Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

Genesis 24

Verses 1-6

Two episodes in the life of Abraham stand out with special prominence. The first, when against all natural hopes, he "believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness" (Romans 4:3). In the second he was, "justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar" (James 2:21). To this second great event we come in Genesis 22:1-24.

"After these things," we read, God put Abraham to the test, and this is ever His way. Peter speaks of "the trial of your faith," and declares that it is "much more, precious than of gold that perisheth" (1 Peter 1:7). At the outset Abraham's faith laid hold of God as One who was able to raise the dead. Under test he was now to demonstrate that such was his faith, in a way that would be apparent to any thoughtful observer. He showed his faith by his works.

If considered typically the chapter has remarkable significance. Here we get father and son both going up together to the sacrifice. In a figure the son is sacrificed and raised from the dead. We have already seen the death of Christ typified (1) as atonement, covering the guilty sinner, in the coats of skins (Genesis 3:1-24); (2) as the basis of approach to God, in Abel's sacrifice (Genesis 4:1-26); (3) as the ground of acceptance, in Noah's burnt offering (Genesis 8:1-22). Now we find a fourth and fuller type in the offering up of the son, and this brings in not only death but resurrection also. Consequently we find in this story details of very striking significance.

In verse Genesis 22:2 Isaac is mentioned as Abraham's "only" son, which is rendered in Hebrews as, "his only begotten son" (Genesis 11:17). 'This makes it abundantly clear that Isaac was a type of our Lord, and further, it sheds light on the meaning of the words "Only begotten" as applied to Him. Ishmael indeed sprang from Abraham but being after the flesh he did not count in the Divine reckoning, and Isaac was quite unique. So our Lord Jesus Christ was Son of God in a perfectly unique sense.

It was God who declared Isaac to be Abraham's "only" son, and He also added, "whom thou lovest." Now this is the first time that love is mentioned in the Bible, which is remarkable, seeing it prefigures the love in the Godhead of the Father for the Son. Not until we reach the New Testament and such a statement as, "Thou lovest Me before the foundation of the world" (John 17:24), do we get that love fully revealed; but now that it is revealed, we can better understand the great statement that, "God is love." How fitting that the first mention of love should be typical of that supreme love, which is the fountain from which flows all true love of which we have any knowledge.

The command of God was that this only son of Abraham's love should be offered by him as a sacrifice upon a mountain, chosen of God in the land of Moriah. He was to deliver to death the son, in whom all the promises were vested. This, was indeed a tremendous test of faith, as is made so plain in Hebrews 11:17-19. That he did not fail under it was due to the fact that he believed that God was able and prepared to raise him from the dead.

The spot chosen for the sacrifice was that whereon, centuries after, the temple was built, and where Jewish sacrifices were made at the altar of burnt offering. Though Abraham cannot have known it the circumstances were divinely arranged to complete the typical picture. What we do see in Abraham is the energy with which he responded, rising up early in the morning, and' the preparation he made to act in obedience. He departed with son, servants and wood for sacrifice.

On the third day Abraham saw the chosen spot; this was significant, for in after days he would look back to it not so much as the place of sacrifice as the place where in figure he received him as from the dead — the place of resurrection, in fact. That the faith of Abraham embraced resurrection is borne witness to by the closing words of verse Genesis 22:5. The sacrifice of Isaac was contemplated as "worship," and the lad as well as his father was to "come again." Abraham's confidence as to this coming again is the more striking as he carried both a knife and the fire, as the next verse records. The wood was laid on Isaac. We may see in this a foreshadowing of that which is recorded in John's Gospel — "He, bearing His cross, went forth into a place called... Golgotha."

The sacrifice commanded was to be a burnt offering, hence to the eyes of Isaac the fire and the wood were perfectly natural, and the only question raised in his mind was, "Where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" Abraham's answer, though he may not have known it, was prophetic of something far beyond his own days: "God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt offering." No lamb that ever died on any altar, patriarchal or Jewish, was other than provisional, and in view of that which was to come. The question, "Where is THE lamb?" was unanswered until John the Baptist was able to declare, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." Abraham, however, was fully persuaded that God would provide the lamb for this occasion, and in that faith both father and son went together.

Verses Genesis 22:9-10 relate how full was the measure of Abraham's obedience. Nothing was lacking up to the point where the death stroke would have taken place. At the last possible moment the Angel of the Lord intervened. His obedience had been tested to the full and had stood the test. He had not withheld his only son. This not only proved beyond question that he believed in God as the God of resurrection, but also furnished a foreshadowing of the infinitely greater moment when God "spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all."

Though not stated in the narrative, we must not fail to notice the submission of Isaac. No word of remonstrance on his part is mentioned. He typifies the One of whom the prophet testified, "As a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth" (Isaiah 53:7). His experience must have typified that which our Lord passed through, in infinitely greater measure, in the Garden of Gethsemane.

The voice from heaven arrested the death stroke that was to have fallen on Isaac, and now Abraham's eyes were directed to God's immediate provision; not a lamb merely but a ram. If we desired to have the strongest and most vigorous specimen from among the sheep, we should have to select a ram. This one moreover was caught in the thicket by its horns, symbolic of its strength, and it was offered as a burnt offering "in the stead of his son." Though the actual words, substitute, or substitution, do not occur in our English Bible, here we have exactly that which the words mean. A substitute is one who stands in the stead of another.

So in this incident, which presents to us the fourth type of the death of our Saviour, we have before us salvation by a substitutionary sacrifice. And further, since the ram was detained to be the sacrifice by its horns, the strongest part of its frame, we may see how our blessed Lord was held to His sacrificial work by the strength of His love. No nail that ever was forged could have detained him on the cross. What held Him there was love to the Father, and love to us. (See John 14:31; John 13:1).

Abraham recognized the wonderful way in which God had provided the lamb for a burnt offering, and signalized it by naming the place Jehovah-jireh, meaning, ''The Lord will provide." And out of that sprang a saying which was still current when some four centuries later Moses wrote these things: "In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen," or "shall be provided." That was the language of faith, for another four centuries, or so, after Moses, there stood on Moriah the threshing-floor of Ornan the Jebusite, and years after that Solomon's temple was built there, and so it became the place for Jewish sacrifices. That to which all these sacrifices pointed took place "without the gate," for the Lord Jesus was the rejected One.

The first call out of heaven had acknowledged the completeness of Abraham's obedience: the second call pronounced great blessing, confirmed by an oath. This is the occasion referred to in Hebrews 6:1-20 when God, "because He could sware by no greater," "sware by Himself." The extent of the blessing might well have staggered Abraham. His seed was to be multiplied (1) "as the stars of the heaven," (2) "as the sand which is upon the sea shore;" it was (3) to "possess the gate of his enemies," and in it (4) "shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." It is not surprising, therefore, that God reinforced His bare word by His oath, that there might be "two immutable things" on which to rest.

The ancients knew but the stars that are visible to the naked eye. Only in our day has it been discovered that they are literally as numerous as the grains of sand on the sea shore. But we think we may see in (1) his spiritual seed, whose destiny is heaven (see, Galatians 3:7); in (2) and (3) his earthly seed who, born again and redeemed, will enjoy millennial blessing and victory; and in (4) a prediction to be fulfilled in Christ, who is the Seed — in the singular, as Galatians 3:16 points out — in whom all nations shall be blessed. All this blessing is guaranteed by the mighty oath of God.

All this accomplished, Abraham returned to Beer-sheba, and there he dwelt. That was the place of the oath between Abraham and Abimelech. Was it now to be connected in Abraham's mind with the vastly greater oath to which he had listened at Moriah?

The closing verses of our chapter give us a little further genealogy, and that evidently for the purpose of introducing Rebekah, of whom we are to hear in Genesis 24:1-67 as the bride of Isaac, who is now in type the risen seed. Before we reach that point, however, we have to see Sarah disappear from the picture.

When we start Genesis 23:1-20 we are carried on about twenty years from the events of Genesis 22:1-24. Abraham was at Hebron when Sarah died, an event which also has typical significance. In the next chapter Isaac, the risen seed, is to find his bride, typical of the church, who is to be united to the risen Christ. But before Christ takes His church, Israel, out of whom He sprang according to the flesh, is set aside. The death of Sarah is a type of this severing of the earthly links for a time. This severance is expounded for us in Romans 11:1-36, as also the fact that a redeemed and renewed Israel will come into blessing when the church period is over.

The details as to the burial of Sarah take up the whole of this chapter, and we may be inclined to wonder why the story should be given us at such length. We believe it to be with the object of impressing us with the fact that Abraham was truly a stranger and a sojourner in this land which was to be his according to the promise of God. In verse Genesis 22:4 Abraham claims to be this, and makes it his plea, supporting his request for a burying-place in the land.

This was indeed a remarkable fact. It was stated in very concise fashion by Stephen, as recorded in Acts 7:1-60, when he said that God "gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on," and that, though God had "promised that He would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him." But though this chapter makes the fact so clear, what is not divulged here, nor anywhere else in the Old Testament, is the spiritual understanding given of God, which enabled him to take such a course.

We have to travel on to Hebrews 11:9-16, to get light on that point. There we discover that he had expectations connected with a scene which lay, not only outside the land of promise, but outside the earth altogether. "He sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country," but that was because '' he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God." We further read that he desired "a better country, that is, an heavenly." These facts, which only come to light in the New Testament, disclose to us that these patriarchal men of faith received from God the knowledge of heavenly things, which in their day were not the subject of public revelation.

In Old Testament times, and up to the cross of Christ, man was under probation, and that trial was in its earlier stages in patriarchal days. The test was as to whether any man could prove himself to be exempt, from death as the wages of sin, and thus establish his title to live on the earth. The test reached its conclusion in the rejection and death of Christ, when all men were proved to be lost. The Lord Jesus had come, speaking of "heavenly things" as well as "earthly things " (John 3:12), and it was when "His life was taken from the earth" (Acts 8:33), that the heavenly things came into full revelation. To have made public disclosure of the heavenly things before the earthly test was completed would not have been according to the Divine order.

Abraham had left a city of no mean standard of civilization, when he turned his back on Ur of the Chaldees. He was now but a stranger and a sojourner in the very good earthly country that had been promised to him. This was possible because he was looking for a city that God would build and a country that, being heavenly, was better than any earthly country could be.

The contrast between verses Genesis 22:4; Genesis 22:6 is very striking. The man who confessed himself to be a stranger and sojourner is acknowledged by the children of Heth as "a mighty prince." Notice too, that they said "among us," and not "over us." Abraham moved among them but as a stranger he did not meddle in their concerns or interfere with their politics. Just because he did not, his moral greatness was fully apparent to them. As the friend of God he possessed something to which they were strangers.

Having so favourable a reputation, he was able without difficulty to negotiate the purchase of the burying-place for Sarah. All was concluded in the presence of witnesses according to the customs of that land at that time: and subsequent history shows that the transaction was respected and made sure. In all this Abraham may well be an example to us, as is indicated in 1 Peter 2:11, 1 Peter 2:12. If we, as "strangers and pilgrims" have our "conversation honest among the Gentiles," we may, by reason of the reproach of Christ, be spoken against. Yet beholding good works, they will eventually "glorify God" in the day of visitation. There is clearly an analogy between this passage in Peter and this incident as to Abraham.

Sarah died when Isaac was thirty-seven, predeceasing Abraham by thirty-eight years; and since Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah (Genesis 25:20), only about three years can have elapsed between the incidents recorded in Genesis 23:1-20 and Genesis 24:1-67. At the age of 140 Abraham was old. Also he was "a mighty prince," for the Lord had blessed him in all things. It was a day when His blessing was largely expressed in earthly things, and thus it was with Abraham, though he had been given some knowledge of things lying outside the earth. Isaac was his heir in whom the promise was vested, and it was most important that his marriage should be rightly arranged.

Genesis 24:1-6 show that two things were stipulated: first, that the wife should not be taken from among the Canaanites, then in the land; second, that though she should be of his own kindred, the union should not be allowed to lure Isaac back to the land whence he had come out. The chosen woman must be willing to share the stranger position which Isaac occupied, and come to him. He was not to go to her.

If in our day every Christian contemplating marriage were to observe carefully the principles underlying these two things it would make for spiritual prosperity. The breach of them has brought about untold disaster, as is too often painfully manifest.

Verses 7-34

The opening verses of our chapter show us that Abraham remained true to the call of God, that had originally reached him; and that, not only for himself but for his children and household after him; thus justifying the Lord's estimate of him, as expressed in Genesis 18:19. Verse Genesis 24:7 supplements this by showing the full confidence he had that the Lord would support this faithful adherence to His word. Twice in these verses does he speak of the Lord God of heaven. Heaven has been mentioned several times before, but this is the first time God has been so designated. In the light of what is revealed in Hebrews 11:1-40, it is not surprising that Abraham knew God in this way, especially as Stephen has informed us that it was "the God of glory" who appeared to him at the outset.

The God of heaven is far above all the little storms and frustrations that fill our small world. He does as He pleases, and so the servant is sent forth with the assurance that direction would be given by God's angel, leading him to the suitable wife for Isaac. The mission was only to fail if the chosen woman was not willing to follow the servant to the waiting bridegroom.

It is worthy of note that the first oath recorded on God's part is that of Genesis 22:15-18, which was fulfilled in the raising up of Christ, the promised Seed. The further oath, which is before us here, is connected with Abraham's servant, who is a type of the Holy Spirit, sent forth to secure the bride for Christ, the true risen Seed. We may be sure that His mission will be carried to a more successful and perfect issue than that of the servant in the story before us.

The servant departed, fully equipped by his master since he had control of his master's goods. It is evident how this suits the type we have indicated. Moreover, the servant addressed himself to his mission in a prayerful spirit, though the way he addresses God, as recorded in verse Genesis 24:12, shows that his knowledge of God was of a second-hand nature. He knew Him as Abraham's God rather than as his own. In this he fails from the typical point of view.

And this leads us to remind readers that no type is perfect in all its particulars. Hebrews 10:1 would lead us to expect this, for what it states is as true of patriarchal days as of the time of the law. We have not the very image of the Antitype but only the shadow of Him or it. Now a shadow gives us but little in the way of detail. We get an outline and can discern, for instance, whether a shadow is that of a house or a tree, without knowing where are the windows in the former or the branches in the latter. If we recognise this limitation in the types we shall be saved from the effort to force meanings into small details connected with the person or incident forming the type, which so often ends in what is fanciful and imaginary.

But in spite of this feature in the servant's prayer, it was of a most intelligent nature, and it met with a remarkable and immediate answer. He was confident that the God-provided damsel would be of a gracious and willing spirit, as evidenced by her response to his request, and so it came to pass, and that at once.

The answer came before he had done speaking. Rebekah arrived and acted with all the grace he had specified. Moreover she was a "chaste virgin," such as Paul desired the church at Corinth should be for Christ, and such as the completed church will be by the work of God when she meets her heavenly Bridegroom in the air at His coming. The answer was complete as well as immediate. She was of the right kindred and there was accommodation in her father's house. The servant had just to bestow on her golden ornaments, as an earnest of what was to come, and then bowing his head he worshipped the Lord.

Laban now comes into view. For some reason Bethuel, though the father, does not take the prominent place that was customary. He was alive as verse Genesis 24:50 shows, but retired into a secondary place. Presently we hear more of Laban in his dealings with Jacob, and his self-seeking character comes clearly to light. But a trace of it is at once revealed here. His effusive welcome of the servant was connected with his sight of the costly gifts already bestowed on his sister. But over all this rested the hand of God, pursuing that which He purposed.

The servant, however, was true to his master and full of his errand. He would not even eat before he had delivered himself of his charge.

He had only one thing before him. He had not come to enrich Bethuel's house or to improve conditions in Mesopotamia, but to take out of both a bride for Isaac. Here we see a striking type of the Holy Spirit and His mission, which is not to improve world conditions but to take out of the Gentiles "a people for His Name" (Acts 15:14).

To this end the servant retired into the background. He confesses, "I am Abraham's servant." In verse Genesis 24:37 he speaks of Abraham as "my master," and in verse Genesis 24:65 we find him saying to Isaac, "It is my master." So both the father and the son were master to him, and his mission was to extol both. In verse Genesis 24:35 he speaks of the greatness and wealth of Abraham. In verse Genesis 24:36 he speaks of the son, and as to him he testifies that the father had given to him "all that he hath." This at once reminds us of John 3:35, "The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into His hand." At this point in the story Isaac typifies the risen Christ, as we have already said.

Consequent upon the resurrection and ascension of Christ comes the mission of the Holy Spirit, which the Lord Jesus described in anticipation in John 16:15, "All things that the Father hath are Mine; therefore said I, that He shall take of Mine, and shall shew it unto you." How all this is typified in the chapter before us is very plain.

Having recounted the greatness of his master — both father and son — the servant related how his way had been opened up and ordered of God. This was evidence that, "The thing proceedeth from the Lord," as both Laban and Bethuel recognized, and hence they gave their consent to Rebekah's departure and left the final word to her, though they pleaded for delay.

Before the ultimate decision was made, but in the certainty of it being made, the servant bestowed on Rebekah gifts, which were an earnest of the wealth she was going to inherit as the wife of Isaac. Her relatives also were made to experience the bounty of Abraham. All this was also a seal upon her betrothal to Isaac, so that we may see here a type of the Holy Spirit as both Seal and Earnest — the Seal securing us for the Divine calling and purpose, and the Earnest being the pledge of the inheritance yet to be ours in its fulness in the coming age.

Verse Genesis 24:54 shows that the servant's mission was of a character that permitted no delay. On the day of arrival the betrothal took place: on the morning of the next day he would be off to his master. For Rebekah the new link was established, so the old link with kindred and country was at once to be broken. This is a wholesome reminder for us that, being linked by the Spirit to the risen Christ, our old links with the world are broken. It is a sad fact that all too many Christians attempt to hold on to Christ with one hand and yet grip the world with the other, but it can only be done for a little while and at very heavy cost and loss.

Rebekah's relatives pleaded for delay, and so often do the relatives of believers today, and if we have no relatives to do this our own foolish hearts will do it even more effectively. The servant, however, would brook no delay, so the question was put to Rebekah, for the ultimate decision rested with her — "Wilt thou go with this man?'' Was she prepared to entrust herself to the servant, who was acting on behalf of Isaac, and to do so at once? Her answer was simple and decisive — "I will go."

Here again we may see a type or analogy that may very well search our hearts. Believing the gospel of our salvation, we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit, but have we made such a committal of ourselves to Him as is indicated in the story before us? Happy is that Christian who at conversion, or very soon after, is so committed to the leading of the Spirit, who indwells in order to glorify Christ, that the old links with the world are thoroughly broken, and to reach Christ in His glory becomes the goal. The spirit of this we see exemplified in Paul, as he has put on record in Philippians 3:1-21. May we all go in for this so really that everybody may see that we have made the great decision, "I will go."

Rebekah's decision made, her relatives released her with their blessing. "Thousands of millions" sounds somewhat exaggerated, but we understand that "ten thousand" would be a more exact translation than "million." With that correction we have to admit that their blessing has come to pass, but only as the fruit of her going forth to Isaac under the leadership of the servant.

It has often been pointed out that the journey across the desert, however long it took, is related here as though it had been all accomplished within a day. Verse Genesis 24:54 speaks of "the morning," when the journey started, verse Genesis 24:63 mentions "the eventide," when the journey finished, and Isaac met his bride. It is worthy of note that he did not receive her, seated in state in his father's tent, but as one who had gone forth to meet her. The servant recognized the lonely man, walking in the field so meditatively, as his master, and this knowledge he communicated to the bride, who thereupon veiled herself, that hidden from other eyes she might be presented to him.

All this very strikingly befits the type we are considering. At the end of the church's pilgrimage the heavenly Bridegroom will come forth into the air to meet her, and then introduce her into His Father's house. At that glad moment she will be veiled in the all-resplendent light of His glory. Every eye will be upon Him rather than upon her. Later, as we know, the saints will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father; and at the present time the church is not veiled but in the place of witness as the pillar and ground of the truth. But at the end of the journey the Bridegroom will be everything, and the present mission of the Holy Spirit will be brought to a perfect conclusion.

The last verse of our chapter tells us that in acquiring his bride Isaac forgot the sorrow occasioned by the death of his mother. Sarah here typifies Israel, out of whom Christ came as concerning the flesh. At the present time Israel is disowned nationally, but the blank thereby created has been filled, and more than filled, by the calling out of the church under the hand of the Spirit.

As we commence Genesis 25:1-34, the typical character of the history ceases. We are permitted to know that Abraham had other wives and many sons, no one of which had anything like the importance of Isaac, or even of Ishmael, who had much earlier been dismissed. All the others were sent away into the east country, out of which he had been called. Evidently he realized that the call of God had been personally to himself and to his seed after him, and did not extend to his other children. All that he had was given to Isaac as the son of promise. Beyond this fact we are not told anything of his closing years. In this he stands in contradistinction to Jacob, as we see in Hebrews 11:1-40. The man whose life was poor and chequered ends with a striking display of faith on his deathbed. The man who walked habitually with God testified by his life, and needed no such bright display at the finish. We only know that he lived 175 years, and he was buried in the purchased field at Mamre by his sons Isaac and Ishmael. The line of faith continued in Isaac, and upon him the blessing of God rested.

Another of the divisions of this book begins at verse Genesis 24:12. The "generations" of Terah began in Genesis 11:27, and have continued to this point. Ishmael represents the rejected line and his generations are related first and with great brevity, for the generations of Isaac start with verse Genesis 24:19. His years were 137, and his sons became princes of some renown, since some of their names became of note and occur again in Scripture. Yet eight verses suffice for his story since he typifies the first man who has to be removed for the introduction of the Second. We shall notice the same feature when we come to Esau and Jacob.

The main line of the history is resumed when we come to the generations of Isaac. He was not nearly so striking a character as Abraham, yet he knew the Lord for himself, and when Rebekah proved to be barren he entreated the Lord for her and was answered in the birth of twin sons. Rebekah also had learned to turn to the Lord for an answer to her question. In the reply that the Lord gave her we find enunciated another great principle that characterizes God's purpose and which runs all through Scripture. It is that of election. The principle had operated from the outset, but here it comes fully to light. God declares His choice before the children were born, or had had any opportunity of doing either good or evil, as is so plainly declared in Rom_9:10-12.

Esau and Jacob, not yet born, were declared to be two nations and also " two manner of people," and the elder was to serve the younger. When born the prediction was clearly verified. They were entirely different in physical appearance, in habits and mental make-up. The one a skilful hunter, a lover of the open air; the other a plain or homely man, fond of tent life. All this would have been obvious to the ordinary onlooker, but it is the incident at the end of the chapter that discloses the real rift between them, that the onlooker might never have discerned.

Of the two Esau was the elder by a mere matter of a few minutes, still the birthright would naturally have been accounted his. The birthright became the great test, and in their attitude to it we can see they were indeed two manner of people. Jacob coveted it and Esau despised it What was involved in the birthright ? The one who possessed it was in the direct line, moving on toward that "Seed," in whom all nations were to be blessed. The birthright led to CHRIST.

So here we have in typical form the first intimation of the truth expressed in the well-known lines,

"What think ye of Christ is the test,

To try both your state and your scheme."though we must not suppose that either of the two young men fully realized what the birthright meant. Still they knew that it carried with it a blessing from God. This Jacob greatly desired, whilst to Esau it signified practically nothing. He was willing to barter it for the transient satisfaction produced in a hungry man when he has devoured a good meal of pottage. The bargain was struck and thus Esau despised his birthright and lost it. But even on Jacob's side the deal was not a creditable one. It was a case of seeking a right thing in a wrong way. He did not get the blessing then. Later he did get it from his father, but he only got it from God when subsequently he was brought face to face with Him, as recorded in Genesis 32:29.

In a word, Esau despised the spiritual and chose the material. Jacob desired the spiritual. The majority of the men of the world agree with Esau and follow Him. We Christians agree with Jacob in desiring the spiritual.

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Bibliographical Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Genesis 24". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/fbh/genesis-24.html. 1947.