We have here the assurance given to Abram of a numerous offspring which should descend from him, in which observe,
I. Abram’s repeated complaint, Gen. 15:2, 3. This was that which gave occasion to this promise. The great affliction that sat heavy upon Abram was the want of a child; and the complaint of this he here pours out before the Lord, and shows before him his trouble, Ps. 142:2. Note, Though we must never complain of God, yet we have leave to complain to him, and to be large and particular in the statement of our grievances; and it is some ease to a burdened spirit to open its case to a faithful and compassionate friend: such a friend God is, whose ear is always open. Now his complaint is four-fold:—1. That he had no child (Gen. 15:3): Behold, to me thou hast given no seed; not only no son, but no seed; if he had had a daughter, from her the promised Messiah might have come, who was to be the seed of the woman; but he had neither son nor daughter. He seems to lay an emphasis on that, to me. His neighbours were full of children, his servants had children born in his house. “But to me,” he complains, “thou hast given none;” and yet God had told him he should be a favourite above all. Note, Those that are written childless must see God writing them so. Again, God often withholds those temporal comforts from his own children which he gives plentifully to others that are strangers to him. 2. That he was never likely to have any, intimated in that I go, or “I am going, childless, going into years, going down the hill apace; nay, I am going out of the world, going the way of all the earth. I die childless,” so the LXX. “I leave the world, and leave no child behind me.” 3. That his servants were for the present and were likely to be to him instead of sons. While he lived, the steward of his house was Eliezer of Damascus; to him he committed the care of his family and estate, who might be faithful, but only as a servant, not as a son. When he died, one born in his house would be his heir, and would bear rule over all that for which he had laboured, Eccl. 2:18, 19, 21. God had already told him that he would make of him a great nation (Gen. 12:2), and his seed as the dust of the earth (Gen. 13:16); but he had left him in doubt whether it should be his seed begotten or his seed adopted, by a son of his loins or only a son of his house. “Now, Lord,” says Abram, “if it be only an adopted son, it must be one of my servants, which will reflect disgrace upon the promised seed, that is to descend from him.” Note, While promised mercies are delayed our unbelief and impatience are apt to conclude them denied. 4. That the want of a son was so great a trouble to him that it took away the comfort of all his enjoyments: “Lord, what wilt thou give me? All is nothing to me, if I have not a son.” Now, (1.) If we suppose that Abram looked no further than a temporal comfort, this complaint was culpable. God had, by his providence, given him some good things, and more by his promise; and yet Abram makes no account of them, because he has not a son. It did very ill become the father of the faithful to say, What wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, immediately after God had said, I am thy shield, and thy exceedingly great reward. Note, Those do not rightly value the advantages of their covenant-relation to God and interest in him who do not think them sufficient to balance the want of any creature-comfort whatever. But, (2.) If we suppose that Abram, herein, had a eye to the promised seed, the importunity of his desire was very commendable: all was nothing to him, if he had not the earnest of that great blessing, and an assurance of his relation to the Messiah, of which God had already encouraged him to maintain the expectation. He has wealth, and victory, and honour; but, while he is kept in the dark about the main matter, it is all nothing to him. Note, Till we have some comfortable evidence of our interest in Christ and the new covenant, we should not rest satisfied with any thing else. “This, and the other, I have; but what will all this avail me, if I go Christless?” Yet thus far the complaint was culpable, that there was some diffidence of the promise at the bottom of it, and a weariness of waiting God’s time. Note, True believers sometimes find it hard to reconcile God’s promises and his providences, when they seem to disagree.
II. God’s gracious answer to this complaint. To the first part of the complaint (Gen. 15:2) God gave no immediate answer, because there was something of fretfulness in it; but, when he renews his address somewhat more calmly (Gen. 15:3), God answered him graciously. Note, If we continue instant in prayer, and yet pray with a humble submission to the divine will, we shall not seek in vain. 1. God gave him an express promise of a son, Gen. 15:4. This that is born in thy house shall not be thy heir, as thou fearest, but one that shall come forth out of thy own bowels shall be thy heir. Note, (1.) God makes heirs; he says, “This shall not, and this shall;” and whatever men devise and design, in settling their estates, God’s counsel shall stand. (2.) God is often better to us than our own fears, and gives the mercy we had long despaired of. 2. To affect him the more with this promise, he took him out, and showed him the stars (this vision being early in the morning, before day), and then tells him, So shall thy seed be, Gen. 15:5. (1.) So numerous; the stars seem innumerable to a common eye: Abram feared he should have no child at all, but God assured him that the descendants from his loins should be so many as not to be numbered. (2.) So illustrious, resembling the stars in splendour; for to them pertained the glory, Rom. 9:4. Abram’s seed, according to his flesh, were like the dust of the earth (Gen. 13:16), but his spiritual seed are like the stars of heaven, not only numerous, but glorious, and very precious.
III. Abram’s firm belief of the promise God now made him, and God’s favourable acceptance of his faith, Gen. 15:6. 1. He believed in the Lord, that is, he believed the truth of that promise which God had now made him, resting upon the irresistible power and the inviolable faithfulness of him that made it. Hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good? Note, Those who would have the comfort of the promises must mix faith with the promises. See how the apostle magnifies this faith of Abram, and makes it a standing example, Rom. 4:19-21. He was not weak in faith; he staggered not at the promise; he was strong in faith; he was fully persuaded. The Lord work such a faith in every one of us! Some think that his believing in the Lord respected, not only the Lord promising, but the Lord promised, the Lord Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant. He believed in him, that is, received and embraced the divine revelation concerning him, and rejoiced to see his day, though at so great a distance, John 8:56. 2. God counted it to him for righteousness; that is, upon the score of this he was accepted of God, and, as the rest of the patriarchs, by faith he obtained witness that he was righteous, Heb. 11:4. This is urged in the New Testament to prove that we are justified by faith without the works of the law (Rom. 4:4; Gal. 3:6); for Abram was so justified while he was yet uncircumcised. If Abram, that was so rich in good works, was not justified by them, but by his faith, much less can we, that are so poor in them. This faith, which was imputed to Abram for righteousness, had lately struggled with unbelief (Gen. 15:2), and, coming off a conqueror, it was thus crowned, thus honoured. Note, A fiducial practical acceptance of, and dependence upon, God’s promise of grace and glory, in and through Christ, is that which, according to the tenour of the new covenant, gives us a right to all the blessings contained in that promise. All believers are justified as Abram was, and it was his faith that was counted to him for righteousness.