God's contract with Abram
God comes in a dream1 Sometime later, the LORD spoke to Abram in a vision: “Don’t be afraid, Abram, I’m the shield protecting you. You are going to get one whopper of a reward.” 2 Abram answered, “What reward? I don’t even have a son. My slave—Eliezer of Damascus—will inherit my estate. 3 Did you get that? You haven’t given me any children. The closest thing I have to an heir is a slave born in my household.” 4 The LORD answered Abram. “This man will not inherit your estate. Your son will.” 5 In this vision the LORD took Abram out into the night and said, “Look up at the sky. See all those stars? Can you count them? That’s how many heirs you’ll have.” 6 Abram believed it. The LORD saw Abram’s extraordinary faith. Because of Abram’s faith, the LORD recognized him as a good and righteous soul. 7 The LORD told Abram, “I am the LORD who brought you out of the Chaldean city of Ur. I led you here, and I’m giving you this land.” 8 Abram answered, “This land is my land? How could I ever possibly know that?” 9 The LORD said, “Bring me three animals, each one three years old: a cow, a goat, and a ram. And bring me two birds: a dove and a young pigeon." 10 Abram brought the animals and killed them. He cut in half the cow, goat, and ram. He put half of each animal to the left and the other half to the right. 11 Hungry birds of prey swooped down at the carcasses. Abram waved them off. 12 As the sun fell, Abram slipped into a deep sleep—dark and terrifying. 13 God told Abram, “You can count on this, your descendants will immigrate to a foreign country where they will end up oppressed and eventually enslaved. They will live there as immigrants and slaves 400 years. 14 But I will slam my hammer of judgment on that foreign land. Then your descendants will come out of that country—and they’ll come loaded with incredible wealth. 15 As far as you’re concerned, I want you to know that you will die in peace at an old age, and go on to be with your ancestors. Your body will be buried. 16 After four generations—when your great-great-grandchildren are born—your descendants will return home from that foreign land. Only then will I use them to punish the sinful Amorites who have settled there.” 17 After sunset, in the pitch black of night, Abram saw smoke and fire. Smoke coming from a pot. Fire on the end of the torch. Both of them passed between the two halves of the animal carcasses.
Abram's land18 That day God made a promise to Abram as binding as a contract. The LORD said, “Today I have given this land to your descendants. They own everything from the river along the border with Egypt to the great Euphrates River. 19 This is the land now occupied by a long list of people: the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites.”
Normally, people are considered righteous—deserving acquittal in God’s court—if they do the right thing: “Suppose there is a righteous man who does what is just and right” (Ezekiel 18:5 NIV). Ezekiel identifies some of those right things (18:6-9). But in Abraham’s case, it’s his faith that makes him innocent in God’s eyes, and the opposite of someone God would consider wicked.
In southern Iraq.
A group of people living in Canaan, today’s Israel and Palestinian territories.
Smoke and fire often represented the presence of God: Exodus 13:21; 19:18.
Possibly Wadi el Arish south of Israel.
How do you explain the report that Abraham, probably in his 80s, doesn’t seem to have any trouble believing God’s promise to give him a natural-born son? “Abram believed it” (15:6). But when God promises to give him what is now Israel, he seems to doubt it: “How could I ever possibly know that?” (15:8).
Bible experts debate this question: What does it mean when the Bible says “The Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith” (15:6 New Living Translation)? Paul quoted this passage when he preached about how important faith is (Romans 4:3, Galatians 3:6). What would you think the Genesis writer was saying about Abraham?
Here’s the second half of that question. When God saw that Abraham believed his promise that he would have a lot of descendants, “Because of Abram’s faith, the LORD recognized him as a good and righteous soul” (15:6). What do you think that means?
When you look at the boundaries of the land God promised Abraham, it’s much bigger than modern-day Israel. Does that bother you? Or do you think we should take into consideration what Paul wrote: “If you belong to Christ, you are now part of Abraham’s family” (Galatians 3:29 Contemporary English Version)?
In one of the weirdest sacrifices reported in the Bible, Abraham killed two birds and three large animals: cow, goat, and a male sheep. He cut the large animals in half. Late that night he saw a smoking pot and burning torch pass between the animals. Miller reports that this sounds a little like the ritual in an ancient treaty found at the city of Mari, near where Abraham once lived. “The documents say that when a person walks between the split carcasses, it’s a way of enacting a treaty—of saying, ‘I’m in.’” Does that make sense to you, or are you seeing something else going on in Abraham’s sacrifice?
God seems to predict that the Jews will end up as slaves in Egypt. He tells Abraham “Your descendants will immigrate to a foreign country where they will end up oppressed and eventually enslaved. They will live there as immigrants and slaves 400 years” (15:13). That’s pretty close to what happened. Joseph’s family, which produced the Jewish nation, stayed in Egypt “430 years” (Exodus 12:40 New Living Translation). What would you say to Bible newcomers who read that story and say the prediction by God sounds more like something an editor would slip into a story long after it happened, to make the story more interesting?
LIFE APPLICATION. What kind of faith do you think it takes for us today to please God? How would you describe it?
LIFE APPLICATION. God’s promises to Abraham are unique, both in the way he appears to Abraham and in what he has to say. Do you think God makes promises to us?