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God’s Covenant with Abram Who Believed the LORD

Abram rescued Lot and paid a tithe to Melchizedek. The LORD came to him in a vision. He believed the Lord, and it was credited to him as righteousness.

After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” Genesis 15:1

“After this” refers to the time following the rescue of Lot by Abram, and Abram subsequently paying a tithe to Melchizedek. Abram knew that his success and victory over the kings of Mesopotamia were from the LORD and not by his own hand. Abram declared to the king of Sodom that he would not accept anything belonging to the king, not even a thread or the thong of a sandal. Abram had a great victory and gave a tithe to Melchizedek who was the king of Salem and a priest of God Most High. After Abram publically acknowledged that his success and blessings were from God and not from man, the LORD came to him in a vision.

The word of Yahweh, the Self-existent One, appeared to Abram while he was awake and in a temporary trance (he had a vision) and called him by name. The vision may have been a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus who is the Word of God, or the LORD manifested himself by speech to his servant Abram. The vision must have manifested the glory of God because the LORD assured Abram not to be afraid. Abram may also have feared that the four Kings of Mesopotamia, who he had recently defeated, may return with an even greater force. But the LORD then promised that not only will He be Abram’s shield – his protector and defender – but also his very great reward.

But Abram said, “O Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” Genesis 15:2-3

According to the account found in the first two verses of Genesis chapter 12, Abram had been promised that the LORD would make him into a great nation and would bless him if Abram would leave his country, his people and his father’s household and go to the land that the LORD would show him. Abram had made the arduous and dangerous thousand mile journey. First Abram transported his family, servants, goods, and animals on a hard trek from the Chaldean city of Ur to Haran, and then from Haran to Canaan.

Abram had received a great victory over the kings of Mesopotamia and had already accumulated a great number of flocks, herds and servants. Yet, despite the blessings and honors that Abram had already received from the Lord, he remained childless. Would all of his material possessions be inherited by his eldest servant and the steward of his house, Eliezer? How would all the peoples of the earth be blessed through Abram, if the promised seed of the woman – the Messiah – did not physically descend through Abram who was in the line of Shem?

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars —if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Genesis 15:4-5

The LORD not only reassured Abram that he would indeed have a son coming from his own body who would be his rightful heir, but that Abram’s offspring would be as innumerable as the stars in the sky.

I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, Genesis 22:17

Chapter 22 of the Book of Genesis records the account of Abraham’s faith being tested when the LORD tells him to offer up his son Isaac as a sacrifice. Abraham responds positively to God’s command to sacrifice his son, and God responds to Abraham by reiterating His promises and blessings to Abraham and his descendants. Not only does God speak of Abrahams descendants as numerous as the stars but also as countless as the grains of sand on the seashore. These two elements not only depict countless numbers but also are symbolic of two types of offspring.

The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor. So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being;” the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven. 1 Corinthians 15:41-49

God would later rename Abram which means, “Exalted Father,” and give him the name, Abraham which means “Father of Many.” He would be the patriarch of numerous natural children. “As the sand of the seashore” is a phrase alluding to the first Adam who was of the dust of the earth – the natural man who had a natural body. The children of Israel are the physical seed of Abraham.

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness. Genesis 15:6

If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3:29

The stars are a picture of those who would belong to Christ, having been purchased by the blood of Jesus. Abraham’s spiritual seed are those who place their trust in the finished work of Christ on the cross. They are heirs according to the promise. As the adopted children of God, they are heirs of God. Being the spiritual children of Abraham by faith, they also receive the blessings and promises.

It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.

Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. Romans 4:13-16

Abraham is the father of us all. He is the father of both the natural children (like the sand on the seashore) and the spiritual children (as the stars in the heavens). Abraham is the patriarch of the Hebrews and Arabs. He is also the spiritual father of those, like him, who have been credited as righteous by faith in God’s promised Messiah.

He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.” Genesis 15:7

The LORD God’s purpose for calling Abram out of Ur of the Chaldeans was to give him the land of Israel as his and his children’s possession.

for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. Romans 11:29

God’s gifts and calling are not taken back. God gave Abram and his descendants the land as their possession. It is a gift from God. God’s gifts are irrevocable. The natural land still belongs to the physical seed of Abraham.

But Abram said, “O Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?” Genesis 15:8

Abram had believed God’s promise that he would have an heir from his own body and numerous offspring. Abram was declared righteous because of his faith. Yet, Abram asked for a sign that he would possess the Land of Canaan.

In Judges 6:36-40, Gideon wanted to be reassured that the LORD would indeed use him to rescue Israel. Therefore, Gideon took a wool fleece and sought a sign. He asked that the next morning the dew would only be on the fleece and all the ground would be dry, and it was so. Gideon then asked for another test. He requested that the next time the fleece would be dry and the ground covered with dew. In 2 Kings 20:8, Hezekiah had asked Isaiah, “What will be the sign that the Lord will heal me and that I will go up to the temple of the Lord on the third day from now?” Isaiah called upon the Lord, and the Lord made the shadow go back the ten steps it had gone down on Ahaz’s stairway. These and other biblical accounts confirm that indeed, Jews demand miraculous signs… 1 Corinthians 1:22a

So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.” Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. Genesis 15:9-10

The LORD did not rebuke Abram for asking for a sign, but had him gather animals to be used in order to cut a covenant with him. A covenant is a contract or agreement between two parties.

In the Old Testament the Hebrew word “berith” is always translated as covenant. Berith is derived from a root which means “to cut,” and hence a covenant is a “cutting,” with reference to the cutting or dividing of animals into two parts, and the contracting parties passing between them, in making a covenant.

A series of events are set into motion when two people decide they want to “cut the covenant.” It is referred to as the blood covenant ceremony and is considered a most serious and solemn event.

The walk of blood: Each participant walks a path in the shape of a figure “8” between the halves of the slain animal, then stops in the middle in the midst of the pool of blood to pronounce the blessings and the curses of the covenant. The curses would be brought to bear upon the one who broke the blood covenant. It basically said, “The one who breaks this covenant will die just like this animal has died.” A pledge was also made that said, “Just as this animal gave its life so I will give my life for you if necessary.”

The animals chosen for the “cutting of the covenant” were ceremonially clean animals and birds. They foreshadowed the ceremonial sacrifices that would later be offered up for sin under the Mosaic Law. According to Leviticus 1:17, when a dove or young pigeon was to be offered as a burnt offering it was not to be severed completely.

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: “This is a requirement of the law that the Lord has commanded: Tell the Israelites to bring you a red heifer without defect or blemish and that has never been under a yoke. Give it to Eleazar the priest; it is to be taken outside the camp and slaughtered in his presence… While he watches, the heifer is to be burned—its hide, flesh, blood and offal… A man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer and put them in a ceremonially clean place outside the camp. They shall be kept by the Israelite community for use in the water of cleansing; it is for purification from sin.” Numbers 19:1-3,5,9

The heifer (female cow) brought to the LORD by Abram foreshadowed purification and cleansing from sin for individuals.

“When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the Tent of Meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert.” Leviticus 16:20-22

The goat that was brought to the LORD by Abram foreshadowed purification and cleansing from sin for the entire community of Israel.

I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” Romans 11:25-27

All Israel will be saved, but only those who survive through the Great Tribulation. On the Day of Atonement, Jesus will return to the earth to redeem Israel. The sins of the nation including wickedness and rebellion will be taken away. On that day, ungodliness will be removed from Jacob.

In the future, a ram would be very significant in Abram’s life and in the life of the promised heir from his own body.

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together. Genesis 22:6-8

Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.” Genesis 22:13-14

The ram that was brought to the LORD by Abram foreshadowed the substitutionary sacrifice of the Son of God. For on that same mountain, God himself would provide His only begotten Son, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away. Genesis 15:11

In Scripture, birds sometimes represent satanic activity. In the parable of the sower, the Lord Himself explained that the birds which ate the seed represented the action of Satan: “Some people are like the seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them” (Mark 4:15). The birds of prey in Genesis 15 may be another spiritual picture of satanic activity. These unclean birds attempted to tear and devour the sacrificial animals, the visible part of the sacred covenant-confirming ceremony. They had to be driven away. While God could have prevented the birds from disturbing the ceremony, or driven the vultures away Himself, He gave Abraham the responsibility to care for the visible signs of the covenant.

As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” Genesis 15:12-16

After a day of preparation which included gathering and slaughtering of the prescribed sacrificial animals, Abram fell into a deep sleep. The thick and dreadful darkness symbolized the spiritual darkness and physical suffering that his descendants would endure as slaves in Egypt. Indeed in the fourth generation, after the life spans of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the sons of Israel would emerge with great possessions, return to Canaan and the nation they served would be severely punished.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9

One of the purposes of the delay in the deliverance of the Hebrews from Egypt was to allow for the sin of the Amorites to reach its full measure. The LORD didn’t immediately pour out his wrath on this nation, but allowed hundreds of years to pass in which the Amorites could have repented from their wickedness.The term Amorites as used in the Bible is sometimes interchangeable with Canaanite. At other times Canaanite is more general, and Amorite is a specific group among the Canaanites. The more specific use refers to highland mountaineers who inhabited the land of eastern Canaan, described in Genesis 10:16 as descendants of Canaan, son of Ham. After the Hebrews emerged as the nation of Israel from Egypt, God was going to mete out judgment upon the Amorites through Joshua and his army.

When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates — the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.” Genesis 15:17-21

The LORD’s covenant promise of land given to the descendants of Abram, the children of Israel, was made while Abram was in a deep sleep. This covenant was a unilateral, unconditional promise. There were no terms that Abram or his descendants had to fulfill to earn the right to the land of Canaan. The LORD told Abram that he should know for certain that the LORD would give his descendants the land. It was the LORD himself who verified the covenant through the testimony of two witnesses. God is a consuming fire. He himself, symbolized by the smoking pot and the blazing torch, passed between the pieces. The smoking fire pot also pictures the furnace of affliction that the Hebrews would endure in Egypt; while the blazing torch represents the Shekinah glory that would dwell among them during their wilderness journey and in the Promised Land.