Abram’s Fear Defeating Righteous Faith
Abram was a human being who experienced fears like we all do. How did Abram overcome his fears? He overcame fear with faith in God. And in the process he found a faith that made him righteous before God. Here in chapter fifteen we are shown the faith that makes one righteous before the LORD. So this is a very important chapter in the Bible.
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”
After Abram’s victorious rescue of Lot it says, “the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision . . .” This is the first mention of the word “vision.” A “vision” (Strong’s #2377 - חָזוֹן châzôwn, khaw-zone’) is a “sight; dream, revelation or oracle.” It is almost always associated with the reception of divine revelation. It is a state of heightened spiritual insight. What was it that God revealed to Abram?
The LORD said to Abram, “Do not be afraid . . .” That raises the question, “What was Abram afraid of?” Abram may have feared a counter attack from those he had just defeated (Genesis 14:13-16). He had just turned down “the goods” offered to him by the king of Sodom; would God sustain him and those with him? If not, would his men rise up against him like Lot’s crew had done before? (Genesis 14:21-23; 12:5-9).
Sometimes like Abram, we step out in faith and do the righteous thing. Then we have doubts or second thoughts about what we’ve done. We think things like, Should I have done that? Should I have said that? Should I have given that much? The reason we think this way is because we are used to relying on ourselves and when we don’t do what is familiar to us, (i.e. act in faith trusting God), we doubt. Part of growing up in the Lord involves learning to trust Him AFTER as well as BEFORE our step of faith.
But God had a cure for Abram’s fears, doubts and second thoughts. The cure was Himself. God tells Abram, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” In other words, God told Abram, “Trust Me!” When we expereince fear, doubts or second throughts about something we’ve done in faith, we need to turn to God in faith and trust Him.
The phrase, “do not be afraid” and “fear not” occur about 61 times in the Bible (NKJV). God says not to fear when:
- When the odds are against you – Genesis 21:17; Exodus 20:20; Deuteronomy 1:21; 31:6,8; Joshua 1; 8:1; 10:25; Isaiah 35:4; 41:10-14..
- When you have sinned, instead of being paralyzed with fear, repent – 1 Samuel 12:20; Isaiah 43:1-5; 44:1-8; Joel 2:21-22; John 12:15.
- When you are put in a position of responsibility – 1 Chronicles 28:20.
· When you face a confusing situation – Daniel 10:12.
- When you are weak – Daniel 10:19.
- When God leads you in an unconventional way – Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:30; John 12:15.
- When you are faced with physical danger – Matthew 10:28.
- When all seems lost – Matthew 28:5.
- When you’re in a seeming hopeless situation – Luke 1:13.
- When God calls you – Luke 5:10; Acts 27:24; Revelation 1:17.
- When you’re physically ill – Luke 8:50
- When you’re in material need – Genesis 21:17; Luke 12:7.
2 But Abram said, “Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!”
Notice, Abram had fears and even some doubts, but He had a close enough relationship with the Lord to ask Him questions. Abram trusted God and felt secure enough in his relationship with God to ask God questions. God welcomes questions asked in faith (see Habakkuk 1:2, 12-13). No question is too tough for God.
God had told Abram that He was his shield and “exceedingly great reward” (15:1). Abram is wondering about that “reward.” God had told him that his descendants would be as “the dust of the earth” (13:16). But Abram and Sarai were getting old. Is Abram the man of faith doubting God? Yes he is. To have faith does not mean the absence of doubt, it means trusting God even in times of doubt. But Abram’s doubt is rooted in a desire to see God’s promise fulfilled. Abram’s doubt is not a denial of God’s promise. Abram is searching for some security and reassurance from God to bolster His faith and there is nothing wrong or sinful with that.
4 And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” 5 Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”
A question asked in faith will always receive a loving response from God. God reassured Abram by telling him he and Sarai would indeed give birth to an heir. God brought Abram outside and said his descendants would be as numerous as the stars of heaven. That must have been pretty impressive to Abram. There are times when we need for God to reassure us and that is okay. God is all too willing to reassure and lead us as we trust Him in our lives.
Abram’s Righteous Faith
6 And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.
This is one of the most important verses in the entire Bible. In this verse we see the means by which God credits a person as righteous. Abram was right with God because he trusted God. Faith in God is what makes us right with God. Every good relationship is grounded in trusting faith. And our relationship with God is no different.
This is the first occurrence in the Bible of the word “believed. The word, “believed” (Strong’s #539 - אָמַן ˒âman, aw-man’) carries with it the idea of finding support in something, of being built up by relying on something. It has the idea of looking to someone to be fostered or nursed by them. It means to render firm faithful trusting belief in someone or something. It means to find assurance in someone or something. Abram’s belief in God was a firm faithful trusting in Him to support him, build him up and to nurture him. That is the kind of faith that God credits as righteous.
The word “account” (Strong’s #2803 - חָשַׁב châshab, khaw-shab’) means to interpenetrate and weave into the fabric of one’s being. Now what was it that God interweaved into Abram because of his faith in God? “Righteousness” was interweaved into Abram’s life by God because he trusted God.
This is the first occurrence of the word “righteousness” in the Bible. “Righteousness” (Strong’s #6666. צְדָקָה tsdâqâh, tsed-aw-kaw’) means, “rightness, justice, rectitude.” Because of Abram’s trusting belief of God, God viewed Abram as right before Him. And that is always the standard of righteousness. A person is acceptable, righteous before God because of their accepting trust of God. This is true in the Old Testament (see also Habakkuk 2:4). This is true in the New Testament (Romans 4:1-3, 9-10, 19-24; Galatians 3:5-7).
We need to look at exactly what Abram’s faith involved in order to have an accurate picture of the faith that makes righteous. First we need to understand that we are not talking about mere belief in God. The Bible says that even demons believe in the existence of God (James 2:19). The belief that is acceptable to God as righteous is believing God. Abram took God at His word and trusted that God could and would provide what He had promised him. The proper emphasis for righteous faith is God not people. It is not our faith that makes us righteous; it is our faith in God that makes us righteous. That is the faith that God accounts as righteous.
God’s Reassuring Covenant Promise
7 Then He said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.”
8 And he said, “Lord God, how shall I know that I will inherit it?”
9 So He said to him, “Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. 11 And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
12 Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him. 13 Then He said to Abram: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. 14 And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. 16 But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”
17 And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces. 18 On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying:
“To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates— 19 the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”
God gives a reassuring response to Abram by reminding Him that it is God who has called him, led him and sustained him since he left Ur of the Chaldeans (15:7). God reveals Himself to us in the circumstances of our lives. By providing for us He reveals to us He is our Provider. By protecting us He reveals to us He is our Protector. To see God in our life circumstances requires a close faith relationship with Him. If we act in our flesh or self reliance we will be insensitive to the work of God around us. But if like Abram we have a close trusting relationship with God we will be more easily reminded of how God is working in our lives.
The process of faith building has bumps in the road at times. This is a true portrayal of the faith building process. Abram is working through his faith and in doing so is seeking assurance and direction from God. Abram had no tangible proof that the land was his. No title deed or anything in writing. And so Abram asks the Lord for some tangible proof that the promise of God was real (15:8).
It is here where we find one of the most incredible events in history. God was going to sign a contract or make a covenant (15:18) with Abram and He was going to do it in blood. How committed was God to Abram (and to us)? God is committed to us unto death. That is what the ceremony of chapter fifteen indicates. The ceremony of Genesis 15:9-11 and 17 symbolized that those who walked between the halved animals were calling upon themselves a similar fate if they did not keep the covenant in question. What is interesting in this ceremony is that only God passed through the halved animal sacrifices (15:17). This tells us that God is the Initiator and by His grace fulfills His covenant. In the New Testament (Covenant) we see God make the same commitment unto death through Jesus Christ (Romans 5:9; 2 Corinthians 5:19).
How committed to God should we be in light of His commitment to us? The Bible tells us that we should be committed to God unto death as well (e.g. Matthew 10:28). We are called to die to our flesh or self reliant ways (Matthew 16:24; Romans 6:6; 12:1-2; Galatians 2:20; 5:24). The Christians banner is the cross of Christ, a symbol of death to the sin of self reliance (1 Corinthians 1:17-18). The cross of Christ is diametrically opposed to the philosophies of this world (Galatians 6:14; Philippians 3:17-21).
Making a total commitment to the Lord will not go unopposed. It will be opposed by doubts raised by your own flesh. And it will be opposed by “vultures” of the enemy as well (15:11). Satan is always looking to snatch away what God seeks to do in our hearts and lives (see the “birds” mentioned by Jesus in the parable of the Sower - Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23).
God confirmed His covenant with Abram further by giving him a prophetic word about his descendants. Abram fell into a deep sleep and was brought into a horrifying state of darkness where he could totally focus on God (15:12). In that dark solitude God spoke to Abram about a certain captivity of his descendants in a foreign land (15:13). This of course was a reference to the 400 year Egyptian captivity (Exodus 1:13-14; Exodus 12:40 – The first 30 years was under the protection of Joseph, the last 400 years under the bondage of Pharaoh). God also spoke of their exodus from bondage (15:14; Exodus 12:36). And God assured Abram of long life and peace (15:15).
God ends the prophetic word by saying that Abram’s descendants who leave Egypt will return to the Promised Land (15:16). And then God gives a reason for this 400 year interlude from the Promised Land. He says, “. . . for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” This was a reference to God’s patient waiting on the Amorites to totally reject Him. God is patient and desires that none perish eternally (2 Peter 3:9). But there is a time where judgment falls on the unrepentant (Psalm 7:9; 96:13; Matthew 16:27; 23:31ff.; Hebrews 9:27). It is hard to exhaust the patience of God, but it is possible and the consequence is terrible (John 12:37-41; Matthew 8:12).
God seals His covenant with Abram not only with the symbol of toal commitment unto death, but with the signs of his holiness and righteous judgment (15:17). One commentator states:
These images are part of the “burning” motif that describes God’s zeal and judgment in the world. Fire represents the consuming, cleansing zeal of Yahweh as well as His unapproachable holiness, which are interrelated (cf. Isaiah 6:3-7)
The “smoking oven” reminds us of the holy presence of God. We see God making His presence known in a similar way through the pillar of a cloud that led the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land (Exodus 13:21-22). God billowed in smoke at Mount Sinai when the Ten Commandments were given (Exodus 19:8). And when the Temple was erected He made His presence known with smoke (1 Kings 8:10-12). The “burning torch” is also a symbol of the holy presence of God. Similarly God made His presence known in a pillar of fire while leading His people through the wilderness by night (Exodus 13:21-22). He showed Himself to Moses in a burning bush (Exodus3:4). And he rained down fire from heaven in scripture (1 Kings 18:38; 1 Chronicles 7:1; 21:26). The New Testament states, “For our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). God bases His covenant with Abram on His total commitment, zealous holiness and righteous judgment. That is an awesome statement by God.
The final verses of chapter 15 confirm to us that Abram and his descendants were given land from God according to specific geographical boundaries as one commentator states, “from the river of Egypt (Wadi el-Arish, not the Nile River) to the great river, the Euphrates. Israel has never possessed this land in its entirety, but she will when Christ returns to reign as Messiah. The Canaanite tribes listed (Gen. 15:19-21) were dispossessed later in the Conquest.” 
In his book Be Obedient Warren Wiersbe makes the concluding remarks on this great chapter of the Bible:
At the beginning of Abraham’s pilgrimage, God said to him, “I will show thee” the land (12:1). Later He said, “I will give it unto thee” (13:15–17). But now His word is, “To your descendants I have given this land” (15:18, NASB). God’s covenant made it a settled matter: The land belongs to Abraham’s descendants through Isaac.
Solomon exercised dominion over a vast area (1 Kings 4:21; Ps. 72:8), but Israel did not possess all that land. The kings merely acknowledged Solomon’s sovereignty and paid tribute to him. When Jesus Christ reigns from the throne of David (Matt. 19:28; Luke 1:32), the land of Israel will reach the full dimensions promised by God.
God’s covenant with Abraham stands no matter what Israel believes. The covenant is unconditional; its fulfillment does not depend on man’s faith or faithfulness. In like manner, the New Covenant established by Jesus Christ is dependable whether people accept it or not. Those who put their faith in Jesus Christ enter into that covenant and receive eternal salvation (Heb. 5:9; 9:12), an eternal inheritance (9:15), and eternal glory (1 Peter 5:10).
When Abraham was concerned about himself, God assured him by saying, “I AM!” When he was concerned about his heir, he heard God say, “I will!” His concern about the land was met by God’s, “I have given!”
In Jesus Christ, God gives those same assurances to His people today. Abraham believed God. Do you believe? 
Are you afraid? God can help you overcome your fears. Do you have questions about God’s promises? God has answers to those questions. Do you believe? God gives you great and sound reason to believe in Him. What will you do with what has been revealed to you?
Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-c1985). The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures (1:55). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-c1985). The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures (1:56). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1991). Be obedient (Ge 15:7). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.