My Dear Parishioners,
Have no fear is the theme that runs through all our four Scripture readings and the Collect for this Sunday.
In Genesis, Chapter 15 we come to one of the high-water marks of Old Testament revelation, summarized for us in verse 6: “Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” Up to this point, Abraham’s faith has been more general in its nature. It has rested primarily upon the call of God as recorded, “now the Lord said to Abraham, “o forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse” (Genesis 12:1-3).
God seldom allows our faith to remain general, however, and so we face crisis points which bring our faith from the abstract to the concrete and from the general to the specific. Such is the case with Abraham in Genesis15:1-6. Abraham’s hope for an heir, as explained in God’s words to him, is far from what he would have expected in such circumstances: “Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; your reward shall be very great” (15:1).
Why would Abram possibly be afraid? He had just won a great victory over Chedorlaomer and the three other eastern kings (see Gen. 14:14-17). Because of this, he had, no doubt, received considerable recognition, even from the pagan king of Sodom (14:17, 21-24). What fear could haunt Abraham’s faith at such a time of victory? It is possible that Abraham feared future military reprisals from Chedorlaomer and his allies. He may have won the battle, but had he won the war? The word of God to Abraham “I am a shield to you,” could very well be aimed at subsiding this fear of future military conflict.
This could not have been Abraham’s greatest concern, especially in view of the remaining verses. Abraham’s victory was not so sweet in the light of one question which seemed to overshadow all else, “What good is success, without a successor?” His response to God confirms this: And Abram said, “O Lord God, what wilt Thou give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Since you have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir” (see Genesis 15:2-3).
In the Ancient Near East there was a well-attested practice to ensure an heir, even if no son were born to the man. The childless couple would adopt one of the servants born into the household. This ‘son’ would care for them in their old age and would inherit their possessions and property at the time of their death. At this low point in Abram’s faith, it was the best for which he thought he could hope; but, God had promised Abram far more than that
which he could provide for himself. Eliezer was not the heir that He had promised. His descendants were to come from his own reproductive cells. He would have a son of his own. Then behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This man will not be your heir; but one who shall come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir” (see 15:4). To reassure Abram, God took him outside and drew his attention to the stars in the heavens. This is how numerous the offspring of Abram would be through his son that would surely come (v 5). Verse 6 describes Abram’s response to divine revelation: “Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.
There are three things we ought to note about this faith of Abram:
First of all, it was a deep personal faith. By this I mean that Abraham believed in the Lord. He did not merely believe about God, but in God. In this lies the distinction between many professing Christians and those who are professing Christians - genuinely reborn by faith in the person of Christ (see Luke 12:32 – 40).
Second, Abraham’s faith was a propositional faith. While he believed in the person of God, his faith was based upon the promises of God. Many believe in the god of their own definition. Abraham believed in the God of revelation; so Abraham accepted the covenant God made here with him (verses 12:1-3). Abraham was given specific propositions on which to base his faith and his practice.
3) Abraham’s faith was also a practical faith. By this I mean that Abram’s belief was one that necessitated action. Clearly, Abraham’s works did not initiate his salvation, but they did demonstrated it (see James 2:14-26). Also, Abram’s faith was related to a very practical and sensed need - the need for a son. God does not ask us to believe in the abstract, but in the everyday matters of life.
Archdeacon The Venerable Dr. Alson Percival