This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on February 21, 2016.
Genesis 15 is a conversation between God and Abram with three sections, first 1-6, and second a ritual act of making a covenant 7-12 and finally a conclusion of the covenant ritual. The opening verse of the chapter uses a formula found in prophetic literature. The passage begins with a “After these things the Word of the LORD came to Abram.“ The narrative connector “after these things” introduces the prophetic formula “the Word of the LORD was to…” which occurs in 2 Chronicles, here in Genesis, but mostly in prophetic literature.
Prior to this chapter the reader finds only divine monologues (12:1ff. 7; 13:14ff) but here we find a conversation. Abram chides God about the unfulfilled promise. The divine speech begins with the formula “do not be afraid.” This reassurance is part of the Genesis tradition (26:24 and 46:3). But it is a staple of the Books of Isaiah and Jeremiah. This makes sense when one considers the prophetic element. This assurance or imperative to fear not occurs absent a clear and present danger. The formula occurs often in the Hebrew Bible but also in Luke 1:12. In both this passage and Luke 1:12 the addressee is a childless man who would be a father. “The word of the LORD came to…” The divine speech continues “I am your… shield” as in many translation such as AV, RSVC, and NIV, but a slight emendation of the Hebrew text would render this as “benefactor.” Shield is a metaphor that we know from the cult (see Psalms 3:3; 28:7; 33:20).