And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if you be able to number them…
I. ABRAM HAD EXPOSED HIMSELF TO DANGEROUS REPRISALS BY HIS VICTORY OVER THE CONFEDERATE EASTERN RAIDERS. In the reaction following the excitement of battle, dread and despondency seem to have shadowed his soul. Therefore the assurance with which this chapter opens came to him. It was new, and came in a new form. He is cast into a state of spiritual ecstasy, and a mighty "word" sounds, audible to his inward ear. The form which it takes — "I am thy shield" — suggests the thought that God shapes His revelation according to the moment's need. The unwarlike Abram might well dread the return of the marauders in force, to avenge their defeat. Therefore God speaks to his fears and present want. Abram had just exercised singular generosity in absolutely refusing to enrich himself from the spoil. God reveals Himself as his "exceeding great reward." He gives Himself as recompense for all sacrifices.
II. MAKE THE TRIUMPHANT FAITH WHICH SPRINGS TO MEET THE DIVINE PROMISE. The first effect of that great assurance is to deepen Abram's consciousness of the strange contradiction to it apparently given by his childlessness. It is not distrust that answers the promise with a question, but it is eagerness to accept the assurance and ingenuous utterance of difficulties in the hope of their removal. God is too wise a Father not to know the difference between the tones of confidence and unbelief, however alike they may soured; and He is too patient to be angry if we cannot take in all His promise at once. He breaks it into bits not too large for our lips, as He does hove. The frequent reiterations of the same promises in Abram's life are not vain. They are a specimen of the unwearied repetition of our lessons, "Here a little, there a little," which our teacher gives his slow scholars. So, once more, Abram gets the promise of posterity in still more glorious form. Before, it was likened to the dust of the earth; now it is as the innumerable stars shining in the clear eastern heaven. As he gazes up into the solemn depths, the immensity and peace of the steadfast sky seems to help him to rise above the narrow limits and changefulness of earth, and a great trust floods his soul. Belief as credence is mainly an affair of the head, but belief as trust is the act of the will and the affections. The object of faith is set in sunlight clearness by these words — the first in which Scripture speaks of faith. Abram leaved on "the Lord." It was not the promise, but the promiser, that was truly the object of Abram's trust.
III. MARK THE FULL-ORBED GOSPEL TRUTH AS TO THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF FAITH WHICH IS IMBEDDED IN THIS RECORD OF EARLY REVELATION. "He counted it to him for righteousness." A geologist would be astonished if he came on remains in some of the primary strata which indicated the existence, in these remote epochs, of species supposed to be of much more recent date. So here we are startled at finding the peculiarly New Testament teaching away hack in this dim distance. No wonder that Paul fastened on this verse, which so remarkably breaks the flow of the narrative, as proof that his great principle of justification by faith was really the one only law by which, in all ages, men had found acceptance with God. Long before law or circumcision, faith had been counted for righteousness. The whole Mosaic system was a parenthesis; and even in it, whoever had been accepted had been so because of his trust, not because of his works. The whole of the subsequent Divine dealings with Israel rested on this act of faith, and on the relation to God into which, through it, Abram entered. He was not a perfectly righteous man, as some passages of his life show; but he rose here to the height of loving and yearning trust in God, and God took that trust in lieu of perfect conformity to His will.
IV. CONSIDER THE COVENANT WHICH IS THE CONSEQUENCE OF ABRAM'S FAITH, AND THE PROOF OF HIS ACCEPTANCE. It is important to observe that the whole remainder of this chapter is regarded by the writer as the result of Abram's believing God. The way in which verse 7 and the rest are bolted on, as it were, to verse 6, clearly shows this. The nearer lesson from this fact is that all the Old Testament revelation from this point onward, rests on the foundation of faith. The further lesson, for all times, is that faith is ever rewarded by more intimate and loving manifestations of God's friendship, and by fuller disclosures of His purposes. The covenant is not only God's binding Himself anew by solemn acts to fulfil His promises already made, but it is His entering into far sweeter and nearer alliance with Abram than even He had hitherto had. That name, "the friend of God," by which he is still known over all the Muhammadan world, contains the very essence of the covenant.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.