1After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.”[i] (Genesis 15:1, NIV)
Abram lived 4,000 years ago and is known as a great man of faith to this day.
How many men or women can claim such fame?
Whether one fears loss, or desires gain, Genesis 15 shows us the key to Abram’s success. The promise does not lie in great wealth measured in money, but rather measured in relationship with God. Abram enjoyed security, peace and contentment and has become an example to the world of the life of faith.
I want to examine the foundation on which Abram built by picking up the story of Abram’s life in Genesis 15.
Genesis 15:1 says, “After this.” This refers to the account of a military action taken by Abram in chapter 14.
The story goes like this:
After Lot and Abram separated (Genesis 13), Lot settled in the Jordan Valley. At that time in history this was apparently a lush, fertile valley and the location of two prominent cities: Sodom and Gomorrah.
The kings of Sodom and Gomorrah and some of their neighboring cities rebelled against Kedorlaomer king of Elam. To whom, they had been forced to pay tribute for 12 years. Kedorlaomer brought some allies and came to punish the rebel cities and collect his tribute. The rebels got spanked. Kedorlaomer and his allies took all the goods and food from Sodom and Gomorrah and left. Along with the goods and food, they took some captives as well, apparently to serve as slaves. Abram’s nephew Lot, and all he owned, was among the captives.
Abram heard of the battle and of Lot’s circumstances, and immediately took action. Gathering 318 men, Abram attacked the victorious army. There have been a few times in history where a small group of men attacked much larger numbers and won. This was one of those times. We have no record of the battle and how it was won. We know that Abram divided his forces and attacked during the night. He and his men completely routed the enemy and chased them out of the country. They recovered all the loot and freed all the captives. Then Abram returned all the recovered goods and food to the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah. He even refused to receive any of it as a gift in payment for his rescue. His reasoning being that Abram did not want anyone to say, “I made Abram rich.”
This is where chapter 15 starts. This is the “this” of the “After this” of verse 1.
Think about what Abram has just given up.
He has given up his security.
He was living in peace and obscurity in his tent near the Oaks at Mamre. Now, He has just made enemies with a mighty king and his allies. This king and his allies had defeated the combined strength of five cities. We do not know how many men were in their armies, but we can be sure that it was more than the 318 men Abram could muster.
Now that Abram had made such powerful enemies, what was he to do? He could flee to Egypt, but he had recently been escorted out of the country and would probably not be welcomed back. He could go back to Ur of the Chaldeans, Oh, but wait – One of Kedorlaomer’s allies was Amraphel king of Shinar. Oops! No going back there – Ur was located in the valley of Shinar.
Abram had tents, not a walled city in which to hide for security.
“Do not be afraid” is a common phrase when men are addressed by messengers from God. When angels or God appear to men or women the first response is utter terror.
We have much to fear spiritually. When Isaiah saw the Lord he cried out, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.”[ii] (Isaiah 6:5, NLT) The Bible tells us that we have all sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). It also tells us that the wages of our sin is death (Romans 6:23). I often hear, “How can a good God allow evil?” Free will is just part of the answer. The other part is: “He doesn’t.” All evil, all sin, all transgressions against His holiness; will be paid for.
If ever we have reason to fear, it is when we are facing this justice of God. So why the “Fear not?”
Physically we have much to fear. It is always something different. Death is always just one misstep away. Misjudge the stopping distance in a car, forget to look both ways before crossing the street or take the wrong dose of medicine in the morning; and any one of us can find ourselves dead. Nuclear warfare, chemical warfare and terrorist attacks could happen at any time. If one of these things does not kill us, cancer, Ebola, heart failure, blood clots, aneurisms, and a host of diseases and physical ailments wait to claim our lives.
Abram had similar concerns and four powerful enemies. So why the “Fear not?”
The answer and the first part of the foundation that Abram built upon and upon which we can also build is the first phrase, “I am your shield.” (Genesis 15:1, NIV)
This is the answer for both the spiritual and physical fears common to both Abram and us.
First, God is our shield from spiritual fear. God, knowing that we could never pay the debt we owe, paid it for us. The Bible tells us that “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NLT) Because of this we are assured, “If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” (1 John 1:9, NLT) This is why John 3:16 assures us that eternal life waits for those who believe in Jesus. God is our shield and protection from the judgment we deserve for our sins.
Second, God is our shield from physical fear. I am not saying that the things listed do not happen to those who put their trust in God. However, Romans 8:28 assures us, “We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (NLT) Psalm 27 address physical fear when it says, “3Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident. . . . 5For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe. . .” (NIV) We can trust absolutely in God. Even when cancer or other disasters strike, those of us who know Him rely on the truth that “The Lord is my Shepherd.” It is because of this that we can say we fear no evil.
Abram’s success in life was built on this foundation of trust in God. His fears were dispelled by confidence in God as his shield, and yet this did not answer his desire for gain.
The Bible here uses the word “reward.” I am using the word “gain.”
We all need something for which to live, a motivation. It is different for everybody. Some are motivated by material gain and the benefits it brings. Some are motivated by recognition and applause. Some are motivated by physical pleasure and comfort. Included in the idea of gain and motivation are our desires. The Proverbs say, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” (Proverbs 13:12, NLT) This is why the Bible tells us that some people are ruled by their appetites. It literally says, “Their god is their stomach.” (Philippians 3:19)
Abram had given up any reward for having rescued Lot and the other captives. In chapter 12 of Genesis he tells the Egyptians that Sarai is his “sister” in hopes that they will treat him well because of her (Genesis 12:13). With this we know that gain was definitely part of his motive, and we also know that it worked. He left Egypt a very rich man. Now, we see a different Abram. He is not willing to take money and possessions if it means that God does not get the credit for making him rich.
After assuring Abram of his security, God promises Abram his reward. Translators have rendered verse one in two different ways, trying to make it clear. Some translate it, “Your reward will be very great.” Others translate it, “I am your very great reward.” The Hebrew literally is: “Not fear Abram, I your shield to you reward great exceedingly.” Given these words, I think the old King James version nailed it when it said, “Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.” This is why I led with the NIV: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.”
God, Himself, was to be Abram’s exceedingly great reward.
The Bible warns us not to love the world and the things in the world. (1 John 2:15) The greatest commandment is: “You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5, NLT) Jesus confirmed that this is the first and greatest commandment. This has to do with our desires, appetites and pursuit in life. In Mark 8:36 it says, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”[iii] (KJV) Here the words profit and loss are used.
Because of His plans, God makes an incredible promise to Abram. He promises Him the land and descendants as numerous as the stars, but would these descendants be of any benefit to Abram if his soul were lost for eternity? It is the promised seed, that is Jesus Christ, that makes the promises of benefit and meaningful.
Jesus has promised us an inheritance as well. 1 Peter 1:3-4 says:
“3All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, 4and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. (NLT)
This goes along with what Jesus said:
“1Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” (John 14:1-3, KJV)
There is a whole book of the Bible dedicated to the words of the preacher. It is called Ecclesiastes. It looks at all the profit or gain that one can pursue in the world, and reaches this one conclusion: It is all empty and meaningless. These are the words of the wisest man who ever lived, Solomon.
Compare this with the God who has made us His heirs. He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing. Romans 8:31-32 says it best when it says:
31What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? (NLT)
Trusting God is what set Abram apart and made him so famous that he is remembered around the world 4,000 years later.
God does not necessarily have the same plan for you, but He does have a plan. He is the shield and reward for all who will trust in Him. No matter the fear or desire, will you trust Him today?
[i] Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide
[ii] Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible: New Living Translation. Copyright 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
[iii] Scripture quotations marked KJV are taken from the King James Bible.