Abraham’s Faith

Genesis 15

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
April 2015

Last time we were in Genesis, we looked at Genesis 14.  Kedorlaomer went to war against five kings who rebelled against him.  Lot was captured and Abraham was rescued.  That was an important chapter because it mentions a mysterious figure named Melchizedek, a person that most Christians today are ignorant of.  Melchizedek is important because he is a type of Christ.  Jesus has a ministry like Melchizedek.  Like Melchizedek, Jesus is both a priest and a king.

Why This Chapter Matters

Today, we also come to a very important chapter in the Book of Genesis.  It is very important for three reasons.

1. God speaks to Abraham in this chapter.

This is NOT the first time God spoke to Abraham.  God spoke to Abraham twice in Genesis 12 and once in Genesis 13.  We are not told that he spoke to Abraham in Genesis 14.  Abraham was at war but, when the war was over, God spoke to Abraham again.

Notice how it begins.  It begins with these words: “After this, the word of the Lord came to Abraham” (15:1). That is a phrase we see all through the Bible.  The word of the Lord comes to different people (usually prophets).  This is the first time we see that phrase.  In fact, He speaks to Abraham all through the chapter and it is not a monologue.  It is a dialogue.  It is interactive.

Abraham reacts to what God says and even asks Him two different questions and he answers it.  God spoke to Abraham in this chapter and he spoke to him in two different ways. At the beginning of the chapter, God spoke to him in a vision (15:1).  Most of the time God speaks to us today, He speaks in our head.  We feel a strong urging by the Holy Spirit to do something.

God did not speak to Abraham that way.  He spoke to him in a vision. Abraham was awake at the time.  At the end of the chapter, God spoke to Abraham in a dream.  The text says that Abraham fell into a deep sleep (15:12) and God spoke to him in that condition as well.

Abraham has two concerns in this chapter.  He is worried that he will not have a son and he is worried that he will not inherit the Promised Land.  God addresses those concerns in this chapter.

2. Abraham gets saved in this chapter.

Genesis 15:6 says that “Abraham believed and it was counted to him for righteousness.”  This was the night that Abraham was justified.  I want to spend much of our time looking at that verse in detail.  That verse is very important theologically. It is perhaps the most important verse in the OT.  The NT quotes it three times.  The Apostle Paul quotes it twice (Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6) and James quotes it once (2:23).  How Abraham got saved is the same way that people get saved today.

3. God makes a covenant with Abraham in this chapter.

I am not going to go into great detail on this section, since we already spent two weeks talking about the Abrahamic Covenant.  This chapter is important because it mentions the Abrahamic Covenant.  Genesis 15:18 says “On that day, the Lord made a covenant with Abram.” You say, “Didn’t He already make a covenant with Abraham in chapter 12?”  No.  God made a promise to Abraham before and even repeated the promise several times but now the promise turns into a covenant and this covenant is still in effect today. God makes it official with a binding covenant.

God’s Message to Abraham

The word of the Lord comes to Abraham and what does He tell him?  Don’t fear. In the last chapter, Abraham just won a great military victory against incredible odds.  He was the underdog.  He went against four powerful kings and won.  He was a war hero.  He rescued his nephew and freed several nations from the grip of the evil Kedorlaomer and he was very popular.  He was on the top of the world.

Now we see a very different Abraham. This Abraham is afraid.  God would not say “Don’t fear” unless Abraham was afraid of something.  Abraham was afraid and God spoke to his fears.  Apparently, he was afraid some of these kings might try to come back.  Kings do not like to lose and be humiliated.  He just won a great military victory and now he is alone and he is vulnerable.  He may also have had some second thoughts about not taking the spoils of war.

He is emotionally drained.  He is depressed and he is discouraged but God says, “Don’t fear”. Genesis 15:1 is a call to conquer all fear.  Notice that God does not just say, “Don’t fear”.  He gives him a reason not to fear.  God says, ” I am your shield, your very great reward.”  God says, “I am your shield (protector).  I am also your (provider).”

God was not just the rewarder of Abraham, He was his reward.  There is a big difference.  In fact, God does not even say, “I am your reward”.  He says, “I am your VERY GREAT reward.” That is not just God’s word to Abraham.  It is God’s word to us because this exhortation is repeated in Scripture.  It is repeated more than a hundred times in the Bible.  We are all afraid of something. When we were kids, we were afraid of the dark or spiders.

When we get older, we still have fears. We fear crime.  We fear rejection.  We fear losing our job, getting old, getting sick, getting cancer, getting heart disease, getting grey hair and being able to retire.  We fear whose going to win the next election.  America might vote another moron in office.  God tells us NOT to fear.

The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, FOR YOU ARE WITH ME; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)

I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.” (Psalm 34:4)

I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side.” (Psalm 3:6)

Notice Abraham’s response to what God said.  “Abram said, ‘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.‘” (15:2-3 NIV)  Abraham heard what God said and raised an objection.

He says, “God, I hear you talking about being my very great reward but right now you are not coming through for me.  My wife and I had dreamed and prayed for a child.  We are both old.  You have even promised me a child but nothing has happened yet.  If this keeps up, my inheritance will not go to my son but to my servant.”

God didn’t rebuke Abraham for the question.  He answered it.  He said, “Your inheritance will not go to your servant but to your son, your literal son.  He will come from your own body.  He will have your own genes.” God confirmed his promise with a visual aid.  He took Abraham outside.

It was night time.  It was pitch black.  There were no street lights.  God told Abraham to look up in the sky and see the stars.   He told him to count stars (which is impossible to do).  He said, “Not only will you have a son, you will have so many descendants, you will not be able to count them all, any more than you can count all of those stars you see in the sky.”

Abraham’s Response

Now it gets very interesting, as we Abraham’s response to what God said.  The text says, “Abraham believed the Lord”.  He did not just believe in God; he believed God.  He took Him at His word.  He accepted what he said.  Even though it seemed impossible and would require a miracle, Abraham believed that he would have a son.  The minute he believed, the text says that God counted his faith as righteousness.  He was counted righteous in God’s eyes.

Genesis 15:6 is the most important verses in the OT.  It is one of the most amazing verses in the Bible. It tells us how sinners can get in a right standing before God and it is found in the OT.  “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”  There are three key words in the verse – “believed,” “credited” and “righteousness.”  What do we learn from this verse?  This verse tells us three very important things about salvation.

Abraham’s Salvation

1. Abraham lacked righteousness before God

Abraham had a problem.  He stood before a holy God as unrighteous, not righteous.  If he was righteous, God would not need to credit righteousness to his account.  That would not have been necessary but Abraham was not righteous.  He was a sinner.  We have already seen that he had a problem with honesty.  He was a liar.  The Bible says that “there is none righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10).

Many think that is just a NT teaching.  That is not true.  Ecclesiastes 7:20 says, “Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.”  But we have a problem.  Many people in the Bible are said to be righteous.  They are called righteous.

Noah was called a righteous man.  “This is the account of Noah. NOAH WAS A RIGHTEOUS MAN, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.” (Genesis 6:9).  The LORD then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, BECAUSE I HAVE FOUND YOU RIGHTEOUS in this generation.” (Genesis 7:1)

Jesus called Abel righteous.  He said, “And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from THE BLOOD OF RIGHTEOUS ABEL to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.” (Matthew 23:35). When Mary became pregnant with the baby Jesus, we are told that “Joseph her husband WAS A RIGHTEOUS MAN and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” (Matthew 1:19).  There are many other examples in the Bible.

So who is right?  Are people righteous or are they not righteous?  Is this a contradiction?  No. They are talking about two completely different things.  One refers to someone who is righteous in an ABSOLUTE SENSE and one refers to someone who is righteous in a RELATIVE SENSE.

In one sense, there are righteous people in the world today.  Compared to other people, there are many righteous people on earth.  Remember, Noah was said to be righteous IN HIS GENERATION (compared to the people of his day).  In another sense, there are no completely righteous people in the sense of sinless.

That is the point that Paul makes in Romans 3.  When he says there are none righteous, his point is that all are sinners, Jews and Gentile.  We all stand guilty before God.  That was the point that Solomon made in Ecclesiastes 7:20.  As he puts it, there is no one on earth who does what is right and NEVER sins.

2. Abraham obtained righteousness by faith.

Genesis 15:6 says that Abraham was counted righteous BY BELIEVING.  He was NOT counted righteous by doing anything.  He was not saved by works.  Now Abraham had done a lot of good things in his day.  He risked his life rescuing his nephew from four evil kings.  He acted as a peacemaker when he settled a family dispute.

He refused to take any of the spoils of war for himself.  He let Lot choose first when they picked where to live.  That was unselfish on his part.  He tithed ten percent of the spoils to Mechizedek.  All of those things happened before Genesis 15:6 but none of those good deeds saved him.  None of them made Abraham righteous in God’s eyes.  God still viewed him as a sinner.  Abraham didn’t earn this righteousness.  He became righteous by faith and not by works.

“If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.” (4:2-5)

The Pharisees believed that you had keep the law and be circumcised to be saved.  Paul points out in Romans 4:9-12 that this was NOT how Abraham, the first Jew, was saved.  He didn’t keep the law, which had not even been given yet.  He did not get saved by being circumcised either.  Paul points out that Abraham got saved in Genesis 15.  He got circumcised in Genesis 17.  That happened fifteen years later.

Many think that people in the OT were saved one way and people in the NT were saved another way.  They think that salvation was by works in the OT but that salvation is by grace in the NT.  That is a myth.  This passage shows us how people were saved in the OT.  Abraham was saved by faith and we are saved by grace through faith.  Abraham became righteous by faith, the same way we become righteous.  The way that he was saved is the same way that people are saved today.  What happened to Abraham can happen to people today.  In fact, Paul said that Gentiles today can be saved the same way Abraham was saved.

So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? So also Abraham ‘believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’ So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (Galatians 3:5-9 NIV)

The same thing can happen to people today.  They can get the same righteousness that Abraham received when they believe.  Now Abraham’s faith was a little different than our faith.  Abraham did NOT believe in the Virgin Birth of Christ, the substitutionary atonement and bodily resurrection of Jesus.  He believed that he would have a son and that faith saved him.  The content of his faith was a little different but the principle is the same.

3. The righteousness involved was imputed righteousness.

How did Abraham become righteous, according to our text?  God credited it to his account.  Abraham was not righteous but God counted him as righteous.  He considered or credited him righteous, even though he wasn’t righteous.  The word “credited” is an accounting term.  It is like a banking term.  You are overdrawn in your account and then you receive a credit.  Righteousness was put to Abraham’s account.  it was imputed to Abraham.

This is a very important biblical doctrine. There are three imputations mentioned in Scripture.  One, Adam’s sin was imputed to the entire race.  He was the federal head of the race.  When he sinned, we sinned.  He represented the entire race.  Two, our sin was imputed to Christ.  When Jesus died on the cross, our sin was placed on him and he died suffering the penalty for our sin in our place.

Three, when we believe, Christ’s righteousness is imputed to out account.  We are not just forgiven of our sins.  His righteousness is put to our account.  We become as righteous as Christ.  This is the first mention of the doctrine of justification in the Bible.  II Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Romans 3:21-26 says, “But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given THORUGH FAITH in Jesus Christ TO ALL WHO BELIEVE. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 

God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—TO BE RECEIVED BY FAITH. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies THOSE WHO HAVE FAITH IN JESUS” (NIV). 

 The Abrahamic Covenant

God made Abraham a promise but now He makes a covenant with him.  He makes it legal with a strange ceremony.  When we make an agreement today, we shake hands or have some lawyers draw up some papers and we sign on the dotted line. That is not what they did in the ancient world. The Semitic way of making a covenant involved killing animals, slicing up the animal parts and separating the parts and putting them on two different sides.

It also involved walking between the pieces of the animal and saying “This is what will happen to me if I do not keep my end of the covenant.  My body will be killed, cut open and eaten by birds”.  It involved an oath of self-cursing.  The strange thing about this covenant is that God was the only one who walked through the animal parts.  The smoking firepot and blazing torch went through the animal parts (15:17) but Abraham did not.  It shows that this covenant is unilateral.  It is one-sided.  It is unconditional.

Three New Predictions

In this chapter, we are told three new things about this covenant which God had not revealed to Abraham prior to this time.

1. The First Prediction

It will be a long time before Abraham’s descendants will begin to inherit the land (15:13). for a while.  He mentioned 400 years.  It was actually longer than that.  It was more like 430 years (cf. Exodus 12:40; Galatians 3:17) but four hundred years is a round number.

2. The Second Prediction

God told Abraham that his descendants would be enslaved and mistreated (15:14).  We are not told here which country would enslave them but we later learn it was the Egyptians.  God said that he would punish that nation. That prediction came true when God sent the ten plagues on the Egyptians.

3. The Third Prediction

God told the precise geographic boundaries of the land would inhabit..  Today, Israel occupies a tiny little sliver of land in the Middle East.  God promised them the land that was occupied by ten countries in Abraham’s day.  The boundaries of this promise cover the whole Middle East.  It covers part of Israel, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

 

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