Yahweh's Comfort (1)
After Abraham's war with the five kings, he returned home. He began to think of the consequences of having won the war and the target he had put on his back as a power and foe to be feared in the region.
The word of Yahweh came to Abraham in a vision, telling him not to fear—he had a shield around him and a reward awaiting him (1).
Abraham's Prayer (2-3)
Abraham countered Yahweh, letting Him know he was not concerned about a reward but about having spent ten years in the land and only having one heir—his servant Eliezer—whom he had adopted like a son (2-3).
Yahweh's Promise (4-6)
Yahweh assertively declared that Eliezer would not be his heir. He directed Abraham outside into the daylight and told him to look up into the sky and number the stars if he was able (12). Of course, Abraham was being asked to do the doubly impossible—number the stars and do so when the only star in the sky was the sun, which was drowning out the visibility of all other stars. Then came the promise—this would be like the number of Abraham's offspring (5).
Looking up into the blue sky, knowing there would appear that evening an innumerable amount of stars, Abraham believed Yahweh, and his believing taught the whole world the nature of true character—trusting and acting on God's word. To be righteous is to measure up to the standards and the demands of God. Abraham’s faith met all standards and the rest of his conduct and life were credited to him as righteousness—amazing (6).
Developing Abraham's Faith (7-12; 17-18a)
The story now begins to explain how Abraham came to complete faith. When God told Abraham he would yet have an heir, he believed but stumbled in his confidence that his offspring could ever grow in number enough to remove the Canaanites from the land he had been promised. Abraham had walked the length of the land and it all seemed far too indomitable.
Abraham wanted to know how he could be certain, not only that he would have an heir, but also that he would not be sending his son and sons on a fool’s errand, telling them Yahweh had made covenant with them to possess the land of the powerful and entrenched Canaanites (7-8).
Yahweh told Abraham to bring three animals (heifer, goat, and ram) and two birds (dove and pigeon). The animals were to be cut in two so there would be a path between them. Abraham knew the significance of this ritual. Two parties would prepare such a sacrifice and then each would walk through the animals confessing, "If I do not keep my part of the covenant, may I be cursed and cut apart like these animals."
Abraham waited all day for Yahweh to show up; he knew a great manifestation was about to happen. It took so long for Yahweh to arrive that Abraham had to chase the birds away from eating the carcasses of the sacrificed animals (9-11).
Finally, at sundown, Abraham's work caused him to fall into deep delta sleep. While asleep, a foreboding terror came over his heart; yet, even asleep, Abraham was aware he was in the presence of Another (12).
When the sun was fully down and it was completely dark, a clay oven and a torch passed between the animals (17). This was a way of saying Yahweh passed between the animals carrying a clay oven and a torch. Then Yahweh proclaimed He was not only giving Abraham His word, but He was making a covenant with him.
Yahweh's covenant was, "If I don't fulfill My promise, then I will be cursed like these animals." It is important to note that Abraham is never recorded as having walked between those animals. This was a covenant Yahweh made—a covenant revealing Yahweh would rather cease existing Himself than not keep His word (18).
The Promises of the Covenant (13-16; 18b-21)
Abraham's descendants would:
live for a season in a land they would not possess as their own;
be slaves in that land;
be afflicted as slaves for 400 years (13);
see the nation judged that afflicted them;
come out from that nation with great possessions (14);
and come back to the land Abraham had been given (in four generations, each generation 100 years) when the iniquity of the Amorite was complete (16);
see the land considered theirs stretch from Egypt to the Euphrates (18b-21).
Meanwhile, Yahweh promised Abraham he would live to be old and die in peace (16).