After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” 4 And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” 5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6 And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. 
By the time we reached Genesis 13, Abram has become a man of tremendous wealth and a powerful chieftain in the hills of Hebron. By the end of chapter 14, he owned almost everyone and everything in the five-city region that included Sodom and Gomorrah. But everything and everyone he won from his slaughter of the four great kings and their armies he gave back. He gave back to God by tithing to the Canaanite priest-king Melchizedek – a man who prefigured Messiah Jesus, the Promised Seed. And he gave back to Sodom and the other four petty kings all their property and people so none could claim they had made Abram wealthy. Abram’s previous sinful failures had led him to a greater trust into the bare word of the One True Covenant Creator God.
These six verses before us complete a kind of literary tripod in the Toledoth of Abram. First, we saw God’s calling of Abram, grounded in God’s eternal council and decree that chose Abram out from among all his fellow demon worshipping pagans in Ur. Next, we saw God’s faithfulness, his steadfast love of Abram based upon absolutely NOTHING in Abram, a man of both very great and very weak trust depending upon the circumstances. God is not faithful to his people because of who WE are; he is faithful solely because of who HE is. Genesis 15:1-6 completes our literary tripod by showing us God’s power.
“We have already seen how God called and then proved himself faithful to Abram. These are great truths, but by themselves they would not be enough to assure either stability in the midst of life’s troubles or survival in the midst of life’s storms. We can’t imagine a case in which God would want to help and be faithful in standing by us but unfortunately not be strong enough to deliver us when the going gets tough. That is why we need this third leg.” We need to know, whatever we observe about our circumstances, that God is mighty to save because he is absolutely in control of all things, he is totally faithful to his chosen people, and he our shield. He provides the trust into him we desperately need.
If you’ve been with us for a while in this series, it may not surprise you to know chapter 15 has a mirrored two-part construction (a chiasm). The structure is:
A The Lord makes a promise to Abraham, using the formula “I am” (15:1).
B Abraham apprehensively questions the Lord, addressing him with the rare title “Sovereign Lord” (15:2–3).
C The Lord reassures Abraham by symbolic acts: the display of stars with reference to the seed (15:4–6).
A′ The Lord makes a promise to Abraham, using the formula “I am” (15:7).
B′ Abraham apprehensively questions the Lord, addressing him with the rare title “Sovereign Lord” (15:8).
C′ The Lord reassures Abraham by symbolic acts: the burning torch and the smoking kiln through the carcasses with reference to the land (15:9–21).
The turning point of the chiasm is verse 6 where Moses interjects the crucial point of Abram’s entire story, “And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” It is also a link between God’s land promises of chapters 12-14 and the Seed promises of chapters 16-22. As we keep noting, the main point of Genesis (the main point of all scripture!) is the story of the person and work of the Promised Seed. What is Step One? “It’s ALL about Jesus.” What is Step Two? “See Step One.” God chose Abraham to be in the line of the promised seed. If we divorce Abram’s story from that fundamental fact of bedrock theology, then we can apply all sorts of bad allegorical things. Divorced from the gospel, we could take Abraham as an example that if we just hang in there and have enough faith in God generally, then God will ultimately provide us with all our wants and fulfill all our felt needs and self-centered dreams.
Abram’s trust into the bare Word of God is not an expectation that God will be his personal genie. It’s belief in God’s promise made in Genesis 3:15 when God promised the Seed of the woman would crush the dragon-serpent’s head. Trust into that promise from God gave Adam and Eve a new and better kind of right-standing with God – an unconditional one! It gave Able, Seth, Noah, and Shem rightness with God. Now Moses tells us trusting into God’s promise of the Seed gives Abram right-standing, or righteousness, with God. This is the Bible’s first clear statement on the crucial link between faith and imputed righteousness, even though the link itself goes back to Eden’s garden. It’s quoted three times in New Testament – twice by Paul and once by James.
GOD SPEAKS (15:1)
Our scene opens sometime after Abram’s great victory feast with Melchizedek. Probably, a short time after Abram arrived back in Hebron. Like everyone coming off a great emotional high, Abram is drained and worried. This is not an uncommon theme in scripture. You might recall Elijah’s story in 1 Kings 18 and 19. After his victorious humiliation of the priests of Baal on Mt Carmel, he fled into the wilderness in fear and despair, begging God to let him die. Abram is likely worried his defeat of the four great kings has made him a marked man. Surely those nations will return with larger armies and hunt him down to exact their revenge. On top of that, he is still without a child. Abram is running on fumes and fearful for his future.
Moses writes, “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: ‘Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’”  We know Abram is fretting over circumstances because the first thing God says to him is “Don’t be afraid.” Abram’s great military victory had not brought him any closer to his promised inheritance of land and seed. Long before, Abram’s journey into this land had begun in childlessness. Yet, he had a promise from YHWH. Much time has passed since then and he had received the blessing of great wealth and great honor. Still, he foresees great physical danger and he still has no son. His great journey, his great sin and great wealth in Egypt, his great victory, and his great blessing from God’s priest all happened while the shadow of childlessness hung over him.
Whether Abram spoke his fears and doubts out loud, Moses doesn’t say. But God knew Abram’s heart. Moses doesn’t describe this particular vision (as he will the following dream) because what Abram saw was not the important bit. What he heard – the promise of God – was important. The phrase “the word of the Lord” introduces a revelation given to a prophet. Moses is telling us Abram is a prophet of God. God spoke directly to prophets (Gen. 20:7; Ps. 105:15). But he is a frightened and worried prophet. Moses is likely exhorting the Israelites as he writes this account of Abram. They were often exhorted by God to not be afraid in the context of warfare (Ex. 14:13–14; Deut. 20:3; Josh. 8:1; 10:8, 25; 11:6; Judg. 7:3; 1 Sam. 23:16–17; 30:6). Like Abram, they experienced miraculous victories. Like Abram, they continued to struggle with doubt and fear.
Abram, whose enemies now stretched from the Euphrates to the Nile rivers, heard God say that he was Abram’s protection against every enemy. In 14:20, Melchizedek’s blessing noted that God had “delivered” (miggēn) the patriarch from his enemies. Now God confirms that blessing with a word play, shield (māg̱ēn; Ps. 3:3;18:2; 28:7; 84:9; 91:4). Then, referring to Abram’s refusal to take any of his rightfully earned battle swag or slaves, God revealed that HE himself was Abram’s reward. This is not a promise of more swag, it’s a promise of divine intimacy: I will be your God. You will be my people. I will dwell with you. “To have God as your reward means, first of all, that you share in all that God has. Abram received many revelations from God during his lifetime, and many of these had a name of God connected with them. At one point, Abram came to know God as YHWH-jireh, which means ‘the God who provides.’ In this incident, he came to know him as El Elyon, ‘the God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth.’ It was this God who promised to be a reward to Abram.”
I find Abram’s story somewhat comforting for our struggles. God himself shows up and promises Abram both protection and the reward of divine intimacy. Abram doubts. God is teaching Abram to find satisfaction in God alone. Abram is looking in the other direction at what he does not yet have. If you are trusting into the perfect life and sacrificial death of the risen and ascended Messiah Jesus, God promises to share heaven and earth with you. The Bible says that we are God’s children, adding, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17).
“You are a co-heir with Christ. There is a great difference between an heir and a co-heir. If you are a single heir, you alone inherit everything. If you are one of four heirs, then you receive only one-fourth of the inheritance. If, however, you are one of four co-heirs, you inherit all, for co-heirs possess the inheritance together. In the same way, all Christians are co-heirs with Christ. All that God has is ours. We possess it jointly. And we shall enter into it one day as we receive our inheritance with Jesus.” You are already secure in God, more secure even than the mightiest ship with the strongest anchor; you are anchored in God’s character. You have a great inheritance. But you can either rest in that or be fearful, frustrated, discouraged, or angry.
FAITH’S STRUGGLE (15:2-3)
Then Abram does what most of us fail to do much of the time. He unloads his unhappiness on God. “2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” Abram’s response is respectful. The text reads Abram addressed him as “Sovereign YHWH” – an acknowledgement of a master-slave relationship that the apostle Paul would later use in his letters to describe his own relationship with God. “Abraham complains out of his faith, not his unbelief. It takes spiritual energy of faith to complain in contrast to despairing in silence.” He expresses his faith in God while acknowledging his skepticism. “O sovereign master, you have given me yourself but what do I get out of this deal?”
Abram asks an honest question. He trusts into God enough to be honest with God about his struggling faith. In Matthew 19, after Jesus has sent the rich young seeker away by telling him to give up all his earthly swag and power. Then Jesus laments how hard it is for those of worldly importance to seek heavenly reward, Peter asks Messiah the same honest question Abram asks here: “What’s in it for me? John and I left behind our careers in the Zebedee Brothers Seafood Company for you.”
27 Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first. 
FAITH’S OBJECT (15:4-5)
The Lord’s reply to Abram is just as tender, loving, patient and encouraging as his answer to Peter. “4And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” 5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
“Three times previously God had promised Abram a multitude of descendants— initially when he called him in Ur (12: 2), then in Canaan at Shechem where he built an altar (12: 7), and last from the highest spot in central Palestine as Abram was surveying the promised land in every direction (13: 14-16). But what God now says was new.” God doesn’t argue with Abram, he gives him more divine revelation. Abram’s faithful slave Eliezer will not be the Promised Seed, a son from his own body will be the seed. In chapters 16 and 17, Abram will question how barren Sarah could possibly conceive the Promised Seed. But for now, he has a specific promise from God.
In Genesis 13, after Lot selfishly takes the choicest land for his agribusiness, God promises Abram the entire land. Then he tells Abram to look down at the dirt and try to count the grains of it because that’s how many descendants he will have. There, God told Abram to look down at the dirt of the land. Now, God tells Abram to look up to the stars. Each of God’s promises to Abram is in response to a trial or crisis in Abram’s life: the crisis of leaving his family and homeland, in which God promises a new land and family; the crisis of Lot’s departure, in which God reinforces what his land and seed promises. God leads, compensates, and blesses, all by the means of these promises. Here God repeats, clarifies, and expands his promises in light of Abram’s worries over safety and heirship.
“God contrasts himself with Abram when he asks, ‘Can you count all those stars?’ Abram could not count them, of course. But God could. God could also have asked, ‘Can you name all those stars?’ Abram could not name them, but God did. We read about it in Job 38. In that chapter, God reminds Job of his creation and says, ‘Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades? Can you loose the cords of Orion? Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs?’ (Job 38:31–32). God made and named the stars. So when we look up, we see the greatness of our God; and, if you will, we see beyond the stars to God himself, who is the one who makes the promise.”
Remember, Abram had been a worshipper of the demon moon God, Nanna, back in Ur. He may have stood in the temple atop the great ziggurat of Ur and observed the star and planet “gods” of the night sky trying to see his future written there. Now, he needs no pagan priest to help him discern what the stars can tell him about his future. He is alone with YHHW, the Covenant Creator God who made, placed, and named all the stars of the universe. Abram is silent. He trusts God’s promise and, for now, doesn’t talk back.
TRUST AND IMPUTED RIGHTNESS (15:6)
In this moment God’s promise of the Seed is not a theory, but the fact around which Abram’s life is organized. So, Moses writes, “6And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” His faith was not an act of human achievement or the result of his moral decisions. Abram moved from protest to trust solely by the re-creating power of God the Spirit. As the Apostle Paul would write, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  This wasn’t the first time Abram had believed God and acted upon his trust. He had been doing that for over a decade up to this point. But this is the moment when Moses choses to express what trust into God’s promise of the Seed brings to anyone who believes.
This was not a new righteousness available only to Abram at this particular moment in his walk with God. Adam and Eve received it. Seth, Enoch, Noah, Shem, Job, Melchizedek, and countless nameless others were chosen by God and given trust into the saving work of the Promised Seed to come. This principle of right standing with God by trust into the person and work of the Promised Seed began in the Garden of Eden. It’s the principle message of God’s New Covenant. It is Christ’s righteousness deposited into the spiritual bank accounts of those who trust into it. The verb hāšaḇ means, in the text, means “counted [or reckoned or imputed]”
Note that Abram is not described as doing righteousness. His belief was credited as righteousness. Abram, who was originally bankrupt of righteousness, was counted as righteous through trust in God’s promise of the Seed. His righteousness is not the result of any accomplishments. No sacrifice or acts of obedience earned Abram rightness with God. Trust into the Promised Seed alone has brought Abraham into a right relationship to God.
This is the Apostle Paul’s point in Romans 4:1-5.
What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness….
This free offer of rightness with the perfect God is a universal offer, open not only to the physical children of Abram (the Children of Israel), but to every human being of every race, tribe, tongue, and nation. Romans 4:9-11 says:
9 Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.
Paul writes to the Gals:
7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. 
The gospel announcement that the Promised Seed of the woman would crush the serpent-dragon’s head is woven throughout scripture. Abram became the prime example of one who trusts into that promise. Because he trusts into God’s promise of the Seed, he acts accordingly – not always; not perfectly; not without struggles over his circumstances (as we will see next week). None of us in this sin-cursed life truly understand the greatness of our salvation, the cost of it to Christ the Promised Seed, or the sheer wonder of God’s loyalty love and the eternal bliss of his being our God. The best we get are little glimpses of God’s grace to us in Christ – little moments of gospel sanity – to carry us through on our pilgrim journeys. Word and Sacrament offer longer glimpses and longer moments of sanity IF you come and dine with Christ.
Abram is such an encouragement for us as we struggle in our trust under the weight of circumstances. Genesis 15 calls to mind the desperate father who brought his demonized son to the Savior in Mark 9. The father had found no hope for his son in any common cure of the day. Not even Jesus’ disciples could help the child. The man said to Jesus the Promised Seed:
…if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.
23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”
Like Abram struggling with God’s revelation that went against all human observation, Mark wrote:
24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
Why does Moses sandwich this great statement of righteousness by faith alone in between two statements by Abram questioning God? To teach his readers that faith does not save. It’s not the amount or the size of Abram’s wavering trust into God that saves Abram. It’s the person and work of the Promised Seed that saves imperfectly trusting Abram and all of us that struggle with God’s revelation and our observations.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 15:1–6.
 Boice, 527.
 Waltke and Fredricks, 239.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 15:1.
 Waltke and Fredricks, 240.
 Boice, 531.
 Id., 241.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 19:27–30.
 Hughes, 223-224. Kindle Edition.
 Boice, 534.
 Id., 538. Emphasis added.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Eph 2:8–9.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 4:1–5.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 4:9–11.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ga 3:7–9.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mk 9:22–24.