And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness. — Genesis 15:5-6
Studying the stars has been an interest of mankind for thousands of years. As technology has improved, more has been learned about the stars, planets, nebulae, and galaxies around us. The Hubble Space Telescope was put into orbit in April, 1990, and in the years since then it has brought new discoveries to astronomers. They estimate that the universe now visible to scientists has seventy sextillion stars (70,000,000,000,000,000,000,000). Yet researchers say this number is only an estimate. “This is not the total number of stars in the universe, but it’s the number within range of our telescopes,” said Simon Driver of the Australian National University. “The real number could be much, much, larger still — some people think it is infinite.”(1)
Even if we are not skilled astronomers, we can do a little star study of our own on a clear night. How many stars can we count? It does not take long to realize that those twinkling lights are impossible to number. Yet in our focus verse, God promised that Abram’s seed would be like that vast array spread out across the sky — and Abram believed Him, in spite of the fact that he and his wife were well past child-bearing years!
Just as God had wonderful plans for Abram, He has perfect plans for us. Since we are not able to see the whole picture of our lives at any given moment, we must exercise faith, and trust God to lead us one step at a time. This may not always be easy, but it was not easy for Abram, either. In this chapter he asked God for reassurance (verse 8), and God responded by entering into a covenant with him.
Like Abram, we can choose to believe God, to follow Him, and then see Him work in our lives. We may not have as many descendants as there are stars, but we are sure to have God’s blessing and direction.
In today’s text, God reassured Abram of His protection, and reiterated His promise that Abram would have a son. In the previous chapter, God had given Abram and his people a great victory. Perhaps Abram was fearful that the powerful kings who had been defeated would come back to fight again. In verse 1, God promised to protect Abram (“I am thy shield”) and to be gracious toward him (“and thy exceeding great reward”).
God had promised Abram that through him and his descendants all families of the earth would be blessed (see Genesis 12:1-3). In this chapter, Abram expressed his lack of understanding of how the promise could come to pass since he had no son. In Abram’s native culture, someone who had no children could make a servant his heir. Eliezer was a trusted servant from Abram’s household who worked as an administrator (see Genesis 24), but God told Abram that he would have a child of his own and descendants beyond number like the stars of the heavens.
Verse 6 is the first time the word believed occurs in the Bible; it means “to be firmly established or rooted.” Abram was firmly convinced of God’s faithfulness and reliability, and God “counted it to him for righteousness.” This verse is one of the most important passages in all of the Old Testament because it shows that Abram was not justified by works, but because of his faith in God. This relationship to God by faith was in place before circumcision was instituted, illustrating that Abram’s justification was not a result of that ceremony.
As evidence of the promise, God entered into a covenant with Abram (verses 9-17). At that time, a covenant was a way of showing strong determination by both parties to fulfill their promise. As part of the covenant ceremony, sacrificial animals were divided and the covenant participants walked between them. After making his sacrifice, Abram kept the birds away from the carcasses. When the sun was going down, God came and told Abram that his seed would spend approximately four hundred years in another nation before they inherited the promise. Some scholars believe the “horror of great darkness” (verse 12) and the “smoking furnace” (verse 17) looked ahead to the slavery of the Israelites in Egypt. The burning lamp passing between the pieces of the offering was indicative of God ratifying the covenant with Abram.
In a summarizing statement (verses 18-21), God revealed to Abram for the first time the geographical boundaries of the land his descendants would possess: they would stretch from the river of Egypt to the river Euphrates. The area is further clarified by a list of the ten people groups which dwelt in that area during Abram’s time. On today’s map, the area described would include all of Israel, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq, as well as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Oman, Yemen, most of Turkey, and all the land east of the Nile river.
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
II. The early history of the chosen race
7. The promise of an heir (15:1-21)
a. Abraham’s faith stated (15:1-6)
b. The covenant made (15:7-21)
If we choose to believe God, we are certain to be glad we did.
1. Beale, Bob, “Number of visible stars put at 70 sextillion,” ABC Science, July 25, 2003,
http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2003/07/25/910295.htm, accessed 7 Jan. 2013