God made Abram a promise. Abram believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Before the Law is given, righteousness is established by grace through faith. The righteous live from faith to faith. Abram has faith. In our day, things are very different from Abram’s day. In Abram’s day, Abram was one of the very few who knew God. In our day, there are many people of faith. Many people have faith in God–believing in His promises. The Gospel has gone out and has not returned void. Yet we still have questions. Sometimes when we question things, some accuse us saying that we do not have enough faith. I want to contend against that Idea. Those who have faith also have questions. I want to contend, today, that our questions are evidence of faith rather than a lack thereof. Consider the next part of the story.
And He said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it.” He said, “O Lord God, how may I know that I will possess it?” So He said to him, “Bring Me a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, and laid each half opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds (Genesis 15:7-10).
God tells Abram, again, that He is giving the land of Canaan to him to possess it. Now, he asks God how he can know he will possess the promised land. Instead of chastising Abram for questioning Him, God begins to reassure Abram. He asks Abram to bring him the animals that were used to make covenants during the day, a standard practice when an agreement was struck between individuals. The partners would both walk between the carcasses of the animals, essentially saying, “Let me be killed like these animals if I don’t keep my end of the bargain.”
The birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, and Abram drove them away. Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him. God said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age. Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete” (Genesis 15:11-16).
Abram protects the covenantal sacrifice. The sun goes down, and Abram dreams God reassuring him of the promise, even providing more details. He tells Abram that his descendants will be enslaved. After the fourth generation, they will return and take the land. God even provides justification for His actions. The iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete. God, having all knowledge, knows that there will never be a sincere repentance in the land of Canaan. Yet, He is a just God and waits for people’s iniquity to grow to fruition before coming down on them in judgment. We often wonder why God waits so long to bring justice. He is patient and kind. Though He knows who will never repent, we justly waits for their iniquities to be complete before He passes divine judgment. For Canaan, God’s judgment will wait until the fourth generation after the Hebrew people are enslaved in Egypt. I believe that, today, God is bringing a greater realization of justice to the earth because of the advent of Christ, whose kingdom and peace will never stop increasing (cf. Isaiah 9:6-7). So, we learn something very important about God. He is kind. He is patient. He is just. His goal is not to destroy people, even when He must in order to keep the promise He made to Himself to preserve the whole world forever (cf. Genesis 8:21-22).
It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I have given this land, From the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates: the Kenite and the Kenizzite and the Kadmonite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Rephaim and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Girgashite and the Jebusite” (Genesis 15:17-21).
The sun goes down, and it is unclear as to whether Abram is still dreaming or wakes to see Yahweh passing through the covenant sacrifice. Notice, God alone passes through the sacrifice. Abram and God are not equal partners. The covenant depends only on God. Only God is responsible for making this thing happen. We call this monergism. God accomplishes His work. He is shown to accomplish His work. We cannot boast. So, God reassures Abram. He will accomplish His promise. He will keep His own covenant with Abram. God is so determined to accomplish His own will, that He alone is culpable if it does not come to pass. God is saying that He shall be treated like the sacrificial animals if He does not accomplish His promise.
When we read Exodus through Joshua, we see God accomplish His purpose in the correct timing. Now, Abram’s descendants fail to keep God’s covenantal Law. But, God did not require Abram to walk through the covenantal sacrifice. So, God (particularly the second person of the Trinity) assumes human flesh and pays the covenantal price for the sins of His people. In the fullness of time, God is proven to fulfill both sides of the covenant and pay the price when one side is broken. By grace, He pays the debt of His people because we could not be righteous. This is redemption. The covenant and its fulfillment are seen to be kept and accomplished by God alone, just as God promised in His contract with Abram.
So, we claim to have faith. Yet, we question. Abram believed God. His belief was reckoned to him as righteousness. Still, he questioned, and there is no evidence int he text that his question meant disbelief. Neither do our questions. We have faith. We have a hope. Still, we ask God how we can know. In these moments, I do not think God disregards our question. I do not think God reacts negatively or disciplinarily. I think God reassures His people about His plan. Like children, we are in need of reassurance. Because we have faith like children, we ask like children. We do not question maliciously. We do, like children, want to know that God loves us. He affirms His love and His promises again and again. I think He is glad to do so like a good father to his children.