Genesis 15 The Abrahamic Covenant.
It would be a mistake to confine one’s understanding of the Abrahamic covenant to this one chapter, as significant as it is, just as it would be a mistake, often made, to confine one’s understanding of the covenant as a whole from just the Abrahamic. Having said this, this chapter is nonetheless very important in the scope of salvation history. The call and initial promises to Abram in chapter 12 help to set the stage for the events of this chapter, as is Abram’s departure from Egypt, the separation and then deliverance of Lot, and of course, the encounter with Melchizedek. At this point Abram had plenty of evidence of the LORD’s will to make the promises to him happen. As Melchizedek said when he blessed Abram: “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand” (14:19-20)
“After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision” (v. 1a). This wasn’t the first time that word of the LORD came to Abram, and it wouldn’t be the last, though it may be the first described in this way. The LORD spoke to Abram when he called him and gave him his “great commission” (Cf. 12:1-3, 7), and we read that “Abram departed as the LORD had spoken to him” (v. 4). Even in this call we have the covenantal ethos of blessing and cursing associated with the LORD’s man. This was his initial obedience, a call that would include his wife and estate, and he travelled throughout the land that was promised to him, setting up altars as he went. From the very beginning he marked his life’s journey with markers of the LORD’s call and his determination to obey that call and worship the LORD alone, seen also in the encounter with Melchizedek (Cf. Gen. 24:7).
Clearly, however, this call was not without some fear and trepidation on Abram’s part, for the LORD said to him, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward” (v. 1b). It always strikes people when they read the first Q & A of the Westminster Shorter Catechism that it not only says to glorify God is man’s chief end, but also to enjoy Him forever. I always wonder how many people truly enjoy the Lord. Anyway, the LORD Himself would be Abram’s ultimate “exceedingly great reward,” far more than all the other promises combined (Cf. Acts 7:5). People are greatly mistaken when they envision this covenant as being but material blessing. This was never the chief or most important thing. Having the LORD say we are His people and He our God is to go to the heart of all the administrations of the one covenant of grace, and so it is here.
All of the other blessings were given simply so that by grace Abram and the godly seed to follow could fulfill the dominion stewardship mandate at creation as God’s image bearers. The LORD also promised to be Abram’s shield. It then seems odd that Abram would immediately turn to the question of his potential heir, but he did take the LORD at his word, even if it was to complain (vv. 2-3). How many of us have had the same response with the circumstances in our lives-whether voiced or not? Yet, the word came to him again, promising that an heir would come from his own body (v. 4). But the promise of an innumerable seed was intended to go beyond simply physical descendants, which Abram clearly did not fully understand at this time (v. 5). Nevertheless, we read that “he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (v. 6 Cf. Hab. 2:3-4; Rom. 4:3, 9, 22; Gal. 3:6; Js. 2:23; Heb. 10:38).
Such a rich portion of scripture to all who cherish the biblical doctrine of justification by faith through an imputed righteousness (Cf. Ps. 32:2). There is no clearer statement of the magnitude of His matchless grace toward His elect ones. However, sadly many miss that this is also the preamble, as it were, to the administration of the one covenant of grace. They are not synonymous. The reality is some are outwardly marked as being in the covenant, but not everyone has the faith as here evidenced in Abram’s life. There can be no mistake with the recounting of salvation history by the LORD Himself, that this covenant is all of grace and redemption. “Then He said to him, ‘I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans’” (v. 7). This would also later be echoed in the Mosaic covenant, as the LORD would again deliver His people.
Again, Abram skips over the deliverance out of Ur, and goes straight to the promise now of the land-which the LORD said would be His inheritance as His adopted son, His son by redemption. It is in fact in part to confirm these words to Abram that occasions the ceremony which follows. It wasn’t a bare faith which of itself made Abram righteous in God’s eyes, rather this faith itself was a gift to Abram and one focused on His provision. It is this provision that comes to us by way of covenant. A three year old heifer, a goat, ram, turtledove, and pigeon certainly covered the gamut of acceptable sacrifices-the clean animals and birds which Noah also saved for this purpose, as he was commanded (v. 9 Cf. 7:2; 8:20). Abram then cut the animals in two, except for the birds (v. 10 Cf. Lev. 1:17). Abram also drove away the vultures that threatened to devour the sacrifice-symbolic of that which was unclean (v. 11). This clean unclean division was paramount.
Then Abram had no ordinary sleep when the sun went down but “horror and great darkness fell upon him” (v. 12). This truly is the place we all must come to as we contemplate our condition before such a holy God. This was a darkness that has a way of shutting a person up and focusing one’s attention on the words to follow. Many miss that the beginning words to follow are really a response to Abram’s lack of faith, complaints, and continual doubts as to the veracity of the LORD’s words regarding a seed and land. However, before the land was to be inherited by his descendants, they would be in bondage for 400 years (v. 13 Cf. Ex. 12:40-41), until they would then be delivered (v. 14 Cf. Ex. 6:6; 12:36). However, Abram himself would go to his fathers in peace, only because of the faith the LORD granted him in the provision the LORD was making on his behalf, and he would be “buried at a good old age” (v. 15 Cf. 25:8).
There was also the issue of the present inhabitants, the Amorites, whose iniquity was “not yet complete” (v. 16 Cf. I Kgs 21:26). They were surely given ample opportunity to repent, especially when via Abram, the gospel was in effect being preached to them. We see here part of what would in fact necessitate the taking of this land by the LORD and giving it to those who would faithfully fulfill that mandate which He had originally given, and that via the covenantal gospel. The LORD passing through the cut pieces was symbolized by the smoking oven and burning torch, consuming flesh and blood-body and blood that would one day find ultimate fulfillment in the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ (v.17 Cf. Jer. 34:18-19). “On the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying: ‘To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates’” (v. 18 Cf. 17:8; Ps. 105:42-44).
God alone passed through the animals, because there was no one greater than Himself He invoked a self-maledictory oath (Cf. 22:16-17; Heb. 6:13).This promise would also include all the nations who were inhabiting the land, one way or another (v. 19). From the moment of the LORD’s call upon his life, and even with his preparation with his father Terah (11:31-32), Abram was equipped and prepared to either be a blessing or a curse, depending on how these nations responded to the LORD’s covenant people. It is no different today. The LORD has established the new covenant in His body and blood, and He has also called us as His people to fulfill that original creation mandate, now via the one covenant of grace in its final administration. To this end we have also been given His ‘Great Commission’ to now go into all the world with the gospel of peace. To some we will be the very aroma of life, but to others the stench of death (II Cor. 2:15-17).