Summary: God walks the blood path to confirm His covenant with Abraham.
In our last study we saw Lot carried away by the kings of the north and how Abraham rescued him. You’d think Abraham would be on top of the world at this point, but we see that’s not the case:
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.
Now, why is Abraham afraid? Some think he’s afraid the Elamites will regroup and come for another battle, but the context of chapter 15 is God’s promise to Abraham for, not only a son, but innumerable descendants and for the Promised Land. God says, “Your reward shall be very great,” but Abraham can’t understand how so when he doesn’t have a natural-born son:
2And Abram said, LORD God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus? 3And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.
He’s followed God in hopes of a land and nation, but he and Sarah are getting old and they still have no son. To be the father of many he first has to be the father of one. If he has no children then Eliezer will inherit all God has given and the promise is good for nothing.
4And, 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.
Here we see the divine decree of God. Eliezer is not God’s choice; God has chosen Isaac to be the heir, and He’ll see it through.
5And 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.
Not only is Abraham promised a natural son, he’s promised innumerable descendants! Picture Abraham in his doubt and fear; he’s worried about having one son, but God says, “Count the stars!” How pitiful that he worried about something as simple as having one son when the One who counts the number of the stars and gives them all names (Psalm 147:4) promised nations from him! Abraham couldn’t create a son for himself any more than he could count the stars, but God can do anything, and Abraham comes to this realization:
6And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
Now, we remember that his belief (his faith) is a gift which is given to him by God in the first place (Heb. 12:2), and by this gift, Abraham was justified (Rom. 5:1). It says here that God reckoned it to him as righteousness. Now, notice that the text doesn’t say that “Abraham was considered righteous,” but that God reckoned (or credited) faith “as righteousness.” It’s true that Abraham is considered righteous simply because he’s in Christ, but here we see that his righteousness is given to him by God as a credit. This is an important point because Paul uses it in Romans 4 to show that righteousness was given to him before he was circumcised: Before he was a circumcised Jew, Abraham was an uncircumcised Gentile! He was one who did not pursue righteousness (Rom. 9:30), yet he received it by the word of Christ (Rom. 10:17). So, God promises a son and many descendants, and Abraham believes Him.
7And 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.
But there’s still a little doubt:
8And he said, LORD God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?
He’s saying, “How can I know for sure that this will happen?” Isn’t it strange that Abraham believes God for descendants as countless as the stars, but he doubts whether God can give him a patch of land? But, you know, God is merciful and patient, and He’s going to help Abraham in his unbelief. He does something that at first seems strange, and I want to explain it to you before we read it so that it will make sense to you. What we’re about to read is sometimes called the Blood Path. It’s normally a contract between two people which assures that both parties will uphold their end of the bargain. What happens is animals are cut in half and their parts are laid opposite each other in two parallel lines to make a path. The two people walk between the dead animals as a gesture to say, “If I don’t fulfill my end of the deal, then may what happened to these animals happen to me.” And God uses a modified form of this contract to covenant with Abraham. Abraham asks, “How can I be sure You’ll do what You’re telling me?”