Abraham is known for his great faith, but, like all of us, he was flawed with human weaknesses. On the heels of leading a fierce battle to rescue his nephew Lot and interacting with powerful kings (Genesis 14), Abraham (still Abram at the time) was understandably unnerved. Thus, in Genesis 15:1, the Lord delivers this message of reassurance, promising to protect Abram and bless him even more than he already was: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward” (NKJV).
Throughout the Bible, God portrays Himself as a shield of protection for His people (Deuteronomy 33:29; 2 Samuel 22:3; Psalm 3:3; 7:10; 119:114). What’s more, God is our exceedingly great reward. The psalmist declares, “For the Lord God is our sun and our shield. He gives us grace and glory. The Lord will withhold no good thing from those who do what is right” (Psalm 84:11, NLT).
The term translated as “reward” (śākār in Hebrew) often refers to a worker’s or servant’s wages (as in Genesis 30:32–33; Deuteronomy 15:18). Sometimes the word speaks figuratively of a reward for faithfulness (as in Numbers 18:31; Jeremiah 31:16) or a victor’s recompense (Isaiah 40:10–11; 62:11). Abram’s reward was different. He had refused any material compensation for his encounters with earthly kings (Genesis 14:22–24). Abram’s reward was tied to the Lord’s covenant promise, as yet not realized. It looked forward to the future inheritance of countless descendants (cf. Psalm 127:3) and the previously promised land (Genesis 12:1, 7; 13:15; 15:18–21).
“I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward,” said God to Abram, revealing the terms of their covenant relationship. Security, protection, and blessings belonged to Abram because of this relationship. Abram did not need to be shaken or live in fear precisely because He belonged to God. The Lord would always be with him as both protector and provider of all good things.
In the immediate context of Genesis 15:1, the “exceedingly great reward” refers to the multitude of promised descendants and the land of promise. This “reward” beckoned Abraham and Sarah to live as people of faith and hope (Hebrews 11:6, 8–12). In the same way, faith and hope are key to apprehending our reward—which is God Himself: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
In the New King James Version, the promise is, “I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” The wording of the English Standard Version (“I am your shield; your reward shall be very great”) and in the New Living Translation (“I will protect you, and your reward will be great”) shows that God is not the reward per se; rather, He gives the reward. The Lord called Abram to trust entirely in God for protection and to place his hope in God’s promise of a very great reward.
The theme of abundant reward for those with hearts fully committed to God recurs in Jesus’ teaching, particularly in His Sermon on the Mount: “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven” (Matthew 5:11–12, NLT). Jesus warned His followers not to seek admiration from people as this would forfeit their heavenly reward (Matthew 6:1). The Lord sees the motives of our hearts as we give, pray, and serve Him, and rewards those whose intentions are pure (Matthew 6:4, 6, 18).
Even so, it’s vital to understand that our salvation is not an earned reward (Ephesians 2:8–9). Our righteousness, which gives us access to God’s presence, comes through faith in Jesus Christ by His grace alone (Romans 3:21–26). Our great heavenly reward is an inheritance “that can never perish, spoil or fade,” bought and paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:3–9, 18–19).
God’s desire and great delight is that His people be satisfied in Him—He is “our exceedingly great reward.” When our relationship with the Lord is our most treasured pursuit, the ultimate prize is a deeper, fuller, and better knowledge of Him (Philippians 3:7–14).
“In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11, ESV). That inheritance is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4, ESV). When God is our exceedingly great reward, we can say, like the psalmist, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26).