God’s Promise to Abraham

When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces” (v. 17).

- Genesis 15

Continuing our look at the promises God has made to His people, today we will consider the promise our Lord swore to Abraham. In this account we find one of the most dramatic illustrations of our Creator’s commitment to His word in all of Scripture.

Genesis 15 records the repetition of the Lord’s promise to Abram, who was later renamed Abraham, some time after it was first delivered (12:1–3). Abraham had found it difficult to see how the Lord would keep His promises, and though Abraham truly believed God when He pledged to make the patriarch a great nation (15:1–6), Abraham’s faith was not perfected and needed assurance. Thus, Abraham asked for a sign to prove he would inherit the land (vv. 7–8). Remarkably, the Lord did not condemn Abraham’s weak faith, but He condescended to His servant’s weakness to give Him some tangible confirmation. Such is the grace of our Creator.

To understand the sign that God gave to Abraham, we must know something about the covenant-making process in the ancient Near East. To translate the Hebrew phrase that refers to the enactment of a covenant most literally, we would say “cut a covenant.” Covenants were “cut” between two parties in that culture, and part of the reason for that is the self-maledictory oath (vowing harm to oneself) that people made to confirm their commitment to the covenant stipulations. Often, the parties would cut up animals just as Abraham did and lay them next to each other with a path in between. Normally, the two parties would walk between the pieces as they committed to the covenant, with the implicit warning being that a failure to keep the promise would bring the same fate upon the promise-breaker as was brought upon the animals. Here, however, only God passes between the animal pieces (vv. 9–21). The Lord takes it upon Himself alone to accomplish His word, and vows to be destroyed should He not keep it (Heb. 6:13–20).

The import of this is plain. We conclude today with Dr. R.C. Sproul’s paraphrase of what God said to Abraham in this ritual: “‘Abraham, I’m putting My very deity on the line here. I’m swearing to you by My holy nature. If I don’t keep this word, I will no longer be God.’ And God made a covenant with Abraham. He made a promise, and He backs up that promise which is not just to Abraham … . To all of God’s people He makes a promise that He seals with an oath based upon His own very nature. There is no conceivably higher guarantee than that.”

Coram Deo

Obviously, God cannot cease being God. Thus, there is no chance that the Lord will fail to keep His promise to Abraham. As we look at history, we see that our Creator is keeping His pledge to the patriarch. Abraham has many descendants of faith, men and women who trust in His greatest Son—the Lord Jesus Christ. Despite its imperfections, the church universal proves that God is fulfilling His promises and will keep every other one that He has made to His people.

Passages for Further Study

Joshua 21:45
Psalm 105
Galatians 3:29
2 Corinthians 1:20

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