God told Abram that he need not be afraid, which means that Abram was, indeed, afraid of something. Abram had just won this huge battle against all odds. He had seen firsthand the favor and power of God. What could he possibly have been afraid of? It is possible that Abram feared future military reprisals from Chedorlaomer and his allies. When the kings got home and started licking their wounds, perhaps they may have asked, “How did Abram’s little army beat up on us?” Abram may have won the battle, but had he won the war? This very question may have been running through his mind at this time. God may have promised Abram the land in Genesis 12:7 and 13:14-17, but there are still lots of bad guys living there. Therefore, the word of God to Abram, “I am a shield to you,” (Genesis 15:1) could be aimed at relieving his fear of future military conflict.
So, if God intends to reassure Abram and relieve him of his fears, what should we make of Abram’s questions? Does he doubt God? No, of course not and how do we know? Look at how Abram addresses God in Genesis 15:2, 8. He called him Yehovah my Master or Lord. Abram addresses God as the Sovereign God over all creation. He believes or trusts in this God to do as he says he’ll do. So, what about Abram’s questions?
God told Abram in Genesis 15:1 that not only would he be Abram’s shield, but also his great reward. Therefore, Abram had no reason to fear, and the context implies Abram trusted God to protect him. What Abram questioned was not God’s ability to protect him, nor did he doubt God’s provision, but, if Abram continued to be childless, what was the value of God’s protection and provision—it would all be for another man, a foreigner born in Abram’s household. I don’t think that Abram understood the full meaning of grace at this point. That is, I don’t believe he saw God as the sole responsible party for producing Abram’s descendants. Abram had to be shown God’s complete role in the promises he made. Therefore, Abram’s lack of confidence was not directed toward God but toward his own ability to provide an heir. If God didn’t save Lot, without Abram’s labor, how was God to fulfill his promise to Abram, if Abram couldn’t do his part?
I believe one of the biggest problems a believer must overcome is the idea that God’s promises to us come through his power plus our own. We always seem to interpret grace in a context of what we must do. It is so difficult for believers to learn that grace is grace only when it comes to us freely, without our input. If I give you a gift, would it still be a gift if you tried to pay for it? Time and time again, I hear the argument: yes, but one can always refuse the grace or the gift of God. Are we really that strong, that we are able to overpower the will of God to give? Could any of us hide the sun that is given to the righteous and the unrighteous through his grace? Could we hold back the rain that falls down upon the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45)? I think believers need to deeply ponder the meaning of grace. God was teaching Abram its meaning by bringing him through these trials that caused him to question how God would fulfill his promises to him.
What I find so comforting in this story in Abram’s life is that God had no rebuke for Abram. Instead he took Abram by the hand as it were, and comforted him, saying in Genesis 15:5: “Look at the stars. Can you count them? Your descendants will be as innumerable as the stars are!” And Abram believed God (Genesis 15:6), and his faith was accounted to him as righteousness. Trusting God and not in one’s own ability is righteousness. Abram had to learn to place his trust entirely in God, and so do we.