The Lord Is Our Shield
I‘ll wait. One of the scary parts about being a human is how patient Satan is. Last week, on Easter Sunday, we feasted in the Lord’s Supper without fear and sang alleluias with such strength. But then what happened? Time traveled on. And throughout the week the confidence we should have had in the Lord we gave up on. If we trusted in the Lord—if he was our source of strength and hope, then there would have been no need to curse, swear, lie, lust, or be lazy. And this is a powerful reminder to us that Satan is both sneaky and strong. And if there is a day or an area that we are strong in, so very often, he just waits until we are week. That is the context we find here in these words in Genesis 15. In Genesis 14 there was a battle. The kings from far away came and fought with the kings in Abram’s land. The kings in Abram’s land lost. And normally that wouldn’t have been too huge of a concern. But when they lost they carried away the people living in Sodom and Gomorrah. Who was living in Sodom at that time? Abram’s nephew, Lot, was living there. So Abram got his trained men and traveled way up north. He beat up the kings and took back Lot and his family. And, as we read those words in the previous chapter, we do not find a hint that his faith faltered or collapsed. But you turn the page to chapter 15, and this is what you read: “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. ” 2 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”” (Genesis 15:1–3 NIV11-GKE)
When Abram was busy in battle, he was fearless. But when he was alone, by himself, at night, with too much time on his hands, his fears rose and threatened to destroy him. So, in response to this, what does the Lord do? He speaks to Abram. He appears to Abram when he is in his home in a vision. And he gives him two beautiful picture-promises. First, he tells Abram that he is Abram’s shield. A shield is what you need in battle. It keeps both the piercing arrows and the slashing swords away. And notice how the Lord speaks. He says that Abram’s courage and creativity was not his shield and protection. No, instead, the Lord was the one who protected him. Second, he tells Abram that he was Abram’s reward. If the shield is what you need in battle, the reward is what you look forward to after the battle. He lets Abram know that far better than diamonds and rubies, silver and gold, was his great God.
Ahh, but the context has shifted, hasn’t it? It’s not the battlefield anymore. It’s the middle of the long, cold night. And a different fear rises in Abram’s heart. He is childless. Abram has been waiting for almost 20 years. And even though the Lord promised to give him a son, he still remains without a son. And this is no small concern. There are consequences if the Lord does not deliver. And the consequences are far worse than being denied the the joy of having a son. If there is no son, then there is no Easter. You won’t need to worry about Jesus rising from the dead because there will never ever be a Jesus born at all. The stakes are high because the world will remain in its sin if Abram doesn’t have a son. Listen then to how the Lord responds to Abram’s very real objection: “4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”” (Genesis 15:4–5 NIV11-GKE)
The Lord took Abram outside and showed him the stars. Then he told Abram to count them. How long do you think it took before Abram gave up counting? Then the Lord piles another promise on top of all the other promises: So shall your offspring be. What an amazing statement to make. But, by dear friends in Christ, words mean nothing unless they contain power. It was not the number of stars in the sky that calmed Abram’s fears. Instead, it was the power of God’s word.
The same was happening to the disciples in the upper room. Their way of guiding their own faith and getting through this world was now shaken and shattered. Jesus rose. And he promised to go to his Father and no longer be with them face to face. Instead, he promised to be with him through his word. And his word contained power.
How easily we forget this. When the context and circumstances in our lives changes, how easily it is to forget the power contained in the promises of God’s word. We are someone else loses a job, gets sick or even dies, and what do we say to those who are grieving? We share statistics. We say, “These problems tend to work out on their own.” Or even worse, we change the subject. We could be sharing God’s powerful word, like the Lord did with Abram, like Jesus did with his disciples. But we don’t. And the reason we act like this is either because we forget that God’s word is that powerful or we don’t believe that it is that powerful. But look how our gracious Lord responds to our selfish sins: He sends his word not just to fearful Abram, but also to us. And God’s word carefully and powerfully calms the fears in our heart and crushes the lies in our heads.
And so, the Lord is our shield. And he shows this by sending his word that contains power. But there’s one more detail to look at in these words: “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6 NIV11-GKE)
At first, when we read these words, it is ever-so-tempting to conclude that these words are not that important. Abram believed God. So what? But these words are some of the most important words in the entire bible. After the Lord came and spoke to Abram, he could go to bed at peace. But, my dear friends in Christ, know where that peace came from. That peace that Abram had and Jesus gave to his disciples in the upper room did not come from them. It came from the power of God’s word. And from God’s word, the Lord created faith. You see, one of the traps we can fall into is that when we are confronted with the amazing news, we can then conclude that it’s our job to earn the good instead of simply receiving it. On facebook people shared a bunch of beautiful pictures with trees and lakes in the background and word in the foreground last week. And in more than one there was this main point and message: Jesus has risen: what are you going to do about it? Notice the very blatant and blunt point it was making. Jesus has risen. So you have to earn that fact with your hands—good works done for others around you. Or you have to respond and earn Jesus with your heart—a good work done deep down in our hearts where we somehow get ourselves to feel the right and perfect way about Jesus’ resurrection and decide that we believe it. It is ever-so-tempting, but ever-so-unbiblical. Jesus did not put the burden on them to do a good work for him either with their hands or with their hearts to earn his favor. And we see the same here in Genesis on this dark, starry night. Abram was filled with doubt and was on the verge of despair. And the Lord did not appear to him and push him in his weakness of faith over the edge by making him earn the Lord’s favor with a decision made in his heart or effort shown by his hands. Instead he shared his powerful word with Abram and strengthened his faith. For faith is not an act of the will where we decide to earn the Lord and follow him, nor is it a driving force of emotion. Instead, it is confidence and trust. And this trust does not come from us. It comes from the Lord, created by his word.
And just look at what this faith did for Abram: He believed the Lord. He received this status of forgiven and perfect in God’s sight because of the sacrifice one of his male descendents would offer up. The shifting situations where Satan says, “I’ll just wait’” are dealt with as this faith that Abram had washed away all his fear and replaced it with peace. This faith so much cal amidst so much stress. And all of this is true for us today. The Lord is our Shield. He is our great joy and our very great reward. For his word contains power. And our faith gives us peace. Amen.