The Life of Abraham:
“Fear Not, I Am Your Shield and Great Reward”
In the previous chapter, we read of Abram rescuing Lot who had greatly disrespected him. On the return from the rescue mission, Abram is met by two kings: the king of Sodom and Melchizedek, the king of righteousness and peace. Now God Himself meets with Abram.
“In the former chapter we had Abram in the field with kings; here we find him in the mount with God; and, though there he looked great, yet, methinks, here he looks much greater: that honour have the great men of the world, but ‘this honour have all the saints.’” ~ Matthew Henry3
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying,
“Do not fear, Abram,
I am a shield to you;
Your reward shall be very great.” (Genesis 15:1)
While studying Genesis 15, I got stuck on the very first verse. Not stuck in that I had difficulty understanding it but that I was humbled greatly. There is so much to learn just from this short introduction by God to Abram
“the Lord came to Abram in a vision”
The physical manifestation of God is referred to in theology as a “theophany.” Examples of this would include the burning bush that Moses spoke with and the pillar of fire at night & the cloud in the day that the Israelites followed in the wilderness.
In Exodus 33:20, God tells Moses that no man can see Him and live. We cannot fathom God as He is. He is infinite and our minds are finite so He comes to down to us on a level that we can comprehend. God condescends to our understanding.
So, in this passage, God came to Abram in a vision.
Side note: This is a descriptive passage and not a prescriptive passage. Descriptive means that something is being described. It is a retelling of what actually occurred. A prescriptive passage is instructing. It is telling what should be done or expected. In regard to this passage, this is describing a meeting between God and Abram. This is not a practice we should expect to also play out in our own lives. We should not expect to have visions in which we meet with God. We meet with God by reading His Word and through prayer. He speaks to us through His inspired Word and we speak to Him through prayer.
“Do not fear, Abram,”
We are not told why Abram was told not to fear. Some theologians have speculated that Abram might fear retaliation from the nations he had just defeated. Some suggest that maybe Abram was having fear and anxiety in how God was going to fulfill His promise of giving Abram a large family and land when he was so old. Maybe he was startled and fearful of seeing a vision of God. In Scripture, every time someone encounters an angel, it is recorded that the person is afraid of the angel. If an angelic being is enough to spark fear in the hearts of even righteous men, can you imagine what seeing God, even in a vision, might be like? However, this is not something that is revealed to us in this passage. All we know is that God tells Abram not to be afraid.
There are two types of fear in Scripture. One type we are commanded to have, a fear of God. In Proverbs 1:7 we read, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” This type of fear is an awe, a reverence, a respect. It is the type of fear you may have toward your parents, your boss, the authorities in your life.
The fear here is a misplaced fear. It is fretting. It shows a lack of trust in the Lord. There are many passages throughout Scripture that encourage us to not have this type of fear and to trust in the Lord. Isaiah 35:4 says, “Take courage, fear not. Behold, your God will come with vengeance; The recompense of God will come, But He will save you.” In John 14:27, Jesus instructs His disciples saying to them, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” In Joshua 1:9, the Lord told Joshua, “Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
“It is the will of God that his people should not give way to prevailing fears, whatever happens. Let the sinners in Sion be afraid, but fear not, Abram.” ~ Matthew Henry3
“I am a shield to you;”
Have you ever been worried, anxious, or afraid and someone just told you flippantly, “Don’t worry,” “Don’t be scared,” or “The Bible says, ‘Do not be anxious.’?” This does not help how you are feeling in the moment. In fact, it often makes you feel worse. Not only are you anxious about this thing but now you feel guilty and shame for sinning, you feel like the other person does not really care about how you are feeling, and you feel like there is something seriously wrong with you as a Christian that you cannot stop feeling anxious, maybe you aren’t really a Christian.
Beautifully, God did not leave Abram just with a command to not be afraid. That is an impossible command to follow without reason. But God gave Abram a reason not to be afraid. God told Abram that He was a shield to him.
The word for “shield” used in this passage is “magen” in Hebrew. This word means shield or buckler. A buckler is a very small shield. It isn’t like the huge shields we think about when watch movies with Roman armies with shields that are the size of a man. Those were used more as fortifications for which archers could protect themselves from opposing armies arrows. They were large, cumbersome, and heavy. They were essentially useless in melee battles.
A buckler is not much larger than the size of a man’s fist. It was useful in hand-to-hand combat. They were for hand protection, deflecting an opponents sword, it helped distract their opponent from their next planned attack, it intensified a punch, it helped in binding their opponents hands and weapon so they could not attack, and it was very easily carried at all times for easy access.
Below is a video discussing what a buckler is and how it was used in the past.
This certainly is revealing when we think about this passage in Genesis. God is always there and readily available for our defense (Joshua 1:9, Psalm 46:1). But He isn’t a fortress in which we hide. He expects and commands us to get out into the world and fight skillfully. We often come face-to-face with our enemies. God is our shield but He is not a burden we carry into a battle. He keeps us light, nimble, and free to use our sword.
“The consideration of this, that God himself is, and will be, a shield to his people to secure them from all destructive evils, a shield ready to them and a shield round about them, should be sufficient to silence all their perplexing tormenting fears.” ~ Matthew Henry3
Romans 8:31-39 speaks on this:
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written,
“For Your sake we are being put to death all day long;
We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)
Many take this passage from Romans the wrong way. They misapply it in thinking that whatever they do in this life, they will be successful at it. However, this is not what this passage teaches at all. What this is saying is that we will have struggles, pain, suffering, attacks from enemies, persecution, death, broken relationships, etc but through all this, God is our shield. If He sacrificed His perfectly righteous Son to save our wretched souls, will He not also protect us from those things that cause our soul to shudder? Of course He will!
Jesus told His disciples in John 16:33, “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” As Christians, we will suffer in this world but we have a Shield in whom we rest.
“For, by this voice, God daily speaks to his faithful ones; inasmuch as having once undertaken to defend us, he will take care to preserve us in safety under his hand, and to protect us by his power. Now since God ascribes to himself the office and property of a shield, for the purpose of rendering himself the protector of our salvation; we ought to regard this promise as a brazen wall, so that we should not be excessively fearful in any dangers.” ~ John Calvin2
“Your reward shall be very great”
Some translations word this part of the passage as God stating He will be Abram’s great reward. For example, the King James Version (KJV) states it as, “Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.”
While the rest of the chapter goes on to tell of God’s covenant with Abram to give him a large family and much land, the ultimate point of this covenant was to reveal the lineage of the coming Messiah. So, while Abram would be rewarded through a large family (of which he would never really see) and land (of which he would never actually possess himself) the “great reward” is God Himself, God the Son, God the Savior and Shield.
“Abram had generously refused the rewards which the king of Sodom offered him, and here God comes, and tells him he shall be no loser by it.” ~ Matthew Henry3
This same reward is promised to all of God’s children, even today. Our heritage, our reward is God Himself. We may be poor and needy in this life but the riches of heaven far exceed anything that could be offered down here.
Preserve me, O God, for I take refuge in You. I said to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good besides You.”.. The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You support my lot. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me. (Psalm 16:1-2, 5-6)
I have just finished reading “All Things for Good” by Thomas Watson. I cannot express what a blessing this book is and I cannot recommend it enough. I hope to do a review of it soon. The whole book is exegeting one verse, Romans 8:28.
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)
What joy and peace we can have in resting in this verse alone when fear, despair, anxiety, and troubles shake our soul. No matter what we go through in this life, God is our Shield and Great Reward. Because He loves us and wants what is best for our soul, He is willing to let us go through tough seasons of suffering in order to grow us closer to Him, break our bonds to this dying world, and conform us more into the image of His Son. Praise God from whom all blessings flow! Even our bruises and pains of this world are blessings to our eternal soul.
This doesn’t mean that we rejoice at every affliction but that we can rejoice that the God who sustains the whole universe also sees my suffering and sustains me throughout it. He is my Shield, He is my Great Reward.
“But do not be alarmed at whatever happens to you. You have made God to be your refuge and you shall find a most secure abode in Him. You may have losses and afflictions—these are a part of your lot—but they shall not overwhelm you. You shall be no real losers in the end, but you shall be kept by the power of God and shall be delivered out of every trial and affliction. He shall also be to you your shield and your exceeding great reward.” ~ Charles Spurgeon (Abraham’s Great Reward)4
In Genesis 4 we see Abram turn down the king of Sodom’s offer of the spoils of war. Abram said the reason for this was so that the king of Sodom would never be able to say, “I made Abram wealthy.” Here we see God promise Abram a great reward. The pagan kings will now be able to see that Abram’s wealth comes from his God.
This reminds me of when Satan tempted Jesus. He offered Jesus all the wealth of the earth. So many times we are offered what seems of value in this world. However, the true value and reward is in God, it is spiritual and it is eternal.
“It is always a pity when any of the children of God begin to think that they can be enriched by the king of Sodom, or try to find their portion, in any measure, among the ungodly sons of men. God’s command to His people is, ‘Come out from among them, and be you separate, says the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing.’ And His promise to those who do is, ‘I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.’” ~ Charles Spurgeon (Abraham’s Great Reward)4
The God who created the universe, who has eternally existed, who knows all the stars by name, who directs political leaders, who has control of every atom, has chosen to adopt me. He has come to not only be my Protection, my Shield but He has also offered Himself us as a Great Reward.
“Therefore the Lord added, ‘I am your Reward.’ Do you see? He does not say, ‘I will reward you,’ but ‘I am your Reward.’ If we who work for Christ see souls saved, how we rejoice, for they are a kind of reward to us—but nevertheless we will not rejoice so much but rather rejoice that our names are written in Heaven!” ~ Charles Spurgeon (Two Choice Assurances)5
What joy and peace Genesis 15:1 gives us! The Sovereign God has told us to not fear, he has given us a reason not to fear in that He is our Shield, and has promised us Himself as our Great Reward. We have nothing truely to fear. God will protect us and He has given us His Son as our Great Reward. Upon the moment that God in His providence has decided to end our physical protection, He will usher us into the Throne Room to our Great Reward. This brings even greater light upon Romans 14:8, “whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” What peace that leaves us with!
This passage is especially meaningful for me. I have always struggled with fear and anxiety. Reading that God not only said “don’t be afraid” but backed up His instructions with reason helps me to truely repent. To turn from what is causing me fear (“do not fear”) and to turn my focus onto God’s attributes that actively fight fear (“I am your shield, your great reward”).
When you start to fear, remind yourself of who your Shield and Great Reward is.
“If God is our reward, let us take care that we really enjoy Him. Let us exult in Him and let us not be pining after any other joy. You have to go and live in a lonely place where you will have few encouragements—but you will still have your God—so how can you feel lonely? You are coming down in earthly circumstances. Your income is decreasing. But your God is not any less than He was, so you are not really a loser. One dear Friend after another is being taken away from you—there is a great probability that the dearest one you have will soon go to the grave. Yet the Lord lives, so blessed be your Rock! Rejoice in Him! Possibly you are soon going to the grave yourself. The years are taking their toll upon you and increasing weakness proves that, before long, you must put off this tabernacle. Well, even if it is so, He who is your All-in-All will not die! This world is not your rest or your portion! You are not, therefore, losing your portion, you are going Home to it, for the Lord, Himself, is your shield, and your exceeding great reward.” ~ Charles Spurgeon (Abraham’s Great Reward)4
1. Brown, Gregory. 2017. “How To Battle Fear, Doubt, And Discouragement (Genesis 15:1–6)”. Bible.Org. https://bible.org/seriespage/5-how-battle-fear-doubt-and-discouragement-genesis-151-6.
2. Calvin, John. 2018. “Genesis 15 – John Calvin’S Bible Commentary – Bible Commentary”. Christianity.Com. Accessed January 18. https://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary.php?com=clvn&b=1&c=15.
3. Henry, Matthew. 2018. “Chapter 15 – Matthew Henry’s Commentary – Bible Gateway”. Biblegateway.Com. Accessed January 18. https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/matthew-henry/Gen.15.1-Gen.15.21.
4. Spurgeon, Charles. 1903. “Abraham’s Great Reward — Spurgeon’s Sermons Volume 49: 1903”. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/spurgeon/sermons49.iii.html#iii-p0.1.
5. Spurgeon, Charles. 1912. “Two Choice Assurances — Spurgeon’s Sermons Volume 58: 1912”. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/spurgeon/sermons58.xlviii.html#xlviii-p0.1.