Commentary on Genesis 15 (Abrahamic Covenant)

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

In verses 1-6 in Genesis 15, Abraham has an incredibly important conversation with God. First, in verse 1 God reassures Abraham that he should not be afraid, that God is his reward. In verses 2-3, however, Abraham questions God about the promise God made to Abraham previously. Recall that God promised Abraham that his descendants would become a great nation in Genesis 12.

Abraham complains to God that because he has no children, his only heir will be one of his servants, Eliezer of Damascus. How can God’s promise be fulfilled if Abraham has no children? He and his wife are very old and his wife is barren.

In verses 4-5, God reassures Abraham that a biological son would be his heir. In fact, God lets Abraham know that his descendants will be numbered like the stars in heaven. What is Abraham’s response to God’s promise?

In verse 6, we see one of the most important sentences in the Bible.  “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” It could be argued that the entire narrative of God’s redemptive plan for mankind revolves around this verse. Because Abraham believed God, he was known as righteous. Abraham’s obedience flowed from his belief, and this is why the person who believes will also obey. It is not either/or. It is both/and.

After God reiterated to Abraham that he would have natural descendants that would be numbered like the stars, God also reminded Abraham that he would receive the land promised to him in Genesis 12. When Abraham asks God how he will know that he will receive the land, God instructs Abraham to get a “heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

The heifer, goat, and ram were cut in two, but not the birds.  In verses 12-21, God makes a covenant with Abraham with an amazing pyrotechnical display. “A smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces.” In the ancient world, parties to a covenant would sometimes walk between slaughtered animals as part of the ceremony. In this case, God is the only one passing through the animals, because he is making the promise on his own.

This covenant is an unconditional promise to Abraham that his descendants will be given the land of Canaan, land that is bordered by the Nile River and the Euphrates River. Notice that these borders are coincident with the borders around the Garden of Eden. God would return his people to a land of paradise.

Before all of this would happen, though, Abrahams’ descendants would be enslaved in a foreign land for 400 years. This, of course, foreshadows the Israelites’ slavery in Egypt for 400 years. Remember that the book of Genesis is being written to the Israelites prior to their entering the Promised Land. This covenant of God made with Abraham would be especially poignant to them as they wondered whether they would ever see the Promised Land. Moses, by recording God’s promise to Abraham, reassures them that they will.

God’s promises are always kept, but they may take longer than we like. Abraham would not receive the land immediately, but only after centuries would pass. Yet, we see that Abraham still believed.