Yes, I do tend to steal these titles from the NIV version of the Bible, when I can.
SynopsisIn this chapter, the LORD makes His covenant with Abram, promising him the land that will one day become Israel. However, it’s not a straightforward “here’s the covenant, and you’ll live happily ever after” thing; God doesn’t just promise Abram the land, He also gives Abram a taste of what the future holds for his descendants, and it’s not all rosy.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. God is promising Abram and his descendants the land, but the problem is that Abram doesn’t have any children. How can his descendants inherit the land if he has no descendants? And this is a valid question, because at this time, both Abram and Sarai are already pretty old; under normal circumstances, we’d assume that it’s too late for them to have children. Abram brings this issue up right away, in verses 2–3:
But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”
However, this is not the LORD’s solution:
Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
The rest of the chapter, from verses 7–21, are what I consider making the covenant “official”. God has Abram present a sacrifice, and then he spends some time trying to keep the wild animals away from the carcasses (verse 11). Eventually, Abram falls into a “deep sleep”, and “a thick and dreadful darkness [comes] over him” (verse 12). Then the LORD tells Abram how His covenant will be carried out:
Then the LORD said to him, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” (verses 13–16)
God then spells out for Abram, in the final couple of verses, exactly which land will be his (and his descendants’).
ThoughtsAs is usual, with human nature, Abram doesn’t think God’s plan will work because of his lack of children, so he’s going to fix it himself. He will choose a servant in his household to be his heir. (I’m not sure if that literally means he’s going to pick a servant to be his heir, or if it means he’s going to have a child through a servant, and that child will be his heir. I do know that in a later chapter, he is going to have a child through a servant, so that might be what he means.)
What’s interesting to me, though, is that God already knows that Abram is going have a child through his servant, and in verse 4 He says “[t]his man will not be your heir…” In other words, “I know that you’re going to try and do it yourself, but it’s not going to work; I’m going to do things My way, not your way, even if you do lose patience with My plan.”
However, despite what Abram is going to do, in this chapter he is faithful to God’s promise. In verse 6 it says “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” If I may be so bold, applying some capitalization might help: “Abram believed the LORD, and He credited it to him as righteousness.” In other words, Abram wasn’t righteous in and of himself; however, because he had faith in the LORD, the LORD’s righteousness was credited to him. Which is the same as it works today; I have no righteousness of my own, but because Christ died on the cross for my sins, His righteousness is credited to me.
Finally, God mentions, in verses 13–16, that Abram’s descendants will be “strangers in a country not their own”, and that they will be “enslaved and mistreated four hundred years”. He will then “punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions”,. He is talking about Egypt. At the end of Genesis, Abram’s descendants will indeed move to Egypt, to escape a famine, and in the book of Exodus, we’ll read about God punishing Egypt, and bring out the Israelites with their “great possessions”.