Genesis 15:1 “I Am Your Shield”

Posted on October 31, 2009. Filed under: Genesis: Answers to Life's Crucial Questions |

Redeemer Church Sunday School

Genesis Class Sunday, November 1, 2009

Genesis 15:1 “I Am Your Shield”

Bryan E. Walker

 

Read Genesis 15:1-21

15:1 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue  childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” 4 And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” 5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6 And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

7 And he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” 8 But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” 9 He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. 11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. 13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give  this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, 19 the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.”

Pray

 

Introduction: In the last month we have examined Gen.14 which is one of the three Lot narratives, but also shows Abram the victorious warrior defeating the kings of the eastern alliance and liberating Lot, along with the rest of the Sodomites. That chapter also has the story of the mysterious Melchizedek who serves as a priest of God Most High as well as King of Salem, pointing us to Christ. In chapter 14 there is a threat to the land promised Abram by God, but Abram leads his 318 trained men in pursuit of the invaders, stages a daring night attack and the LORD gives him the victory. But in the encounter with Melchizedek there is a more subtle danger to Abram’s faith as the king of Sodom seeks to reward him with the spoils of war. Although that treasure can rightfully be seen as belonging to Abram, he refuses it on account of his faith in God. He did not want to have anything to do with wicked Sodom let alone be enriched by them.

 

Now in Ch. 15 we reach a turning point in Abram’s story and a key point in how Moses is putting this story together, and a key point in all of Redemption History. Ch. 15 is a dark and dramatic covenant between God and Abram where God promises descendants and land to Abram. Here we see one of the most important verses in all the Old Testament, a verse that is foundational to the Christian faith. In this passage we find the doctrine of Sola Fide. The key point is that Abram believed God and God credited it to him as righteousness, and we are saved the same way today, by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

 

Today, we shall examine verse 1 of this chapter after we look at the literary unit as a whole. In verse 1 we will focus on God being Abram’s shield.

 

  1. I.                   Literary Analysis
    1. A.     The Chapter as a Whole
      1. 1.         Chapter 15 serves as a bridge between the topic of chapters 12-14, The Land, and the topic of chapters 16-22, the Promised Seed or Offspring. Look at 15:1-6 and tell me what the big question is that Abram asks? Will you give me offspring? Now look at 15:7-21 and tell me what the dominant theme is? Look back at 11:30 for the first statement of this problem of descendants, and 12:2, the first promise to solve the problem, followed closely by 12:7. But chapters 12-14 are dominated by the problem of land, even though the childlessness is brought up a couple of times. 11:31 begins their journey but the promise of 12:1-3 actually precedes the trip. In 12:1,2 we see the promise of going to the land that God would show would lead to a nation. Nations have both people and land. In 12:6 he passes through the land, and the promise of land is threatened by the presence of Canaanites and then a famine. In 13 it is threatened by the abundance of cattle and flocks of both Abram and Lot and in 14 it is threatened by an invading army. So the dominant theme of Land is present in 12-14. Chapters 16-22, however, deal with the problem of a descendant, which is addressed in 15:1-6. Chapter 15 then is the centerpiece that shows God’s Covenant with Abram and ties together the themes of what precedes and what follows.
      2. 2.         A Parallel Structure exists in ch.15 with the two stories incorporating similar words and structure. Compare vss.1 and 7 and tell me what is similar. Answer: both vss. Give a promise to Abram and use I Am- I am your shield in v. 1 and I am the LORD in v. 7. Verse 1 promises a great reward (but in the context it is a descendant) and vs.7 promises to give him this land. Compare vss. 2-3 with verse 8. In both passages Abram addresses God with his concerns and he uses the name, O Lord God (Sovereign God). Compare vss. 4-5 with 9-21. How are these passages similar? The LORD gives a reassuring answer to Abram with a visual demonstration. Verse 6 is the narrator, Moses, explaining the significance of Abram’s faith and linking the two sections of ch. 15, much as ch. 15 links the two major sections of the Abraham narrative. (Waltke, Genesis, Zondervan, 2001, pp.238-9)
    2. B.     The Chapter as it relates to other chapters

 

  1. 1.         Words linking ch. 15 to ch. 14. As I mentioned before, in 15:2 is the mention of Eliezer, whose numerical value in Hebrew for the letters in his name is 318. How does that tie in with ch. 14? Another verbal link between the two chapters is in verse 1 where God says, “I am your shield”. The word for shield is used in 14:20 as “delivered”. In 15:18 the word for “covenant” is used and it was used in 14:13 of Abram’s Amorite “allies”, those who had covenanted with Abram for this war. In 15:14 the word “possessions” is used linking back to 14:11, 12, 16, and 21. And there is the idea of a reward in 15:1 pointing back to Abram refusing the reward offered by the king of Sodom in 14:21 though the word itself is not used.
  2. 2.         Links with ch.17 and The Covenant– The promise of 12:1-3 is intensified with this covenant in ch.15 but is further intensified and sealed in ch.17. Ch.15 deals with 12:2a, making Abram a great nation, which includes descendants and land. This part of the covenant is sealed with the LORD’s moving through the cut in half animals. Ch. 17 deals with 12:2b-3 and Abram’s name and being a blessing to the nations. That covenant is sealed with Abram receiving circumcision and changing his name to Abraham. Sarai’s name is changed to Sarah and the LORD specifically says that she will have a son and call him Isaac. Notice the progression of the promises and covenant of God.
  3. 3.         Links with ch.37-Exodus. In 15:13-16 the LORD mentions things that will happen to his descendants in the future that Moses writes about and his audience even experiences. “your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs” refers to Joseph going to Egypt as a slave, all of Jacob’s family eventually following Joseph to Egypt, and how their descendants become enslaved and then freed. 15:15 speaks of Abram’s final days brought out in 25.

 

  1. II.                Verse by Verse Analysis of 15:1-5
    1. A.     Vs.1 The LORD’s Promise to Abram
      1. 1.         After these things- although no definite time period is given, it could have been just a few days after meeting Melchizedek, the very clear efforts by Moses to link chapters 15 and 14 suggest that this vision occurs very soon after the meeting with Melchizedek. There had been a battle, a life and death struggle, there had been a deeply spiritual encounter with a priest of God Most High that, combined with the stress of battle, may have caused Abram to ponder his own mortality and the dangers that now loomed on the horizon with some defeated kings who may want to seek vengeance on him. He realizes that if he had died in the battle he would have left no heir. Kenneth Mathews (NAC, Vol.1B, B&H, 2005, p.161) says that this phrase should be linked with Abram’s confession of faith in Melchizedek’s God in 14:17-24. Abram had the big victory over the kings, but also the more subtle victory over the temptation given by the king of Sodom; his public display of faith leads now to this further revelation by God and the proclamation of Abram’s faith in v.6.
      2. 2.         Application- all too often even we Believers fail to connect the events in our life with what the Lord is doing. We live in a post-historical, existential, live for the moment society and that wicked air is breathed in even by us in the church. We need to calmly examine the events in our recent past in light of Scripture to see if there is a cause and effect relationship between our choices, or the events that happen in our national life and in the church, to what happens next, and what may happen tomorrow. We need to pay attention to God’s providence and how he is acting in our lives and in our church, and in our nation.
      3. 3.         “the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision”- this phrase occurs only twice in Genesis, here and in v.4. It occurs frequently elsewhere in Scripture, though, and is very often related to a message given to a prophet. Abram will be called a prophet in 20:7. This gives us a glimpse of Christ in the person of Abram who serves as a priest for his family through the building of altars and calling on the name of the LORD in 12:8, and who serves as a king in this war with the eastern alliance and in his dealings with both the king of Sodom and the king of Salem (and he is fact called a prince in 23:6). Thus you have the images of Abram as prophet, priest and king- the three fold offices of Christ. The use of the word “vision”, another rare term, also links Abram to the prophets for the word is connected to the revelation from God that a prophet receives. This is a theophany, where God reveals himself to Abram in a vision and some form of audible communication.
      4. 4.         Application- there are those in the Charismatic Church tradition who claim to have visions and direct words from the Lord today. I would be extremely skeptical and cautious towards those who claim to have a “new word from the Lord” that supplements the Bible. This seems to inevitably lead to heresy and foolishness. Stick to the Word of God as Revelation and depend on the Holy Spirit to guide you into understanding and applying the text. I have heard from our missionaries, particularly those dealing with muslims, that God does send dreams to people, but those dreams involve sending the recipient to the Word of God in the Bible and to Jesus. Those dreams point, then, to the old established Revelation, the Bible, not something new and different. Sola Scriptura should still be a safe guardian for the Church.
      5. 5.         “Fear not, Abram”- The LORD is here offering comfort to Abram, in the form of a negative imperative, but we must ask of what or of whom is Abram afraid? He had just won a great victory over a superior force and he had been blessed by the priest of God Most High, Melchizedek. He could be fearful of a) a reprisal by the kings of the east who would come back with their superior numbers to look specifically for Abram. b) Perhaps his great victory and obvious wealth will cause envy to build up in the hearts of his neighbors. c) he could be fearful of dying without an heir. d) It is not unusual for God or an angel to urge someone to “fear not” when they first appear to the person because it is a fearful thing to suddenly be in the presence of the Lord or an angel (21:17 Hagar and Ishmael in the desert; 28:17 Jacob’s dream of a ladder, he was afraid when he awoke; Ex.3:6 Moses at the burning bush was afraid; Luke 1:13 Zechariah in the Temple.) Victor Hamilton writes, (NICOT, Genesis 1-17, Eerdmans, 1990, p.418) “The juxtaposition of ch. 14 and ch. 15 suggests that it is not nearly as fearful to meet an antagonist on the battlefield as it is to encounter the deity in a vision. Abram may confront Chedorlaomer and live, but can he confront YHWH and live?”
      6. 6.         Application 1- Here is another place where TV and Hollywood do us a disservice, nothing surprising there, because they have images of God, whether it is George Burns or Morgan Freeman, that are less than Holy and terrifying. The same with angels portrayed as women. There are no female angels in Scripture. In Scripture, most encounters of these kinds engender fear and awe in the people involved.  We live in an age where there is no fear of God, even within most churches. This does not mean we should only view God as the cosmic cop who stalks us to catch us in sin. But we should constantly be aware that he is thrice Holy and that he is always present and he alone has the power to cast us into hell. Yes, we should fear God. Prov.1:7 “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” But fearing God also means reverencing him, not treating him lightly. We do not flirt with God or pal around with him. We can certainly love him and enjoy him, because we know that he loves us first and that he delights in the praises of his people. I do not think he want us to walk in fear, but to revel in his love without forgetting the fear of the Lord.
      7. 7.         Application 2- It is certainly possible that Abram was fearful of a reprisal by the kings of the east for his attack against them. Is it normal for Believers to, at times, experience fear of man after we have stood our ground, done what is right, gone on the offensive for Christ? Are there sometimes consequences for standing for truth, justice, and righteousness and for living according to God’s Word? In what arenas today that we Christians are standing for truth in, might we expect some unwanted repercussions or reprisals? How do we overcome the fear of man that we might encounter in our own souls? Read Matthew 10:16-42. How does this passage in Matthew relate to Gen. 14-15? How can we apply it to our lives today?
      8. 8.         I am your shield- this word points us back to 14:20 “delivered”. The Lord is here confirming the blessing of Melchizedek and using a metaphor to describe himself as Abraham’s protector. (Psalm 3:3 “But you, O LORD, are a shield about me”; 7:10 “My shield is with God, who saves the upright in heart.”) A shield for a warrior in the Bronze Age could be entirely made from wood, wicker and leather or it could include a bronze outer layer as well. Some shields would be round, others more of an oblong shape; some would be fairly small and others big enough to cover most of the body. They would be fairly good at deflecting arrows and stones and sufficient to deflect sword strikes. A heavy piercing weapon such as a spear could defeat the shield as would repeated blows from a sword. With this promise of protection also comes a promise of provision with “your reward shall be very great.” Calvin points out that the reason for Abram to not fear is because the LORD is his shield, which reminds us of Rom.8:31 “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
      9. 9.         “your reward shall be very great”- or– “I am your very great reward”- this verse is difficult for the translators and could go either way. One interpretation is that God himself is Abram’s great reward and the other is that God will provide him with a great reward. Both statements are true and fit the circumstance. I personally think that in the context it makes the best sense to say it the way the ESV has translated it, “your reward shall be very great” because Abram is asking specifically about having a descendant. God is saying that he will provide, even before Abram asks the question. The word has a military usage in regards to captured booty in war, again, a theme from ch. 14. It is used that way in Ezekiel 29:19. Calvin sees it as God saying that He is Abram’s great reward. Certainly Abram was rewarded in his life in that he was wealthy, he saw God keep his promise and he had his son Isaac in his old age. He did not possess the land, however, he remained a sojourner til he died.
      10. 10.     Application- Look at Eph. 1:11-14. What is our inheritance? Rom.8:14-17 we are children of God and joint heirs with Christ. What is our reward? What do we look forward to in heaven? Is there a reward for God’s faithful here on earth?

Conclusion: Are you living the Christian life afraid of men or with a proper fear of the Lord? Are you trusting in God for your very great reward?

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