On the heels of war, the Lord brings encouragement to Abram by promising to be his help and His shield (v. 1). The Lord will be present with Abram, and He will care for Abram and provide for him abundantly. However, Abram is disillusioned by God’s word of covenant promise to him, since he remained childless (vv. 2-3). The inquiry from Abram highlights the issue in the chapter—namely, delay. God’s providences didn’t seem to align with His promises. In fact, they seemed very far apart as long as Abram was without a child. He was not satisfied at the possibility of an estate without an heir, nor with a son without the land. He was not content until he laid hold of the full promise of God.
A gracious renewal of the original promise is vividly illustrated in verses 4-5. However, it doesn’t necessarily make things better, since Abram is still old, still without child, and Sarai is still barren. But as we read in Romans 4:18-21, “In hope against hope he believed…” What an amazing response! Abram stood firm in the midst of seeming hopelessness. Despite the destitution and despair of his circumstances, he is standing steadfast on the promises of God. Faith is not a leap in the dark, but rather trust in the good Word of God. Those who would be numbered among Abram’s children must exercise the same kind of faith. Both then and now, we are justified by looking with faith to the promised Seed who brings the blessing of salvation to the nations.
Abram’s question “How may I know…?” in verse 8 is not a doubting inquiry or a sinful distrust, but a believing request for covenant confirmation. In a similar fashion, Mary’s question following the promise made to her was not rooted in doubt, and she received a gracious response (Luke 1:34). Zacharias, on the other hand, received a severe rebuke for his question, because it came from unbelief (Luke 1:18).
The ratification ritual (vv 9-11) was a vivid picture of the curse invoked if the conditions of the covenant were broken. The fate of the animals in this ritual serves to point out what will happen to those who violate covenant obligations. It’s as if each party is saying, “If I break the covenant, may I be torn to pieces like this animal.” However, rather than Abram passing through the animals, God takes full responsibility by passing through alone (v. 17). This is wonderfully fulfilled in Christ! On the cross, the covenant curse fell on Jesus, and all who place their trust in Him will experience all the blessings of the covenant.
- There is often a reality gap in our lives: the promises of God seem to be in conflict with His providences. But this is part of God’s plan for His creation. Heirs of heaven must first be strangers on earth. Co-heirs with Christ are servants of the Most High and must often suffer in this life. These delays and difficulties, however, do not nullify the promises, but simply drive us to them that we might base our hope increasingly on the faithfulness of the One who has made them to us in Christ.
- What in your life seems to demonstrate this reality rift? What is the right way to respond to those difficulties or sufferings according to this passage? What are some of the promises of God that you can take encouragement in today as you live as a stranger on the earth?