We have here the assurance given to Abram of the land of Canaan for an inheritance.
I. God declares his purpose concerning it, Gen. 15:7. Observe here, Abram made no complaint in this matter, as he had done for the want of a child. Note, Those that are sure of an interest in the promised seed will see no reason to doubt of a title to the promised land. If Christ is ours, heaven is ours. Observe again, When he believed the former promise (Gen. 15:6) then God explained and ratified this to him. Note, To him that has (improves what he has) more shall be given. Three things God here reminds Abram of, for his encouragement concerning the promise of this good land:—
1. What God is in himself: I am the Lord Jehovah; and therefore, (1.) “I may give it to thee, for I am sovereign Lord of all, and have a right to dispose of the whole earth.” (2.) “I can give it to thee, whatever opposition may be made, though by the sons of Anak.” God never promises more than he is able to perform, as men often do. (3.) “I will make good my promise to thee.” Jehovah is not a man that he should lie.
2. What he had done for Abram. He had brought him out of Ur of the Chaldees, out of the fire of the Chaldees, so some, that is, either from their idolatries (for the Chaldeans worshipped the fire), or from their persecutions. The Jewish writers have a tradition that Abram was cast into a fiery furnace for refusing to worship idols, and was miraculously delivered. It is rather a place of that name. Thence God brought him by an effectual call, brought him with a gracious violence, snatched him as a brand out of the burning. This was, (1.) A special mercy: “I brought thee, and left others, thousands, to perish there.” God called him alone, Isa. 51:2. (2.) A spiritual mercy, a mercy to his soul, a deliverance from sin and its fatal consequences. If God save our souls, we shall want nothing that is good for us. (3.) A fresh mercy, lately bestowed, and therefore should be the more affecting, as that in the preface to the commandments, I am the Lord that brought thee out of Egypt lately. (4.) A foundation mercy, the beginning of mercy, peculiar mercy to Abram, and therefore a pledge and earnest of further mercy, Isa. 66:9. Observe how God speaks of it as that which he gloried in: I am the Lord that brought thee out. He glories in it as an act both of power and grace; compare Isa. 29:22; where he glories in it, long afterwards. Thus saith the Lord who redeemed Abraham, redeemed him from sin.
3. What he intended to do yet further for him: “I brought thee hither, on purpose to give thee this land to inherit it, not only to possess it, but to possess it as an inheritance, which is the sweetest and surest title.” Note, (1.) The providence of God has secret but gracious designs in all its various dispensations towards good people; we cannot conceive the projects of Providence, till the event shows them in all their mercy and glory. (2.) The great thing God designs in all his dealings with his people is to bring them safely to heaven. They are chosen to salvation (2 Thess. 2:13), called to the kingdom (1 Thess. 2:12), begotten to the inheritance (1 Pet. 1:3, 4), and by all made meet for it, Col. 1:12, 13; 2 Cor. 4:17.
II. Abram desires a sign: Whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it? Gen. 15:8. This did not proceed from distrust of God’s power or promise, as that of Zacharias; but he desired this, 1. For the strengthening and confirming of his own faith; he believed (Gen. 15:6), but here he prays, Lord, help me against my unbelief. Now he believed, but he desired a sign to be treasured up against an hour of temptation, not knowing how his faith might, by some event or other, be shocked and tried. Note, We all need, and should desire, helps from heaven for the confirming of our faith, and should improve sacraments, which are instituted signs, for that purpose. See Jdg. 6:36-40; 2 Kgs. 20:8-10; Isa. 7:11-12. 2. For the ratifying of the promise to his posterity, that they also might be brought to believe it. Note, Those that are satisfied themselves should desire that others also may be satisfied of the truth of God’s promises. John sent his disciples to Christ, not so much for his own satisfaction as for theirs, Matt. 11:2, 3. Canaan was a type of heaven. Note, It is a very desirable thing to know that we shall inherit the heavenly Canaan, that is, to be confirmed in our belief of the truth of that happiness, and to have the evidences of our title to it more and more cleared up to us.
III. God directs Abram to make preparations for a sacrifice, intending by that to give him a sign, and Abram makes preparation accordingly (Gen. 15:9-11): Take me a heifer, etc. Perhaps Abram expected some extraordinary sign from heaven; but God gives him a sign upon a sacrifice. Note, Those that would receive the assurances of God’s favour, and would have their faith confirmed, must attend instituted ordinances, and expect to meet with God in them. Observe, 1. God appointed that each of the beasts used for this service should be three years old, because then they were at their full growth and strength: God must be served with the best we have, for he is the best. 2. We do not read that God gave Abram particular directions how to manage these beasts and fowls, knowing that he was so well versed in the law and custom of sacrifices that he needed not any particular directions; or perhaps instructions were given him, which he carefully observed, thought they are not recorded: at least it was intimated to him that they must be prepared for the solemnity of ratifying a covenant; and he well knew the manner of preparing them. 3. Abram took as God appointed him, though as yet he knew not how these things should become a sign to him. This was not the first instance of Abram’s implicit obedience. He divided the beasts in the midst, according to the ceremony used in confirming covenants, Jer. 34:18, 19, where it is said, They cut the calf in twain, and passed between the parts. 4. Abram, having prepared according to God’s appointment, now set himself to wait for the sign God might give him by these, like the prophet upon his watch-tower, Hab. 2:1. While God’s appearing to own his sacrifice was deferred, Abram continued waiting, and his expectations were raised by the delay; when the fowls came down upon the carcases to prey upon them, as common and neglected things, Abram drove them away (Gen. 15:11), believing that the vision would, at the end, speak, and not lie. Note, A very watchful eye must be kept upon our spiritual sacrifices, that nothing be suffered to prey upon them and render them unfit for God’s acceptance. When vain thoughts, like these fowls, come down upon our sacrifices, we must drive them away, and not suffer them to lodge within us, but attend on God without distraction.
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