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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 15

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-21


Abram the approved Warrior of Faith, and God his Shield and his Reward. His longing for an Heir, and his thought of Adoption anticipating any exigency in the case. The great Promise of God. Abram’s Faith under the Starry Heavens. The Symbol of the Starry Heavens. The righteousness of Faith. The Covenant of Faith, and the repeated Promise

Genesis 15:1-21

1After these things [events of the war] the word of the Lord came [renewed itself] unto Abram in vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield [in war even], and thy exceeding great reward [reward of the champion]. 2And Abram said, Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go [continually] childless, and the steward [the future possessor] of my house is this Eliezer [the help of God, God is my help] of Damascus? 3And Abram said, Behold to me thou hast given no seed [bodily heir]: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir 4[on the way to become my heir]. And, behold, the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels 5[thine own nature] shall be thine heir. And he brought him forth abroad [open air], 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. 6And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness. 7And he said unto him, I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it. 8And he said, Lord God, whereby [by what sign] shall I know that I shall inherit it? 9And he said unto him, Take me [bring = sacrifice to me] a heifer of three years old, and a she-goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon. 10And he took unto him [sacrificed] all these, and divided them [the animal sacrifice] in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not. 11And when the fowls came down upon the carcasses [not carrion], Abram drove them away. 12And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep [תַּרְדֵּמָה, Genesis 2:21; Job 4:13] fell upon Abram; and, lo, a horror of great darkness fell upon him. 13And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs [thy descendants], and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; 14And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge; and afterward shall they come out with great substance. 15And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. 16But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full [to the measure of judgment]. 17And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp [flame of fire] that passed 18between those pieces [of the sacrifice]. In that same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given [now in covenant] this land, from the river 19of Egypt [Wady el Arisch] unto the great river, the river Euphrates: The [land of] Kenites [workers in iron, Judges 4:11; Judges 4:17], and the Kenizzites [huntsmen], and the Kadmonites [of the East], 20And the Hittites [fear, terror, in Hebron], and the Perizzites [rustics], and the Rephaim [giants], 21And the Amorites [mountaineers, uplanders], and the Canaanites, [lowlanders], and the Girgashites [dwellers upon the clayey soil], and the Jebusites [יְבוּם, a place trodden as a threshing-floor].


1. The connection of this Section with the preceding events must be carefully observed. The two chapters form essentially one history. Abram had in faith waged war against a fearful and superior power; hence the announcement to him: I (Jehovah) am thy shield. He had renounced all claims upon the spoil of war; therefore he has the promise: I am thy exceeding great reward, i.e., reward to the warrior. He had, through the fresh, living, healthy interchange between his faith and the world, which was wanting in the hermit-like Melchizedec, kept himself as a man of faith, to whom it belongs, to beget a race of believers, who should stand in the midst of the world, against the world and for the world.

2. The form of the present revelation of God to Abram gives trouble to interpreters. Knobel thinks that the communication, Genesis 15:12-16, belongs to a night-vision; on the other hand, the next succeeding utterances to the waking moments. According to Keil, the word of Jehovah comes to him in visible forms, neither through internal, immediate converse, nor through dreams, but in an ecstacy through an inward, spiritual beholding, and indeed, in the day, and not in a night-vision, as Genesis 46:2. “The בַּֽמַּֽחֲזֶה, Genesis 15:1, rules the whole chapter.” Against the first, it may be said, that the narrative speaks of a vision from the very beginning; against the last, that Abram is led out to number the stars; against both, that they do not involve and bring out any recognition of the psychological form of the past revelation. To us, it appears entirely in accordance with the course of development of preceding revelations, that Abram should first have received the word of Jehovah, and then should have seen a manifestation of Jehovah, and that it is now said, the word of Jehovah comes to him in vision. Abram, truly, at this time, could not have received the revelation from God without a disposition for visions; but in the case before us, which treats of a revelation of Jehovah by night, the visionary fitness of Abram comes into special prominence. This disposition for the vision, and the prominence in which it appears, does not exclude the reality of the following acts, which, also, Keil regards as only inward occurrences. But as to the phrase: “He spake to him in visions;” he accompanies the word in question with the corresponding image: Abram saw the divine shield and the divine treasures (Keil, p. 145).


1. The promise of Jehovah, the starry heavens and the righteousness of faith (Genesis 15:1-6).1Fear not. The coward fears before the danger, heroic spirits after. Abram had now an experience of the world in its wicked violence, as he had victoriously resisted its defiant challenge, and the beaten kings might easily visit him with vengeance. Therefore he receives the consoling promise, that Jehovah himself would be his shield, his defence in all conflicts (Psalms 3:3; Psalms 18:2).—Thy exceeding great reward.2 Not, perhaps, for thy general piety, but the reward for thy heroic conflict.—Abram received the promise of God with the same feeling of weariness of his natural life, with which Moses at eighty years received the divine call to go to Egypt and free the people. He wished to establish his family. Is Jehovah his exceeding great reward, then there naturally follows some one application of the promise to his personal relations; but he sees no other application, than that God himself would be his exclusive reward, that thus, as to this world, this Eliezer of Damascus,3 his steward (Genesis 24:2), must be his heir. The thought is painful to him, but he acquiesces in the purpose of God, and desires only light as to the meaning of the promise, whether it is to be understood only of an heir by adoption, in which case this Eliezer appears to him the most worthy. He desires most of all a decisive sentence, therefore his proposition of the thing by anticipation. Upon this allusion depends the marvellous tradition that Abram had been king of Damascus (Joseph., Antiq. i. 7, 2; Justin., xxxvi. 2).—To me thou hast given no seed. The pious complaint of human weakness before God must be distinguished from the impious murmurs against God (Exodus 5:22; Exodus 33:12-15; Numbers 11:11; Numbers 11:21; Joshua 7:7; Job; the prophets).—One born in my house (son of my house).4 It is not synonymous with house-born. It has a deeper meaning; it designates the most esteemed servant of his house.—Eliezer, he says, is already upon the way to become my heir. It is a complaining thought, which forms itself into a resigned proposition, but a proposition which veils a question. Upon this follows the divine decision (Genesis 15:4). Jehovah leads him out of his tent, under the heavens as seen by night. His disposition, preparedness for the vision, does not exclude the reality of these events.5 He had promised him at first one natural heir. But now the countless stars which he sees, should both represent the innumerable seed which should spring from this one heir, and at the same time be the warrant for his faith. Jehovah shows him the image of his descendants, in the stars of heaven. We recognize here the orientalist from Ur of the Chaldees, for whom the lights of heaven have a religious significance, but at the same time the free monotheist, who no longer seeks in the stars his gods, but the image of his children. That God who speaks to him, can give to him a seed, countless as the stars in heaven, is truly presupposed; the representation of the countlessness of his descendants is the main thought, to which cleave the thoughts of their shining glory and their heavenly character (see Genesis 22:17; Genesis 26:4; Exodus 32:13).—And he believed in the Lord. This cannot be either an element of a dream, or the frame of mind prepared peculiarly for visions, for it is an act of faith on the part of Abram, which was counted to him for righteousness by Jehovah. Knobel remarks: “Abram did not laugh, incredulously, as in the Elohistic section, Genesis 17:17, ” as if a believer, in the long delay of the promise, could never fall into doubt, (although there is no mention of any incredulity in the passage referred to). Keil asks: “How did Moses know that Abram believed? and that Jehovah counted it to him for righteousness?” He answers: “He proves his faith, because, according to the following directions, he brought the sacrifices, and because what Jehovah did with the animals was a real declaration on his part, that he counted to Abram his faith for righteousness.” We must distinguish, however, the inward events from these sacramental signs, in which they are visibly manifested and sealed. The faith of Abram in the promise of a bodily heir was the central point in the development of his faith; with this faith he enjoyed the consciousness that Jehovah counted it to him for righteousness. Justification by faith, as an experience of the inner life, manifests itself in the peace of God; and Abram could have given testimony as to this to his children, if nothing had occurred as to the sacrificial animals and their consumption by fire. The explanation of Knobel, “a right disposition of heart is of just as much avail to him as integrity in acts,” is both tame and shallow.

[This is confessedly an important passage. We have here, and in the promise (Genesis 15:1), the germ of the great doctrine of the Lord our righteousness. We may not attach to the words here used the ideas in all their definiteness, which have been derived from the use which the Apostle makes of them in his discussion of the question, how a sinner can be justified (Romans 4:4-5; Romans 4:10; Romans 4:18-25); but neither may we overlook his inspired exposition, and strive to interpret the words, as if they stood entirely by themselves. Leaving this out of view, however, it is clear “that Abram had no righteousness of his own, that righteousness was imputed to him, that it was faith in Jehovah in him which was counted for righteousness;” and further, that this faith is viewed here, not merely as the root of all true obedience to the will of God, and thus the sum of righteousness or personal holiness, but as embracing and steadfastly resting upon (as the word rendered believed, here means) God, as the God of grace and salvation. It is the act by which he goes out from himself, and relies upon God, for righteousness and grace. The history clearly shows that there was this entire removal from the natural ground upon which he had stood, and this entire, hearty, steadfast resting upon Jehovah, “who is just and having salvation. The promise which Abram’s faith embraced was the promise of salvation through the covenant seed, and he so regarded it. His faith, therefore, was essentially the same with that specific faith in Christ which is said to justify (see Romans 4:13). The Notes of Kurtz, Baumgarten, Murphy, are suggestive and valuable; and the exposition of Calvin is admirable,—חשב, to think, desire, purpose; then to esteem, reckon, impute, set to one’s account, 2 Samuel 19:19; Psalms 32:2; Leviticus 7:18; Leviticus 17:2; Numbers 18:27.—A. G.]

2. The Covenant Sacrifice and the Covenant in reference to Canaan (Genesis 15:7-17). Jehovah gave to Abram the starry heavens as a sign of the promise of an heir. Now he promises to Abram the land of Canaan for his possession (Genesis 15:7). Abram asks a sign for this.6 Jehovah appoints the covenant which he would conclude with him over his sacrifices, for a sign. He determines, also, at first, the sacrifice which Abram should bring. The animals named here, are the sacrificial animals of the Levitical cultus. The future possession of Canaan was represented beforehand in the sacrifices of Canaan.7 The sacrificial animals were all divided (hence כרת ברית, to hew, cut a covenant), except the birds, and the dissevered parts laid over against each other.

“The ceremonial of the covenant of old consisted in the contracting parties passing between the dead animals, with the imprecation, that in case of a breach in the covenant, it might be done to them as to these animals.” Against which Keil (who, however, without sufficient ground, denies that this act had the peculiar nature of a sacrifice), remarks: “This interpretation of ancient usage is not supported by Jeremiah 34:18.” “The interpretation which the prophet here gives to the symbolic usage, can only be a fuller explanation, which does not exclude another original idea of the symbol. The division of the sacrificial animals probably only typified the twofold character of the covenant; and the passage of the two contracting parties between the parts of the one sacrifice, typified their reconciliation to a unity.” This would be in accordance with the analogy of the symbol of the ancients, the tessera hospitalis, which was also divided into two parts in order to represent the alliance or union of the two possessors of the divided little table. Jehovah himself does not, indeed, appear as sharing in the offering of the sacrifice, but as a sharer in the sacrificial feast, which was signalized in the later thank-offering, in the show-bread, and essentially in all sacrifices. If the man who presents the sacrifice gives himself away to God, so Jehovah gives himself into communion with that man; forms a covenant with him. The individual specimens of the collective sacrificial animals, designate, in Calvin’s view, all Israel in all its parts, as one sacrifice. In the three years age, Theodoret finds an intimation of the three generations of bondage in Egypt; which Keil approves, with a reference to Judges 6:25 (seven years’ bondage, a seven year old bullock). The further intimations of numbers in the passage, to wit, a number seven, five, and eight, Keil rejects.—And when the fowls came down. The pieces lay for some time, unconsumed by the fire, and attracted the birds of prey, which would have polluted and preyed upon them, had not Abram driven them away. These are the heathen, the enemies of Israel, who would corrupt and destroy it, like the birds of prey (the sacrifice), which were held as unclean by the Jews. The hawk was sacred to the Egyptians, but the later Jews represented the opposition between Jews and heathen, through the dove and sparrow-hawk (see Knobel). But Abram, in his faith, remained the guardian-spirit of Israel, who secured its sacred destination (Psalms 105:42).

Genesis 15:12. And when the sun was going down.8 From this reference to the time, we may judge what was the marvellous attention and watchfulness of Abram. The great scene of the revelation began on the previous night; he had stood under the starry heavens as holding a solemnity; the victims were slain, and the pieces distributed, and then the watch over them was held until the setting of the sun. His physical strength sinks with it, a deep sleep (תרדמה) overcomes him. But the disposition for visions preserves itself in the sleep, and so much the more, since it is even the deep, prophetic sleep. Abram sees himself overtaken by a great horror of darkness, which the word of Jehovah explains to him. It was the anticipation of the terror of darkness, which, with the Egyptian bondage, should rest upon the people. This bondage itself is pointed out to him, under three or four circumstances: 1. They would be oppressed and tormented in this service; 2. it would endure four hundred years; 3. the oppressing people should be judged; 4. they should come out of the bondage with great substance. It is to be distinctly observed, that the name of this people, and the land of this servitude, is concealed. Moreover, there are further disclosures which concern the relation of the patriarch to this sorrow of his descendants. He himself should go to his fathers in peace in a good, that is, great age. But his people should reach Canaan in the fourth generation after its oppression, from which we may infer that a hundred years are reckoned as a generation.9For the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full. The Amorites, as the most powerful tribe of the Canaanites, stand here for the whole people (Joshua 24:15). Israel’s inheritance of Canaan is limited by the judgment upon the Canaanites; but this judgment itself is limited and conditioned by righteousness, according to which the measure of iniquity must first be full.

Genesis 15:17. Behold a smoking furnace. This new manifestation must not be regarded as belonging to the dream vision, but as the intuition of the waking consciousness, under the form of a vision. For the divine acceptance of the sacrifice cannot be fulfilled in a dream, any more than the faith of Abram, than his sacrifice, or the making of the covenant itself.—The smoking furnace is analogous to the burning bush, and pillar of fire of Moses. That it here designates the anger of God (Keil) is not supported by Psa 18:9.10 The fire-symbols are not always symbols of the consuming anger of God (as perhaps the seraphim), but also signs of purifying and saving judgments, as the pillar of fire, and pre-eminently the fire upon the altar of burnt-offering. And beyond doubt, in the sense of this passage, Jehovah goes with the sacrificial fire between the pieces of the animals. That the pieces were not laid upon the altar, arises from the mode of forming a covenant, according to which the contracting parties must pass between them. Abram had gone between them long before the evening. Now Jehovah goes through in the sacrificial flame. The image of the sacrifice signifies that the sacrificial fire should never be extinguished in Israel; this is visibly represented, moreover, under the flame of the altar. We must recognize clearly, that it is incredible that the flame should pass between the pieces of the sacrifice without consuming them. But the flame cannot designate the judgments of God upon the oppressors of Israel (Keil), since the pieces indeed designate Israel. But neither the judgments upon Israel, since the pieces which signify Israel were already divided, i.e., offered and dedicated to God. The sacrificial fire, as an efficient element of change, changes the flesh into a sweet savor for Jehovah, and the judgment of an earthly dissolution into an act of deliverance, into a new, heavenly existence.

3. The founding of the Covenant and its significance (Genesis 15:17-21).—Unto thy seed have I given this land. The covenant which Jehovah makes with Abram relates especially to the grant of the land of Canaan to his descendants. Hence, also, it is sealed with the offering of the sacrificial animals usual in the land.—From the river of Egypt. Keil holds that it is the Nile, because it is נתר, not נחל (Numbers 34:5). Knobel, on the other hand, remarks correctly: “The Nile cannot be intended, since the Euphrates would not have been described as the great river in opposition to it.” It is thus the Wady el Arisch, brook of Egypt, otherwise called Rhinocolura, lying at the southern limits of Israel (Numbers 34:5; Joshua 15:4; Isaiah 27:12); not the Nile, because an oratorical hyperbole would not agree with the exact bounding of the land.

[Hengstenberg, Beiträge, vol. iii. p. 265, urges in favor of the Nile not only the term which is used, נָחָר, and which is not interchangeable with the term for a small stream or brook, נחל, but also that the passage is rhetorical, as is clear from the fact that the tribes which the Israelites were to dispossess were purely Canaanitish, and no more extended to the Euphrates than to the Nile. Kurtz adds, that these two streams are here used as representative of the two great world-powers between which Israel should dwell. It is thus a prediction that the descendants of Abram should have an independent existence by the side of these two great empires, and that no nation should have any permanent sway between them and these two empires. So that their dominion may be said to reach from the Euphrates to the Nile.—These two rivers are, moreover, constantly referred to in the later Scriptures, as the extreme boundaries of Israel. See Isaiah 27:12; Jeremiah 2:18. In its best days too, the Israelitish dominion reached, to all intents, to Egypt, since all, or nearly all the intervening powers were subject to David and Solomon. Wilkinson holds that the word יאר, river, a form of which is here used, is the Hebrew form of the Egyptian word Jaro, river, applied to the Nile; see Bush, Notes, p. 255.—A. G.]

The Israelitish dominion should reach to the Euphrates, and did actually “in its best days” reach to it, but there is no record of its extension to the Nile. We are not dealing here with a prophetic and spiritual word, but with the definite bounds of the land, for the race of Abram, as is clear also from the following enumeration “Ten tribes are enumerated going from the southern border to the north, in order to fix and deepen the impression of universality and completeness, of which the number ten is the symbol—no tribes are excepted or spared (Delitzsch). In other passages, sometimes seven (Deuteronomy 7:1; Joshua 3:10), six (Exodus 3:8; Exodus 3:17; Exodus 23:23; Deuteronomy 20:17), five (Exodus 13:5), or even two (Genesis 13:7), are named; or finally, all are embraced under the common name, Canaanites.” Keil. The number ten is not, however, the number of completeness (that is twelve), but the number of a completed development; here of the completed development of the Canaanites for judgment. The Hivites (Genesis 10:17) are here omitted. The Hivites at Hermon, in the region of Lebanon, were afterwards driven out, but the Hivites at Gibeon were graciously spared (Judges 3:3; Joshua 11:19). “The Kenites were an Amalekitish—originally Arabian tribe, southerly from Canaan (Numbers 24:21; 1 Samuel 15:6; 1 Samuel 27:10; 1 Samuel 30:29), of whom a part afterwards removed to Canaan (Judges 1:16; Judges 4:11; Judges 4:17).” Knobel.—The Kenizzites. There is a reference to Kenaz, an Edomite (chap, Genesis 36:15; Genesis 36:42), with which Knobel joins the passage before us, but Keil objects, because he correctly assumes that Kenaz must have descended from Edom, without bringing into account the mingling of the Edomites with the original inhabitants of the land. The Kadmonites, also, are never anywhere more clearly determined.11


1. For the vision, see the Exegetical remarks. The vision of a shield and of a vast treasure, brings to remembrance the numerous revelations of God through images in the prophets, especially in Jeremiah and Zechariah. We must distinguish here the threefold form of the one revelation made through visions: 1. Revelation through images; 2. through the word; 3. through the vision in deep sleep, upon which there follows still a revelation to the waking consciousness through the word. The prophetic frame of mind on the part of Abram is very extraordinary, since it continued through a whole night and day, and into the following night.

2. The stages of the promise which Abram received, viewed, as to its genealogical sequence, may be regarded in this order: 1. Thou shalt be a man of blessing, and shalt become a great people (Genesis 12:1); 2. to thy seed will I give this land (Genesis 12:7); 3. to thy seed the land, to thy land thy seed (Genesis 13:14). Here (Genesis 15:18), the promise of the seed and the land was sealed in the form of a covenant. 4. The promise of a seed advances in the form of a covenant to the assurance that God would be the God of his seed (Genesis 17:7). 5. The promise is more definite, that not Ishmael but the son of Sarah should be his heir (Genesis 17:15 ff.). 6. The heir was promised in the next year (Genesis 18:10). 7. The whole promise in its richest fulness was sealed by the oath of Jehovah (Genesis 22:0).

3. The grand thought: God is our shield, or defence against all evil; God himself is our greatest reward or highest good; is the introductory completion of all religious desires and hopes. But man can remain upon this high standpoint only with the greatest difficulty. This is manifest from the application to practical uses and gains which Abram makes: Lord, what wilt thou give me? Although this application to his own advantage, carried out in a childlike spirit, is perfectly consistent with his faith.

4. Abram under the starry heavens, and his righteousness of faith. The peculiar determination of the character of the patriarchal religion. Here first, the full importance of faith comes into view. Here also, first, the reckoning of righteousness corresponding therewith. From this point onward, both fundamental thoughts run through the holy scripture (see Romans 4:0; James 2:0).12 The future of the Evangelical church was prepared on that night. It was the one peculiar blooming hour of all salvation by faith. But we must not, therefore, so weaken and lower the idea of righteousness, that we should explain it as equivalent with integrity, or in similar ways. Righteousness is the guiltless position or standing in the forum of right, of justice.13 The forum in which Abram stands here, is the forum of the inward life before God. In this he was, on the ground of his faith, declared righteous, through the word and the Spirit of God. Hence we read here, also, first of his peace, Genesis 15:15.

5. The difference between the four hundred years, Genesis 15:13, and Acts 7:6, and the four hundred and thirty years, Exodus 12:40, is explained, not only by the use of round, prophetic numbers here, but also from the fact, that we must distinguish between the time when the Israelites generally dwelt in Egypt, and the period when they became enslaved and oppressed. Paul counts (Galatians 3:17) the time between the promise and the law, as four hundred and thirty years, in the thought that the closing date of the time of the promise was the death of Jacob (Genesis 49:0.). See the Introduction; and for the difference in question, Delitzsch, p. 371.

[Note upon the four hundred years Affliction and Servitude of Israel.—It is confessedly a matter of dispute how these four hundred years are to be computed. Some fix the birth of Isaac as the starting-point, others the entrance of Jacob into Egypt. The difficulty does not lie in reconciling the different statements of the Scripture, but in bringing any conclusion formed upon these statements, into harmony with a general system of Chronology. Baumgarten says: The principal thing in the threatening, the first word in the description of the sorrow, is an announcement of their condition as strangers, גֵר יִהְיֶה זַרְעֲךְ. The description, therefore, in his view, covers the period of their sojourn in Canaan, during which they were strangers. He urges, in favor of this, the words of the Apostle (Galatians 3:17), and the fact that the Israelites were to come out in the fourth generation; a generation obviously falling far short of a hundred years. They were to be there but three generations. The genealogical table, Exodus 6:16 ff. favors a much shorter residence than four hundred years; since the combined ages of the persons there mentioned, Levi, Kohath, Amram, including the years of Moses at the time of the exodus, amount to only four hundred and eighty-four years, from which we must take, of course, the age of Levi, at the entrance of Jacob into Egypt, and the ages of the different fathers at the birth of their sons. It is better, therefore, with Wordsworth, Murphy, Jacobus, and many of the earlier commentators, to make the four hundred years begin with the birth of Isaac, and the four hundred and thirty of the apostle to date from the call of Abram.—A. G.]

6. The demand for a sign relates to the promise of the land, not the promise of a seed. The starry heavens was the sign of the latter promise to him. Compare the similar demand of Gideon (Judges 6:17), and of Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:8). The pious and believing desire for a sign points to a divine assurance, the impious to an unsanctified knowledge, or, indeed, a doubt. The constant form of the pious desire for a sign, is the believing enjoyment of the sacraments.

7. The sacrificial animals. See Leviticus.

8. The birds of prey. Compare Matthew 13:18-19.

9. The profound sleep. Compare Genesis 2:21; Biblework, p. 209. Thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace. With faith in the grace of God, the future is not only made clear and glorified (John 8:56), but he present also is illuminated.

10. The iniquities of the Amorites. See Exodus 34:11; Exodus 34:14; Leviticus 18:24; Leviticus 20:23; Numbers 33:52; Numbers 33:55; Joshua 23:12.—No people is destroyed whose iniquity is not full.14

11. Both Delitzsch (p. 373) and Keil (p. 151), assert that there is no account here of a peculiar sacrifice of a covenant, nor of a peculiar covenant. Against the sacrifice of the covenant, it is said that Abram did not pass between the pieces of the sacrifice; but this is a pure supposition. Against the idea of a covenant, that there is no account of a pactio, but simply of a sponsio, a solemn promise of God to men. Let it be observed, however, that upon this interpretation the moral force in the doctrine of the covenant relation of God to the believer is fatally ignored, and that this interpretation also threatens to change the covenant blessing of the Christian sacraments from a moral to a magical blessing. The subject of the promise, Delitzsch remarks, excludes the idea of reciprocity. “In the covenant,” says Keil, “which God concludes with man, the man does not stand as upon mutual and equal terms with God, but God grounds the relation of communion, through his promise, and his gracious condescension, to man, whereby he is first prepared to receive, and then, through the reception of the gifts of grace, is prepared to discharge the duties flowing out of the covenant, and thus made obligatory upon him.” Although the covenant of God with believing humanity, is not a contract between equals, but God founds the covenant, it does not follow, that his founding it is a simple promise, although, even a simple promise, without some moral motive giving rise to it, would be absurd. But now, according to Romans 4:0. the foundation of the gracious covenant of God with Abram, was not laid in the covenant of circumcision (Genesis 17:0.), but in the covenant of faith (Genesis 15:0).15 Hence the Jewish Targums, and after them, Christian theologians, have found in this chapter the forming of a covenant according to the explicit declaration, Genesis 15:17. Delitzsch himself, upon Genesis 17:0, says first: “God sealed his covenant with Abram,” but then further, “God founded his covenant with Abram.” But Keil, p. 155, remarks: “Long before, at least, long years before, God had established his covenant with Abram.” We make the following distinction: in Genesis 15:0, the eternal, valid covenant of faith was concluded; in Genesis 17:0 the specific, old covenant of circumcision, the provisional sealing of the covenant of faith, of which, under the New Testament, baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the seals. If we recall, that the relation between the Lord and his church is that of the bridegroom and the bride, we shall truly dismiss the assumption of a magical working and efficacy of the covenant, and return to the high estimate of moral relations in the kingdom of personal life, in which also the passive position, which the Formula Conc. recognizes and holds in conversion is to be conceived as a moral state—in which the soul is held in the attitude of waiting, and does not grasp beforehand—produced in the strength of the gratia prœveniens, and not as a pure creaturely and unconcerned yielding of one’s self to the pleasure of another.


See the Doctrinal and Ethical paragraphs.—The great thought: God himself is our God: 1. Our shield; 2. our great reward (comp. Romans 8:0.).—It is allowed the saints, to ask: Lord, Lord, what wilt thou give me?—We learn from Abram to consult with God—as to our affairs;—to deliberate with Jehovah as to our future.

Genesis 15:4. If the lesser is denied us, that itself intimates a grant of the higher.—In submission we are near the highest promises and gifts.—Abram, the childless, shall become the father of nations.—Abram in the starry night.—The word of God in the starry night.—The faith of Abram: 1. Abram a believer; 2. a father of believers (Romans 4:0.); 3. a father of all believers, especially of believers from the circumcision.—Abram’s righteousness of faith.—The key-note of his righteousness of faith: 1. The blessing has overcome the curse in his heart and life; 2. he will overcome it in the world through his seed; his children shall be as the stars of heaven.—The high antiquity of Evangelical faith.—The covenant of God with Abram.—Abram’s prophetic sleep.—The holy land: 1. In the literal sense; 2. as a type of the promised fatherland of believers.—The certainty of the promises of God.—The first mention of the grave cheerful and friendly.—The grave already illuminated and glorified with the glimpse of the life beyond.

Starke: Lange: Fear and discouragement may sometimes assail the strongest heroes of faith; it is well, however, when they are not allowed to reign (Psalms 84:12; Romans 8:17; Psalms 73:25-26; Psalms 142:6)—[When some astronomers have attempted to specify the number of stars, and one asserts that there are 1392, another 1109, and still another, 7000, these are pure conjectures, upon which they cannot agree among themselves. Then, too, there are the thousands of stars, so remote in space, that they are not visible through the best telescopes. It would have been a small consolation to Abram, if his seed should only equal the small number of stars specified.]—Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23.

Genesis 15:3. What a great thing, is it not, to be near a prudent householder!—Cramer: If we will be counsellors of God, we will do it to our injury.—God places before the reason, incomprehensible (and incredible) things; for, what we can comprehend, there is no necessity that we should believe.16—God foreknows all things.

Genesis 15:15. This is a pleasant description of death.—In what a good age consists.—The burial of the dead is a primitive custom, of which this is the first notice. We never find, in the Holy Scriptures, any mention of the burning of the dead, customary among the heathen; or of any other way than of burial (Judges 2:9).—God exercises a constant foresight, even over the seed of believers.

Lisco: The war with the kings, although victoriously ended, might provoke retaliation afterwards; thus the present state of Abram’s mind is connected with his previous state. Genesis 15:2. God is here for the first time called Adonai.

Genesis 15:6. Abram is under he trial or test.—Although Abram possessed so many beautiful and noble qualities of heart, and in his walk manifests so many virtues, yet he is not, through all these, righteous before God, not in the possession of the divine favor, for there is also sin in him, etc. This defect his faith, his living confidence in God (more precisely, the word of God which he grasps in his faith), supplies.—The justification of the sinner by faith, is the only way of righteousness, before, during or after the giving of the law.

Genesis 15:15. Go to thy fathers. They must then still live upon the other side of death, in another state and life; the continued existence after death is here evident, and, indeed, as the word in peace, intimates, a blessed existence for the pious.

Genesis 15:16. All nations hold their land, likewise, in fee from God, and will be deprived of it when their rebellion against the Lord their God has reached its full height. Thus the Amorites, and thus the Israelites at the exile, and the second destruction of Jerusalem.

Genesis 15:17. The flame of fire is the sign of the gracious presence of God, and of his pleasure in the sacrifice (Leviticus 9:24).—Gerlach: Abram confesses his pain and grief.—Without the least apparent human probability, he trusts unconditionally upon the divine and gracious promise. The word “believed” is here exact, or precise; he cleaves to the Lord (precisely: he stays, supports, rests himself upon the Lord).—The three years old animals, because fully grown; faultless animals must be chosen for sacrifice.

Genesis 15:15. To go to his fathers(Genesis 25:8; Genesis 35:29; Genesis 49:29; Genesis 49:33; Deuteronomy 32:50; 2 Kings 22:20). The beautiful expression for the life after death, testifies that even in the highest antiquity, the outlook into the life on the other side of the grave, was neither dark nor gloomy.—(Genesis 15:17. Description of the oriental furnace; a great, cylindrical-shaped fire-pot).—Calwer, Handbuch: Abram’s doubt, and newly strengthened faith. He believed without the sight.—Bunsen: [a marvellous translation: The Son of Mesek, possession, is my house, Eliezer a Damascene].—Schröder: The present and future of Abram—God anticipates, prevents (with the Eliezer). Ch. 16 states another project, springing out of the weakness of his faith. Abram sees not, he believes.—Here appears for the first time the word, whose nature and strength we have recognized from the first promise onward, and especially in the previous history of Abram.—Hess: Genesis 15:13. To prevent Egypt’s becoming hateful to him, the land was not named (this concealment is rather a trait which attests and authenticates the genuine prophecy).—The flame of fire is typical of the divine presence and majesty.—Schwenke: Genesis 15:6. We agree with Luther, this is the great word in this book.—Taube: The temptation of the believer: 1. What is the highest necessity? 2. the highest consolation? 3. How can one pass out from the highest necessity into the greatest consolation?—Hofmann: It was the review of faith which fitted Abram to look out into the future. He looked onward to the blessed rest of the people of God, but he could not do this, except as he recognized in God, the restorer of that life of man—his own life, the life of his seed, and of the race—perverted and fallen by sin, and burdened with the curse. Dark and troubled it may well be, were the thoughts of the father of the faithful, but the experience of his heart and life were sure.


[1] [The word of the Lord came or was. “This is the first place in the Bible where this phrase occurs, and it introduces a prophetic vision and promise of Abram’s posterity in Christ—the incarnate word.” Wordsworth.—A. G.]

[The אָנֹכִי is emphatic.—A. G.]

[2][The rendering “thy reward is exceeding great,” although consistent with the original, and yielding a good sense, fails to bring out clearly the prominent thought in the promise. It is not the great things which Jehovah would give, but Jehovah himself, to which the mind of Abram is turned as his reward.—A. G.]

[3][There is an obvious paranomasia here—ben-meshekDammesek. Wordsworth, after Lightfoot and others, calls attention to the fact, that the name Eliezer is the same as Lazarus in our Lord’s parable (Luke 16:20), and to the analogy between that parable and this history. These “silent analogies between the Old and New Testaments” are striking and important.—A. G.]

[4] [Baumgarten suggests that Eliezer was born at Damascus; then the בֶן בֵּיתִי is not Eliezer, but his son, p. 185.—A. G.]

[Heb. Son of my house is inheriting me; so also in the 4th verso, there shall not inherit thee this one.—A. G.]

[5][There is no impassable cleft or abyss between the Spheres of vision and of sense, or between the supersensible and the sensible.—A. G.]

[6] [Not, however, as expressing any doubt, but as the natural working and fruit of his faith.—A. G.]

[Genesis 15:7.—I am the Lord that brought thee, etc. See the “Preface to the Ten Commandments,” Jacobus, p. 268.—A. G.]

[7][Baumgarten says that as this sacrifice was a covenant sacrifice, and lay at the foundation of all the sacrifices of the covenant, all the animals used in those sacrifices were here required.—A. G.]

[8][Heb., was about to go down.—A. G.]

[9][Genesis 15:13. Know of a surety. Know, know thou. Know certainly. This responds to Abram’s question, Whereby shall I know? Genesis 15:8. Murphy, p. 218.—A. G.]

[10][Kurtz regards this as the first appearance of the Schechinah, and says: “It is the symbol of the gracious presence of God: the splendor of his glory, the consuming fire of his holiness, which no mere human eye can bear, before which no sinful child of man can stand, is veiled beneath his grace,” p. 180.—A G.]

[11][They seem to have been the more eastern, and to have held the other extreme boundary of the promised land, towards the Euphrates. Murphy p. 300.—A. G.]

[12] [Righteousness must he had, or there is no salvation. Men have lost righteousness, and the power to gain it. How can it be secured? It is by faith. It is counted to believers; see for illustration Leviticus 7:18; Lev 17:4; 2 Samuel 19:19, and Romans 4:0.—A. G.]

[Jacobus, Notes, p. 267. 1. Abram had no righteousness for justification. 2. Faith is not imputed to him as a work, as a meritorious ground of justification, but only as instrumental, laying hold on a perfect righteousness. 3. The law could not claim any other than a perfect righteousness—his own or another’s imputed to him—set to his account. And this is the gospel plan of salvation—to reckon the perfect righteousness received by faith, as our righteousness for justification.—A. G.]

[13][Kurtz: He is righteous who, through the freedom of his will, conforms to the divine idea and end of his being. Wordsworth is better: Righteousness is that state in which man’s will Is conformed to God’s will—that state in which Adam was created, but from which he fell by sin, p. 74.—A. G.

[14][The Lord administers the affairs of nations on the principle of moral rectitude. Murphy, p. 299. Wordsworth calls attention to this sentence in its relation to the destruction of the Canaanites by Israel, p. 76.—A. G.]

[15][Kurtz holds that Abram did not now pass between the pieces; that this is but one side of the covenant, in which God, but not Abram, brings himself under covenant obligation; and that the covenant is completed and ratified by Abram in the transactions. Ch. 17 p. 179.—A. G.]

[16][This obviously needs modification.—A. G.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Genesis 15". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/genesis-15.html. 1857-84.
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