God’s Covenant With Abram (Genesis 15)

After his military victory, and his fellowship with Melchizedek, Abram is visited by God once again.  God reiterates his 2 promises that Abram would have many descendents and that they would possess the land of Canaan.  To bolster Abram’s confidence in these promises God enters into a covenant with Abram.

Lets go through the chapter in 4 sections:

  1. God’s Promises
  2. Abram’s Confusion
  3. God’s Covenant
  4. Some Lessons


God visits Abram again and promises blessings.  He starts out in verse 1 saying, “…..”  Then God reiterates his previous 2 blessings:  that Abram would have innumerable descendents and that they would possess the land of Canaan.  Notice verse 5 and then verse 7.

God is not changing his promises with Abram but adding to what He has already revealed.  It’s like a dad saying to his son, “I’m going to give you a car.”  Then later he comes back and says, “I’m going to give you a Ford Mustang.”  Then later he comes back and says, “I’m going to give you a Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500.”  (Right dad?!)  The dad isn’t changing his promise, he’s giving more details about the promise, starting from very general to very specific.  

This is what God is doing with Abram:  He gives Abram some stunning promises in chapte 12.  From then on God is going to repeatedly appear to Abram and give him more details about those promises.  

  • In chapter 12 we saw a great nation would come from Abram, that Abram would be a blessing to all peoples, that his name would be great and that his descendents would live in Canaan. 
  • Then in chapter 13 God reiterated the promise that his descendants would be many and that they would live in the land of Canaan, but he added the detail that they would possess it “forever.” 
  • Now in chapter 15 God is going to do three new things:  
  • first he finally and specifically mentions a son will be born to Abram.  Notice verse 4, “….”  Obviously a son was implied in everything before, BUT to actually hear it from God….
  • Second, God adds a new detail about the land by giving detailed information about the borders of the land Abram’s descendents would possess (v18-19).
  • Finally, in chapter 15 God takes these promises and guarantees them to Abram in the form of a covenant.  We’ll cover this shortly.
  • In chapter 17 and 22 these promises will be confirmed again to Abram.  

Notice for now though the land.  The specific boundaries are given.  But also notice that all that land belongs to other nations.  God is going to take it from them and give it to the Israelites.  Notice verse 16 tells us the reason why God is waiting 400 years:  the Amorites’ sin is in the process of swelling up

We might wonder why God keeps coming to Abram and repeating these promises to him while Abram is waiting.  One reason is because Abram had to wait a long time.  He waited 25 years for God to finally give him his own child.  He was promised at age 75 and he became a father at age 100.  He had to wait a long time.  God wasn’t staying silent for 25 years.  He kept coming to Abram to remind him, reassure him, and strengthen him in his faith.  

APPLICATION:  Wait on God.  God is going to do everything He has promised but He is going to do it WHEN He has decided to.  Not when we decide for Him to.  Wait on God.

Another way of saying this is “Faith persists.”  Faith persists over time and no matter how “impossible” the situations become.  Think about it:  the older Abram and Sarai got the less likely they were able to have kids, humanly speaking.  The challenge for them was continuing to believe God’s promise even though year after year passed and the possibility of God’s word coming true seemed to slip away.  Waiting can mess with your mind.  BUT, faith persists.  Faith persists over time and through situations. 


It’s interesting God told Abram not to be afraid.  What was Abram afraid of?  He wasn’t afraid of any enemies, he just demonstrated how valiant he was in chapter 13.  He wasn’t afraid of the king of Sodom, or of the loss of wealth as he told Bera to take all the possessions.  He didn’t seem afraid of losing Lot or allies.  The fear Abram had is indicated in the very next verses:  he had no heir.  He was childless.  Abram is struggling to see how all these promises will happen since he and his wife are still childless.  Notice verses 2-3, “….”  Then notice verse 8, “….” 

“How can I know…” Abram asked God.  God’s response was to take those promises He had been making and formally enter into a covenant with Abram, an action that would bring a stronger assurance to Abram that God’s promises were indeed going to come true.  In other words, verse 18 is the answer to verse 8 – Abram’s question in verse 8 “How can I know” is answered in verse 18, “God made a covenant with Abram.”  

Is Abram expressing doubt here?  I would say yes and no.  During our study through Mark’s Gospel we learned that there are two kinds of doubt.  One is deliberate, hard-hearted rejection no matter what.  We saw this with the Pharisees – no matter how much evidence and proof Jesus gave they always rejected him.  But then there is what I call the unbelief of ignorance. Or you can call it undeveloped faith because it never had had an experience with God to give it something to believe in.  Its faith that is potential and it just needs God to show He is God and belief will spring. It isnt the calculated rejection of Jesus.  

This seems like the guy in Mark 9 who said, “IF you can do something to help please do it.”  Jesus retorted, “IF?!  IF I can do something?!”  He didn’t know Jesus and what He was capable of.  His faith needed some help from the Lord to grow.  Undeveloped faith.  It’s different than hardened rejection.  If you apply this concept then what the Gospels say about the disciples will make more sense.  You’ll read in one chapter where Jesus affirms their faith, then later he’ll rebuke them for their doubt, then even later exclaim, “At last you believe!”  Their whole time with Jesus was teaching them more and more how much they could trust Jesus.  They had the unbelief of ignorance, or undeveloped faith.  Jesus was developing it.  

It is quite startling that verse 6 is situated in the middle of Abram’s two questions that reflect his struggle with understanding how God is going to fulfill his promises.  Verse 6 is foundational to all of the Bible’s teaching on salvation.  The most essential passages in the NT explaining salvation stand on top of this one single verse.  It is THE most theologically important verse for us to know.  Look at it:  Abram believed God and he credited it to him as righteousness.  God considered Abram to be righteous BECAUSE Abram believed what God said to him.  Turn to Romans 4:3 and 21-24.  

Then turn to Galatians 3:6-7

Turn to James 2:23


From here on out for the rest of Scripture you cannot get away from this covenant. God makes it the basis for nearly everything else from now on.  

  • Exodus 2:24, “God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.”
  • Deuteronomy 29:12-13, “…”
  • Psalm 105:5-11
  • Luke 1:69-73
  • We could go on from Psalm 106 to Isaiah 41 and 51 to Jeremiah 33 and Micah 7 to Romans 4, Galatians 4 to Hebrews 6 and 11.  We are tripping all the time on references to God’s covenant with Abraham all through the rest of the Bible.

The word for covenant in Genesis 15:18 literally is “cut”, God formed a “cut” with Abram, a covenant.  It comes from the ritual we see happens.  The ritual was just like the ancient cultural practice of forming contracts in Abram’s day.  Animals would be cut in half and the halves would be laid opposite each other.  Then the two parties would walk through the halves of the animals.  It was a solemn act where both parties were agreeing to fulfill their obligations of the contract.  If either should fail to uphold their end of the deal they would become like the animals they just walked passed.  Yikes!  

Speaking of this very thing God spoke much later in history in Jeremiah 34:18, “Those who have violated my covenant and have not fulfilled the terms of the covenant they made before me, I will treat like the calf they cut in two and then walked between its pieces.”

As I mentioned the Hebrew word for covenant literally means “to cut.”  God formed a “cut” with Abraham.  Keil and Delitzsch point out how meaningful this would have been for Abram, “God condescended to follow the custom of the Chaldeans, that He might in the most solemn manner confirm His oath to Abram the Chaldean.”  In other words, Abram needed assurance, so God “spoke his language” and formed a covenant with him in the way Abram would have been accustomed to. 

Its like me promising my little 4 year old that I’m going to bring her back a candy from the store.  And to make sure she understands that I mean it I do something she’s familiar with.  She and her siblings do it with each other when they want to make each other “swear” they’ll do what they promise.  When she’s playing with her stuffed animals her stuffed animals she makes them do this little gesture when they make promises.  So I want to “speak her language” so she understands I’ll do it.  So I get down on one knee and I lock pinkies with her.  And I look at her and say, “I’m gonna get you that candy.”  And she smiles and gets all excited.  

APPLICATION:  God will meet your heart’s need.

APPLICATION:  God knows that He tells the truth, and everything He does with us is to make us know it too.  Think about it:  God didn’t do a miracle for Abram like He did for Gideon.  He didn’t do some supernatural act to overwhelm Abram with how powerful He was.  When Abram asked for assurance, God simply made the promise even “stronger” by making it a contract.   “Abram, I promise I’ll do all this for you.  You need assurance?  Okay, I’ll make those promises into a formal covenant.  Feel better?”  In other words, God concentrated Abram’s attention even more on God’s faithfulness.  It’s good enough that God said it will happen.  We don’t need anymore assurance than God’s word.  But when He “swears” by it and promises on oath, and forms a covenant our confidence should be unshakable that God is going to make it all happen.  

Now, with that in mind, you’ll notice in the text that God alone passed between the animals.  Abram did not.  Its as if God has declared to Abram:  “I am doing this so you see that I alone am committing myself to making these promises happen.  These things will take place as I have said because of Me and Me alone.  No human, including you, will have anything to do with causing these things to come about.  It doesn’t depend on man’s strength or man’s faithfulness.  It depends on My strength and My faithfulness.  And I will do it.”  In other words, God took the active role in this agreement and Abram was essentially passive.  God has committed himself to getting all these things done and Abram and his descendents 

We also cannot overlook the detailed prophecy found in verse 13-14.  If you’ve been around the Bible for long you’ll immediately recognize this as Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and their wandering in the desert before finally entering and conquering the land of Canaan.  Abram’s son Isaac inherited the promise from God, then Isaac’s son Jacob, then Jacob’s 12 sons became the 12 tribes of Israel and they are the Hebrews, the Jews, the Israelites, the descendents of Abraham who would be enslaved, mistreated, delivered, and possess the land of Canaan where Abram was at that moment standing. 


Some significant lessons come out of Genesis 15.  

  1. Prophecies are fulfilled as they are stated.  What God said would happen with Abram’s offspring happened exactly as he said it would.  Trust God will do exactly what He said He will do.
  2. God will never forsake or destroy the Israelites – the descendents of Abram.
  3. Abram’s physical descendents, the Israelites, will be at the center of God’s plans for this world from then on and forever
  4. Waiting is part of the Christian life.  Abram had to wait a long time for God’s promise to come true.  What are you waiting for?  The question is not “are you waiting” but “HOW are you waiting?”  Is waiting making your faith worse or better? 
  5. Righteousness before God is by faith.  Abram believed God and God considered him righteous for it.  Do you believe God? 

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