Reading 6 KNOW FOR A CERTAINTY Genesis 15–17“Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward” (Gen. 15:1).Faith is far more than mere hope that something unlikely may happen. It is a deep, internal certainty, rooted in our trust of what God has said. We return to the life of Abram, where we gain vital insights that can enrich our personal faith in God.
Childless Abram believed God’s promise that he would have a son, but asked how he could know (15:1–8). God entered into a binding covenant with His servant so he might “know for certain” (vv. 9–13). Yet on Sarai’s urging, Abram fathered a son with her maid, Hagar, leading to family conflict (16:1–16). Fourteen years later God renewed the promise and changed Abram’s name. The 100-year-old Abraham trusted God to give him a child through Sarah, and on God’s command circumcised his household as a sign of faith in the covenant promises (17:1–27).
Understanding the Text
“I am your reward” Gen. 15:1. The bumper sticker on my van says “Fishing isn’t a matter of life and death—it’s more important than that.” Here Abram was reminded that really, a relationship with God is what life is all about. God Himself was Abram’s shield and reward. All Abram had or hoped for was centered in the person of his God. God is all we have too, and all our hopes are centered in Him. Faith in God’s promises helps keep us focused on the Lord. “Abram believed God” Gen. 15:2–6. Despite the fact that he was growing older and was still childless, Abram believed God’s promise of countless offspring. The Bible says God “credited it [his faith] to him as righteousness.” We cannot offer God a sinless life. We have all fallen short, and will fall short again. All we can do is trust God and have confidence in His promise. In grace God accepts our faith—and writes “righteous” beside our name. “How can I know?” Gen. 15:7–21 Abram did believe, but he wanted to know. God was not upset. Rather, God had Abram prepare the most binding of all forms of ancient covenants, the “covenant of blood.” Hebrews 6:17–18 tells us that God took this action “because [He] wanted to make the unchanging nature of His purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised.” So He “confirmed it [His promise] with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged.” We believe. Because God is totally committed to us, we also know. “Know for certain” Gen. 15:13. God knows and is in full control of the future. On this basis we, like Abram, need have no doubts when the Lord reveals His intentions to us. Abram knew on the basis of God’s word alone. We know, not only because God is the One who speaks to us, but because we can look back, as Abram could not, on fulfilled prophecy. The 400 years in Egypt, the slavery imposed on Abram’s descendants, the punishment of Egypt, and the Exodus deliverance are history today. Everything happened just as God said it would. We do believe. And we do know. “Perhaps I can build a family” Gen. 16:1–16. In biblical times, bearing children was viewed by women as giving meaning to their lives. Abram had believed God’s promise, but as the years passed and no children came, Sarai became impatient. Finally she urged Abram to impregnate her maid, Hagar. According to the customs of those times this was not an immoral act. It was a recognized way to provide a childless wife with children she would then call her own. But in this case, Sarai—and Abram—made a tragic mistake. The error is expressed in Sarai’s thought, “Perhaps I can build a family.” How foolish, when God had said He would build Abram’s family! And how foolish of us when we try to do God’s work in our own strength, or insist on imposing our timing rather than wait for the Lord to act. “She despises me” Gen. 16:5. Sarai’s venture in self-effort turned out badly. Hagar did become pregnant. But Hagar then had, and showed, contempt for her mistress! Since she was pregnant by Abram, it was clear that the couple’s childlessness was Sarai’s fault. Sarai hadn’t expected this result when she ventured out on her own. That’s our problem too. When we try to do things in our own way or in our own strength, things don’t turn out as we intend. The conflict that then dominated Abram’s tents reminds us to wait on God rather than going ahead without His guidance or direction. Sarai reacted to Hagar’s contempt with predictable hostility. Again, according to ancient custom, Sarai had full authority over her servant. She used it to mistreat Hagar. Hagar finally ran away, returning only when God promised that He would bless the child she carried. And so, when Abram was 86, his son Ishmael was born, only to become the ancestor of those Arab nations which live, even today, in perpetual hostility toward the descendants of Sarah, the Jews. “Your name will be Abraham” Gen. 17:1–22. Names were especially important in biblical times. They were intended to make a statement about the character or essential identity of the person or thing named. Abram’s name meant “father,” and he was childless! What a burden that name must have been. Now God appeared to him, and told him he was to be called “Abraham,” which means “father of many” or “father of a multitude”! Imagine, if you will, the snickers as, the morning after his conversation with God, the 100-year-old man announced to all his servants that, from now on, they were to call him “Abraham”! Abraham’s assumption of his apparently ridiculous name was another measure of his faith. Abraham was willing, as Noah had been, to be “a fool for God.” If you or I ever feel foolish when trying to please God, let’s remember that name, Abraham. And let’s remember too that Abraham was vindicated. Today he is honored by all as the spiritual father of a multitude beyond our capacity to count. “He laughed” Gen. 17:17. Abraham’s first reaction to the divine statement that his wife Sarah would bear a child was laughter. It seemed so incredible. But God stated again, “Your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac.” And Abraham believed. You and I are seldom asked to believe the incredible. Or to follow a course of action that involves great risk. But when we are, we can remember that God’s incredible promise to Abraham and Sarah was fulfilled. What God says He will do, He can do. And what God tells us to do, He is able to do through us. “Every male among you shall be circumcised” Gen. 17:10–14. Circumcision is a sign of the covenant that God made with Abraham and his descendants through Isaac. It was intended to demonstrate faith. Those Jews who in the coming millenniums considered their relationship with God through Abraham important would have themselves and their sons circumcised. Christians have no single practice that is analogous to circumcision. But there are ways in which we can show that relationship with God is important to us. Our faithfulness at church. Our consistency in reading God’s Word. Our commitment to prayer. Our willingness to share the Good News of Jesus with others. Our generosity in giving. Our attempts to put what we learn from God into practice. None of these is the reality. None in itself establishes or maintains our relationship with the Lord. But each, like circumcision, is a sign. Each is a way we can express the fact that our relationship with God truly is important to us.
Faith That Knows (Gen. 15:1–19) Abram did believe God. Genesis 15:6 assures us, “Abram believed the Lord.” Yet he yearned for an inner certainty. This yearning led Abram to ask, “O Sovereign Lord, how can I know?” (v. 8) When you and I, believers though we be, long for certainty, we can turn to this passage. God will speak to us, as He spoke to Abram. God told Abram to bring animals and birds and cut the animals into halves in preparation for the most binding of all ancient covenants, the “covenant of blood.” In this covenant the participants pledged their very lives. They symbolized this commitment by walking between the halves of sacrificial animals. When all was ready for the covenant ceremony to take place, God caused Abram to fall into a deep sleep. Then God passed between the divided halves-alone. There could be no clearer proof. God pledged His very life that He would fulfill His covenant promises. The fact that only God walked the path between the divided carcasses meant that God would fulfill His commitment—whatever Abram or his offspring might do! Since Abram did not walk that path, nothing he might do could make God’s obligation null or void! Abram now “knew for certain.” We have this same certainty. Centuries later Jesus took another lonely walk—to Calvary’s cross. There He made a New Covenant, and sealed it by His own blood. He died there for us. His death is God’s pledge—God’s pledge of His very life—that the forgiveness promised us in the Gospel truly is ours. We believe. And we also know for certain that we have been saved by Christ’s blood. Despite this evidence we may at times still be troubled by doubts and fears. God told Abram that his descendants would be “enslaved and mistreated” in the future (v. 13). Possession of God’s promise was no guarantee God’s people could avoid hurt. Faith is no title deed to a life of ease. When such things happen, we need to remember what God told Abram. “I am your very great reward.” God did not say, “A good life on earth is your reward.” He said, “I am.” We need to remember this when troubles come. Our relationship with God through Jesus guarantees us only one thing. God loves us, and He is present with us at even the darkest of times. So let’s not waver when hard times come, as though something strange were happening. God’s people have often been enslaved and mistreated. But in it all, we believe and we know. God remains our shield. And He Himself is our reward.
Choose one verse from these three chapters to memorize as a barrier against doubt.