God's Covenant with Abram

Reading: Genesis 15-16

  1. Why was Abram confused when the Lord promised him a great reward?
  2. Whom did Abram initially think would be his heir?
  3. Though Abram believed God, he asked how he could be certain. What was given to him as proof?
  4. How long would it be before God's promise of land to Abram's descendants would be fulfilled? Why couldn't it be fulfilled immediately?
  5. What was the second way that Abram and Sarai thought to help fulfill God's prophesy?
  6. What happened between Sarai and Hagar when Hagar discovered she was pregnant?
  7. What caused Hagar to run away?
  8. What promise was made to Hagar concerning Ishmael?

Fulfilling God's Promises

At the beginning of chapter 15, we read that the Word of the Lord appears to Abram. The wording is interest. It doesn't say that God appeared, but His Word appeared. Some commentators wonder if this is a reference to the Son of God, who is called the Word in John 1:1.

God states that he is Abram's protector and will richly reward Abram. Such promises are often given to followers of God. Christians are told that their faith in God is their shield (Ephesians 6:10-17). God has also promised to richly reward His people (Ephesians 3:20-21).

Despite these promises, Abram discusses his concern that Eliezer would be his heir. The custom of this time was that the eldest living servant born in a man's household would become his heir if the man died childless. To Abram, no amount of blessing was comparable to having a child of his own. God assures Abram that Eliezer would not be his heir, since he would have a child whom he would father. He again tells Abram that his descendants would be numberless, like the stars of the heaven.

Even though none of these things have happened, Abram believed God. Because of his belief, God counted Abram as righteous, even though he had sinned as other men. Abram did not earn his salvation by some mighty deed. It wasn't because Abram fulfilled the Law, since Abram lived before the Law was given. The Jews later claimed that Abram knew the Law before God gave it to Moses. However, notice that Abram was counted righteous before he was given the covenant of circumcision. God counted Abram righteous simply because of his belief in God. (Read Romans 4).

Abram then asks for assurance from God that His promise would be fulfilled. This is not a sign of a lack of faith on Abram's part. We just read that Abram believed God. The need for assurance does not indicate a lack of faith. (See the case of Gideon in Judges 6:11-24, 36-40; 7:9-15 and notice that Gideon is listed as a man of faith in Hebrews 11:32.)

For assurance, Abram enters into a covenant with God. Sometimes covenants are two agreements between two parties. However, in this case Abram does not negotiate any of the terms of the agreement. God tells Abram what he will do. Abram prepares a sacrifice of five clean animals, split in half. The parties walk between the parts to bind the covenant (Jeremiah 34:18-20). Just as Abram would have to wait for God to fulfill the covenant, Abram had to wait for God to bind the covenant. Time passes, darkness falls, and Abram falls asleep. God comes and states the terms of the covenant. Abram's children would be enslaved for 400 years (Exodus 12:40-41, Acts 7:6, Acts 13:19, Galatians 3:17). This would happen in later years because Abram would live to a very old age and live in peace (Genesis 25:7). The fourth generation from those first enslaved would enter the promised land. The reason it could not be earlier is that God would be giving the land to Abram's descendants as a punishment for the sins of the Amorites, who currently occupy the land. A smoking firepot and a flaming torch, representing God, pass between the sacrifices, sealing the covenant. Notice that God only binds himself to the covenant. The fulfillment of this covenant is not dependent on the abilities of Abram.

On the same day, God tells Abram the extent of the land his descendants would occupy and the nations they would displace. This promise was fulfilled in the days of Solomon (I Kings 8:65).

As time went on, Sarai still did not have a child. Therefore, she must have concluded that while God had promise Abram that his descendants would be great, God's promise must not have included her. She offers her personal maid as a substitute. Again, the customs of this time allowed a surrogate mother to deliver an heir to a childless woman. Typically, the surrogate was selected from the childless woman's handmaidens and the woman would personally help with the delivery so she could claim the child as her own. Abram agreed with Sarai's reasoning and took Hagar as his wife.

Things did not go as well as Sarai planned, as so often happens when man attempts to help God's plans along. Often we need to learn to stand still and watch God's plan unfold (Exodus 14:13-14). As soon as Hagar became pregnant, she decided she was a better woman than her mistress. Sarai complained to Abram, but he pointed out that Hagar is Sarai's servant and that she should be able to control her. Unfortunately, Sarai treated her so harshly that Hagar ran away.

An angel of God is sent to Hagar, telling her to return and submit to Sarai's authority. Even though God's promise to Abram did not include Hagar, God, in his mercy, extends his blessing to Hagar's child. The child was to be called Ishmael, which means "God hears". However, the child would grow to be a defiant man, unable to get along with others. As a result he would live to the east of Abram's descendants.

Hagar is surprised that she was visited by God and still lived to tell about it. She recognized that God is able to see even an afflicted woman, hiding in the wilderness. Therefore, she names the well she hid by, "The Well of the Living One Who Sees Me."

Ishmael was born to Abram when he was 86 years old.

For Discussion in Class

Read Genesis 15:13, Exodus 12:40-41, Acts 7:6, Acts 13:19, and Galatians 3:17. Show that these verses are precisely correct (except for Acts 13:19 which states it is an approximation) and do not contradict each other. Hint: no rounding is involved. You must read the verses very carefully. If you get particularly frustrated by this assignment, take a look at Appendix B in this book for a solution to the problem.

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