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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 15

The Church Pulpit CommentaryChurch Pulpit Commentary

Verse 1


‘The word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision.’

Genesis 15:1

Let us note three lessons in this vision; and

I. Increase of knowledge brings increase of sorrow.—When the sun went down, we read, a horror, even a great darkness, fell on Abraham. When he first started for Canaan, he was very ignorant. He only knew he would possess the land. But now the pathway leading down through Egypt, and all the weariness and the waiting of four hundred years, were revealed to him by the voice of God. It was a sad though it was a glorious revelation. There came a shadow with that deepened knowledge. Abraham was not the first and not the last to learn the noble sorrow of all progress.

II. Note how God’s love allows no hurry—the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full. Till the day came that their cup was running over, the seed of Israel should not possess the land. Not even for Israel would the Amorites be cut off, till the full hour of their doom had come. No life of any tribe must be abridged, even for the betterment of God’s elect. So do we see the impartiality of God; so do we learn the justice of His mercy: God’s love is so great it allows of no despair, but it is so holy it allows no hurry.

III. Where the furnace smokes there is a lamp that burns: the light of heaven is near us in our trouble. When the pall hangs heavy, and we move among the dead, with little to cheer us in the murky gloom, even then, close to the furnace is the lamp—the presence of the covenant-keeping God.


(1) ‘God is strangely condescending and tender. He makes His covenant with Abram; and a covenant is a promise which is ratified by a sign or token. He supports His words, as men need to support theirs, by a solemn religious sanction. And it is thus that He stoops to tie Himself with me, giving security that His stipulations shall be kept and fulfilled. By the sacrifice of Christ He confirms His greatest and sweetest assurances.

But it may be necessary to wait patiently for God. When Abram had slain the appointed victims, what followed? For a time, only silence and suspense. I may have to pass through Abram’s experience. I must depend on God’s sovereign grace with unreserved submission. I may need to wrestle long before the answer comes. I may have to spend my tears apparently for naught. Yet only apparently.

For at last God’s promises are fulfilled. Perhaps through gloom and sorrow, like that thick darkness which girt Abram round, and which was symbolic of the sufferings awaiting his family. But fulfilled exceedingly above thought and hope.’

(2) ‘God ratified His promise by condescending to the outward habits and customs of the time. The Shekinah lamp passed between the parted pieces of the sacrifice as the contracting party would do. There were to be dark days of sin and defeat, of affliction and bondage, but there was one ray of comfort, on which all after generations based their life, “They shall come hither again.” And when God says it, Pharaoh cannot prevail.’

Verses 5-6


‘And He brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and He said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the Lord; and He counted it to him for righteousness.’

Genesis 15:5-6

These two verses lie close together on one page of the Bible. They are part of a brief story of a brief event in one human life. Yet, as we read them, they seem to separate from each other, and to stand very far apart. The fifth verse is altogether of the past. It shows us the tent of the patriarch gleaming white in the clear starlight of the Eastern night. We learn with Abraham to look up and believe and be at rest. The sixth verse suggests thoughts of the nearer present. From the hour when St. Paul first cited this fact of Abraham’s faith and his justification by faith, this verse has been taken out of the older story and bedded in our modern controversies.

I. In these verses lies the union of two things that God has joined together and that man is ever trying to separate—life and light. God revealed Himself to us, not by words that told of a Father, but by a life that showed a Father; not by a treatise on Fatherhood, but by the manifestation of a Son. And so He ever joins the light of precept with the life of practice.

II. We read that Abraham believed God—not then for the first time, not then only. He had heard God’s voice before, and at its bidding had gone out to be an exile and pilgrim all his days. His faith was no intellectual assent to a demonstrated proposition; it was the trust of the heart in the voice of God. It was the belief, not that solves difficulties, but that rises above them.

III. Why was Abraham’s faith counted to him for righteousness? Because, as all sin lies folded in one thought of distrust, so in one thought of trust lies all possible righteousness—its patience, its hope, its heroism, its endurance, its saintliness; and therefore He who sees the end from the beginning reckons it as righteousness. In the faith of Abraham lay all the righteous endurance, all the active service, of his believing life. This simple trust of Abraham made the practical motive power of his life, as it should make that of ours.

—Archbishop Magee.


(1) ‘Much knowledge of astronomy is not needed to see the glory and admire the beauty of the starry skies. In looking up to the heavens on a clear winter night the first impression on the mind is that the number of the stars is almost infinite. This is an illusion. A good telescope may make out tens of thousands, but of those visible to the naked eye at any time all over the heavens there never are more than two or three thousand.’

(2) ‘The form of the promise was that his seed should be so numerous that they could no more be counted than the stars upon which he looked. But the great thing was that Abraham had confidence in the God that gave the promise rather than in the promise God gave. “He believed in God.” He had but dim ideas as to the way in which the promise would be fulfilled, but he was confident that God was faithful, and that the fulfilment would equal his highest aspirations. He became restful in this confidence. So he resolved afresh not to take the control of his life into his own hands, but to leave every step to the guidance of God, assured that He would lead him aright in such a way as to bring truer blessings than could be gained by any self-seeking of his own.’ ‘Abraham believed in God.’

Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Genesis 15". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/genesis-15.html. 1876.
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