Understanding Genesis 15: God Knows When We Need Him
Read the entire chapter 15 of Genesis on your own. You can read a variety of versions, from contemporary English to literal translations. You can download bible apps, websites (blueletterbible.org or biblegateway.com) or buy one from your local bookstore. I will use King James Version because some of the nuances are missing from other translations. When you read the chapter, don’t just read it—study it with questions and try to make sense of it.
Abram Loses Sight of God
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. 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? Genesis 15:1,2
The Lord comes to Abram and reassures him of His promise. As you continue to read, you realize that Abram is in a dark place. He forgot God’s promise to him regarding his descendants. "And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him." Genesis 12:7
We often forget the blessings that God has given us. We go to church every week, and we have devotions, pray and we love the Lord. Then we encounter a stumbling block, someone says something, someone does something and we forget how much God loves us and we turn away from Him. But God watches over us and knows how much we need Him. God is so gracious that He will seek us out. God is always the first to take steps towards us, while we walk away or hide from Him. We don’t want to do what He wants from us; we don’t want to feel the guilt or we enjoy our sin too much to give it up for God. But God is patient and waits for us to respond to Him. "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me." Revelation 3:20 God will never force us to be with Him, but waits patiently for us to respond to His calling.
Abram is not a soldier, and he had never encountered battle. He had been in fear for his life in Egypt, but he had never looked a man in the face before killing him. After his battle with Chedorlaomer, the guilt and trauma from taking lives dwell in Abram, and he experiences PTSD. Abram is faced with his mortality and how he has no heir if he were to die. It makes him question God’s promise of an heir and descendants. Abram is considering leaving all his wealth to a trusted servant, when God comes to him. Their relationship is so strained, that Abram looks at God petulantly and asks, “What will you give me?”
Previously, while he hadn’t even wanted any spoils from the battle, because he trusted in God to provide; now he looks at God and demands some reward from Him. Do you look at God and demand something for your “goodness?” Do you think being a good Christian will take you to heaven? Are you bargaining with God, making promises to Him in exchange for salvation? How is this different from the pagans who killed their children in exchange for better harvest or riches?
Our relationship with God cannot be based on a bartering system. Unless there is love in a relationship, it will eventually have an end date. Unless there is love, you will always feel compelled to be a follower of Christ, instead of wanting to be a disciple. You’ll feel forced to be in a relationship, instead of delighting in companionship. That sounds like an abusive relationship. "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing." 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Abram is Called Righteous
And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness. Genesis 15:6
Abram questions God and demands a reward, but he’s eventually called righteous. How is that possible? What kind of faith does it take that a sinner would be called righteous? God shows him the stars and promises him a nation from his body. Abram looks and sees who God is. He listens to God’s words, and sees the stars, but as he sees the stars, he also see’s God’s might and power. Abram sees who God is and in comparison, who Abram is as a creature. Through his repentance and submission, God counts him as righteous and accepts his sacrifices.
This repentance is not from Abram, but Abram allowed the Holy Spirit to help him understand his sin, repent and renew his feelings of love toward God, then submit his will and believe in God’s word. "And when he [Holy Spirit] is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:" John 16:8
We pride ourselves on being intellectual and logical. We think we know best, so we often fail to submit to God. Abram is claimed righteous not just because he believed, but also because Abram loved God at that moment.
Prophesy About Abram's Descendants
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; And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full. Genesis 15:13-16
When God reveals the future, it is not because He causes it to happen. "Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:" Isaiah 46:10 He reveals it because He knows what is going to happen. "But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort." 1 Corinthians 14:3 God often reveals the future as a warning, to make us understand and to comfort.
This prophesy of the Hebrews being in Egypt reveals that Abram will have descendants from his own body, that they will inherit this land that Abram is inhabiting, but also reveals that they will be servants in a foreign country for four hundred years. It must have been hard for Abram to imagine his children becoming servants, but God promises to protect them and bring them out with great substance. It makes you wonder what would have happened if Jacob had not deceived his father, what would have happened if Joseph’s brothers did not sell him to slavers, what happened that the Hebrews who lived among the Egyptians so prominently, eventually became slaves. There’s no point dwelling on “what if” but as you continue to read Genesis, you unfortunately see worldly dysfunction revealed in God’s chosen patriarchs and the consequence of not “loving God, loving others.”
God Comes to Abram
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. Genesis 15:17
Just when Abram needed God most, He comes to Abram and comforts him and reminds him of God’s promise. "The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times." Psalm 12:6 "For thou art my lamp, O LORD: and the LORD will lighten my darkness." 2 Samuel 22:29 "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path." Psalm 119:105 The smoking furnace is God’s presence, but also a reminder that His words are true/pure. The burning lamp is God’s presence, but also a promise that God would always be with Abram, especially in times of darkness, fear and despair. God’s light will be a lamp that directs our path. "And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof." Revelation 21:23
God claimed Abram righteous but it was God coming to Abram at his time of need that opened Abram’s heart toward God. God is with us always, but comes to us at our time of need—respond to God's love.
- Understanding Genesis 16: Presumption vs. Faithfully Waiting
A Bible study of Genesis 16.