Imputation; Justification. Genesis 15:6
The New Testament tells us how to understand the Old, not that it reinterprets the Old but that it fully develops what is being said in the Old Testament. So that as Paul says in 1 Corinthians chapter ten, "these things happened as an example." The Greek word there is TUPOS [tupoj], and example, a type for us. It is to picture things. The right way to use the Old Testament when we are teaching in the New Testament is that these events don't just and are not told us because they are interesting stories or because they "speak to the human experience" or because somehow they represent all mankind. These episodes reveal to us and are recorded in the Scriptures for us by the Holy Spirit because they teach us key principles about God, about man, and about how God is working in human history. That pretty much sums up the whole thing.
When we look at how Abraham is used in the New Testament we point out six things: a) Abraham is used in the New Testament as a picture of justification by faith alone in terms of phase one salvation—Romans 4:1-8; b) the working out of our salvation in terms of phase two. So it is not being saved from the penalty of sin (phase one), it is being saved from the power of sin (phase two)—James 2:21; c) With reference to spiritual growth—Hebrews 11:8-19, where he grows by means of faith, i.e. trusting in the revealed Word of God. So that is the process of going from phase one to spiritual maturity, it is by means of testing. As we go through episode by episode, chapter by chapter in the life of Abraham we see that each of these events surrounds some sort of test related to Abraham's spiritual life; d) Abraham is a picture of election, and this is what under girds Romans 9-11. It is God's selection of Abraham in contrast to the rest of the human race, that now He is going to work through Abraham and not through all of humanity. He chooses Abraham and his descendants. That, of course, is based on the Abrahamic covenant which God makes and which is spelled out in detail in Genesis chapter 15 and 17; e) This is the foundation for missionary activity and evangelism because through Abraham's seed all nations will be blessed. That ultimately comes through the Lord Jesus Christ. So these elements really under gird everything in Abraham's life in Genesis chapter twelve down through chapter 23.
Genesis 15:6 is the foundational Old Testament passage to understand justification by faith alone: "And he believed in the LORD; and he counted [imputed] it to him for righteousness." This foundational verse for Genesis 15 is quoted in Romans 4:3, Galatians and James. It is the foundational verse for understanding imputation, which is clearly a word that is used there, but imputation is foundational for understanding justification.
Genesis chapter 15 can be subdivided into two parallel sections that are separated by 15:6 which is a parenthetical verse. The reason it is stuck in there is because it lays the foundation for both sections. There is a parallelism between verses 1-5 and then verses 7-21. They both involve dialogue between God and Abraham. What we see in verses 1-5 is God's declaration of His promises to Abraham. He promises Abraham that he will have an heir that comes from his own body and who will be a physically-related descendant and is not going to be through some other means. In verses 7-21 God institutes a unilateral [only one permission involved in committing himself] covenant, a synonym for unconditional covenant, to guarantee those promises. So it is not just a matter of God speaking these momentous promises to Abraham, that he is going to have a descendant who is going to be physically related to him and come from his own loins, but God is going top bind Himself to this legal contract in order to give weight to this promise because in the future there are going to be numerous assaults on Abraham's descendants, and the core provision in that promise relates to the land. So God binds Himself in this way in order to give weight to His promise that this is a unilateral, unconditional grace gift to Abraham.
In Genesis 15:1 we begin with God's protection and reward. "Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward." What He is saying is, "I protect you, and I am going to provide for you."
In Genesis 15:2 Abraham responds and we see what is bothering him. "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?" The promise of protection and provision is preceded by the command "Do not be afraid," and apparently Abraham is fearful of something, and it is the fact that he doesn't have a child yet. So he questions God about that, expresses his concern and comes up with his own solution to the problem. How typical of all of us! Then in vv. 4, 5 God reiterates the promise that Abraham's heir will be his own son and his descendants will be like the stars.
Then we have the foundation in verse 6, that Abraham believed God, but what we see in this verse is a disjunctive thought. What that means in grammatical terms is that the writer brings something in from left field. What you have in Hebrew is that the sentence is begun with the conjunction "and" to show the flow of the narrative. In English it is not necessary to put the "ands" in there to communicate the flow of the narrative, but that was the way that the Hebrew mind worked. But when you want to break the action, instead of following the typical conjunction, verb, noun pattern you break it by going conjunction, noun, verb. That is called a disjunction. It is the same thing as found in Genesis 1:2, it brings in a totally new thought and it is not flowing out of the previous thought. This is important because when it states in verse 6 that Abraham believed in the Lord, what he is believing is not the promise given in verses 1-5. It is not related to that at all, it is a parenthetical statement. What is means it, "Now remember Abraham had already believed God and it had been counted to him as righteousness." It is a reminder of the basis for the blessing, the basis for the promise. God isn't blessing Abraham with a child and the Abraham believes him, but Abraham has already trusted God, has received imputed righteousness, and it is on the basis of that imputed righteousness that God graciously blesses him with the Abrahamic covenant. So verse 6 hangs in here like a hinge, and the first five verses and the next verses are all built on this foundation that Abraham had already trusted God, indicating his salvation which occurred before Genesis chapter twelve, had already believed God, and he had already been imputed with the righteousness of God.
Genesis 15:7, "And he said unto him, I am the LORD that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it." God reiterates a promise, just as He did in verse 1. In the first five verses the focus was on the seed and in verse 7 it shifts to the land, to inherit it. This is such a real promise that even though Abraham never owned any land other than the grave where he and Sarah were buried this promise is so foundational and so real and literal that Jesus uses it to ground His argument for resurrection. God said that Abraham would possess the land. He never possessed it then so there must be a resurrection so he can come back and actually possess it in the future. This is one reason we know that there is a future for Israel in the land.
But in verse 8 Abraham, like most of us, wants a little conformation: "And he said, Lord GOD, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?" So starting in verse 9 God instructs Abraham to prepare a sacrifice. Abraham has to kill each of these animals, butchers them and splits them in two, except for the birds. So this is an extremely bloody scene. He lays these animals out side by side with a walkway, a path in the center, which was the standard operating procedure in the ancient world for two people who were going to cut a covenant. If you were going into a contract this is what you did to indicate the seriousness, the solemnity of a covenantal agreement. It is sealed with the lives of these animals. Then vultures come down on the carcasses. This is a picture of the fact that the Abrahamic covenant will be attacked down through the generations.
Genesis 15:12, "And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him." This again is a picture of the oppression the Jews will go through in the future. And God interprets this. Verse 13, "And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years." This is a prediction of the slavery in Egypt for four hundred years. Notice how literal this prophecy is. Here is the principle: If God's promise to Abraham about the literalness of the 400-year oppression between Joseph and Moses, then why do some people want to allegorize the promises about the land when it comes to the present return of the Jews to the land? This is a shift in the hermeneutic.
Genesis 15:17, the finalization of the ceremony, "And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces." It is dark now and there is a smoking oven and a burning torch. It is fire, a picture of purification in the Scripture, a picture of the holiness of God. These two symbols of God in His integrity passed through the animals alone, Abraham doesn't. If it had been a covenant between two humans they would walk next to each other between the animals indicating that they had both bound themselves to the contract. But Abraham can't do it because he is sound asleep; God alone passes through between the animals using symbols that emphasize His integrity, that He is true to His Word and will not go back on His Word. He concludes, v. 18, "In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates." The covenant here emphasizes the land. Even at its greatest extent under Solomon the Jews never controlled all the land, which means that for God to be true to His Word there must be a future return of the Jews to the land at which time they will fully control it. Of course, that happens at the second coming when they return as a regenerate people and the kingdom is established under the Lord Jesus Christ.
That completes an overview of the chapter, so we go back to the beginning. Verse 1, "After these things." This initial phrase ties the events of chapter fifteen to the events of chapter fourteen. There is a close connection here. It is after Abraham has gone to battle against the four kings of the ancient axis of evil. After he has gone to war against them and defeated them, now he is having second thoughts. This happens to us all. Things get going well and we have certain victories and are excited about everything that is going on in our life, then the next thing that happens is that we go through some testing, things may happen that are completely different from what we expected, and it is very easy for us to give in to fear and to worry and through anxiety to think that somehow the circumstances are going to be too great for God to handle. So God calls us right back to doctrine. This is what God does to Abraham. "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." A vision is different from a dream, you are awake when you have a vision. Abraham is told not to be afraid. Why would Abraham be afraid? He could be afraid for a number of reasons—because he didn't kill Chedorlaomer and the other kings, so they might put their alliance back together and come back for revenge and something could happen that would keep God's promise from being fulfilled. But nothing can ever break the promise of God! Our problem is that we have preconceived notions of how God's plan will work itself out in our lives, about what success might be in the Christian life, then when it doesn't look like God is going to do it that way we get involved and try to make it happen that way just to protect God, and to get things done the way we want them to. "…thy exceeding great reward" is a poor translation, the verse is not saying that at all. What is being said is, "I am your shield, and your reward shall be great." When He uses the word "shield" He uses the Hebrew noun magen. This is just another literary clue showing the tight connection between what is happening here and what happened in the previous episode with Chedorlaomer. If we go back to Genesis 14:20 when Melchizedek is blessing Abraham, Melchizedek says, "And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered your enemies into your hand." And there he uses the cognate verb—magen was the noun for shield, and the piel of magan is "delivered." So He uses the verb back in 14:20 and uses the noun form here and this ties the two episodes together, that just as God protected and functioned as a shield to Abraham in the battle against the four kings, so God is going to be the ever-present shield and source of strength to Abraham. David in the Psalms uses any number of metaphors to describe the protection that God provides for us in this life. In the Christian life that comes through in what has been developed as the soul fortress, the utilization of doctrine that we strengthen and protect the soul from the assaults of adversity. The solution for adversity is to come back to the Word and to the promise of God that He is our shield, and "you shall have a great reward." If we rest in God's promise then there will be great reward for us at the judgment seat of Christ.
But we often say, "Yes Lord, but"! We always have to watch that, and that is what Abraham is doing in verse 2. He is thinking of the child as a reward and he is thinking about the same idea as Psalm 127:3, "Lo, children are an inheritance from the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward." That shows the divine viewpoint on having children. It runs completely contrary to the modern notion of just having 1.5 children. Psalm 127:5, "Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them." This is a picture of a soldier who is sending out numerous arrows against the enemy. So the picture in Scripture is that the more children you have to inculcate with Bible doctrine you send your influence out into the world, and the more children you have the more influence there is against the human viewpoint in the world. This isn't the mentality of population control, this is the mentality of taking over a culture by raising children who are imbued with Bible doctrine.
Genesis 15:2, "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?" He has a better idea. This is what we want to do, solve God's problems. Abraham hasn't got the picture yet that God can bring life into the dead womb of Sarah and into his own sexual inability. Eliezer of Damascus is probably a slave that he picked up on his migration down from Haran. The standard operating procedure in the ancient world was that if a man died childless then his inheritance went to his chief steward. This was a culturally accepted way of passing on the inheritance. But notice, it is not God's way. This is something we have to be aware of, and there is a principle here, i.e. there may be many moral and culturally acceptable ways to solve problems in our life but they are not God's divine viewpoint ways to solve the problems in our life. We have to search out the Scriptures to determine how we should solve certain problems in our life so that we can handle them not in the power of the flesh but in the power of God the Holy Spirit. Abraham is focusing of Eliezer as the solution to the problem. This is how we often rationalize the choices in our life. We are going to try to convince God that there is a better way and we came up with the solution. Genesis 15:3, "And Abram said, Behold, to me you have given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is my heir." Abraham's human viewpoint solution to the problem, his first, and he will have another more interesting one later on which Sarah comes up with—to have a child through Hagar.
Genesis 15:4, God responds: "And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This one shall not be your heir; but he that shall come forth out of your own body shall be your heir." He is emphasizing this natural descendancy from Abraham. Then God brings Abraham outside, tells him to look toward the stars and asks if he is able to number them. Here is Abraham, sexually dead at this point, can't have children, Sarah is too old to have children, and God is saying this is how it is going to be: Abraham's descendants are going to be more numerable than the stars. This focuses on the seed promise of the Abrahamic covenant.
Taking verse 6 out of it for a moment: V. 7, "And he said unto him, I am the LORD that brought you out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give you this land to inherit it." So God in the conversation immediately reminds Abraham of who he is and what He has done. God is the God of history, He wants us to be aware of how He has historically acted in our lives. Can we look back in our lives and see the way that God has answered prayer, to see way that God has worked circumstances that we didn't think could be worked out? These are the things that we need to rely on. If God was strong enough to solve that problem I faced ten years ago, why am I struggling with this problem now? We need to have a historical understanding of God's work in our life that is not just in terms of national history but in terms of our own personal relationship with God. God just says to Abraham,. "Just remember what I did in bringing you from Ur, up to Haran, down to the promised land, and then got you out of a jamb you got yourself into down in Egypt, and brought you back here, then gave you victory. Why do you think that giving a child from your own body is such a hard thing to do?" We forget who God is, we have a small view of God and we think that somehow God is too small for our problems, that He is too distant to be concerned about the things that are getting us upset. But God is the one who is intimately involved in our lives. That is why Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:13, "There is no testing taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tested above that you are able; but will with the test make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it." In other words, God provides the solution to every test, and that solution is found in the ten problem-solving devices.
Genesis 15:6 is the foundation for all of God's work in our life. "And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness." This is the basis for understanding all divine blessing in our life and how divine blessing operates. The word translated "believed" is the Hebrew word (noun form) aman, and the root meaning of this world group—in fact, it is used in one place in Chronicles for the foundation stone that was set on which the columns of the temple rested—refers to something that is stability, dependability, something that is unshakeable, foundational. So it came to mean in the hiphil stem (causative) to be firm, to be trustworthy, to be safe. It means belief indicating that we are trusting and relying on something that is firm, unshakeable and dependable. When used of Abraham in this verse it is in the hiphil perfect, and the perfect tense in Hebrew indicates completed action: Abram had already believed in the LORD. It is indicating completed action in the perfected sense. Then we read the next statement that "he [the LORD] imputed it to him for righteousness."
At the instant we put our faith alone in Christ alone, God imputes to us the righteousness of Christ. That perfect righteousness, then, is the basis for all blessing. It is not our own righteousness, it is not a righteousness that we generated on our own, it is a righteousness that comes from the outside. And this is where the battle lines are draw, this is where the confusion has been for centuries in Christianity. There is a confusion of justification with sanctification.