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Friday, July 19th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 15

Coke's Commentary on the Holy BibleCoke's Commentary



Abram believes God, who promised him a seed which shall equal the stars in number. He is commanded to prepare victims; falls into a deep sleep, and hears God foretelling the future condition of his posterity: the covenant is renewed.

Verse 1

Genesis 15:1. The word of the Lord, &c.— This is the first time that this expression occurs, דבראּיהוה debar Jehovah, the word of Jehovah, which many suppose to be characteristic of the second Divine Person, who is the WORD, John 1:1. And possibly it is first used here, as the chapter contains a prophetic account of Abram's posterity, which this word of the Lord delivered, in a vision, says our translation; whence many suppose, that this was either a vision of the night, when Abram was asleep; or such an exstatic trance, as that of St. Peter's, mentioned Acts 10:10, or of St. Paul's, 2 Corinthians 12:2. But neither of these appears true, as Abram is represented not only awake, but acting entirely as such throughout the transaction. And the original word appears to me to give no countenance to these opinions; it is מחזה maczeh, which signifies, 1st, simple vision or sight, and then prophetic sight, or prophecy, simply, in which sense it is used in a variety of places. So that I apprehend all that is meant here is, that the word of the Lord came to Abram in or with a prophecy—to give him a foresight of things to come: and probably prophecy is derived in the Hebrew from a word signifying to see, because it gives this foresight. The Chaldee paraphrast agrees with me in this exposition, rendering it, in prophecy.

Fear not, &c.— There must have been some reason, one would imagine, for this assurance from God; some fear in Abram, either expressed or concealed in his heart, to which the Omniscient was privy. Several commentators think, that such a fear might arise from his apprehension of a return of those enemies whom he had vanquished, and who, being powerful, might destroy him and his: and the declaration from God, I am thy shield, thy protection, seems to favour such an opinion. But, might I conjecture, I should rather think, that as this whole chapter refers to Abram's concern about his posterity, the phrase, "Fear not, be not dejected," refers to his apprehension of dying childless. And in this view I would read the second verse (as it may be read) in a parenthesis thus, (FOR or BUT Abram HAD said, Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, &c.) Abram had said this in the fear of his heart, upon which the Lord vouchsafed this prophetical view to him, and this strong renovation of the covenant. In this light all follows very properly. Abram had said so and so in 2 Corinthians 12:2. Upon this God appears, and says, I an thy shield; thy exceeding great reward. The patriarch then freely opens the anxious apprehension of his heart: behold, to me thou hast yet given no seed, &c. upon which God proceeds to assure him of posterity.

REFLECTIONS.—Abram is favoured with frequent manifestations of the Divine Presence. He was met by kings, but now by the King of kings. God spoke to him in prophecy, and very probably at the same time in some glorious representation of himself, such as was the Schechinah: while the natural man dreads every appearance from another world, as boding no good to him, the soul that hath its affections there, has nothing thence to fear, but every thing to hope for. We have,

1. God's encouragement: "Fear not, Abram." All his victories had not entirely removed his fears. O why is not our faith in so good and so faithful a God at all times complete!
2. His promise. (1.) I am thy shield: therefore no reason had he to apprehend any danger. God is his people's guardian: none can approach to hurt those, over whom the shield of Almighty Love is held. (2.) I am thy exceeding great reward. Every thing beside to a believing soul is light in the balance. The enjoyment of the Blessed God is the ultimatum, the whole of his felicity. O may I know more feelingly, and say more confidently, Thou art my portion, O Lord!

Verse 2

Genesis 15:2. Eliezer of Damascus i.e.. sprung originally from Damascus. The Hebrew word ben-meshec, which we translate steward, signifies the son of provision, he who provideth. It was a custom among the ancients to have such a superior servant: but upon what custom the right to inheritance for such a one, as born in the master's house, could be founded, we are totally in the dark; for I think it is most likely, there was some right of this kind, otherwise Abram had near relations to be his heirs; and whom he would otherwise probably have made such, in preference to any domestic, however considerable.

Verse 3

Genesis 15:3. And Abram said, &c.— Abram spreads his grief before the Lord; and since he is so gracious, shews him his trouble. Observe, God's ears are ever open to the voice of our complaint. Abram had a great promise, but no appearance of its fulfilment: he was childless, and, humanly speaking, likely to continue so, being old: and one of his servants must be his heir. Where then is the seed? What is all that thou givest me, if this be withheld? Learn, (1.) How hard it is, when mercies are long delayed, not to grow impatient, and weary of waiting. (2.) In every distress, our business is to make God our bosom-friend. (3.) Whatever we enjoy, unless this seed be born in us, Christ the Hope of glory, all is nothing. A Christless person, though rich as Croesus or great as Caesar, must still be miserable.

Verse 5

Genesis 15:5. He brought him forth abroad, &c.— This was done most probably towards the decline of the night, for reasons we shall presently assign: but the reader is desired to take notice, that there is nothing here which can countenance the opinion of this being a visionary representation.

So shall thy seed be i.e.. innumerable. This promise was fulfilled not only in the posterity of Isaac, but also of Ishmael, and the children of Abram's other wives, by whom Palestine and Arabia were inhabited.

Verse 6

Genesis 15:6. He believed, &c.— Not only that he should have a child, though his wife was barren, and far advanced in life, as well as himself; but also that his posterity, which seemed extremely improbable, should be, like the stars, innumerable. Assured of the Divine veracity and power, he gave glory to God, and firmly credited upon God's authority what otherwise appeared impossible: and the Lord was so well satisfied with this faith of the patriarch, which gave so much honour to the truth of God, as well as proved so strongly Abram's love and affiance, that he counted or reckoned it for righteousness, or justification to him; fully accepting of him: and that, as St. Paul remarks, before he was circumcised, to shew, that not only the circumcised who believe, but all who are partakers of Abram's faith, shall be justified, fully accepted, esteemed, and treated as righteous before God. See Romans 4:0. where we shall have an occasion to speak more fully of this circumstance.

REFLECTIONS.—We have in the foregoing verses God's answer to Abram's request.

1. An assurance of a son, not merely born in his house, but of himself: and such a son, whose progeny should vie with the stars of heaven for multitude, and shine as the stars for glory. Note; God is better to us than our fears, and when we almost despair, works most eminently to accomplish his own purposes.

2. Abram's satisfaction in the answer. A thousand doubts of how and when might have arisen; but he regarded not his own age, nor the deadness of Sarah's womb. See, (1.) The nature of faith, an acquiescence in the Divine promise. (2.) The effects of it—patient hope.
3. His faith is counted to him for righteousness: God regarding him as righteous, and signifying it to him for his comfort. Note; (1.) By faith in Jesus Christ alone, the promised Seed, can we be justified before God. (2.) By faith, all the Old Testament saints were accepted, as well as the New. (3.) This is the fundamental doctrine of the Christian religion, and distinguishes it from all systems of mere morality. To err in this, is to err in the fundamentals of Christianity.

Verse 8

Genesis 15:8. Whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it? "Whereby shall I be ascertained, that my posterity shall possess this land, in right of that inheritance which thou hast given to me?" For the higher confirmation, of his faith, he asks some miraculous sign and pledge of the certainty of an event, of which he himself was not personally to partake. It is also probable from Genesis 15:13-16, that Abram's request means no more, than that God would vouchsafe to let him know, when the promise should be accomplished, and what signs should foreshew the event to himself or his posterity, as near at hand: in the same sense as the disciples say to Christ, Lord, when shall these things be, and what shall be the sign of thy coming? Matthew 24:3.

Verse 9

Genesis 15:9. He said unto him, take me an heifer, &c.— i.e.. says Mede, offer unto me the following creatures; the only ones appointed to be offered under the Mosaic law; which strengthens their opinion (and I confess it is mine) who believe, that animals were divided into clean and unclean for sacrifice before the law, and that the whole apparatus of sacrifice was not then first instituted, but renewed and confirmed. It has much perplexed commentators to find out the reason, why these animals should be three years old, whereas they are commonly ordered to be of one year old only under the law. It appears extremely plain from this whole transaction, that it was a federal act between God and Abram, as well as a prophetic representation of what should befal his seed, before they possessed the promised land: and if the symbols have reference to any thing, one would imagine, it must be to this. The word rendered three years old, signifies also threefold, three, and it is so rendered by the Chaldee and other Jewish interpreters, who suppose, that three of each species of animals were offered in this sacrifice: but whether there were three, or only one of three years old, I should conceive the reference to be to the three generations which were to pass before Abram's seed was to inherit the land: and the winged birds may represent their passage and flight from AEgypt in the fourth generation, (see Genesis 15:16.) as the smoking furnace, Gen 15:17 and the burning lamp, or lamp of fire, may represent, as a kind of hieroglyphics, that kind of servitude in the brick-kilns, which the Israelites endured in AEgypt, and the manner of their delivery, when the pillar of smoke and of light went before them day and night. Let it be observed, that I propose this only as a probable and conjectural interpretation of a difficult passage: and as the context clearly proves, that God gave Abram a prophetic account of what should befal his seed, Gen 15:13 it appears very reasonable, that these symbols or hieroglyphical representations, according to the known ancient manner, should signify the same thing.

Verse 10

Genesis 15:10. He took and divided, &c.— We have here the first and most ancient account of the manner by which many nations of the world entered into and ratified their covenants. It is alluded to again in Jeremiah 34:18-19. The method was to divide the victims, and lay the parts divided asunder, when the covenanting parties passed between them, and used some expressions perhaps to this purpose: "Thus let me be divided and cut in pieces, if I violate the oath or break the covenant into which I now enter." God condescended to ratify his covenant in that manner with Abram; who, by the divine command, prepared and divided the victims, except the birds, which were not divided; as neither were they under the law; see Lev 1:17 but, as we conceive, he laid them upon the divided parts of the victims: for this seems to be the sense of the following verse.

Leviticus 1:11. And when the fowls came down, &c.— This verse gives us an account of what Abram did with the birds for sacrifice, the turtle-dove and pigeon; concerning which we otherwise hear nothing. And it may be rendered; and Abram caused to descend a bird upon the carcases [one upon each]; and placed, or fixed it upon them: that is, "he laid a bird upon each of the divisions of the victims." This translation is justified by some of the most learned critics, and, I believe, is the best. If however this interpretation should not be admitted, let it be remarked, that the greatest part of the expositors have supposed, that the descent of carnivorous birds upon the carcases (which they suppose the text expresses) signifies the rapacity and cruelty wherewith Pharaoh and the AEgyptians treated the Israelites.

REFLECTIONS.—As the seed is promised to Abram, the land is added moreover. If Christ be ours, heaven is ours. We have in the foregoing verses,

1. A remembrance of mercies already conferred on Abram; I brought thee out of that idolatrous land of thy nativity, as a brand snatched from the burning. And here is a promise of more; I brought thee hither to inherit this: thine it shall be; I am able to subdue all thine enemies, and I will fulfil my promises. Observe, (1.) Past mercies are usually the earnest of greater. (2.) Salvation is the crowning mercy.

2. Abram's desire of some sign, for the more assured confirmation of his faith. Learn, (1.) The strongest believer has need to pray, Lord, increase my faith. We have need to make use of all means for the further confirmation of our hearts in the Divine promises. (2.) The best must be presented to God: negligent prayers and inattentive hearing, is like bringing the lame and the blind for a sacrifice.

Verse 12

Genesis 15:12. And when the sun was going down The original is, and the sun was (לבוא labo, ad intrandum, says Montanus) about to enter, "the time of sun-rising approached," which I take to be the true sense of the passage. For, as I conceive, God came to Abram in the night, perhaps the beginning of it; after which he brought him forth, and ordered him to count the stars, if possible, Genesis 15:5. This done, he employs him in preparing this sacrifice; by which time morning drew near, "the sun was about to enter:" when Abram, fatigued with the business in which he had been employed, and wanting rest, fell into a deep sleep: then, as the sacred writer expresses it, an horror of great darkness fell upon him, or was represented in vision to him; the meaning of which is fully and clearly explained in the next verse.

Verse 13

Genesis 15:13. Afflict them four hundred years That is, from the birth of Isaac, the seed to whom the promise was given: and from that birth to the coming out of AEgypt, were just four hundred years. It cannot fail to strike the attentive reader how exactly this prophecy, respecting Abram's seed, was fulfilled.

Verse 14

Genesis 15:14. Will I judge Judge is a Hebraism for punish: 2 Chronicles 20:12.Hebrews 13:4; Hebrews 13:4. It is also used in the contrary sense, of acquitting, rewarding, or redressing wrongs, when applied to the righteous, Psalms 10:18. The reason is evident: God, the just Judge, when he tries both righteous and wicked, may properly be said to judge, either in the sense of condemning or acquitting, as his judgment is, and always must be, perfectly right.

Verse 15

Genesis 15:15. Thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace It appears that this verse only concerns Abram personally, but all the rest of the prophecy respects his posterity. Some, says Parker, think this, Thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace, was no more than an oriental phrase for going to the grave: but it cannot be said of Abram that he did thus go to his fathers, since his dead body was so far from being laid with them in their sepulchre, that it was deposited in a country which had no manner of communication with that of his fathers: so that, from the text, an argument may justly be drawn for the separate existence of human souls, and for their departure hence, when they drop the mortal body, to go to live with those who have gone before them into the region of spirits.

Verse 16

Genesis 15:16. In the fourth generation Either, 1st, from the descent into AEgypt; and thus Caleb was the fourth from Judah; and Moses and Aaron the fourth from Levi: or, 2nd, in the fourth generation of the Amorites; a sense which seems the more probable from the words immediately following, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full. The Amorites are here put for the whole inhabitants of Canaan, as being the most considerable for their power, Amo 2:9 and being also the people among whom Abram lived, ch. Genesis 13:18. compared with ch. Genesis 14:13. There is a certain measure of wickedness, it hence appears, beyond which God will not spare a sinful land.


1st, The preparations for God's manifestation of himself. A deep sleep fell on Abram, which, while it left the soul more free and active, locked up the senses from all disturbance and distraction: and in the sleep, an horror of great darkness, arising, partly perhaps, from an awful reverence of the Majesty of that God with whom he was conversing, and partly from a presage of the events which God was about to disclose to him, fell upon him. Note; The more we are abstracted from the objects of sense in all our worship, the better.

2nd, God's revelation concerning Abram and his posterity. 1. His posterity. (1.) Their sufferings, sojourning, and captivity in AEgypt. Note; [1.] It is frequently best to know the worst. [2.] Our unsettled sojourning on the earth will make our rest in heaven the more welcome. [3.] We are all slaves, till the grace of God looses the bands of corruption. [4.] Suffering is more or less the portion of God's children; it is thus they enter the kingdom. [5.] Though our sufferings upon earth were as long as Israel's in AEgypt, nay, as many ages as days, the far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory would make them appear light afflictions, and but for a moment. (2.) Their return to the land of promise, after the days of their captivity, with great substance: God will enrich them under their sufferings, and at last bring them forth, laden with the spoil of their oppressers. Let the oppressors of God's people, like the AEgyptians, know their day is coming. (3.) Two causes of their return are mentioned: [1.] The judgments of God upon Egypt, in the plagues which afterwards came upon them: his people's quarrels are his own, and he will avenge them. [2.] The filling the measure of the iniquities of the Canaanites. God waits long and is kind. He strikes not, till incorrigible impiety makes patience useless.

2. Concerning Abram himself. Though he should not live to see his posterity's triumphs, neither should he taste their affliction. A peaceful life, a good old age, an honourable sepulchre, and heaven, shall be his lot. Learn, (1.) It is a blessed thing to die in peace: this is the fruit of Abram's faith. (2.) One of the comforts of death is to go to our fathers: to go to those dear relations, whether by nature or grace, who have fallen asleep in Christ before us, and to meet them in paradise. (3.) Old age is a blessing indeed, when the hoary head is found in the way of righteousness. (4.) The grave, to the sinner, is the land of captivity; to the believer, it is the gate which leads into the land of promise.

Verse 17

Genesis 15:17. It came to pass, that when the sun went down, &c.— As in Gen 15:12 according to our interpretation, mention is made of the rising, so here of the setting sun; nor does it seem probable, that both passages speak of the latter. If any one, however, shall be tenacious of this opinion, we must suppose, that the first appearance to Abram was made in the night, when the command for the sacrifice was given; and great part of the following day being employed in preparing it, the deep ecstasy or sleep, towards sun-setting, fell upon Abram; and after the sun had set, God was pleased, by a symbolical representation, to pass through the divided victims, and to ratify the covenant with Abram, in great condescension, after the manner of men. We have before offered it as a conjecture, that the smoking furnace and burning lamp were significative of what happened afterwards in AEgypt: certain, however, it is, that they were declarative of God's presence, who generally, if not always, appeared in fire, light, and smoke, under the law: and, from the next verse, it seems evidently to follow, that they were, on God's part, a ratification of the covenant which he made, or, according to the original, cut or struck with Abram; which alludes, no doubt, to the ceremony of cutting or dividing the victim, which was so customary with all nations, that the same phrase generally prevailed. The Greeks say, ορκια τεμνειν, and the Latins, foedus icere, to cut the victim: which all amounts to the same thing. And most probably there was, in all this, an allusion to the grand covenant, and the victim to be cut off for the redemption of the world. It is most probable, that the fire and light which passed between, consumed the sacrifice.

Verse 18

Genesis 15:18. This land, from the river of AEgypt, &c.— The river of AEgypt cannot mean the Nile, but some river upon the border of AEgypt. Solomon is said to have reigned from the river (Euphrates) unto the border of AEgypt. See 1Ki 4:21 where we shall speak more of this grant to Abram, and its completion.

REFLECTIONS.—God confirms the covenant by a visible sign, and particularly describes the bounds of the inheritance of Abram's posterity. We have,

1. The signs emblematical of the state of the people: a smoking furnace, alluding to their affliction; and a lamp of fire, to guide them through the smoke and darkness. Observe, Though the furnace of affliction be a dark and dreary state, there is light sown for the righteous; and they who are under divine guidance need not be cast down under the severest pressures.

2. The confirmation of the covenant, by the parting of the lamp between the slain beasts. Note; (1.) How great are God's condescensions, thus to humble himself to our weakness. (2.) There is no firm covenant with God for fallen man, without a sacrifice of atonement. Blessed be God for the Blood of the Lamb that was slain, in whom all the promises of God are yea and amen.

Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Genesis 15". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/genesis-15.html. 1801-1803.
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