Gleanings In Genesis
20. Abraham’s Vision
The connecting link between our present portion of Scripture and the one which we took for the basis of meditation in our last chapter is found in the opening words of Genesis 15—"After these things the Word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision." Chedorlaomer, the King of Elam, had united his forces to those of three other kings in a league of conquest. Their military prowess seemed irresistible. The Rephaim, the Zuzim, the Emim, the Horites, the Amalekites and the Amorites were each defeated in turn (Gen. 14:5-7). Five kings with their forces now combined and went forth to engage the armies of Chedorlaomer, but they also were overthrown, and in consequence the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were sacked and Lot was taken prisoner. Then it was that Abram went forth at the head of his three hundred and eighteen armed servants and by a surprise night attack gained a signal victory. Chedorlaomer was slain, Lot was delivered, and the booty taken from Sodom and Gomorrah was recovered.
And now came the reaction, mental and physical. Abram had good reason to conclude that the remaining followers of the powerful King of Elam would not abandon the enterprise which had only been frustrated by a surprise attack at night—made by an insignificant force—but instead, would return and avenge their reverse. In defeating Chedorlaomer and his allies, Abram had made some bitter and influential foes. It was not likely that they would rest content until the memory of their reverse had been wiped out with blood. They who had been strong enough to capture the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were too powerful to be set at defiance by Abram and his little colony. Thus alarmed and apprehensive Abram now receives a special word of reassurance: "After these things the Word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram, I am thy shield." Thus in tender grace did Jehovah quiet the troubled heart of the one whom He was pleased to call His "friend."
But further. In the remaining part of this opening verse—"I am. . . . thy exceeding great Reward"—we have another word which looks back to the previous chapter; and a precious word it is. After Abram had defeated Chedorlaomer, and after he had been blessed and refreshed by Melehizedek, the King of Sodom offered to reward Abram by suggesting he take the recovered "goods" unto himself (Gen. 14:21). But he who "looked for a city which hath foundations whose builder and maker is God" declined to accept anything from this worldling, saying, "I have lifted up mine hand unto the Lord, the Most High God, the possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatehet, and that I will not take anything that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich" (Gen. 14:22, 23). Noble reply! And now we behold the sequel. God never permits His own to lose for honoring Him and seeking His glory. Abram had refused the spoil of Sodom, but God more than makes it up to him. Just as when our patriarch had shown his magnanimity to Lot by saying: "Is not the whole land before thee.... if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand then I will go to the left," and the Lord appeared unto Abram and said, "Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward. For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed forever" (Gen. 13:9, 14, 15); so it was here. The refusal to be enriched by the king of Sodom is now compensated, more than compensated by a revelation from God which would greatly increase the joy of His servant. How important is the principle which here receives such lovely exemplification! How much are the Lord’s people losing today because of their acceptance of the world’s favors! Unto how few can the Lord now reveal Himself as He did here to Abram!
"I am thy shield and thy exceeding great Reward." We would fain tarry and extract some of the sweetness of these words. This is a special promise applicable to those who are "strangers and pilgrims on the earth." It is God’s word to those who "choose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt" for they have "respect unto the recompense of the reward" (Heb. 11:25, 26). Unto such, God promises to be their Shield, their Defense, the One behind whom faith shelters and trusts; as well as their Reward, their exceeding great Reward. So it was with our blessed Lord Himself. Refusing to accept from Satan the kingdoms of the world and their glory, He could say, "The Lord is the portion of Mine inheritance, and of My cup" (Ps. 16:5).
"And Abram said, Lord God, what wilt Thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus? And Abram said, Behold, to me Thou hast given no seed; and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir" (vv. 2, 3). In hearing the words, "I am thy Shield and thy exceeding great Reward," Abram’s mind seems to have turned toward his inheritance and the fact that he had no seed of his own to enter into the promises of God. What Abram longed for was a son, for he rightly judged that to go childless was to lose the inheritance. In other words, the patriarch here recognizes that heirship is based upon sonship, and thus we have foreshadowed a truth of vital importance, a truth which is fully revealed in the Scriptures of the New Testament. There we read, "The Spirit Himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God; and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ" (Rom. 8:16, 17). And again: "Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself. . . . in whom also we have obtained an inheritance" (Eph. 1:5, 11).
We do not consider that in
asking "What wilt thou give me," etc., that Abram was giving
expression to unbelief. On the contrary we regard his words as the language of
faith. Observe there was no rebuke given him by the Lord; instead, we are told,
"And, behold, the Word of the Lord came unto him saying, This shall not be
thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine
heir. And He brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and
tell the stars, if thou be able to number them; and he said unto him, So shall
thy seed be"
(vv. 4, 5). It is to be noted that in Genesis 13:15 God compared Abram’s seed to the dust of the earth, but here, where Christ is contemplated (as well as a numerous offspring), the word is, "Look now toward heaven," and his seed is likened to the "stars."
And now we come to those words which have been so precious unto multitudes: "And he believed in the Lord; and He counted it to him for righteousness" (v. 6). A full exposition of this verse would lead us far beyond the limits of our present space, so we content ourselves with a few brief comments, referring the reader to Romans 4 for God’s own exposition.
Literally rendered our verse reads, "And he stayed himself upon the Lord; and He counted it to him for righteousness." At the time God promised Abram that his heir should be one who came forth from his own bowels Abram’s body was "as good as dead" (Heb. 11:12), nevertheless, he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that what He had promised, He was able also to perform" (Rom. 4:20, 21). Abram reasoned not about the natural impossibility that lay in the way of the realization of the promise, but believed that God would act just as He had said. God had spoken and that was enough. His own body might be dead and Sarah long past the age of child-bearing, nevertheless he was fully assured that God had power even to quicken the dead. And this faith was reckoned or counted unto him for righteousness; not that faith is accepted by God in lieu of righteousness as an equivalent for righteousness, else would faith be a meritorious thing, but that faith is the recipient of that righteousness by which we are justified. The force of the preposition is "unto" rather than "instead of"—it was "counted to him unto righteousness." Abram’s case was a representative one. Today justification (to be declared righteous) is by faith, but with this important difference that whereas Abram believed God would give him a son through the quickening of his body, we believe that God has given us His Son, and through His death and quickening from the dead a Savior is ours through faith.
Just here we would pause to consider what seems to have proven a real difficulty to expositors and commentators. Was not Abram a "believer" years before the point of time contemplated in Genesis 15:6? Not a few have suggested that prior to this incident Abram was in a condition similar to that of Cornelius before Peter preached to him. But are we not expressly told that it was "By faith" (Heb. 11:8) he had left Ur of the Chaldees and went out "not knowing whither he went"! Yet. why are we here told that "he believed in the Lord; and He counted it to him for righteousness"? Surely the answer is not far to seek. It is true that in the New Testament the Holy Spirit informs us that Abram was a believer when he left Chaldea, but his faith is not there (i.e., Heb. 11:8) mentioned in connection with his justification. Instead, in the Epistles to the Romans and Galatians the incident which the Holy Spirit singles out as the occasion when Abram’s faith was counted for righteousness is the one in Genesis 15 now before us. And why? Because in Genesis 15 Abram’s faith is directly connected with God’s promise respecting his "seed," which "seed" was Christ (see Gal. 3:16)! The faith which was "counted for righteousness" was the faith which believed what God had said concerning the promised Seed. It was this instance of Abram’s faith which the Holy Spirit was pleased to select as the model for believing unto justification. There is no justification apart from Christ—"Through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins. And by Him all that believe are justified from all things" (Acts 13:38, 39).Therefore we say it was not that Abram here" believed God" for the first time, but that here God was pleased to openly attest his righteousness for the first time, and that for the reason stated above. Though Christians may believe God with respect to the common concerns of this life, such faith, while it evidences they have been justified is not the faith by which they were justified—the faith which justifies has to do directly with the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. This was the character of Abram’s faith in Genesis 15; he believed the promise of God which pointed to Christ. Hence it is in Genesis 15 and not in Genesis 12 we read, "And He counted it to him for righteousness." How perfect are the ways of God!
"And He said unto him, I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it" (v. 7). Abram now ventures to ask for a sign by which he may know that by his posterity, he shall inherit the land. "And he said, Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?" (v. 8). We do not regard this question from Abram as arising from unbelief, but that having just been granted (v. 5) a sign or view of a numerous offspring he now desires a further sign or pledge by way of explanation. And now the Lord answers by putting Christ, in type, before him.
"And He said unto him, Take Me a heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtle dove, and a young pigeon. And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another, but the birds divided he not. And when the fowls came down upon the carcasses, Abram drove them away" (vv. 9-11). The typical picture is wonderfully complete. "Take Me," observe, for the sacrifice belongs to, is for God. It has been pointed out by another that each of the three animals named here were tame ones, not wild and needing to be captured by Abram; instead, they were the willing servants of man’s need. Each one foreshadowed a distinctive aspect of Christ’s perfections and work. The heifer of three years seems to have pointed to the freshness of His vigor; the goat, gave the sin-offering aspect; the ram is the animal that in the Levitical offerings was connected specially with consecration. The birds told of One from Heaven. The "three years," thrice repeated, suggested perhaps the time of our Lord’s sacrifice, offered after "three years" of service! Note that death passed upon them all, for without shedding of blood is no remission and where no remission is there can be no inheritance. The "dividing" of the animals indicated that this sacrifice was to form the basis for a covenant (cf. Jer. 34:18, 19). The "driving away" of the fowls seems to have shown forth the energy of faith.
"And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, a horror of great darkness fell upon him. And He said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them, and they shall afflict them four hundred years" (vv. 12, 13). A profound truth is here taught us in type. Abram now learns that the inheritance can be reached only through suffering! His heirs would have to pass through the furnace before they entered into that which God had prepared for them. In the "deep sleep" and the "horror of great darkness" Abram, as it were, entered in spirit into death, as that through which all his seed would have to pass ere they experienced God’s deliverance after the death of the Paschal Lamb. First the suffering, the four hundred years’ "affliction." and then the inheritance. How this reminds us again of Romans 8:17! "And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together." And again: "We must through much tribulation enter into the Kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). Thus it was with our blessed Lord—first the "sufferings" and then "the glory." We call attention to the wonderful and perfect order of the typical teaching here: first the sacrifice (v. 9); second, "thy seed "—sons (v. 13); third, suffering—"affliction " (v. 13); fourth, entering into the inheritance—"come hither again" (v. 16). How complete the typical picture!
"And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, a horror of great darkness fell upon him" (v. 12). By this deep sleep we learn how God was showing the patriarch, symbolically, that not during his natural life would he inherit the land; instead, he must go down into the grave and inherit it together with the Promised Seed. In his awaking from this "deep sleep" Abram received a veiled promise of resurrection from the dead and the horror of great darkness as of the grave (cf. Heb. 2:15) from which he was recalled again to the light of day. In a word, the way to blessing, to the inheritance, was through death and resurrection.
"And He said unto Abram, know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years. And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge; and afterward shall they come out with great substance. And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full" (vv. 13-16). These verses contain a sevenfold prophecy which received a literal and complete fulfillment. It had reference to the sojourn of Abram’s descendants in the land of Egypt, their bondage there, and their deliverance and return to Canaan. We can do little more now than outline the divisions of this compound prophecy. First, Abram’s descendants were to be strangers in a land not theirs (v. 13). Second, in that strange land they were to "serve" (v. 13). Third, they were to be "afflicted" four hundred years (v. 13)—note that Exodus 12:40 views the entire "sojourning" of the children of Israel in Egypt. They "dwelt" in Egypt four hundred and thirty years, but were "afflicted" for only four hundred years of that time. Fourth, the nation whom Abram’s descendants "served" God would "judge" (v. 14). Fifth, Abram’s offspring were to come out of Egypt with "great substance" (v. 14), cf. Psalm 105:37. Sixth, Abram himself was to be spared these afflictions—he should die in peace and be buried in a good old age (v. 15). Seventh, in the "fourth generation" Abram’s descendants would return again to Canaan (v. 16). We take it that our readers are sufficiently well acquainted with the book of Exodus to know how wonderfully this prophecy was fulfilled, but we would point out here how accurately the seventh item was realized. By comparing Exodus 6:16-26 we find that it was exactly in the "fourth generation" that the children of Israel left Egypt and returned to Canaan. In this particular example the first generation was Levi, the son of Jacob, who entered Egypt at the time his father and brethren did (Ex. 6:16). The second generation was Kohath (Ex. 6:16), who was a son of Levi. The third generation was Amran, son of Kohath (Ex. 6:18). And the fourth generation brings us to Moses and Aaron, who were the sons of Amram (Ex. 6:20), and these were the ones who led Israel out of Egypt!
"And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces" (v. 17). Much is suggested here which we have to pass by. The "smoking furnace’’ and the "burning lamp" symbolized the two leading features of the history of Abram’s descendants. For the "furnace" see Jeremiah 11:3, 4, etc.; for the "burning lamp" see 2 Samuel 22:29; Psalm 119:105; Isaiah 62:1, etc. Note a "smoking furnace and a burning lamp." Did not this teach Abram that in Israel’s sufferings God would be with them; and that in all their afflictions, He would be afflicted, too?
"In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt, unto the great river, the river Euphrates" (v. 18). The covenant which God here made with Abram was based upon death, typically, the death of Christ. This covenant, based on sacrifice, was made by the Lord Himself; it concerned the land; and was absolutely unconditional. It has never yet been completely fulfilled. Note carefully its wording—"Unto thy seed have I given this land." Contrast these words with Genesis 13:15—"For all the land which thou seest to thee wilt I give it." But now a sacrifice had been offered, blood had been shed, the purchase price had been paid, and hence the change from "I will" to "I have."
In these articles we are not attempting complete expositions. They are little more than "Notes"—"Gleanings"—and our prime endeavor is to indicate some of the broad outlines of truth in the hope that our readers will be led to fill in the details by their own personal studies. In concluding this paper it deserves to be noted that Genesis 15 is a chapter in which quite a number of important terms and expressions occur for the first time. The following is not a complete list, but includes some of the more important examples. Here for the first time we find that notable expression, "The word of the Lord came unto" (v. 1). Here is the first reference to a "vision" (v. 1). Here for the first time we read the words "Fear not" (v. 1), which, with their equivalent, "Be not afraid," occur in Scriptures almost one hundred and eighty times. Here is the first mention of God as a "Shield" (v. 1). Here is the first occurrence of the Divine title "Adonai Jehovah"—Lord God (v. 2). Here for the first time we find the words "Believed," "counted" or reckoned, and "righteousness." May writer and reader search the Scriptures daily and diligently so that each shall say, "I rejoice at Thy Word, as one that findeth great spoil" (Ps. 119:162).