Genesis 15:1-6 “God’s Promises Are Abundant”
Redeemer Church Sunday School
Genesis Class, Sunday, 11-15-2009
Genesis 15:1-6 “God Promises Are Abundant””
Bryan E. Walker
Read Genesis 15:1-6
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.
Introduction: Last week we departed from our verse by verse study of Genesis 15; we needed to examine the atrocity at Fort Hood from a biblical perspective. That was tough, but it had to be addressed. The week prior we began looking at ch.15 and made it all the way through verse 1. Imagine that! But we did look at the chapter as a whole for its literary structure so we actually did make substantial progress.
Today we return to our verse by verse study by doing a quick review of the structure of the chapter, looking quickly at verse 1 again, and then moving forward to cover vss.2-5. The main idea of the passage today is that when Abram was struggling with the delay in God’s promises being fulfilled, God answered with a promise of a son, and he promised to provide Abundantly.
- I. Review
- A. Literary Structure
- 1. Ch. 15 provides a link to what has gone before and to what follows. This chapter speaks of two aspects of God’s promise to Abram- an heir and the land. Vss.1-5 answer Abram’s concerns about an heir and ties in with chapters 16-25. Vss.7-21 deal more with the promise of land, which is linked to chapters 12-14. Verse 6 of ch.15 is a summary statement of Abram’s faith and we may look at that verse separately next week even though I preached on it two weeks ago.
- 2. Ch. 15 is arranged in a parallel structure. Vs 1 and 7 are God speaking to Abram, vss.2-3 and 8 are Abram’s questions of God. Vss. 4-5 and then 9-21 is the Lord reassuring Abram and entering into a covenant with him.
- B. Verse 1
- 1. After these things- we saw that most likely the present chapter, and Abram’s concern about dying without an heir, is related to the combat experienced in ch. 14.
- 2. the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision- this phrasing is rare in Genesis, but common in the prophets, thus linking Abram to the prophets. He is called a prophet in 20:7 and Psalm 105:15 “touch not my anointed ones, do my prophets no harm” speaking of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
- 3. “Fear not, Abram”- Abram could have had fears about his own mortality as a result of the battles in ch. 14; he could have been fearful of a reprisal from the kings he had defeated in ch. 14; he could have feared dying without an heir as he expresses in vs. 2; but more than likely this is a greeting from the Lord at the beginning of this theophany. It is a fearful thing to suddenly find yourself in the presence of God.
- 4. I am your shield- shields were used in battle to defend against stones, arrows and swords; in short, they protected the warrior. God is here proclaiming himself Abram’s protector, defender, the word can even mean benefactor. The word also provides a link back to 14:20.
- 5. your reward shall be very great- again the concept goes back to ch 14 when Abram refused to keep the spoils of war. The LORD is now promising him a reward that surpasses that which he gave up as an act of faith and worship.
- C. Application
- 1. We see that we need to be able to see what God is doing in our lives, to connect the dots if you will. All too often we just kind of wander along through life when we should be trying to see our lives through the lens of Scripture and discern what God is doing in our lives.
- 2. Beware of modern day prophets who claim to have a new word from the Lord or who have visions. Trust in the Word of God, the Bible.
- 3. Fear not- if God be for us, who can be against us?! We ought to fear God in a reverent, holy way, while also communing with him in love and faith.
- 4. God is our shield, our defender and benefactor.
- 5. We can trust in God for a very great reward in heaven.
- A. Literary Structure
- II. Verses 2-3 Abram’s Complaint To The LORD
- A. I continue Childless
- 1. But Abram said- now the LORD has spoken to Abram before. Look back at those occasions in 12:1-4, 7; 13:14-18 and tell me what is different this time in 15:1-2. ANSWER: in the previous 3 times that the LORD spoke, we do not see Abram speaking to the LORD. Here we see a dialog for the first time, between Abram and God. For certain we have seen Abram build altars and “call upon the name of the LORD” in 12:8 and 13:4. But this is now a give and take. We will see other examples of God and Abram speaking, especially in chapters 17-18.
- 2. Application: Praise the LORD that Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Our Father…” We can talk with the Lord anytime in prayer. Have you ever complained to God?
- 3. O Lord God- can be translated as “Sovereign LORD” because it uses Adonai YHWH. YHWH is normally interpreted as LORD and Adonai is normally interpreted as Lord. YHWH is the great covenant name of God, revealed to Moses in Ex.3, meaning “I AM WHO I AM” whereas Adonai is Lord as in Sovereign. This combination of the two is exceptionally rare occurring in Genesis only here and in vs. 8. It also occurs in Deut. 3:24; 9:26. It is found in 2Sam. 7:18-29 numerous times as part of the Davidic Covenant. Then in the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel it is found a lot.
- 4. what will you give me, for I continue childless- John Currid writes, (Genesis, vol.1, Evangelical Press, 2003, p.291) “Abram’s initial response to the vision is disillusionment. God has already promised him an innumerable posterity (12:2; 13:16). And Abram has left his home to lead a wandering existence. He is in his eighties, and yet no seed has come from him. Abram’s shaken attitude is confirmed by the clause, ‘I am continuing childless’. While the expression is often used to denote barrenness, it literally says, ‘I am one who is walking stripped.’ This carries the idea of a person’s being laid bare, destitute and in despair.”
- 5. Victor Hamilton writes, (NICOT The Book of Genesis chapters 1-17, Eerdmans, 1990, pp.419-420) “His concern is not that he has no male progeny (he does not query, why am I childless?), but the possibility that he may never have any progeny. What useful purpose would be served by a reward that could not be transmitted? God’s self-revelation to Abram, his word of encouragement and promise to Abram, do not silence or settle the patriarch’s concern.”
- 6. John Calvin writes, (p.401) “But Abram, in overlooking a promise so glorious, in complaining that he is childless, and in murmuring against God, for having hitherto given him no seed, seems to conduct himself with little modesty. What was more desirable than to be received under God’s protection, and to be happy in the enjoyment of Him? The objection, therefore, which Abram raised, when disparaging the incomparable benefit offered to him, and refusing to rest contented until he receives offspring, appears to be wanting reverence. Yet the liberty which he took admits of excuse; first, because the Lord permits us to into his bosom those cares by which we are tormented, and those troubles with which we are oppressed. Secondly, the design of the complaint is to be considered; for he does not simply declare that he is solitary, but, seeing that the effect of all the promises depended upon his seed, he does, not improperly, require that a pledge so necessary should be given him.”
- 7. and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?..a member of my household will be my heir.- As I mentioned before the Hebrew numerical value for this name, Eliezer, is 318, which is a link back to 14:14 and the number of trained men that Abram had in the pursuit of the Eastern Kings. But in this verse there is a problem that perplexes the professors. The wording is very obscure and translation is unsure. But most scholars go ahead with this meaning of the verse, but with doubts. The KJV complicates it by saying, “one born in my house is mine heir.” If Eliezer is of Damascus, how is he born in Abram’s household? Some scholars maintain that it is not speaking of Damascus but it is his mother’s name. Some say that his father was from Damascus. There is no real answer because the passage is just too obscure, but this much we know: Eliezer was a servant and Abram is saying that he might have to adopt him to have some kind of a legal heir. But even this is debated because the ancient text that speaks of this custom is solitary and also of dubious meaning. I think that the Lord’s answer in vs. 4 helps to clarify it by declaring “this man shall not be your heir.”
- 8. you have given me no offspring- Abram is saying, ‘Look, Lord, you have promised me offspring but nothing’s happening yet, and I am in my 80’s. What am I supposed to do here?’
- 9. Application: just because the Lord’s answers do not come when we always want them, just because he sometimes desires us to wait, does not mean he is saying ‘No!” Have you ever been in a “waiting on the Lord” mode and started to doubt or wonder? Have you ever looked at the promises of the Lord and thought you were only window shopping?
- A. I continue Childless
- III. Verses 4-5 The Lord’s Answer To Abram
- A. This Man Shall Not Be Your Heir
- 1. This man- the Lord does not even use Eliezer’s name in this conversation!
- 2. shall not be your heir- even though there may have been a legitimate, legal, social practice of adopting a servant or slave, and even though Eliezer may have been a capable man, God does not even consider him as an option.
- 3. Application: you and I consider options; God never considers options. You and I may have plan A, plan B, and even plan C, God only has plan A. Because God is Sovereign, in every sense of the word, because he is eternal, wise, and the Creator of all, he alone can determine a plan that will never vary, never be frustrated or foiled in any way. As we will see in the next chapter, Abram and Sarai come up with a plan C.
- 4. your very own son shall be your heir- Here the promise of God gets very specific. The KJV is a bit more graphic, “he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.” This promise is quite astounding because Abram is already in his eighties and Sarai is likely past childbearing age in her 70’s. In the Hebrew this is stated emphatically, to make a point. God does what is impossible for man.
- 5. And he brought him outside and said,- at this point we realize that the vision has been occurring in Abram’s tent and it is either night, or more likely, early morning before dawn. The vision will continue throughout the day and into the next night. At this stage of the vision we do not know how God is manifesting himself to Abram other than through words. Some have suggested it is a dream, others distinguish between a dream and a vision.
- 6. Look toward heaven and number the stars, if you are able…so shall your offspring be- previously the Lord had said, (12:2) “I will make of you a great nation”, (12:7) “To your offspring I will give this land”, and (13:16) “I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted.” In 17:2 the Lord promises to “multiply you greatly” and in v.4 “you shall be the father of a multitude of nations” twice, vs 6 “I will make you into nations”, v.7 “I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring”, and in 22:17 “I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the sea shore”.
- 7. On a clear, moonless night, far away from any city lights, a person can see about 2,000 stars. So the language used by God here is figurative. Astronomers tell us that there may be as many as 200 Billion stars in just our Milky Way Galaxy and there are about 3000 galaxies visible with the Hubble Space Telescope. However, with radio astronomy, it is estimated that there are between 125 billion and 500 billion galaxies. So, again, the Lord is using figurative language here. The point is that Abram will be the father of many nations with many millions, perhaps even billions of descendants. When you examine his descendants spiritually you get all the Jews who ever lived, all the muslims and all the Christians, so it is in the billions.
- 8. Application– When God makes a promise, in this case in ch. 15, a covenant, he is not stingy. He promises an abundance. In John’s Gospel Jesus uses several I Am phrases and other promises that show this abundance. John 6:35 “I Am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Abundance! 6:47-48 “whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life.” 7:37-38 “if anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Abundance! 8:12 “I Am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” 8:31-32 “If you abide in my word you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Abundance! 8:51 “if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 9:5 I am the light of the world” 10:7-11, 14 “I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers…I am the door. If anyone enters by me he will be saved …I came that they may have life and have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd…I am the good shepherd.” 11:25f “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” 14:2,7 “In my Father’s house are many rooms…I am the way, and the truth and the life”, 15:1 I am the true vine”
- A. This Man Shall Not Be Your Heir
Conclusion: And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. You and I are facing many difficulties in our lives, some in our past, some are here and now, others lie in wait for us in the future. You may have some very heavy burdens that no one else here this morning knows of. The Lord not only cares, he answers. He sometimes says Wait, and sometimes says, No- that is not My best for you. And he provides in his timing. But we can have the confidence that this world and all its problems is not our home. God is providing us a promised land that is perfect, and it is ours, in all God’s abundance, in Christ. Our duty, our calling and our joy is to, like Abram, believe the Lord, and lay claim to his abundant promises!