Introduction: In these Bible notes on the Reformation’s rediscovery of the Bible’s teaching, may we this week unfold the gift of faith which God gives Abram, and see God confirm that faith for the fiery trials ahead by a powerful sacrificial covenant ceremony.
Monday: read Genesis 15:4-6 and Romans 3:21-25. Despite all his struggles, it is wonderful to see Abram in Gen. 15:6 believe God’s promise of a multitude of believers to flow from his body. This announcement about a great nation was not new to Abram (Gen. 12:2), but now he embraces it with a vigor that confirms the justifying nature of his faith – a faith by which nothing less than God’s righteousness is credited to him.
Pray and Meditate: God had already saved Abram out of the idol-worshipping bondage of his family in Ur, calling him to live in this new Promised Land. But now God through the Scripture shows the world the means of Abram’s salvation: it is by faith alone – not by good works or personal effort – but by faith alone, as the free gift of God, that Abram is saved. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). But with faith, the perfect righteousness of God is written down to our account, while our sin is blotted out. Thank God for setting forth His Son to absorb the penalty of our unrighteous life (Romans 3:25) so we can receive the free gift of God’s righteousness as our own.
Tuesday: read Genesis 15:4-8 and Galatians 4:22-23. God’s promise in Gen. 15:4 to Abram is more than just helpful information for the patriarch. It conveys life itself, for by that Word of Promise, and by every powerful promise which God gives us as His people, faith is born and grows. As Paul says in Galatians 4:23: the very child Isaac to be born to the free wife of Abram, Sarah, is born ‘as a result of the promise.’ This is possible because the Holy Spirit is the author of both God’s promise and the heart of faith to receive it. Just as the Spirit of God miraculously authored life in the dead womb of elderly Sarah, so He uses the Word of God to bring to birth spiritual life in our hearts!
Pray and Meditate: Reading God’s Word is never a mere mental exercise. Every Word from God’s Book changes the reader. We can be sure that God will bring to life the very pages of the Scripture, and make them nothing less than the daily bread which our souls live on. Do you hunger for the Scripture like that? Ask God to give you the blessing of those who ‘hunger and thirst for righteousness’ (Matthew 5:6), and then to fill you as you live on every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).
Wednesday: read Genesis 15:6-8 and Romans 4:1-5. Did Abram’s faith merit God’s righteousness? Surely not, because in one breath Paul can speak of God justifying the wicked (Rom. 4:5) and justifying Abram (Rom. 4:3). Paul considers both their cases as the same when it comes to justification. Just as the wicked man cannot trust his own good works but can only trust in God’s grace to forgive His sins, so Abram ‘does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked’ (Rom. 4:5). Clearly Paul understood that Abram’s faith was opposed to any work on his part that could possibly reward him in God’s sight.
Pray and Meditate: Praise God for making faith alone the instrument to receive the once-for-all gift of God’s righteousness. Even though Abram’s faith again wavers in Genesis 15:8 as he insists on yet another sign, he is secure because God has given him the unchangeable status of being righteous in His sight. ‘The work which His goodness began, the arm of His strength will complete; His promise is yea and amen, and never was forfeited yet. Things future, nor things that are now, nor all things below or above, can make Him His purpose forgo, or sever my soul from His love.’ (Augustus Toplady, hymn # 463)
Thursday: read Genesis 15:6-21 and Romans 4:5-8. In Genesis 15:9, God grants Abram’s request for a sign to strengthen his wavering faith. What was that sign? It was a visual death-pledge, which Abram was supposed to prepare in Gen. 15:9-11 by the cutting of sacrificial animals in half. O Palmer Robertson explains the significance of this animal splitting: ‘By dividing the animals and passing between the pieces, participants in a covenant pledged themselves to life and death. These actions established an oath of self-malediction (i.e. curse). If they should break the commitment involved in the covenant, they were asking that their own bodies be torn in pieces just as the animals had been divided.’
Pray and Meditate: Clearly this was a serious, bloody oath, binding to death whoever broke the covenant. But who binds Himself to die? It is God alone in Genesis 15:12-18 who walks between the pieces, symbolized by the blazing torch of His presence. Thank God that He alone volunteers to take upon Himself the full curse of our covenant-breaking! How wonderful that Jesus paid our debt and bore our curse on the cross: truly grace to justify the wicked! No wonder Abram’s descendant David could rejoice in the knowledge of forgiveness, as his words quoted in Romans 4:7-8 reveal, knowing that his sins were completely covered and paid for through a blood-sacrifice which God alone would offer in the gift of His Son! No merit for David or Abram in receiving by faith this gift of sacrificial forgiveness!
Fri/Sat/Sun: read Genesis 15:12-21 & Romans 4:9-12. Abram is justified without any works of his own to boast of. But Abram’s faith is not dead: it responds to God’s initiative. Abram must fight off the birds which threaten the sacrifice in Gen. 15:11 and embrace in Genesis 15:13 the 400 years of faith-testing trials which the smoking furnace symbolized. In this way the fiery furnace is a reminder to Abram and us that the pathway of faith is no easy path of indolence. In the words of 1 Peter 4:12, we and Abram are ‘not to be surprised’ at the fiery trials which we will suffer.
Meditate and Pray: Lord, please give us the grace to face our trials with the firm conviction that they are ordained for us by your wise and loving plan. Give us grace to humble ourselves under your mighty hand in our trials, until you lift us up and relieve our days of suffering. Amen.