Genesis 15.1–6: Righteousness through faith (14 January 2020)

Bible Society's Daily Reflections follow the M'Cheyne Bible reading plan, designed for those who want to read the whole Bible in one year. Each reflection focuses on one of its four daily chapters.

Pray

Pray

Lord, prepare me to receive your word. Clear my mind and warm my heart. Assure me of your loving purposes for me, and speak into my life today.

Read

Read

God's Covenant with Abram

1After this, Abram had a vision and heard the LORD say to him, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I will shield you from danger and give you a great reward.”

2But Abram answered, “Sovereign LORD, what good will your reward do me, since I have no children? My only heir is Eliezer of Damascus. 3You have given me no children, and one of my slaves will inherit my property.”

4Then he heard the LORD speaking to him again: “This slave Eliezer will not inherit your property; your own son will be your heir.” 5The LORD took him outside and said, “Look at the sky and try to count the stars; you will have as many descendants as that.”

6Abram put his trust in the LORD, and because of this the LORD was pleased with him and accepted him.

7Then the LORD said to him, “I am the LORD, who led you out of Ur in Babylonia, to give you this land as your own.”

8But Abram asked, “Sovereign LORD, how can I know that it will be mine?”

9He answered, “Bring me a cow, a goat, and a ram, each of them three years old, and a dove and a pigeon.” 10Abram brought the animals to God, cut them in half, and placed the halves opposite each other in two rows; but he did not cut up the birds. 11Vultures came down on the bodies, but Abram drove them off.

12When the sun was going down, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and fear and terror came over him. 13The LORD said to him, “Your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land; they will be slaves there and will be treated cruelly for 400 years. 14But I will punish the nation that enslaves them, and when they leave that foreign land, they will take great wealth with them. 15You yourself will live to a ripe old age, die in peace, and be buried. 16It will be four generations before your descendants come back here, because I will not drive out the Amorites until they become so wicked that they must be punished.”

17When the sun had set and it was dark, a smoking fire-pot and a flaming torch suddenly appeared and passed between the pieces of the animals. 18Then and there the LORD made a covenant with Abram. He said, “I promise to give your descendants all this land from the border of Egypt to the River Euphrates, 19including the lands of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”

The Death of John the Baptist

1At that time Herod, the ruler of Galilee, heard about Jesus. 2“He is really John the Baptist, who has come back to life,” he told his officials. “That is why he has this power to perform miracles.”

3For Herod had earlier ordered John's arrest, and he had him chained and put in prison. He had done this because of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife. 4For some time John the Baptist had told Herod, “It isn't right for you to be married to Herodias!” 5Herod wanted to kill him, but he was afraid of the Jewish people, because they considered John to be a prophet.

6On Herod's birthday the daughter of Herodias danced in front of the whole group. Herod was so pleased 7that he promised her, “I swear that I will give you anything you ask for!”

8At her mother's suggestion she asked him, “Give me here and now the head of John the Baptist on a dish!”

9The king was sad, but because of the promise he had made in front of all his guests he gave orders that her wish be granted. 10So he had John beheaded in prison. 11The head was brought in on a dish and given to the girl, who took it to her mother. 12John's disciples came, carried away his body, and buried it; then they went and told Jesus.

Jesus Feeds a Great Crowd

13When Jesus heard the news about John, he left there in a boat and went to a lonely place by himself. The people heard about it, so they left their towns and followed him by land. 14Jesus got out of the boat, and when he saw the large crowd, his heart was filled with pity for them, and he healed those who were ill.

15That evening his disciples came to him and said, “It is already very late, and this is a lonely place. Send the people away and let them go to the villages to buy food for themselves.”

16“They don't have to leave,” answered Jesus. “You yourselves give them something to eat!”

17“All we have here are five loaves and two fish,” they replied.

18“Then bring them here to me,” Jesus said. 19He ordered the people to sit down on the grass; then he took the five loaves and the two fish, looked up to heaven, and gave thanks to God. He broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20Everyone ate and had enough. Then the disciples took up twelve baskets full of what was left over. 21The number of men who ate was about 5,000, not counting the women and children.

Jesus Walks on the Water

22Then Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people away. 23After sending the people away, he went up a hill by himself to pray. When evening came, Jesus was there alone; 24and by this time the boat was far out in the lake, tossed about by the waves, because the wind was blowing against it.

25Between three and six o'clock in the morning Jesus came to the disciples, walking on the water. 26When they saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. “It's a ghost!” they said, and screamed with fear.

27Jesus spoke to them at once. “Courage!” he said. “It is I. Don't be afraid!”

28Then Peter spoke up. “Lord, if it is really you, order me to come out on the water to you.”

29“Come!” answered Jesus. So Peter got out of the boat and started walking on the water to Jesus. 30But when he noticed the strong wind, he was afraid and started to sink down in the water. “Save me, Lord!” he cried.

31At once Jesus reached out and grabbed hold of him and said, “How little faith you have! Why did you doubt?”

32They both got into the boat, and the wind died down. 33Then the disciples in the boat worshipped Jesus. “Truly you are the Son of God!” they exclaimed.

Jesus Heals the Sick in Gennesaret

34They crossed the lake and came to land at Gennesaret, 35where the people recognized Jesus. So they sent for the sick people in all the surrounding country and brought them to Jesus. 36They begged him to let those who were ill at least touch the edge of his cloak; and all who touched it were made well.

Nehemiah Overcomes Opposition to his Work

1When Sanballat heard that we Jews had begun rebuilding the wall, he was furious and began to ridicule us. 2In front of his companions and the Samaritan troops he said, “What do these miserable Jews think they're doing? Do they intend to rebuild the city? Do they think that by offering sacrifices they can finish the work in one day? Can they make building stones out of heaps of burnt rubble?”

3Tobiah was standing there beside him, and he added, “What kind of wall could they ever build? Even a fox could knock it down!”

4I prayed, “Listen to them mocking us, O God! Let their ridicule fall on their own heads. Let them be robbed of everything they have, and let them be taken as prisoners to a foreign land. 5Don't forgive the evil they do and don't forget their sins, for they have insulted us who are building.”

6So we went on rebuilding the wall, and soon it was half its full height, because the people were eager to work.

7Sanballat, Tobiah, and the people of Arabia, Ammon, and Ashdod heard that we were making progress in rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem and that the gaps in the wall were being closed, and they were very angry. 8So they all plotted together to come and attack Jerusalem and create confusion, 9but we prayed to our God and kept men on guard against them day and night.

10The people of Judah had a song they sang:

“We grow weak carrying burdens;

There's so much rubble to take away.

How can we build the wall today?”

11Our enemies thought we would not see them or know what was happening until they were already upon us, killing us and putting an end to our work. 12But time after time Jews who were living among our enemies came to warn us of the plans our enemies were making against us. 13So I armed the people with swords, spears, and bows, and stationed them by clans behind the wall, wherever it was still unfinished.

14I saw that the people were worried, so I said to them and to their leaders and officials, “Don't be afraid of our enemies. Remember how great and terrifying the Lord is, and fight for your fellow-countrymen, your children, your wives, and your homes.” 15Our enemies heard that we had found out what they were plotting, and they realized that God had defeated their plans. Then all of us went back to rebuilding the wall.

16From then on half my men worked and half stood guard, wearing coats of armour and armed with spears, shields, and bows. And our leaders gave their full support to the people 17who were rebuilding the wall. Even those who carried building materials worked with one hand and kept a weapon in the other, 18and everyone who was building kept a sword strapped to his waist. The man who was to sound the alarm on the bugle stayed with me. 19I told the people and their officials and leaders, “The work is spread out over such a distance that we are widely separated from one another on the wall. 20If you hear the bugle, gather round me. Our God will fight for us.” 21So every day, from dawn until the stars came out at night, half of us worked on the wall, while the other half stood guard with spears.

22During this time I told the men in charge that they and all their helpers had to stay in Jerusalem at night, so that we could guard the city at night as well as work in the daytime. 23I didn't take off my clothes even at night, neither did any of my companions nor my servants nor my bodyguard. And we all kept our weapons to hand.

In Iconium

1The same thing happened in Iconium: Paul and Barnabas went to the synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of Jews and Gentiles became believers. 2But the Jews who would not believe stirred up the Gentiles and turned them against the believers. 3The apostles stayed there for a long time, speaking boldly about the Lord, who proved that their message about his grace was true by giving them the power to perform miracles and wonders. 4The people of the city were divided: some were for the Jews, others for the apostles.

5Then some Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, decided to ill-treat the apostles and stone them. 6When the apostles learnt about it, they fled to the cities of Lystra and Derbe in Lycaonia and to the surrounding territory. 7There they preached the Good News.

In Lystra and Derbe

8In Lystra there was a man who had been lame from birth and had never been able to walk. 9He sat there and listened to Paul's words. Paul saw that he believed and could be healed, so he looked straight at him 10and said in a loud voice, “Stand up straight on your feet!” The man jumped up and started walking around. 11When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they started shouting in their own Lycaonian language, “The gods have become like men and have come down to us!” 12They gave Barnabas the name Zeus, and Paul the name Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13The priest of the god Zeus, whose temple stood just outside the town, brought bulls and flowers to the gate, for he and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifice to the apostles.

14When Barnabas and Paul heard what they were about to do, they tore their clothes and ran into the middle of the crowd, shouting, 15“Why are you doing this? We ourselves are only human beings like you! We are here to announce the Good News, to turn you away from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven, earth, sea, and all that is in them. 16In the past he allowed all people to go their own way. 17But he has always given evidence of his existence by the good things he does: he gives you rain from heaven and crops at the right times; he gives you food and fills your hearts with happiness.” 18Even with these words the apostles could hardly keep the crowd from offering a sacrifice to them.

19Some Jews came from Antioch in Pisidia and from Iconium; they won the crowd over to their side, stoned Paul and dragged him out of the town, thinking that he was dead. 20But when the believers gathered round him, he got up and went back into the town. The next day he and Barnabas went to Derbe.

The Return to Antioch in Syria

21Paul and Barnabas preached the Good News in Derbe and won many disciples. Then they went back to Lystra, to Iconium, and on to Antioch in Pisidia. 22They strengthened the believers and encouraged them to remain true to the faith. “We must pass through many troubles to enter the Kingdom of God,” they taught. 23In each church they appointed elders, and with prayers and fasting they commended them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.

24After going through the territory of Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia. 25There they preached the message in Perga and then went to Attalia, 26and from there they sailed back to Antioch, the place where they had been commended to the care of God's grace for the work they had now completed.

27When they arrived in Antioch, they gathered the people of the church together and told them about all that God had done with them and how he had opened the way for the Gentiles to believe. 28And they stayed a long time there with the believers.

Reflect

Reflect on Genesis 15.1–6

In Genesis 15, God makes a formal covenant with Abraham, evidently in a form that would have been recognisable in that ancient Middle Eastern context. However strange the details, the human situation is very recognisable. In an age when eternal significance was reckoned through the number of one's descendants, Abraham can't see a future because he is old and childless. Nevertheless, when God shows him the stars of heaven and promises that his offspring will be as many as they are, Abraham believes him – and, says the writer, God 'counted it to him as righteousness'.

Paul picks up this idea in the New Testament, in Romans 4.3. Abraham wasn't justified before God because of anything he actually did, he says – meaning adherence to the Jewish law of circumcision. All he had to do was believe.

So the New Testament draws on this key moment in the Old for a radical insight: we don't need an apparatus of rituals and human requirements to enter a saving relationship with God. All we need to do is believe. If we stretch out our hand to God, we will find he is stretching out his hand to us.

The simplicity of that idea, which is so central to the gospel, is both powerful and moving. It reminds us that we don't have to do anything to be saved: it has all been done for us.

Pray

Pray

God, thank you for drawing near to us and accepting us as we are. Help me to trust in you alone for my salvation.

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