Since Abraham was trustworthy in dealing with worldly wealth (see 14:22-23 and Luke 16:11) God gave Him spiritual blessings. "After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: (v.1) Later, when the Israelites complained in the desert about manna and lusted after meat, God "gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul." (Psalm 106:14-15 KJV; see Numbers 11:31-35) When material things are wanted more than spiritual things sometimes God gives us what we want but gives us lean souls. (See Rom. 1:24-32)
"Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward." (v.1) God Himself is our ultimate reward (Psalm 73:25) and He rewards us only with "good things" (Psalm 103:5; James 1:17). Maybe Abraham had a close call in the battle (chapter 14) and found God to be his shield, his protection. God called Abraham by name and he also calls us by name. "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; ï»¿I have called you by your name; You are Mine (i.e., that's my boy)." (Isa. 43:1) God not only calls us by name he changes our name (our nature and character) as seen when Jesus changed Simon's name to Peter and Saul's name was changed to Paul. He will also give us a new name in heaven. (Rev. 2:17; 3:12) He loves us as we are but also loves us so much He wants to change us more into His likeness.
"But Abram said, "O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless …" (v.2) God wants us to be gut-level honest with Him in our prayers and needs. Abraham was old, Sarah was barren and he could not see how they could have a child that God had promised. Complaining to God is not the same as complaining about God and the psalms are filled with "honest" prayers of the saints "crying out to God" and "casting their cares upon Him." (E.g., Psalm 102)
"Abram believed the LORD, (believed in the Lord) and he credited it to him as righteousness." (v.6) God told Abraham that the child would come from his body and he believed in the Lord. This means that Abraham trusted the Lord's character and word to do what He said he would do. And it shows us the very heart of both saving faith (Eph. 2:8-9; Rom. 4:1-5) and a living faith that continues to believe in the Lord and follow Him in radical obedience. When we say we "believe God" (intellectual assent) versus "believing in God" (personal trust that is demonstrated) we are talking about the difference between intellectually believing in aerodynamics versus getting on an airplane and flying across the ocean even if we are afraid of heights and can't swim. It means absolute confidence in God (or airplanes), not our abilities or goodness. Are you trusting in Jesus alone for your salvation? "He (God) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (Jesus)." (2 Cor. 5:21) The righteousness that God credits us with is the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ (an imputed righteousness,) which we are to work out by faith (Phil. 2:12-13) into an ever-increasing moral righteousness. (Eph. 4:20-32)
"But Abram said, "O Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will gain possession of it (the Promised Land)?" (V.8) Here God ratifies the covenant He had earlier made with Abraham (12:1-4; 13:14-17; 15:1-7) for the land and the seed/heir (which would lead to Christ) answering Abraham's prayer for a sign so he could know this would come to be. God had announced it and confirmed it but now He signs the deed, so to speak. "When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram." (vv. 17-18) This was the way men made covenants in those times. (See Jeremiah 34:18) "It was ratified by a significant sign; they cut a calf in two, and passed between the parts thereof with this dreadful imprecation, "Let us be in like manner cut asunder if we do not perform what we now promise.'' (Matthew Henry) Yet, note that the Lord alone passed through the animal halves showing this to be a unilateral, unconditional covenant that God alone would keep. Likewise, our salvation equals Christ's atoning work + 0. Our part is simply to believe. (John 6:29) Jesus tells us our sign for the New Covenant is His body and blood and as we see these signs (in the Lord's Supper) we are to receive them as receiving Him (feed on Him by faith) and remember Him until he comes. Christ is our Seed and heaven is our Promised Land. "For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men." (1 Tim. 2:5-6)
"Then the LORD said to him, "Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions." (vv. 13-14) As God said, His people suffered in Egypt for 400 years both to prepare them to be His people and to wait for the sin of the Amorites to reach its full measure. God is perfectly just and His destruction of these evil people was perfectly just. But God was with His people in their suffering and brought them out and used them as His rod of judgment for the wicked nations in Canaan. "The smoking firepot signified the affliction of his seed in Egypt. They were there in the iron furnace (Deut. 4:20), the furnace of affliction (Isa. 48:10). The blazing torch denotes comfort in this affliction; and this God showed to Abraham, at the same time that he showed him the smoking firepot." (Matthew Henry) Likewise He promises us that no suffering or anything can ever separate us from His covenant of love and eternal life for all who believe in Him. "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."(Rom 8:38-39) In Acts 27:29 Paul and his shipmates were fearing a shipwreck and the Bible says: "Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight." A preacher once said that in the midst of trials we need to remember these four anchors: 1) God brought me here; 2) God is with me and will sustain me while I'm here; 3) God will teach me while I'm here; and, 4) God will bring me out of here in His time. (1 Peter 1:6; Psalm 23:4; James 1:2-5; 1 Peter 5:6-7)
Questions for reflection/application
How can we, like Abraham, be more desirous of spiritual blessings – God's vision and purpose for our lives, than for temporal, worldly blessings?
"Abram believed the LORD, (believed in the Lord) and he credited it to him as righteousness." (v.6) Do you know about Jesus (intellectual assent) or do you believe in Him (personal trust)? What words do you see in the following verses that talk about the latter? "Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life." (1 John 5:10-13)
In your present trial which of these "anchors" speak to you? 1) God brought me here; 2) God is with me and will sustain me while I'm here; 3) God will teach me while I'm here; and, 4) God will bring me out of here in His time.
Until He comes,
Len and Kristen
My Advisory Board asked me to share with you that we are 28% below our budget for the first five months of 2008. The economic downturn is affecting some of our supporters and we are asking those who are in a position to help to prayerfully consider making a contribution to our work. Thank you for praying with us about this need.