A 2015 NASA article reveals that, ‘It is very difficult to count the number of stars in the Milky Way from our position inside the galaxy. Our best estimates tell us that the Milky Way is made up of approximately 100 billion stars’. Can you imagine, then, how you might feel as you gaze up towards a star-studded night sky, to be told by God to count the stars and believe that your descendants would be equally innumerable? Especially if you are in your eighties and have not yet had any children? This was the situation Abram found himself in, in Genesis 15:4-6. He had thought that Eliezer of Damascus, the steward of his household, would be his successor, but God told him otherwise:
‘4 And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son[b] shall be your heir.” 5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look towards heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6 And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.’
When God told Abram that he would have his very own son and that his offspring would be countless, God was foretelling not just the birth of his son Isaac or his grandson Jacob, who fathered the twelve tribes of Israel, but on through a further forty generations, the birth of Jesus Christ, through whom many billions of people have become grafted into God’s family. So, as Jesus was a descendant of Abram, all Christians can be said to be descended from Abram! A galaxy of Christians!
For God to make this covenant with Abram is astonishing and revelatory. Astonishing that our all-powerful God, who created the universe, wants to work in close relationship with the very beings he created! Astonishing that God chose this ordinary man to be part of his plan! Astonishing that God’s vision is so vast that it transcends generations. And revelatory because it shows us that God always had a plan to put things right after Adam brought sin into the world. Through Abram, there would be a line of descent to Jesus, God’s only son, who came to die for our sins and reconcile us to him.
The covenant, which is a binding agreement, didn’t require an equal input from Abram and God: Abram simply had to believe God’s promise! And in that moment Abram did believe! He believed that God would make it possible for him to have a son and he trusted in God to bring it to pass. This is the first time that the word believe is used in the Bible and it is significant because it points us towards the act of believing in Jesus. We see that the Lord counted Abram’s act of believing as righteousness, that is, it made him right with God. This is also the first time the word righteousness appears and it speaks to a time when, if we believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus, we too are made righteous with God. We are reconciled to him, no longer distant because of sin and disobedience, but reconnected and restored into relationship with the Father. Just as Abram didn’t have to work to earn the covenant with God, so we don’t earn our salvation in Jesus. Jesus died for us and he loves us just as we are; we simply have to believe in him. God offered Abram mighty blessings and a legacy and Abram believed in God’s promises. Today, through Jesus, God offers us mighty blessings and an inheritance of eternal life. Do we likewise believe God’s promises?