Our Defense and Great Reward
After 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.”
It is sometimes strange what a person remembers from the past. When I was in high school, I took a year-long biology course that I assume covered all the standard matters taught in beginning biology courses. But thinking back on it, I cannot remember a single specific thing that was taught in that course except the answer to the following question: “Why does an insect have six legs?” There are probably very few people in the world who are currently puzzling over that question, so there are probably very few interested in the answer. But here it is anyway. Six legs is two times three legs, and three legs are the minimal number necessary to give the insect stability when it walks. An insect moves three legs at a time, so the other three are always anchored on the surface.
A three-legged stool is stable. A football player crouching at the line of scrimmage puts one arm down to give himself a three-point stance. The oil drilling platforms standing off the coast of many countries are anchored to the bottom by only three legs, thus gaining maximum stability at minimum cost.
The reason these matters cross my mind now is that we have come to a section of Abram’s life in which the third of three great spiritual moorings is introduced for our consideration: God’s power. The first two have already been studied: God’s calling, which is grounded in his eternal counsels or decrees; and God’s faithfulness, which tells us that God’s intentions in our calling will not change. We have already seen how God called and then proved himself faithful to Abram. These are great truths, but by themselves they would not be enough to assure either stability in the midst of life’s troubles or survival in the midst of life’s storms. We can’t imagine a case in which God would want to help and be faithful in standing by us but unfortunately not be strong enough to deliver us when the going gets tough. That is why we need this third leg.
The text is Genesis 15:1. “After 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.’ ” In these words, God teaches Abram (and us) that he has power to protect his own—whatever the circumstances.
Our Sure Defense
Since Genesis 15 begins with the words “after this,” it is clear that the promise of God relates to what has gone before. That is, the specifics of the promise relate to the battle against the four kings described in Genesis 14.
Some time before the battle that this chapter describes, Abram and Lot had separated, and Lot had gone to live in Sodom. Sodom was not the place of God’s blessing; hence, Lot and his family had problems there. A time came when four kings from distant Mesopotamia began marauding on the eastern edge of Canaan; eventually they came to make war on Sodom and the nearby cities. Sodom’s king and his allies were routed. Sodom was overrun, and Lot, his family, and his possessions were captured. News of the battle came to Abram. When he heard that Lot had been captured, Abram set out to rescue the family. The Bible says, “When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people” (Gen. 14:14–16).
At this point, Abram was in great danger. Here were four powerful kings who had laid waste large areas of the land and carried off spoils from many cities. They had presumably spared Abram only because he was so insignificant and so far away. Now this nobody had attacked them. He had attacked with a small force, but he had won and recovered the spoils. They must have been furious, and Abram must have been wondering about the consequences of his heroic rescue of his nephew. While he was wondering, God came to him with a promise of protection, precisely the promise he needed. God said, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.”
Whom Do You Trust?
Are you shielded as Abram was? Is God your shield? Do you trust him? Many men and women trust other things. They trust the government or their investments, their friends, family, wealth, or popularity. But these things ultimately disappoint the one who trusts them. If you want a real shield, trust God.
Let us think briefly of some of the things against which God promises to shield the one who trusts him. First, God promises to shield the believer from his enemies. David knew this truth. David had made many enemies. He had welded a nation together, and no one can do that without making enemies. He was threatened by the hostile nations that surrounded Israel, old friends of the former king, factions within his own government, and even by rebels within his immediate family. Yet David knew the protective power of God. He wrote, “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior” (2 Sam. 22:2–3).
God will be your shield against enemies. You may say, as some people do, “Oh, I don’t have any enemies!” That may be true; but if it is, I suspect that you are not bearing a very dynamic witness for Jesus Christ. The gospel hardens some hearts as it melts others. Even Jesus had enemies. But if you do have enemies or if you encounter them for the gospel’s sake in days to come, you may be sure that God will be your shield against them.
Second, God promises to shield the believer against Satan. The Bible tells us that our adversary, the Devil, “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). But it also speaks of deliverance: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
The truth of these verses is illustrated by Job’s experience. Job was a righteous man who was severely attacked by Satan. He lost flocks, camels, asses, sons, and daughters; yet he did not yield to Satan. A main point in Job’s situation is that God had placed a hedge around him. Satan could do nothing to him until God permitted the hedge to be lowered a little in order to demonstrate Job’s character; and God did this only with the full knowledge that Job would triumph and that all that Job had lost would be restored.
The account spells this out in an interesting way. When Satan and his angels came to present themselves before the Lord on one occasion, God called attention to Job, saying, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8).
Satan’s reply was that Job was indeed a religious man but that he was so for obvious reasons. Satan could not see Job’s heart, as God could. So he concluded that Job worshiped God merely for what he could get out of it. God had prospered Job. Why shouldn’t Job worship him? After all, it was an arrangement advantageous to Job. Satan believed that if God would allow him to take away Job’s possessions, Job would curse God to his face. In presenting this argument, Satan makes an interesting admission. He admits that God is protecting Job: “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has?” (Job 1:10). Presumably Satan had tried to attack Job before, but the hedge was in the way, and he was not able to do it. He makes his slander against both Job and God, but in doing so he admits both his weakness and God’s faithfulness to those who trust him.
God replies that he is going to put the matter to a test. He is going to lower the hedge so that Satan may attack Job’s possessions, but it is still going to remain high enough to protect Job personally. Satan goes off, lays waste the property, kills the children. Job gets up, displays evidence of mourning, but says,
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.”
“In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing” (Job 1:22).
Satan was proved wrong in this first accusation, but he was soon ready with another. He said that although Job valued his possessions, he valued his life even more. It was not love of God that kept Job faithful; it was fear. Job was afraid for his health: “Stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face” (Job 2:5). God answers by lowering the hedge still further. Satan may touch Job’s body, but he may not take his life. Accordingly, Satan proceeded to afflict Job with boils. Job mourned the day he was born. But in all this, “Job did not sin in what he said” (Job 2:10).
We are no different from Job, except that most of us do not have the strength of character he had. We are God’s, as he was, and God is also our protector. God is our shield not only against our enemies but against Satan, the greatest enemy of all. There is nothing that Satan will ever be able to do to you that will not first pass through the will of God, who allows it only in order to bring about a spiritual victory.
Third, God is our shield against temptation. Paul writes, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Cor. 10:13).
This verse says two things. The first is that no temptation is ever going to come into your life that is too strong for you. God promises that you will never experience temptations you cannot overcome. Are you tempted by sex, by a chance to be dishonest and escape detection, by a cutthroat way to achieve promotion, by an occasion to gossip? If you are, God knows that, and he knows that you can bear that temptation. You must say, “Lord, I claim your promise that no temptation will come to me that is beyond my overcoming it. Help me to overcome it through your strength and show me the way of deliverance.”
The second thing that Paul says about temptation is that God always makes a way for us to bear up under it. The trouble with most people is that they do not look for the way to escape but instead become fascinated by the temptation, like the bird fascinated by the snake that is about to devour it. Do you do that? If so, you need to get out of the habit. Learn to look for God’s deliverance. Then your life will go on from strength to strength, and you will realize that God is your shield against temptation.
Finally, God is our shield against bitterness. In Philippians 1:12, Paul says that the suffering he endured actually “served to advance the gospel.” For that he was rejoicing.
A woman in Washington, D.C., told me a story that is worth mentioning here. She and her husband had been missionaries to Pakistan but had been sent home suddenly in the middle of one term. They settled in Portsmouth, Virginia, and had not been there long when a gang of youths led by a fourteen-year-old and a seventeen-year-old attacked their young son. The boy was struck about the face and neck with a nail-studded rope and was left ninety percent blinded in his left eye and with no central vision in his right eye. About half-normal vision was later restored to his right eye.
In time, the boys involved were tried and sentenced by the courts. Throughout the course of the trial, the parents of the injured boy refused to give way to bitterness or to indulge their feelings of disappointment. They gave a Christian witness to the offenders. The mother told the newspapers, “If necessary, we can live with a physical handicap. But we can’t live with bitterness.”
She told me of her many opportunities to speak of Christ’s love and power and said that she trusted the Lord to spread the gospel through such suffering. In the same way, God can be your shield against bitterness.
Divine protection is only half the story of God’s promise to Abram in this verse. God said, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield.” But he added, “your very great reward.” The meaning of that phrase is found in the second half of Genesis 14.
When Abram returned from the battle against the four kings, he met Melchizedek, the king of Salem. Salem was probably the ancient city of Jerusalem, and Melchizedek was a king and a priest of God Most High. We know that Abram had great respect for him, for he gave Melchizedek tithes of the spoils of the battle. Abram returned the rest of the spoils to the king of Sodom. In ancient times, the spoils of a battle were the warrior’s reward. They were a badge of his daring and success. Abram had every right to keep the spoils that he had brought back from the battle, but he forfeited them. It was then that God came to him and said, “I am … your very great reward.”
That is a great promise. God himself was to be Abram’s reward. He is your reward also. Do you seek for things? Do you think that your reward consists of what you can earn? or do? or know? If you think that, you will certainly be disappointed.
To have God as your reward means, first of all, that you share in all that God has. Abram received many revelations from God during his lifetime, and many of these had a name of God connected with them. At one point, Abram came to know God as Jehovah-jireh, which means “the God who provides.” In this incident, he came to know him as El Elyon, “the God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth.” It was this God who promised to be a reward to Abram.
Moreover, he will share heaven and earth with you, if you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible says that we are God’s children, adding, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17). You are a co-heir with Christ. There is a great difference between an heir and a co-heir. If you are a single heir, you alone inherit everything. If you are one of four heirs, then you receive only one-fourth of the inheritance. If, however, you are one of four co-heirs, you inherit all, for co-heirs possess the inheritance together. In the same way, all Christians are co-heirs with Christ. All that God has is ours. We possess it jointly. And we shall enter into it one day as we receive our inheritance with Jesus.
To have God as our reward also means that we share in all that God is. We possess it in part even now. Many of God’s attributes mentioned in the Bible are to be ours in Christ Jesus. Is God wisdom? We share that wisdom. Is God holy? We share that holiness. Is God almighty? We share that power.
How do you live your life as a Christian? You can live it in either of two ways. You are already secure in God, more secure even than the oil rigs off the coast; you are anchored in God’s character. You have a great inheritance. But you can either rest in that or be fearful. You can sit on the platform, watch the storms come, and say, “Oh, what if the thing falls over? What will become of me then? What if I prove unfaithful?” Or you can be like Abram and grow strong in faith, resting in him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you faultless before his presence with exceeding joy. Is your faith like that? If it is not, God can teach you. Then you will grow strong in faith, giving glory to God. You will learn that what God has promised he is able to perform.
1 There are several features of the picture of Abram in this chapter that distinguish it from the picture of him found thus far in the patriarchal narratives:
- For the first time Abram answers (speaks to) the Lord when the Lord speaks to him (vv. 2, 8).
- The introductory phrase, “the word of the Lord came to Abram/him” (vv. 1, 4), is unique.
- The Lord appears to Abraham in a vision (v. 1).
- Abraham “believed” (v. 6).
- When God speaks to Abraham, God identifies himself (v. 7).
- Explicit future events are revealed to Abraham (vv. 13–16).
15:1 / Sometime after Abram had rescued Lot, the word of Yahweh came to him in a vision. The formula “the word of Yahweh came,” though unique in Genesis, appears frequently in the writings of the prophets. God gave Abram a word of confidence, Do not be afraid, and backed it by identifying himself as Abram’s shield. A shield symbolizes protection during conflict (Ps. 3:3; 84:11), and “shield” (magen) establishes a connection with Melchizedek’s blessing the Most High for “delivering” (miggen; 14:20) Abram’s enemies into his power.
Next God promised Abram a very great reward; the niv, however, renders the line so that God is Abram’s reward. However, the context of the preceding battle favors the former reading. “Reward or pay” refers to the pay soldiers receive from the spoil (Ezek. 29:19), but Abram had refused to take any of the spoil from his defeat of the kings of the East (14:23–24). Therefore, in making this assertion, God sanctioned Abram’s generosity in paying a tithe to Melchizedek and giving back the spoils to the cities of the plain. Yahweh promised to be his protector and to make sure that Abram was well paid.
 Boice, J. M. (1998). Genesis: an expositional commentary (pp. 526–531). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Sailhamer, J. H. (2008). Genesis. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis–Leviticus (Revised Edition) (Vol. 1, pp. 170–171). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Hartley, J. E. (2012). Genesis. (W. W. Gasque, R. L. Hubbard Jr., & R. K. Johnston, Eds.) (pp. 154–155). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.