Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jan 15 2019 - Genesis 15:1-21 – The covenant and its guarantor

Abram's nephew, Lot, had settled in the city of Sodom. But four kings with their armies had made war on Sodom and Gomorrah and had taken its inhabitants captive, including Lot and his family. Abram had raised a private army and rescued Lot. In doing so, he also recovered all the people and goods of the king of Sodom and returned them to him. Though the king of Sodom pressed Abram to take a reward from him, Abram would not do so (Genesis 14).

In response to this, the Lord appeared to Abram and told him, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward” (Genesis 15:1). God himself is Abraham’s inheritance.

But Abram cannot resist asking about the heir whom God has promised him. Must he be content with Eliezer his servant being his heir? No, says the Lord, you will have a son of your own. God tells Abram to look up at the night sky; his heirs will be as numerous as the stars in the heavens and will possess this land where Abram is now living as a stranger.

Abram, we are told, believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. The righteous person is the one who trusts in God and in the promises he has made – even against the odds.

Nevertheless, Abram asks “How can I be sure?” (15:8). His question gives rise to an extraordinary demonstration of God’s commitment to do what he has promised.

Abram is told to bring a heifer, a goat, a ram, a dove and a pigeon. He is to cut each of the first three animals in half, arranging the halves opposite each other in a line along the ground. As the sun went down, Abram fell into a deep sleep in which the Lord appeared to him in a vision. The Lord said, “Know for certain that your descendants … will come back here.” The covenant promise of descendants and land is repeated.

Then, in the darkness of nightfall, Abram sees a smoking brazier and flaming torch passing between the severed halves of the animals. This is the Lord – think of the pillar of fire and smoke which would later be the symbol of his presence with the Israelites in the wilderness. By this strange symbolism the Lord made a covenant with Abram (15:18), assuring him that his descendants would inherit the land.

Walking between the halves of severed animals was a recognised means of making a solemn promise in the ancient world. The person making the promise was saying, “If I fail to do what I have promised, may what has been done to the animals be done to me.” God assured Abraham of the certainty of his promises by underwriting them with his own life.

We who are heirs of the New Covenant know that all of the promises of God are sealed to us through the broken body and shed blood of God’s Son. They are promises which have been secured for us at the cost of the shed blood of God himself – see the extraordinary affirmation in Acts 20:28 which is reflected in the hymn of Charles Wesley:

And can it be that I should gain
An int’rest in the Saviour’s blood?
Died he for me, who caused his pain?
For me, who him to death pursued?
Amazing love! how can it be
That thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

Heavenly Father, you are a covenant making and covenant keeping God. You have promised to bless us and have underwritten your promises with the life of your own Son. Help us never to doubt you but to believe what you have said. Help us to know for certain that you alone are our very great reward and that you will surely bring us into the inheritance that belongs to all who trust in Jesus Christ.

Peter Misselbrook