinthians 5:21 says God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.


What was it that Abram believed in order to be counted as righteous?  The context of the passage makes it clear that he believed the promises of God.  He believed that God was going to provide a promised son who would ultimately be a blessing to all the world (Genesis 12:3).  The New Testament gives its own commentary on this passage.


            19 And without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah's womb; 20 yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully assured that what He had promised, He was able also to perform. 22 Therefore also it was reckoned to him as righteousness. (Romans 4:19-22).


In verse 18 we read that “in hope against hope he believed.”  This is a bit of an oxymoron.  In other words, Abraham continued to believe even when there was no hope.  We can draw the following conclusions about Abraham's faith:


1.         Abraham's faith was grounded upon the promises of God, not upon his own subjective faith.  This was not a faith in faith.  Nor was it a subjective feeling.  It was a faith upon the objective promises of God.


2.         Abraham believed in the promises in the face of evidence to the contrary.  He and Sarah were far past the age of bearing children.  It seemed impossible that the promise of God could indeed come to pass.  There is a lesson here.  We need to believe the promises of God, even when they go against earthly or human wisdom.


3.         Abraham's faith was not inert, but rather was active.  It produced a corresponding action in the life of Abraham.  Real faith works.  It produces a corresponding manner of life in the one who believes.




            7 And He said to him, "I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it." 8 And he said, "O Lord God, how may I know that I shall possess it?"

            9 So He said to him, "Bring Me a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon." 10 Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, and laid each half opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds. 11 And the birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, and Abram drove them away. (Genesis 15:7-11).


The question asked by Abram is the same that would have been asked by the Israelites in the wilderness for whom Moses writes this book: How do they know they will be able to possess the land?  The answer will be by way of a ritual of promise.


The instructions to Abram seem rather strange and remote to us.  That is because we are not a part of the culture of the second millennia before Christ.  Were that not the case, Abram’s preparations would ring to us of familiarity.


These were the preparations one typically understood in order to enter into a binding covenant.  The making of this sort of covenant involved several animals being sacrificed.  The animals would be cut into two parts and then placed in parallel with a pathway between the animals.  Then when the parties who were entering into the covenant were ready to go through the covenant ceremony, they would walk between the pieces of the animals as they verbally stated the terms of the covenant.  The idea behind the ceremony is that they were binding themselves to the fate of the slain animals as they took an oath that, if they broke their word, they might suffer the same fate.  They were saying in effect, “If I break the terms of this covenant, then may I similarly be torn apart and die.”


You did not sign a covenant in those days.  Instead you “cut” a covenant.  This practice was so widespread that in later times, one could speak of entering into a covenant merely by speaking of how he “cut” with someone.


            Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live; And I will make (Literally, "cut") an everlasting covenant with you, According to the faithful mercies shown to David (Isaiah 55:3).


            There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets which Moses put there at Horeb, where the LORD made a covenant (Literally, "cut" -- the word for “covenant” is not even used here) with the sons of Israel, when they came out of Egypt. (2 Chronicles 5:10).


Other examples of this same phenomena is seen in the following passages:


           2 Chroni­cles 7:18 - the word which NAS translates “covenanted” is  the Hebrew karav, to cut).


           Haggai 2:5 says literally, “as for the word which I cut with you...”


           Psalm 105:9 (“...that which He cut with Abraham”).


           I Kings 8:9 is literally, “where the Lord cut with the sons of Israel...”


The word translated “covenant” is Beriyth.  The origin of the word is uncertain.  It is thought by some to have come from the Akkadian birit, which relates to the Hebrew word meaning -- “between.”  Another suggestion points to the Akkadian root baru, “to bind or fetter.”  Both ideas are present in the covenant.  It is a binding action and its initiatory rite also mandated an agreement made between the pieces of two animals.


This practice of “covenant-cutting” involved taking one or more sacrificial animals and putting them to death and then cutting the animal into two parts and walking between the pieces of the animals.


            And I will give the men who have transgressed My covenant, who have not fulfilled the words of the covenant which they made before Me, when they cut the calf in two and passed between its parts -- 19 the officials of Judah, and the officials of Jerusalem, the court officers, and the priests, and all the people of the land, who passed between the parts of the calf --  20 and I will give them into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their life. And their dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the sky and the beasts of the earth. (Jeremiah 34:18-20).


As the makers of the covenant passed between the divided parts of the dead animal, they would recite the terms of the covenant.  By so doing, they were pronouncing a curse upon themselves should they fail to keep the covenant.  The implication was that if they broke the terms of the covenant, then may they also be killed and divided asunder as had been these animals.


The act of entering into a covenant involved in itself the symbolic death of the covenant maker.  When the animals were cut, they represented the covenant-maker himself being cut and put to death.  Hebrews 9:22 says there is no remission of sins without the shedding of blood.  Why is this?  Because the people have taken part into a covenant of death which demands that all covenant-breakers be put to death.





            12 Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him.

            13 And God said to Abram, "Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. 14 But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve; and afterward they will come out with many possessions. 15 And as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. 16 Then in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete." (Genesis 15:12-16).


As Abram completes the covenant cutting in preparation for the actual ceremony, a deep sleep falls upon him.  The last time we saw this taking place was when a deep sleep fell upon Adam in the Garden of Eden so that the first woman could be fashioned from his rib.  This time, a deep sleep falls upon Abram so that he can be given the ratification of the promise of, not just a woman, but an entire nation that shall come forth from him.


The promise of God was that before being given a land of their own, the descendants of Abram would first live in a land that was not their own.  It would not be until many hundreds of years later that the Israelites would return to the land of Canaan.  Why?  What was the reason for this delay?  Many could be suggested, but only one is mentioned by the Lord in this passage.  It is because the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.  The term “Amorite” was often used as a synonym for Canaanite.


There were Amorites in the days of Abram who had become believers in the Lord.  There was Melchizedeck, the king of Jerusalem who was a priest of God (Genesis 14:18).  There were also Mamre, Eshcol and Aner, Amorite chieftains who had aided Abram in the rescue of Lot (Genesis 14:13).


God promises to withhold His divine judgment against the Canaanite/Amorite until the iniquity of that people has been filled up to the brim.  Until that time, God is seen to be patient, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).





            And it came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces. (Genesis 15:17).


When the time comes for the parties to pass between the pieces of the animals, Abraham is unable to do so.  He has fallen asleep with a “deep sleep” and we do not read of him passing between the pieces.  Instead, we read of an apparition described as a smoking oven and a flaming torch.  It is this which passes between the pieces.


This is evidently a manifestation of the presence of the Lord.  He is fulfilling the covenant ritual by having his manifested presence pass between the pieces of the animals.  He is binding Himself to the terms of the covenant.  But why is the description given in such a manner?  What is the significance of a smoking oven and a flaming torch?


To answer this question, we must remember who is the human author of this account and who are his recipients.  It is Moses who writes these words and he writes them to the Israelites who are in the wilderness.  They are being led through the wilderness by the presence of God.  In the daytime this is a cloud.  In the night it is a pillar of fire.  The first thing they see each morning when they look out their tent is a cloud over the tabernacle.  The last thing they see before they go to bed at night is a pillar of fire.  A smoking oven and a flaming torch -- God is describing Himself in the very terms with which they are familiar.


The Israelites read this description and their eyes widen and they look out of their tent to see the cloud and the torch and they recognize that this same presence of God was manifested many hundreds of years earlier when God bound Himself to the terms of a covenant promise.





            18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your descendants I have given this land, From the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates: 19 the Kenite and the Kenizzite and the Kadmonite 20 and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Rephaim 21 and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Girgashite and the Jebusite." (Genesis 15:18-21).


The “river of Egypt” has been alternately thought to refer to either the Nile or else one of the wadis that serve as a boarder between the territories of Egypt and the land of Canaan.  Waltke supposes that neither of these views is acceptable and proposes instead that it is a reference to “the Nile’s most easterly branch that emptied into Lake Sironbis, not far from Part Said.” [2]  This means the land of promise is said to extend between the two great centers of civilization—from the boarder of Mesopotamia to the boarder of Egypt.


The chapter ends with a listing of the various peoples who occupied the land that was to be given to Abram and to his descendants. This land is identified by the people who were currently living there.  This is significant to the original readers of this book because those same people were still living in these lands and they would soon be called to go in and to take it from them.  These people constituted a serious obstacle to be overcome, but the Israelites could rest in the assurance that God had not been taken by surprise and that He had been aware of their presence hundreds of years later.


Are there any obstacles in your life?  They have not taken God by surprise.  He was aware of them long before you were born.  They are a part of His divine roadmap for your life.


[1] There were two types of adoption in ancient Nuzi.  The first, “sale-adoption” or “fictive adoption,” was no more than a formal exchange of property.  The second, “read adoption,” was a childless couple adopting a servant—or any other young man, for that matter—who would receive their inheritance. (John J. Davis, Paradise to Prison: Studies in Genesis. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1975. Pg 185).

[2]  Waltke, Bruce K. & Fredricks, Cathi J. Genesis.  Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan (2001), Pg 245.