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Genesis 15:1-20: God Promises Abram a Son
Bible Essentials: Set 3, Lesson 11
Individuals: Take time to think back about your past week. Where have you seen God work in your life or answer prayer? Write down any prayer requests you have.
Group: Open the study by sharing life updates, reviewing highs and lows of your past week, or sharing prayer requests and praises.
Icebreaker: What is the weirdest dream you’ve ever had that you still remember? Or the most repetitive dream?
All: Begin the study with a word of prayer, asking God to open your heart for today’s study. You can also pray for any prayer requests now, or save that for the end.
Read today’s passage: Genesis 15:1-20.
15 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:
“Do not be afraid, Abram.
I am your shield,
your very great reward.”
2 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”
4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
7 He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”
8 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”
9 So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”
10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.
12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”
17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”
What is the context for this passage?
In our last lesson, we saw Abram and Lot separate. The land wouldn’t support both of them, so Lot went to the east and Abram went to the west. Then in Genesis 14, Lot got into some trouble. There was war in the area among several kings, and all the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were captured. Since Lot was living in Sodom, Lot was captured along with them. When Abram got this report, he pursued the armies and rescued Lot and all his possessions—and the rest of the people and their possessions. After this, Abram met Melchizedek, the king of Salam. Melchizedek was a priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram. Abram gave him a tenth of everything he had. The king told Abram to keep the goods for himself, but Abram refused. Instead, he gave glory to God. It is after this event that we find Abram in our passage today.
Read the passage again.
Explore a different version if you have one available. If you are online, here is Genesis 15:1-20 in NIV through Bible Gateway. You can change the version by using the dropdown menu at the top right of the page.
Try to summarize the passage in your own words.
Answer these three questions about the passage:
1. What does the passage say about God?
God sometimes communicates to his people in a vision. Throughout the Bible, and occasionally today, God spoke to his people in visions. These visions were intended to communicate God’s specific message to that person. Sometimes, the vision was symbolic to convey the message in a unique way. Other times, God spoke plainly to convey a promise or reveal who he is. God used both of these methods in this passage.
God in himself is a reward for his people. When God spoke to Abram in a vision, he told Abram that God is a great shield, a very great reward. Although God had blessed Abram with many possessions and success anywhere he went, Abram’s true reward was his relationship with God. The same is true today. No matter how much or how little we have, our true reward is a relationship with God.
God continued to repeat his promise to Abram. Throughout all the events and travels of Abram’s life, God had partially fulfilled his original promise, but part of that promise was as yet unfulfilled at this point in Abram’s life. In particular, Abram didn’t yet have a son through which he would become a great nation. God used this opportunity to once again reiterate his promise to Abram and reassure him that God intended to fulfill this promise.
God is the one who will take action to fulfill his promise. When God makes a promise, he is the one who will do whatever it takes to fulfill that promise. God had promised Abram a son. We’ve already been told that Abram is over 75 years old, and his wife Sarai is barren—she can’t have children. So if Abram is to have a son with Sarai, it must be God’s intervention that causes that to happen. The same goes for the land that God has promised. God says very clearly that he will be the one to give the land to Abram. It is God’s actions, not our own, that will fulfill any promise that God has made. Our responsibility is to believe, wait, and be faithful.
God directs his people when they question him. Abram questioned God—“How can I know” that what you say will happen? So God gave him some directions to bring God an offering. When God gives us a promise, he will direct us in the next steps. Sometimes, that next step seems unrelated to the promise. But God always has a plan and a purpose, and he will show us which way to go.
2. What does the passage say about people?
Even with all his blessings, Abram still complained to God. Abram had been following God faithfully for many years, but he had yet to see God’s promise fulfilled to have a son that would grow into a great nation. Abram even threw some blame at God—“You have given me no children!” As humans, we tend to focus on ourselves and our timing rather than waiting patiently for God’s timing. And when God doesn’t do things on our timing, we have a tendency to complain.
Abram had faith in God’s promise, and this made him righteous. When God reassured Abram that he would have a son, Abram believed him, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Throughout the Bible, we see that the primary way that we can become righteous is to have faith in God. In the New Testament, it becomes even more clear that we must have faith in Jesus. We receive Jesus’ righteousness when we have faith.
People often doubt God, even in the face of evidence. Abram had evidence that God was working in his life. He had many blessings, and he communicated with God to allow God to direct and lead his life. Yet he still doubted. He still questioned God. This is human nature. It’s so hard to believe what we can’t yet see with our own eyes. But God is faithful to fulfill his promises.
3. What does the passage say about God’s plan?
God’s plan is that his people will not be afraid. The first thing that God said to Abram when God appeared to Abram in a vision was “Do not be afraid.” Although a certain amount of fear is healthy, especially a fear of God, we should not allow fear of other things to control our lives. In this instance, Abram seems to be afraid that he will never have an heir in order to fulfill God’s promise. God reassures him and tells him to not be afraid.
God’s plan was to fulfill his promise. After telling Abram to not be afraid, God goes on to again promise Abram that he would have an heir that would become a great nation, and he would give Abram’s descendants a land of their own. Not just any land, but the land that Abram was in right now. Even though it may have seemed to Abram that God was taking a long time to fulfill his promise, God reassures Abram that God WILL do as he intended.
God’s plan is that we can be certain about his promises. When God was re-establishing his covenant with Abram to make Abram into a great nation, God said that Abram could “know for certain” that what God was promising would happen. God even knew the history of what would happen to Abram’s descendants. Usually when we think of history, we think of something in the past. But since God is beyond time, he can look on what we see as the future and speak about it as if it had already happened. We can be that certain that God’s promises are sure.
God’s plan was that his people would be in slavery for 400 years. When God was preparing a plan for Abram’s descendants, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. God foretold that they would be in slavery for 400 years, and they would be mistreated. But by the time they were released, they would come out with great possessions into the land that God promised to them.
God’s plan was that Abram would have a peaceful, long life. Although God knew that Abram’s descendants would not all live long, peaceful lives, a long, peaceful life is exactly what God intended for Abram. In God’s sovereign plan, he has planned peaceful lives for some, and lives of slavery for others. If you feel like you are living a life of difficulty, know that God can still use that to fulfill his plan.
How does the passage fit into the overarching story of the Bible?
Sometimes it’s easier to understand a passage if you have a little outside knowledge from other passages in the Bible. This section will help provide that outside perspective.
In addition to God’s promise to give Abram an heir, Abram also finds out about the future God has laid out for his descendants. They will live in slavery for 400 years, which we see at the beginning of Exodus. But eventually, God will deliver them and bring them into the land God has promised. The fulfillment of this promise spans from Genesis to Joshua, and continues on as the people live in the land God has promised to them throughout most of the rest of the Old Testament. Through the fulfillment of this promise and God’s protection on his people, even in the midst of slavery and captivity, Abram’s line is preserved and eventually leads to the birth of Jesus. Jesus is the one who has come to truly free us from slavery—slavery to sin.
Individual: Answer the following questions thoughtfully for yourself.
Group: Pose these questions for discussion.
All: If you are willing to share, I’d love to hear your thoughts to these questions. Feel free to use the comment section to start a discussion about this passage.
What else strikes you about this passage?
How does the passage affect how you view God? How you view yourself?
How does this passage affect how you will live your life?
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For Bible Essential studies, you can use my thoughts as your devotional, or you can download and use the journaling sheet to work through the passage on your own. If desired, you can then compare your thoughts to mine. Journal sheets can be downloaded and used now or later. They can be printed and filled in by hand or saved and filled out electronically. Journal sheets are available for individual or group use.
If you plan to lead a group study, a PowerPoint presentation is also available.
You can access these resources by clicking here: Genesis 15 Resources
Or you can download the journal sheets here*:
*Substack doesn’t support PowerPoint file downloads yet, so if you want to access the PowerPoint file for group study, you will need to download it from the resource page linked above.