Dr. Jack L. Arnold Equipping
Pastors International Genesis
Ratification of the Covenant
A. Genesis 15 is one of the key chapters in the whole Bible. In
this section, God tells us about His official ratification of the Abrahamic
Covenant, which is the basic covenant for all salvation and prophetic truths.
B. In this chapter, there are some definite firsts. This is the
first time God is called Adonai Jehovah (Mighty Covenant-making God). The terms
“believe” and “righteousness” first occur here, which
lays the basis for the whole doctrine of justification by faith.
II. THE PROMISE OF GOD 15:1-7
A. The Divine Revelation (1:1). The Lord God appears to
Abram in a vision. He told Abram not to fear for He was his shield and great
reward. The “after these things” refers to what has happened in Abram’s life
before this time.
1. Abram was not to fear his enemies. Abram and his small band of
well-trained men had just routed Chedorlaomer and his armies. Perhaps
Chedorlaomer would come again to attack Abram. God assures Abram that He is his
shield and He would protect him.
2. Abram not to fear being childless. It had been about ten years since God
made the promise to Abram that he would have a seed (son). Abram became worried for he was growing
very old with no seed. But God promised Abram that He would be his reward, for
the Bible often speaks of the coming of a child as a reward (Gen. 30:18; Psa.
B. The Human Response (15:2-3). If God is to fulfill His Covenant,
Abram must have a child. Abram believes God will reward him but he is becoming
impatient and confused on how and when it will happen. Abram is somewhat
discouraged and tries to give a human solution to a divine problem. Since he
has no son, his best prospect at present is that his servant Eliezer will
be his heir. Discoveries of customs in Abram’s day show that a childless couple
could adopt a servant into the status of a son. He would qualify for the
inheritance when the man died.
C. The Divine Assurance (15:4-5). God assures Abram that
Eliezer is not the heir and the true heir of Abram will come out of his own
body. Then God shows Abram the night sky and says that his seed shall be as the
numberless stars of heaven.
NOTE. God always
keeps His promises.
D. The Human Reward for Faith (15:6). Abram believed in the Lord and His
promise and Jehovah, on the basis of his faith, declared Abram positionally
righteous before Him. Salvation is believing in God,
who will carry out His promises, This is justification by faith (Rom. 3:24-25).
Abram was not saved by works but by faith; yet he later proved the reality of
his faith through his works (James 2:21-24). This section raises several
1. How was Abram saved? Abram was saved by
grace through faith in God who made him a promise. All
believers of all time are saved by grace through faith on the basis of Christ’s
death (Eph. 2:8-9 cf. Rom, 3:25). However, the object of faith changes due to
the fact that New Testament believers have more revelation. Old
Testament believers were saved by believing in God who would send His Son.
New Testament believers are saved by believing in the Son
whom God has sent. NOTE: Surely the Abrahamic Covenant to “thy seed”
included something greater than numerous descendants, for through “thy seed”
all the families of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:3). The New Testament
tells us that the Abrahamic Covenant is ultimately fulfilled through Christ
(Gal. 3:16). While Abram did not understand all the details, he did grasp
that the Abrahamic Covenant did include the promise of Messiah who would come.
Old Testament saints were saved in God’s promise of Messiah who would come. New
Testament saints are saved in the Messiah who has come. One looks forward to
the cross, the other looks back to the cross.
2. When Abram saved? Was Abram a believer
before this event took place in Genesis 15:6? Some have suggested that Abram was in a pre-salvation state
before Genesis 15:6. He was in a condition similar to that of Cornelius before
Peter preached to him (Acts 10). This view seems to be supported by James
2:21-24. The objection to this viewpoint is that Abram left Ur of the Chaldees
by faith (Heb. 11:8). ANSWER: Abram was saved years before this time but
Genesis 15 is the official enactment of the covenant and God wanted to drive
home the concept of justification by faith to Abram. Also in Genesis 15 Abram’s
faith is directly connected with God’s promise respecting his “seed” (15:18),
which seed was Christ (Gal. 3:16). The faith, which was counted for
righteousness, was the faith, which believed what God had said concerning the
promised Seed. There is no justification apart from Christ (Acts
E. The Divine Reassurance (15:7). God again reassures
Abram that he and his seed will inherit the land (Gen. 12:1-3).
III. THE PERFORMANCE OF GOD 15:8-21
A. Desire for the Covenant (15:3). Abram asks God the question as to how
he can be sure or certain that He would fulfill the Covenant. He believed but
wanted confirmation for his belief. This is not an attitude of unbelief but one
of “help thou mine unbelief.”
B. Preparation for the Covenant (15:9-12). God gives Abram confirmation by
officially enacting the Covenant through a blood agreement. He has already
initiated the Covenant with His servant (12:1-3), but He now formally
ratifies it by an official-type ceremony as in some man-to-man agreements of
that day. In a blood covenant, the contracting parties would agree on the terms
of the covenant. After this, they would take an animal, slay it, divide the
carcass down the backbone, and place the divided parts opposite each other on
the ground so as to form a pathway between the pieces. The two would join
hands, recite the terms of the contract, and walk together between the divided
halves of the slain animal. It signified that they were bound in a contract
until death, and if either violated the terms of the contract, his blood should
be poured out as the blood of the animal had been poured out. Only death could
break this covenant (Jer. 34:18-19). Abram took five clean animals, showing the
importance of this covenant, divided them and placed them opposite each other.
God was about to confirm His Covenant with Abram. At this point in the ritual,
God caused a deep sleep to fall on Abram, so that he could not participate
in the ritual personally.
C. Permanence of the Covenant (15:13-16). God assures Abram that He will surely
bring his seed through to blessing even though there will be problems along the
way. Here God makes a prophecy that Israel will be in bondage for 400 years in
Egypt. This figure is a round number conception just as in Acts 7:4-6 and the
430 years in two other cases (Exo. 12:40-41; Gal. 3:17) is the precise total.
God will judge Egypt and Israel will leave with great wealth. This prophecy had
its fulfillment when Jacob took his family to Egypt around 1880 B.C. Abram is
now told that he will not have a part in this return to the land but his seed
will. Abram will die and go to be with his fathers (fathers of belief not
physical fathers for they were pagans). But God assures him that in the fourth
generation they will return. The Hebrew word “dor” can mean “century” as
well “generation”; that is, after 400 years they would return to the land. The
reason it would take 400 years is that the Amorites, who then possessed the
land had to run their course of evil so they could be conquered.
D. Performance of the Covenant (15:17). In his sleep, Abram saw “a smoking
furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces.” In the Old
Testament the burning lamp or light signified the presence of the Shekinah
Glory of God (Exo. 3:2-6; 13:21; 19:18). God Himself, without Abram, passed
through the sacrifices. God, apart from Abram’s participation or promise, was
binding Himself by a blood covenant to fulfill that which He had promised to
Abram. God will perform every part of the Abrahamic Covenant.
E. Promise of the Covenant Reiterated (15:18-21): There
are two major thoughts in this section: the seed and the land.
1. The Land. God now gives the boundaries of the
land He promised to Abram and his seed. Scholars disagree as to the meaning of
the “river of Egypt.” Some think it refers to the Nile River in Egypt or to the
Wadi el-’Arish, little seasonal river or wadi south of Canaan over by the
Mediterranean seaboard. The boundaries of the land are clearly given. On the
south, the Nile River or else Wadi el’Arish. On the east, the
Euphrates River in Mesopotamia. On the west, the Mediterranean sea line. On the north, Syria and its area since it would
fall within the scope of the eastern boundary. This raises the theological
problem of the fulfillment of the land promise:
a. Fulfilled in Solomon’s time.
Some say it was fulfilled in Solomon’s day and cite 1
Kings 4:21 and 8:65 to prove it. Solomon’s rule extended southward to the
border of Egypt, though not all the way northward to the Euphrates. At best the
conquered people in many areas simply paid tribute to Solomon. Besides Solomon
never possessed the land forever.
b. Fulfilled in the Millennium. Ultimate fulfillment of the land
promise has not been realized and will be realized in a future full possession
by Israel in the Messianic Kingdom. The arguments for this position are:
exact boundaries were not realized in Solomon’s day.
prophets were still promising the land to Israel and Judah long after the death
of Solomon and beyond the Babylonian Captivity (Amos 9:11-15); Ezek. 34:36-37;
(3) The prophets
give other details that would require that Israel be active in the land of
Palestine beyond the second advent of Christ (Zech. 14, nations going to
worship at Jerusalem after Christ’s feet touch the Mount of Olives, v. 4, which
is evidently the second advent, not the first).
Seed. God says, “Unto seed
have I given this land.” Abram’s seed would inherit the land forever. Abram
most certainly understood this to be his physical seed, at least those of his
physical seed who also believed God for the fulfillment of the Covenant.
THEOLOGICAL PROBLEM: What relationship does a believing Gentile in the Church
have to the Abrahamic Covenant? This was a problem in Galatia, for if a Gentile
is justified by faith how is he related to the Abrahamic Covenant, which was
primarily for the Jew? The Gentile is certainly related to the universal
aspects of the Abrahamic Covenant (Gal. 3:13-14), where the whole world will be
blessed through Messiah to come. In Galatians 3:16, Paul clearly states that
the covenant was made to Abraham and his seed, and, by divine interpretation
says this seed was Christ Himself. Christ is the one who will ultimately
fulfill the Abrahamic Covenant and all who are related to Christ whether
believing Jews or believing Gentiles will be blessed through Christ. Now notice
in Galatians 3:29 it says, “And if (since) ye (believing Gentiles) be Christ’s
then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according: to the promise.” This says
that believing Gentiles are a seed of Abraham. Gentiles are
believing seed, not literal physical seed of Abraham. As believing seed
in Christ, the Gentile partakes of the Abrahamic Covenant. We believe that he
partakes of the universal aspects or the salvation aspects of the
covenant. Believing Gentiles in
the Church are citizens of Israel (Eph. 2:11), partakers of the covenants (Eph.
2:11 cf. Eph. 2:19-22), heirs together with Israel (Eph. 3:6), grafted into the
covenants (Rom. 11:17), a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a
people belonging to God (1 Pet. 2:19) and part of the people of God (1 Pet.
2:10). NOTE. However, the believing Gentile may
partake of more than just the salvation blessings of the covenant In Gal. 3:16
the words “and his seed” are quotations from Gen. 13:15 and 15:15 in the
Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament). Paul quotes the
Septuagint to retain the “and”. It
is significant to note that in both of these verses in Genesis the promises are
directly dealing with the land. The implication is that God promised the land
to Abram and to Christ. God promises to give the land to Christ and indirectly
to all who are His seed by faith. It seems as though the Church will in some
way be related to the land promises of the Abrahamic Covenant, but they will be
expanded to the whole world (Rom. 4:13).