Cultivating Faith: A Man of Patience (Genesis 15.1-21)
Have you ever struggled with what you know to be the promise of God, but it doesn’t seem to be a present reality? As Dr. Bob Jones, Sr. said, “No doubt the trouble is with you!” God provided Abraham with a great promise in Genesis 12, but he was struggling with present reality by the time we reach Genesis 15.
After these things the word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward. And Abram said, Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus? And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir (Genesis 15.1-3).
Abraham is fearful and wondering what happened to the promise of God. God responds by telling him that He is his shield, his exceedingly great reward. God is both the protector and fulfiller of promises. However from Abraham’s perspective, the proof is in the pudding. There is no son …no natural heir. Perhaps Eliezer is to be heir, but that cannot be because he is a servant and not a son. Perhaps Abraham should adopt his faithful servant to be a faithful son. But God will have none of this.
God mercifully reiterated the promise He had made earlier. It will not be an adopted servant but an actual son as an answer to the promise God made. God used the stars of heaven as an object lesson (Genesis 15.4-5). This will be the number of Abraham’s actual descendants.
How does Abraham respond to this? “And [Abram] believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15.6). Abraham’s belief or faith is the key in this verse. He trusted in God. This has been and always will be the way of deliverance, whether it comes to the deliverance of a man’s eternal soul or deliverance from agonizing adversity.
When did Abraham believe to the saving of his soul? It was when God called him out of Ur in Genesis 12. The writer of Hebrews speaks:
By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11.8-10).
Abraham is not circumcised until Genesis 17. He is 99 in that chapter of Scripture. This is several years after his actual conversion. Circumcision is a sign of Abraham’s faith, but it is not the basis of his justification. The same could be said about Christian baptism. Baptism is a sign of faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; it does not justify anyone. Paul said, in Romans 4.9-12:
Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.
Just as Abraham, we are justified by faith in the gift of God. The gift of God is the sacrifice of His only begotten Son. Faith is not a work of man; faith is man’s acceptance of the work of God. Romans 4.3 clearly tells us that Abraham believed God and that that belief was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. As we work backwards in Romans 4, we find that Abraham was not justified by works or else he would have something about which he could boast (see Romans 4.2). Therefore faith is not a work of man but acceptance of the free grace of God. Faith is not work but resting in God’s work.
Man has always been saved by grace through faith. If faith is a work, then man would be justified by works. However man is justified by faith not works.
[Abraham] staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness (Romans 4.20-22).
Galatians 3.6 adds that Abraham believed God and that his belief was accounted to him for righteousness. That is why only those who believe are truly sons of Abraham.
Salvation is offered by God; it is all of His grace. Faith is man receiving the free gift of God. The believer trusts or rests in the work of Another not in himself or in his own work. I don’t believe God causes men to believe; however, I do believe God grants to mankind the avenue of faith. We take it or leave it. This understanding of faith means that when I meet God before His throne, I will have no one to blame but myself for rejecting His gracious avenue of faith. The time for faith is alway when you cannot see. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11.1).
Abraham believed God. He looked for a Savior to come. We believe God and look back to a Savior who has already come. Abraham and New Testament believers are saved the same way: By grace alone through faith alone!
The context of Genesis 15 indicates that Abraham’s faith must be in the promise of God. This faith is cultivated and strengthened by yet another revelation of God:
And he said unto him, I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it. And he said, Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it (Genesis 15.7-8)?
Abraham desired confirmation or a sign. God does not rebuke Abraham for this. As a matter of fact God provides a sign for him and for many saints in the Scripture. These signs strengthen the faith of believers. Gideon (Judges 6) and Hezekiah (2 Kings 20.8) are examples of believers strengthened by the signs God granted them.
Ahaz (Isaiah 7) is an example of a sanctimonious king who snubbed God’s prophet by saying, “I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord” (Isaiah 7.12)! But the Lord gave him a sign anyway. When the sign was rejected, Ahaz expressed unbelief. There is irony here for those who carefully follow this thread of thought.
Abraham asks for a sign, but he expresses faith in doing so. He is longing to see the promise God made him fulfilled. So God graciously replies:
And [God] said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon. And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not. And when the fowls came down upon the carcases, Abram drove them away.
This seems strange until you understand that God condescended to the practice of men who cut a covenant but literally cutting an animal in half. Both parties involved in the covenant would pass between the halves of the animal in order to confirm their agreement. But God alone walks between the halves of animals:
And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him. And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full. And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces. In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates: The Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites, And the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims, And the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites (Genesis 15.12-21).
God appears as a smoking furnace or oven and a burning lamp or torch passing between the halves and cutting the covenant with Abraham unconditionally. God had Abraham set things up and protect the slaughtered animals from vultures, but He alone passed through the halves. God is pictured as a smoking oven and burning torch to symbolize His great power and holiness (cp. Exodus 19.18; Isaiah 6).
Abraham fell into a deep sleep before this unfolded. It is the same kind of sleep Adam fell into when Eve was created in Genesis 2.21. Great darkness overwhelmed Abraham. The darkness filled him with horror. God is a God to be feared, a consuming fire. Abraham was overwhelmed by the powerful and holy God!
God promised and foretold many things in Genesis 15. But still Abraham is looking toward an uncertain future at the end of this covenant. The promise remains elusive to him; it is not a present reality. God is cultivating a life of faith within him.
We have a lot in common with Abraham when it comes to cultivating a life of faith. We look toward the future even as he did. We look for a continuing city …for Heaven and a bright and glorious reign. But this is not a present reality. Yet we patiently wait as we cultivate a life of faith. How do we patiently abide in Him and in His promises? God has given us nothing less than His powerful and holy presence. He dwells in each of us, affirming that His revealed Word is completely true. Paul wrote, “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5.1).
Do not fear or be discouraged when the promises of God do not seem to be a present reality in your life. Simply believe. Abraham patiently endured and then he obtained the promise (see Hebrews 6.15). We must patiently endure until the glorious appearing of our Great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Galatians 6.9). Cultivate a life of faith by imitating those who through faith and patience inherit the promises (Hebrews 6.12)! The patient cultivate a life of faith!