Genesis 15 reminds us that God is a God of promise who often allows delayed fulfillment as a test of our faith in His Word. Abraham had God’s promise of descendants, yet time had passed and he had no children by his wife Sarah. His heir at that point would have been one of his servants.
God reaffirms his promise to Abraham that he would have innumerable descendants. Abraham believed God and is counted as righteous on the basis of his faith. He yet had no son; he only had the Word of God.
God also reaffirms the promise of an inheritance, a land for the descendants of Abraham to call home. But even then, there is no immediate possession of the promise; rather God tells him that it will be another 400 years before the promise of land is fulfilled. The fulfilling of the land promise is tied to a time when God would judge those who enslaved His people and when the overflow of sin in the land of promise would finally call for God’s judgment on that land. In and through His judgment on the enslavers and the inhabitants of that land of promise, Abraham’s descendants would be granted new life in the land.
In an unusual act, God then symbolically participates in an ancient covenant ceremony in which He vows death to Himself should he break his promise to Abraham. The subsequent history tells us that God fulfilled His promise of descendants and land.
This instance in the life of Abraham foreshadows the greater judgment, deliverance, and granting of an inheritance that occurs in the New Covenant. However, in the New Covenant, the Covenant-maker does die, but not for His own covenant breaking. He dies the death that covenant-breakers deserve. In his own body, sin is judged; through his death, deliverance is brought about; in his resurrection, an inheritance is granted to the true seed of Abraham, those who believe.
As we minister in urban places, we have the privilege of looking back on God’s faithfulness to Abraham, having even more reason to live by faith in the Word of God. We live on this side of the cross and resurrection so we know that the great judgment on sin has taken place and the great liberating power of the resurrection has been displayed. We have tasted in the Spirit, the down-payment of our inheritance, but like Abraham, we still wait for that eternal land, that city whose builder and maker is God.
We can joyfully tell city-dwellers that the sin which plagues their guilt-ridden consciences has been judged on the cross; they can be set free from the sin that enslaves because Christ in His resurrection has broken sin’s power; they can live above the false promises of urban idolatries by tasting in the Spirit the promise of the world to come.