The Chief End of Man (7)
15 1After 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.”
Perhaps far from feeling emboldened by his incredible victory, Abram is realizing how large are the forces that surround his relatively small household and how dangerous are the entanglements that are being created. There are times when the winning of a battle, though necessary and good in itself, places one at greater future risk. For the city-state kings, Abram may have emerged as a force to be reckoned with, and the determination of to what end left to the vagaries of politics. At such a point of fear it is the response of a merciful LORD to come down to Abram bringing a renewed message of comfort.
2But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Elie’zer of Damascus?” 3And Abram said, “Behold, thou hast given me no offspring; and a slave born in my house will be my heir.”
Abram remains doubtful about the future and speaks candidly to the LORD. He speaks within the confines of faith in His sovereignty, but yet still admitting his own fears. Though the LORD has deigned to meet with Abram, he never loses sight of His Holiness.
4And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; your own son shall be your heir.” 5And 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 descendants be.”
This second metaphor is surely the more uplifting and encouraging of the two in this passage. How much better to be compared to the heavenly stars than the common dust that is trod under foot by man and beast!
Note the ambiguity in this pledge. Abram is promised a son from his own body, not from Sarai’s and Abram’s union. The withholding of this detail will have profound consequences while revealing great shadows within their souls.
6And he believed the LORD; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness.
Regardless of the entire deficit in faith and action that will occur in Abram’s future responses, this singular act of faith by a lonely, exposed wanderer to the LORD’s covenant set in motion a Holy Instrument of Salvation that would work out it’s power through the generations of frail flesh until the Son of God arrived to claim the final Victory.
7And he said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chalde’ans, to give you this land to possess.” 8But he said, “O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” 9He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a she-goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10And he brought him all these, cut them in two, and laid each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. 11And when birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
12As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram; and lo, a dread and great darkness fell upon him. 13Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know of a surety that your descendants will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs, and will be slaves there, and they will be oppressed for four hundred years; 14but I will bring judgment on the nation which they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16And they shall come back here in the fourth generation; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”
17When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphra’tes, 19the land of the Ken’ites, the Ken’izzites, the Kad’monites, 20the Hittites, the Per’izzites, the Reph’aim, 21the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Gir’gashites and the Jeb’usites.”
This is one of the most haunting passages in Scripture. We begin with the LORD’s continuing words of comfort and promise along with Abram’s continuing words of fear and doubt. And so the LORD instructs Abram to conduct an ancient ritual of covenant making. The human idea was that if either party violates the covenant they would share the fate of the cloven animals. How such a ritual could be understood by Abram to apply to the Sovereign LORD is unclear. Perhaps we can understand this as yet another example of the LORD humbling Himself so as to meet us at our point of need.
The experience itself is drenched in dread ambiguity and the imponderable. Where does Abram’s will end and the LORD’s sovereignty begin? Is the four hundred years mistreatment of Abram’s descendants punishment for his doubt or would it have happened regardless? What determines when a people’s sin has reached its completion? Did the peoples who occupied the land of promise have any purpose in the LORD’s plan other than to be overthrown?
What has become absolutely clear is that the LORD has made a covenant of eternal purpose with this nomad and his descendents, body and spirit.
Q 34. [The LARGER CATECHISM] How was the covenant of grace administered under the Old Testament?
A. The covenant of grace was administered under the Old Testament, by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the passover, and other types and ordinances; which did all foresignify Christ then to come, and were for that time sufficient to build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they then had full remission of sin and eternal salvation.
 Rom. 15:8; Acts 3:20.
 Acts 3:20, 24.
 Heb. 10:1.
 Rom. 4:11.
 I Cor. 5:7; Exod. 12:14, 17, 24.
 Heb. 11:13.
 Gal. 3:7–9; Heb. 11.