Who is God?
Genesis 14-16 affirms what we’ve seen in God’s character thus far. Through the conflict of the nine kings (14:9) and Abram’s rescuing of Lot (14:13-16), we’re able to see that God is a God of blessing. When Abram rescues Lot from Chedorlaomer, God gives Abram the spoils of war (14:16) which further extends Abram’s wealth he gained from the Egyptians (12:16). For this blessing, and through the prayers of the mysterious Melchizedek, “priest of God Most High” (14:18), we see that God is worthy of praise. Melchizedek prays, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand” (14:19-20). Melchizedek’s actions here earned him a place in Jewish and Christian theology. He’s connected to God’s promises to king David in Psalm 110:4 and he helps connects the person of Christ with the job of a priest in Hebrews 5-7. Melchizedek acts as a priest by bringing Abram into Yahweh’s presence in his prayer (4:19-20), and as a king of Salem. As a priest-king, Melchizedek typifies Christ who would later come and act as man’s high priest by making a way for man to approach the holiness of God through his substitutionary death on a cross. God is also shown to be a gracious God, entering into a covenant (Gen. 15) and making promises to people who don’t deserve them (Gen. 16). In the ritualistic establishment of the Abrahamic Covenant, God reaffirms His promises to Abram in Genesis 12. Abram is promised offspring and land (12:1) and blessing (12:2-3). To look forward into God’s Story a little, Abram’s descendants would become the nation of Israel who would go down to Egypt, become enslaved, be led out by Moses and enter into a covenant relationship with God, enter and possess the land of Canaan, be exiled out of their home, be reestablished, and finally experience God’s gracious goodness through Jesus. Through an Ancient Near East custom (15:9-21) God establishes a covenant with Abram to bring this promise to completion. In the story of Sarai, Hagar, and Abram, God is seen as merciful. Hagar, an Egyptian servant, is undeservedly included into God’s story when Sarai and Abram display their distrust in God’s promises (16:2-4). Even when Hagar flees Sarai’s wrath, God coaxes her back and makes promises to Hagar similar to those He made with Abram (16:12-13).
What has He done?
God is doing so much in these three chapters, that it would be hard to give each passage the full justice it deserves. But the main emphasis is on God’s sovereign plan and mercy. The solution to the problem of sin is beginning to come through fruiting through the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis 15. Through God’s promise of descendants to Abraham would come the snake-crusher promised in Genesis 3:15, the one who would conquer Satan and right all wrongs, Jesus. And it’s through Jesus, thus through Abram, that all the world would be able to experience God’s grace and love instead of death by His wrath. Commentator Derek Kidner writes, “this, rather than Sinai’s, was the fundamental covenant, and it spoke of grace and not law (Gal. 3:17–22). To honour this promise God would bring his people out of Egypt (Exod. 2:24), and his Son into the world (Luke 1:72, 73)” (TOTC, 133). The implications of the covenant ritual performed in Genesis 15 cannot be overstated. In the Ancient Near East, ceremonies such as the one described here would occur between two parties entering into covenant with each other. The action of cutting the animals in two and walking between them symbolized that if either party failed to keep their end of the covenant in full then they would suffer a similar fate to the animals (cf. Jeremiah 34:18). If you read the story, however, it’s noticeable that God makes Abram fall asleep instead of walking the path between the animals (15:12). Instead, God–here represented by “a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch” (17)–alone passes between the animals. No penalty falls on Abram’s shoulders, for the covenant is strictly God’s. Theologian R.C. Sproul writes, “God invokes a self-maledictory oath or curse upon Himself should He fail to keep His covenant. Because He can swear by no higher authority, God swears by Himself to keep the covenantal terms” (Reformation Study Bible, 34) God forces that He alone would suffer for both parties. And he does through Jesus. This is grace, unfiltered, pure, and clear.
Who are we in light of what God has done?
The Abrahamic Covenant is extended to us. While we may not be direct descendants of Abram himself, God promises that in [Abram] all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (12:3). Both Jews and Gentiles are blessed through Abram, and this could only happen through Jesus. In Genesis 15 we begin to see an inkling of the salvation that will be given to us in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Through the covenant, God promised that He alone would suffer, that man would not suffer the penalty of breaking the covenant with God. We are, therefore, saved from suffering the penalty of death because of the suffering of Jesus. This is the glorious exchange Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “He became sin who knew no sin that we might become the righteousness of God”. German theologian Jürgen Moltmann describes it this way:
God suffered in the suffering of Jesus, God died on the cross of Christ, says Christian faith, so that we might live and rise again in his future. Thus at the level of the psychology of religion, Christian faith effects liberation from the childish projections of human needs for the riches of God; liberation from human impotence for the omnipotence of God; from human helplessness for the omnipotence of God; from human helplessness for the responsibility of God. It brings liberation from the divinized father-figures by which men seek to sustain their childhood. It brings liberation from fear in the ideas of political omnipotence with which the powers on earth legitimate their rule and give inferiority complexes to the impotent, and with which the impotent compensate their impotence in dreams. It brings liberation from the determination and direction from outside which anxious souls love and at the same time hate. This God of the cross is not the ‘great huntsman’ (Cardonnel), who sits over man’s conscience like a fist on the neck. Anyone who understands God in this way misuses his name and is far from the cross. (The Crucified God, 216).
How should we live?
Abram’s response to God’s goodness is described in 15:6, “And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (cf. Rom. 4:9, 22; Gal. 3:6; James 2:23). Similarly, Hagar’s response to God wooing her back into his good promises was to call on the name of the Lord and declare, ‘”You are a God of seeing,’ for she said, ‘Truly here I have seen him who looks after me'” (16:13; some texts read, “You are a God who sees me”). In these chapters, God isn’t portrayed deistically–removed from human affairs and unflinching in Abram and Sarai’s want for offspring or Hagar’s suffering as a fugitive in the desert. He isn’t portrayed as a God with a hair-trigger, blazing temper that sparks retributive punishment on Sarai and Abram for their disobedience. He isn’t even described in pagan terms that typified Abram’s contemporaries as “one of the gods,” or “a god”. Instead, God is described as majestically as “dreadful and great” (15:12) and as intimately as “a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch” (17). Our response is nothing but awe at a God who continues to bring about His plan of salvation despite man’s stubborn refusal. What God would continue chasing after the human heart even after sin plunges within us to unknown depths and tarnishes His good creation? When human hands are broken from tirelessly digging further into the full extent of depravity and we have the audacity to stubbornly shake our bloody fists at God in anger when our ruinous pleasure leaves us shattered and empty, drunk on our own shame and self-vindication, what God would love us then? Answer: The same God that covenants Himself to Abram and promises to take the full penalty for human sin upon Himself and bear it as an unrecognizable corpse on a gruesome cross. The same God that buried our sins with Himself, but like a seed burst forth into new glory. This is a God worthy of every fiber of our lives.