Genesis 15:1-6 “After 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.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir. 4And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” 5 And 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 offspring be.” 6 And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.”
After his meeting with Melchizedek and the king of Sodom in the Valley of Shaveh (Gen. 14:17-24), God appear’s to Abram in a vision to cheer the hard-pressed servant. Abram had just recently been in a battle to rescue lot, and then in dealing with the kings in the valley, the Lord comes to him with a statement of comfort and hope, “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great” (v.1). What is already important to note is that unlike many other visions in the Old Testament, there is very little information in regards to what is seen, therefore, illustrating that it is the words and not the vision that is of utmost importance in this passage.
In vv. 2-3, Abram immediately appeals to the one thing that he needs the most, a physical heir. Abram has already been promised by God that He would make a great nation through Abram, but here Abram was still childless. However, this verse reveals that Abram, in light of his childless state, had appealed to a custom of the time to adopt another child or a distant family member to serve as an heir. It appears that Eliezer of Damascus currently has that role.
In v.4, the Lord immediately responds by saying that Eliezer would not be Abram’s heir, that Abram would have an actual physical heir. The Hebrew is much more emphatic than what the ESV translates “Your very own son,” the Hebrew literally means “what will come out of your own loins.” In other words, this will be no legal sonship through adoption or any other means, this will be a biological son for Abram. At this point, no information is given regarding what Sarai’s role will be, and this will become central to the next few chapters.
In v.5, God now uses an illustration to reveal to Abram the reward that He has in store for him. He directs Abram’s eyes to the sky, and to “number the stars.” This lets us know that this vision was given to Abram at night, and perhaps the very night of his meeting in the Valley of Shaveh. After appealing to him to number the stars, God then promises Abram that if he could number the stars, then he would be able to know the vast number of how many offspring will come through his line. In other words, he simply wishes to convey to Abram the innumerable amount of offspring which will come through his lineage. Kidner explains how the starry sky served as type of sacrament, a visible word which bring focus to a promise given by God.
The final verse to be addressed deals with Abram’s response to God’s promise, however, as simple and straightforward as the text reads it is one of the most vital passages in the Scripture. What does it mean that Abram believed the Lord, and it was counted to him as righteousness? Abraham’s belief is directly tied to what he has been promised by God, namely, “that his offspring would be as numerous as the stars.” Abram has “stayed himself” upon the promise of God, and that is what has been counted to him as righteousness.” This is essentially the way that Paul will utilize the concept of faith in Romans 4. For the belief of Abram and Paul is not presented as a crowning merit but as readiness to accept what God promises. However, though it will be used by Paul as an analogy to describe a soteriological reality, “counted it to him as righteousness” should not be taken as such in this context. Walton describes this as a ratification of the covenant to Abram. He writes, “Because Abram takes God at his word, God credits him with a legacy on the basis of the “rightness” of this faith. He accomplishes this by formally establishing the covenant with him.” Recognized righteousness, therefore, becomes the basis for blessing.
When we think of biblical soteriology it is clear that Paul demonstrates that a person is only justified by God (declared as righteous) through faith (Rom. 4). However, it is important to note that though Paul and James appeal to the life of Abram to teach what true saving faith is (a faith that works) this passage is not referring to a moment whereby Abram was converted. Abram had already revealed his belief in Yahweh in Genesis 12, where immediately upon hearing the command to go and leave, Abram moves his entire family from his homeland (Gen. 12:1-9).
Therefore, Genesis 15:6 should be seen not as a reflection of soteriology but as an analogy for soteriology. Strictly speaking, Paul does not argue that Abram was saved by faith; instead he argues that faith, not law, was the basis of the righteousness that brought covenant blessing. Abram’s faith is analogous to the faith that saves us, but his was not a faith operating with regard to a determined mechanism of salvation (like the blood of Christ).
Abram’s accredited righteousness is analogous to the imputed righteousness we enjoy through justification in that it came as a result of his faith in God’s word, but his righteousness was not soteriological in nature. Abram’s case was a representative one. Today, justification is by faith, but with this important difference that whereas Abram believed God would give him a son, we believe that God has given us His Son, and through His death and resurrection from the dead, a Savior is ours through faith.
*As believers we must live each day standing on the promises of God.*
Abram received the covenant blessing of God because he stayed himself on the promise of God. God spoke, and irregardless of how impossible it seemed, Abram believed that God would do what He said he would do. The word of God is filled with promises, especially through the gospel message. Here are but a few of the promises of God that are found in the gospel.
- The gospel promises that our eternal outcome is secured in Christ (Phil. 1:6, 21).
- The gospel promises that all the pain of our obedience to Christ will lead to our exaltation in being glorified in the presence of Christ (Phil. 2:5-11).
- The gospel promises that every seeming setback is not meaningless, but is used by God for His glory and our good (Rom. 8:28).
- The gospel promises that even in this life we get to begin experiencing the eternal treasure of knowing Jesus Christ as Lord (Phil. 3:8-11).
What is even greater than just those truths is the grand reality that the apostle Paul gives in his second epistle to the Corinthians that, “all the promises of God find their Yes in him [Christ]. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (2 Cor. 1:20). All the promises of God belong to those who are found in Christ. Rejoice and take heart as you stand upon the promises of God. Take God at His Word, for he is not a man that he should lie (Num. 23:19). In his timing, and in his ways, God will accomplish everything that he has said he would do, believe God and it to will be counted to you as righteousness.