One of the greatest promises in the entire bible lies in the fifteenth chapter of Genesis. Bear with me as I quote the text containing God’s promise to Abraham: “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.’ 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?’ And Abram said, ‘Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.’ And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: ‘This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.’ 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.’ And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis
The fifteenth chapter of Genesis follows on the coattails of the fourteenth chapter. There is a larger context within which God’s promise to Abraham occurs at this point in Genesis. Back in the twelfth chapter, God calls Abraham out from among his people in order to show him a land of promise for him, his offspring, and all the nations of the earth (Genesis 12:1-3). Abraham does not hesitate, question, or kick and scream. Instead, he picks up his family and all of their possessions in order to journey to this land of promise. This shows us Abraham’s faith in God from the very beginning. Genesis fifteen shows God justifying Abraham for his faith in God to bring about the twin promises of an heir and the land.
What do we make of the in-between chapters thirteen and fourteen? These are bookended by God’s call and promises to Abraham in chapters twelve and fifteen. Chapter thirteen illustrates God expanding Abraham’s territory and possessions, which leads him to separate amicably from his nephew Lot. Both choose distinct sections of the surrounding lands: Abraham settles into the land of Canaan, the land of promise; but Lot makes his home in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah decades prior to their destruction. Chapter fourteen displays Abram’s military might in rescuing his nephew, their possessions and relatives from the hands of King Chedorlaomer. All of this demonstrates Abraham moving by faith into the reality of God’s promises one step at a time.
When Abraham experiences a great victory over King Chedorlaomer, two kings visit him to pay their respects: Melchizedek, King of Salem and the King of Sodom. Basically, righteousness (Melchizedek) and wickedness (King of Sodom) greet Abraham with open arms after he experiences a great victory. Because Abraham had been walking by faith in God’s ways, he receives Melchizedek’s offering of praise and fellowship (the meal of bread and wine) over and above that of the King of Sodom’s (Gen. 14:18-24, ESV). Abraham chooses righteousness over wickedness, life over death, and the praises of God over the praises of men. There is so much thankfulness within Abraham that he gives back to Melchizedek a tenth of all his spoils (Gen. 14:20b, ESV).
Despite Abraham’s great victory over Chedorlaomer, and Melchizedek’s blessing over him, the Lord reveals himself to Abraham at the beginning of the fifteenth chapter to call out his fear. How could a man of faith like Abraham slip into fear after such obedience and favor and grace? Beneath Abraham’s fear lurks a deep, felt need for an heir, a son who would inherit his wealth and possessions, and who would carry on his name. If Abraham never has a son of his own, then the promise of all the families being blessed through him has no way of becoming a reality (Gen. 12:3b, ESV). It is my feeling that God calls out Abraham’s fear in order to expose his deep need for an heir. This is exactly Abraham’s response to the Lord by saying “…what will you give me, for I remain childless…you have given me no offspring” (Gen. 15:2-3, ESV).
There will be experiences of great victory and obedience in the Christian life. Just like Abraham, those victories may be followed by fear or a letdown of sorts. What Abraham experiences might not always fit every believer in Christ; however, I do believe that Christians experience moments of letdown after great victories and/or bouts of obedience. Somehow, some way, fear creeps in and masks genuine needs, which roil within our souls. Unless the need is met, the promise has no chance of seeing the light of day. When Abraham cries out to the Lord, “…you have given me no offspring…,” it is a longing laid bare before his Heavenly Father (Gen. 15:3a, ESV). This is what the Lord had been aiming to hear from Abraham’s mouth. Our Lord is a loving and gracious Father. He hears the cry of Abraham’s heart and responds to it with a beautifully prophetic promise: “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them…So shall your offspring be” (Gen. 15:5, ESV).
When Abraham hears the Lord’s word for him, he believes him in faith, which the Lord credited to him as righteousness (Gen. 15:6, ESV). Abraham trusts in God to accomplish the promise, which is far greater than anything he could ever do on his own in his flesh. Faith in God is the only way to grasp the promise, to live in the promise, and to see the promise come to life. Paul says in Ephesians 2 that this faith is a gift from God. Unless He gives it to whomever he chooses, those chosen ones would have nothing to express. Let us be bold like Abraham by not only walking by faith, but expressing our longings to God by faith.