God’s Covenant with Abram: Genesis 15

Notice the first thing God said to Abram, “Don’t be afraid.” Obviously, Abram still needed reassurance even after all the evidence that God had chosen him, that God was with him, and that God keeps His promises. (Don’t we all?)

Abram was anxious about the future—how could God’s promises come true when he didn’t have children—and God responded by identifying himself and giving a brief historical account, which is how ancient royal covenants often began.


  • In ancient times, the term servant applied to anyone under authority of another, Not all servants were domestics or slaves; sometimes servant meant young man or minister. It is applied to the relationship of men to others occupying high positions—men such as Eliezer, whose place in the household of Abram compared with that of a prime minister. According to custom, if Abram were to die without a son, his eldest servant would become his heir. (Gen 15:2, 24:2, Prov 14:35, John 18:20)
  • The ceremony carried out in Genesis 15 seems to combine land grant (slaughter and divided animals, Jeremiah 34:18-19), purification (torch), and confirmation of promise rituals. We do know it is not a sacrifice, for there is no altar or offering ritual with carcasses, meat, or blood. It is not divination, for there is no examination of entrails or meal offered to a god. It is also not an incantation because no words were spoken with the ritual and Abram was asleep.
    ~ Cultural Study Bible, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 2005, pg 42.


After all these things, this word of God came to Abram in a vision: “Don’t be afraid, Abram. I’m your shield. Your reward will be grand!”
2-3 Abram said, “God, Master, what use are your gifts as long as I’m childless and Eliezer of Damascus is going to inherit everything?” Abram continued, “See, you’ve given me no children, and now a mere house servant is going to get it all.”
4 Then God’s Message came: “Don’t worry, he won’t be your heir; a son from your body will be your heir.”
5 Then he took him outside and said, “Look at the sky. Count the stars. Can you do it? Count your descendants! You’re going to have a big family, Abram!”
6 And he believed! Believed God! God declared him “Set-Right-with-God.”
7 God continued, “I’m the same God who brought you from Ur of the Chaldees and gave you this land to own.”
8 Abram said, “Master God, how am I to know this, that it will all be mine?”
9 God said, “Bring me a heifer, a goat, and a ram, each three years old, and a dove and a young pigeon.”
10-12 He brought all these animals to him, split them down the middle, and laid the halves opposite each other. But he didn’t split the birds. Vultures swooped down on the carcasses, but Abram scared them off. As the sun went down a deep sleep overcame Abram and then a sense of dread, dark and heavy.
13-16 God said to Abram, “Know this: your descendants will live as outsiders in a land not theirs; they’ll be enslaved and beaten down for 400 years. Then I’ll punish their slave masters; your offspring will march out of there loaded with plunder. But not you; you’ll have a long and full life and die a good and peaceful death. Not until the fourth generation will your descendants return here; sin is still a thriving business among the Amorites.”
17-21 When the sun was down and it was dark, a smoking firepot and a flaming torch moved between the split carcasses. That’s when God made a covenant with Abram: “I’m giving this land to your children, from the Nile River in Egypt to the River Euphrates in Assyria—the country of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaim, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites.”
Genesis 15


You might want to think of this as a conversation between Abram and God: God knew Abram was anxious, and Abram couldn’t see any evidence of what God had told him.



  • What does God see that we don’t?
  • Was God offended or hurt by Abram’s almost accusatory questions?
  • Why did God tell Abram to prepare these animal carcasses?


  • What does Abram ask God? Why do you think he continues to ask questions even after God’s responses and promises?
  • How does Abram respond to God’s specific directions?
  • What were the carcasses, the smoking firepot, and the torch all about?
  • Why do you think we are told about the vultures and the “dark and heavy sense of dread” that Abram felt as he slept.


  • Did Sarai witness this? Did Abram tell her about it?


Heavenly Father, thank you for all the blessings you pour on us every day, even when and if we don’t recognize them right away. Thank you, also, for inviting and listening to our questions, even when we are afraid, angry, or anxious about the future. The covenant you made with Abram and his descendants is for us as well, as we are your people, your children, Abrams “faith descendants.” Thank you for your overwhelming love and presence in our lives. Amen


I am writing this morning from a condo on the Atlantic coast of Florida. The door is open and breezes are flowing in from the beach. I hear the waves, and the sun is filling the room. I just had Marco Polo conversation (videos we send each other) with two dear writer friends, and I told them that I am practicing (as I’m on vacation) living for the now and not worrying about what tomorrow will bring. Then we all laughed, because that is always our plan, but it’s hard not to try to grab control and plan our tomorrows on human terms rather than give them to God. (Next week we go home and back to real life in the cold Midwest.)

Tune again tomorrow as we meditate on how God’s covenant with Abram is also His covenant with us. As always, I’d love to hear from you. There is space for your comments or questions below or email me at KSEvenhouseWWV@gmail.com

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