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God’s Covenant with Abram


After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 4But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

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God's Covenant with Abram. (b. c. 1913.)

1 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.

Observe here, I. The time when God made this treaty with Abram: After these things. 1. After that famous act of generous charity which Abram had done, in rescuing his friends and neighbours out of distress, and that, not for price nor reward. After this, God made him this gracious visit. Note, Those that show favour to men shall find favour with God. 2. After that victory which he had obtained over four kings. Lest Abram should be too much elevated and pleased with that, God comes to him, to tell him he had better things in store for him. Note, A believing converse with spiritual blessings is an excellent means to keep us from being too much taken up with temporal enjoyments. The gifts of common providence are not comparable to those of covenant love.

II. The manner in which God conversed with Abram: The word of the Lord came unto Abram (that is, God manifested himself and his will to Abram) in a vision, which supposes Abram awake, and some visible appearances of the Shechinah, or some sensible token of the presence of the divine glory. Note, The methods of divine revelation are adapted to our state in a world of sense.

III. The gracious assurance God gave him of his favour to him.

1. He called him by name—Abram, which was a great honour to him, and made his name great, and was also a great encouragement and assistance to his faith. Note, God's good word does us good when it is spoken by his Spirit to us in particular, and brought to our hearts. The word says, Ho, every one (Isa. lv. 1), the Spirit says, Ho, such a one.

2. He cautioned him against being disquieted and confounded: Fear not, Abram. Abram might fear lest the four kings he had routed should rally again, and fall upon him to his ruin: "No," says God, "Fear not. Fear not their revenges, nor thy neighbour's envy; I will take care of thee." Note, (1.) Where there is great faith, yet there may be many fears, 2 Cor. vii. 5. (2.) God takes cognizance of his people's fears though ever so secret, and knows their souls, Ps. xxxi. 7. (3.) It is the will of God that his people should not give way to prevailing fears, whatever happens. Let the sinners in Sion be afraid, but fear not, Abram.

3. He assured him of safety and happiness, that he should for ever be, (1.) As safe as God himself could keep him: I am thy shield, or, somewhat more emphatically, I am a shield to thee, present with thee, actually caring for thee. See 1 Chron. xvii. 24. Not only the God of Israel, but a God to Israel. Note, The consideration of this, that God himself is, and will be, a shield to his people to secure them from all destructive evils, a shield ready to them and a shield round about them, should be sufficient to silence all their perplexing tormenting fears. (2.) As happy as God himself could make him: I will be thy exceedingly great reward; not only thy rewarder, but thy reward. Abram had generously refused the rewards which the king of Sodom offered him, and here God comes, and tells him he shall be no loser by it. Note, [1.] The rewards of believing obedience and self-denial are exceedingly great, 1 Cor. ii. 9. [2.] God himself is the chosen and promised felicity of holy souls—chosen in this world, promised in a better. He is the portion of their inheritance and their cup.

2 And Abram said, Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?   3 And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.   4 And, behold, the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come 100 forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.   5 And 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.   6 And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.

We have here the assurance given to Abram of a numerous offspring which should descend from him, in which observe,

I. Abram's repeated complaint, v. 2, 3. This was that which gave occasion to this promise. The great affliction that sat heavy upon Abram was the want of a child; and the complaint of this he here pours out before the Lord, and shows before him his trouble, Ps. cxlii. 2. Note, Though we must never complain of God, yet we have leave to complain to him, and to be large and particular in the statement of our grievances; and it is some ease to a burdened spirit to open its case to a faithful and compassionate friend: such a friend God is, whose ear is always open. Now his complaint is four-fold:—1. That he had no child (v. 3): Behold, to me thou hast given no seed; not only no son, but no seed; if he had had a daughter, from her the promised Messiah might have come, who was to be the seed of the woman; but he had neither son nor daughter. He seems to lay an emphasis on that, to me. His neighbours were full of children, his servants had children born in his house. "But to me," he complains, "thou hast given none;" and yet God had told him he should be a favourite above all. Note, Those that are written childless must see God writing them so. Again, God often withholds those temporal comforts from his own children which he gives plentifully to others that are strangers to him. 2. That he was never likely to have any, intimated in that I go, or "I am going, childless, going into years, going down the hill apace; nay, I am going out of the world, going the way of all the earth. I die childless," so the LXX. "I leave the world, and leave no child behind me." 3. That his servants were for the present and were likely to be to him instead of sons. While he lived, the steward of his house was Eliezer of Damascus; to him he committed the care of his family and estate, who might be faithful, but only as a servant, not as a son. When he died, one born in his house would be his heir, and would bear rule over all that for which he had laboured, Eccl. ii. 18, 19, 21. God had already told him that he would make of him a great nation (ch. xii. 2), and his seed as the dust of the earth (ch. xiii. 16); but he had left him in doubt whether it should be his seed begotten or his seed adopted, by a son of his loins or only a son of his house. "Now, Lord," says Abram, "if it be only an adopted son, it must be one of my servants, which will reflect disgrace upon the promised seed, that is to descend from him." Note, While promised mercies are delayed our unbelief and impatience are apt to conclude them denied. 4. That the want of a son was so great a trouble to him that it took away the comfort of all his enjoyments: "Lord, what wilt thou give me? All is nothing to me, if I have not a son." Now, (1.) If we suppose that Abram looked no further than a temporal comfort, this complaint was culpable. God had, by his providence, given him some good things, and more by his promise; and yet Abram makes no account of them, because he has not a son. It did very ill become the father of the faithful to say, What wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, immediately after God had said, I am thy shield, and thy exceedingly great reward. Note, Those do not rightly value the advantages of their covenant-relation to God and interest in him who do not think them sufficient to balance the want of any creature-comfort whatever. But, (2.) If we suppose that Abram, herein, had a eye to the promised seed, the importunity of his desire was very commendable: all was nothing to him, if he had not the earnest of that great blessing, and an assurance of his relation to the Messiah, of which God had already encouraged him to maintain the expectation. He has wealth, and victory, and honour; but, while he is kept in the dark about the main matter, it is all nothing to him. Note, Till we have some comfortable evidence of our interest in Christ and the new covenant, we should not rest satisfied with any thing else. "This, and the other, I have; but what will all this avail me, if I go Christless?" Yet thus far the complaint was culpable, that there was some diffidence of the promise at the bottom of it, and a weariness of waiting God's time. Note, True believers sometimes find it hard to reconcile God's promises and his providences, when they seem to disagree.

II. God's gracious answer to this complaint. To the first part of the complaint (v. 2) God gave no immediate answer, because there was something of fretfulness in it; but, when he renews his address somewhat more calmly (v. 3), God answered him graciously. Note, If we continue instant in prayer, and yet pray with a humble submission to the divine will, we shall not seek in vain. 1. God gave him an express promise of a son, v. 4. This that is born in thy house shall not be thy heir, as thou fearest, but one that shall come forth out of thy own bowels shall be thy heir. Note, (1.) God makes heirs; he says, "This shall not, and this shall;" and whatever men devise and design, in settling their estates, God's counsel shall stand. (2.) God is often better to us than our own fears, and gives the mercy we had long despaired of. 2. To 101 affect him the more with this promise, he took him out, and showed him the stars (this vision being early in the morning, before day), and then tells him, So shall thy seed be, v. 5. (1.) So numerous; the stars seem innumerable to a common eye: Abram feared he should have no child at all, but God assured him that the descendants from his loins should be so many as not to be numbered. (2.) So illustrious, resembling the stars in splendour; for to them pertained the glory, Rom. ix. 4. Abram's seed, according to his flesh, were like the dust of the earth (ch. xiii. 16), but his spiritual seed are like the stars of heaven, not only numerous, but glorious, and very precious.

III. Abram's firm belief of the promise God now made him, and God's favourable acceptance of his faith, v. 6. 1. He believed in the Lord, that is, he believed the truth of that promise which God had now made him, resting upon the irresistible power and the inviolable faithfulness of him that made it. Hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good? Note, Those who would have the comfort of the promises must mix faith with the promises. See how the apostle magnifies this faith of Abram, and makes it a standing example, Rom. iv. 19-21. He was not weak in faith; he staggered not at the promise; he was strong in faith; he was fully persuaded. The Lord work such a faith in every one of us! Some think that his believing in the Lord respected, not only the Lord promising, but the Lord promised, the Lord Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant. He believed in him, that is, received and embraced the divine revelation concerning him, and rejoiced to see his day, though at so great a distance, John viii. 56. 2. God counted it to him for righteousness; that is, upon the score of this he was accepted of God, and, as the rest of the patriarchs, by faith he obtained witness that he was righteous, Heb. xi. 4. This is urged in the New Testament to prove that we are justified by faith without the works of the law (Rom. iv. 3; Gal. iii. 6); for Abram was so justified while he was yet uncircumcised. If Abram, that was so rich in good works, was not justified by them, but by his faith, much less can we, that are so poor in them. This faith, which was imputed to Abram for righteousness, had lately struggled with unbelief (v. 2), and, coming off a conqueror, it was thus crowned, thus honoured. Note, A fiducial practical acceptance of, and dependence upon, God's promise of grace and glory, in and through Christ, is that which, according to the tenour of the new covenant, gives us a right to all the blessings contained in that promise. All believers are justified as Abram was, and it was his faith that was counted to him for righteousness.