The fifteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis contains one the most referenced grace messages of the Hebrew Testament.
Let's take a look at the first six verses.
1 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.
2 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?
3 And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.
4 And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.
5 And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.
6 And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
Both Paul and James refer to this sixth verse as proof of God's grace existing before the Law, and thus being of greater value, even to the extent that works cannot save anyone, but that true salvation is only through the grace of God.
This is the real covenant, that God made with Abraham, that we who truly believe will be reckoned as being righteous, even though we are not completely righteous.
It's our faith that brings us to a state of repentance, which God considers equivalent to actual righteousness.
But as we look primarily at this sixth verse, we need to remember what God said to Abram (Abraham) in the first verse. He said, "Fear not!"
Abraham's fear was the result of his recognition of his own sins in the presence of a wholly righteous God; a God who saw the very intent of his heart.
God declared Abraham righteous. It isn't that Abraham was in fact completely righteous. We need to remember this as we go on.
And as we go on, don't be afraid to walk in Abraham's shoes and feel as he feels, for in so doing, we should get a better understanding of our own personal relationship with the Lord.
In this context, it's important that we pay particular attention to the next two verses (7-8).
7 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.
8 And he said, Lord GOD, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?
We were just told in verse 6 that Abraham believed God. Now, here in verse 8, Abraham is showing signs of doubt.
He isn't fully believing God.
And then something curious happened, which I personally struggled with for several years, for it didn't make any sense to me in context with the verses we have looked at so far.
Note what we are told in verses 9-10.
9 And he 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.
10 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.
This is an act of work, not one of faith.
And besides this, how could such a gory act of cutting an animal in half and laying it out on the ground have anything to do with God's grace?
It doesn't; that is, in light of the declaration of righteousness bestowed upon Abraham because of his belief in God.
Furthermore, this whole sacrifice is against the heavenly will of God, because there is no pain or suffering or death in heaven.
Then why did God do this?
If we check the history of the times, we find that this was a practice of the Chaldeans, the pagan land in which Abraham had lived.
It was the land from which God led Abraham away; but there was a part of Abraham that wouldn't completely let go of some of the pagan practices.
What God is doing here is condescending to what He sees in Abraham's heart.
God didn't need five animals to die to bestow a covenant with Abraham, for He had already bestowed it.
It was Abraham who needed some sort of visible sign, and he was obviously thinking of this pagan practice, which is evidenced by the fact that God reminds him that he brought him out of that land.
Thus, God told him to go ahead and do it.
But note what happens after he does it.
11 And when the fowls came down upon the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
Abraham chased these birds away, because they were attempting to eat the covenant.
And I believe that God sent these birds to prove a point to Abraham.
That which is of death, attracts death, and not life.
Only God's grace brings life.
And this event must have greatly troubled Abraham, as we can see as we read further.
12 And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him.
Terror came upon Abraham because he began to understand the awesome power of God, and how God had read his mind, and that this wasn't what God really desired.
What God wanted was for Abraham to simply believe Him.
And this fear and horror is multiplied as God tells him of the future.
13 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;
14 And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.
15 And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age.
16 But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.
Once again we hear a message of grace for others.
God is even allowing the Amorites another 400 years to repent and change their ways.
But God also sees the intent of their hearts, too, and knows that for the most part, their hearts are not as Abraham's.
17 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.
Even though this is not what God desires, He nevertheless confirms the covenant.
18 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:
19 The Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites,
20 And the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims,
21 And the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites. (KJV)
Those who turn away from the Lord lose what they have, and those who believe in the Lord gain what the others have lost.
But now, God has given us the last sacrifice, His own Son, Jesus Christ.
Any additional sacrifice will not do any good, in fact, such sacrifice will actually do harm, for it says that we don't really believe that Jesus paid the price of our sins, once for all times.
God's grace to Abraham was to be a free gift, yet Abraham felt a need to add something to it.
God's extension of His grace to us, today, is also a free gift; all we have to do is receive it, by faith.
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