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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 15

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Genesis 15:0


Abram Promised A SonGod's Covenant with AbramThe Covenant With Abraham and SarahGod's Covenant with AbramThe Divine Promise and Covenant
Genesis 15:1-11Genesis 15:1-11Genesis 15:1-6Genesis 15:1Genesis 15:1
(vv. Genesis 15:1) (vv. Genesis 15:1)
Genesis 15:2-3Genesis 15:2-6
Genesis 15:4-5
Genesis 15:6
Genesis 15:7-11Genesis 15:7Genesis 15:7-11
Genesis 15:8
Genesis 15:9-11
Genesis 15:12-16Genesis 15:12-16Genesis 15:12-16Genesis 15:12-16Genesis 15:12-16
Genesis 15:17-21Genesis 15:17-21Genesis 15:17-21Genesis 15:17-21Genesis 15:17-21
(vv. Genesis 15:18)(vv. Genesis 15:18) (vv. Genesis 15:18)

READING CYCLE THREE (see Guide to Good Bible Reading)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. Chapter 15 is a series of tests and conditions which God gave to Abraham from chapters 12 through 22 (cf. Genesis 12:1-3; Genesis 14:12-14; Genesis 15:1-18; Genesis 17:1-5; Genesis 22:16-18).

Chapter 15 explains YHWH's actions in chapter 14. YHWH was Abram's victory. Abram's hope is in YHWH's promise, first given in chapter 12, but repeated several times (cf. chapters 12, 15, 17, 18, 22).

B. It is interesting to note that the covenant proclamation in chapters 12 and 17 have expressed conditions, while chapters 15 and 22 have no overt conditions. All of God's dealings with humans are based on His unchanging, merciful character and His initiating love, however, God has also purposed that humans made in His image must respond to His love by repentance, faith, obedience, and perseverance. These requirements are fundamental, not only in Genesis, but throughout the entire Bible.

C. It is important that we see throughout God's dealing with Abram that His grace, not human merit, effort, or resources, is emphasized over and over again. This theme becomes the central motif of Genesis. However, the radical call of faith and followship which was required of Abram is emphasized also (cf. Genesis 22:16, Genesis 22:18)! Paul uses this as a paradigm of God's dealing with sinful mankind (cf. Romans 4:0 and Galatians 3:0). This is a crucial text on how God receives sinful mankind. The very fact that He would/will is shockingly wonderful!

D. These opening chapters of Genesis are crucial in understanding our world and our spiritual needs.

Genesis 1-3 sets the stage for a proper understanding of the human situation.

1. made in God's image for fellowship (Genesis 1:26-27)

2. rebelled against God's leadership (Genesis 3:1-7)

3. the far-reaching consequences of human rebellion (Genesis 3:8-20)

4. God's promise of redemption (Genesis 3:15)

In reality everything from Genesis 3:0 through Revelation 20:0 is God repairing the consequences of Adam and Eve's sin. Heaven is described in Revelation 21-22 as a restored Garden of Eden.

The opening chapters of Genesis address all humanity.

1. Adam

2. Noah

3. Abram (cf. Genesis 12:3; Acts 3:25; Galatians 3:8)

God chose one to choose all! God's choice involved promise (i.e., unconditional covenant) with response (i.e., a conditional covenant). Abram's life shows the effects of sin and grace. He struggles with obedience and faith. Through this conflict, all are called (Abram is a paradigm of faith/doubt/sin/trust, cf. Romans 4:0; Galatians 3:0).

E. Verse Genesis 15:6 is crucial to NT theology. It seems to be a comment or conclusion of the compiler of Abrams's story. Was this Moses' or a Patriarch's later conclusion (i.e., Jacob)? The real issue is not who, when, or how of the formation of Scripture, but is it God's truth or human speculation? Here is where the presuppositions of authority (i.e., inspiration) enter. Usually sinful people find God existentially and then search for more information about Him in Scripture. Scripture accounts are for us who have never seen! It gives a foundation and source for faith seeking understanding. Abram's life is a paradigm for all believers (OT saints and NT saints). When dealing with historical narrative, one must continue to ask, "why record this?" (See Fee and Stuart, How To Read the Bible For All Its Worth).

Verses 1-11

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 15:1-11 1After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, "Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great." 2Abram said, "O Lord GOD, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" 3And Abram said, "Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir." 4Then behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, "This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir." 5And He took him outside and said, "Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them." And He said to him, "So shall your descendants be." 6Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. 7And He said to him, "I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it." 8He said, "O Lord God, how may I know that I will possess it?" 9So He said to him, "Bring Me a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon." 10Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, and laid each half opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds. 11The birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, and Abram drove them away.

Genesis 15:1 It is difficult to know when to translate a text as prose or poetry. The only textual marker is "beat" (i.e., accented phrases), but this is a later development. Verse Genesis 15:1 is translated as poetry in NASB, JPSOA, NJB, NIV, but as prose in NKJV, NRSV, TEV, and REB. This same ambiguity is seen in Genesis 14:19-20.

The phrase "after these things" is ambiguous and recurrent (cf. Genesis 22:1; Genesis 22:20; Genesis 39:7; Genesis 40:1; Genesis 48:1). The individual narratives are linked together in Genesis in an eastern historical framework, not a modern western, sequential time sequence. See article: Old Testament Historiography Compared with Contemporary Near Eastern Cultures.

This is the first of two (cf. v Genesis 15:4) occurrences in Genesis of this very common phrase (i.e., "the word of the LORD came to. . .," cf. Genesis 15:4), which is found throughout the Prophets. It emphasizes that YHWH addressed Abram, apparently in a very specific and audible way (BDB 55). In this particular account it was by means of a night vision. See note at Genesis 15:1c below.

Abram is depicted as a person who receives divine revelation. The introductory formula is common in the Latter Prophets, but rare before them. Abram is even called a "prophet" (BDB 611) in Genesis 20:7. Prophets wrote Scripture. It has always been a theory of mine that Moses is not the sole author of the early parts of Genesis, but a compiler/editor. The imagery in Genesis 1-2 is Mesopotamian, not Egyptian. No Egyptian loan words appear until the life of Joseph. I think Moses used oral or written traditions dating back to Abram's day (i.e., the Patriarchs). He was a compiler and editor for much of this early history. The human writers use their culture and vocabulary, but the message is from Deity (i.e., inspiration).

"the LORD" YHWH is a form of the Hebrew VERB, "to be" (cf. Exodus 3:14). It seems to emphasize that God is the ever-living, only-living God. The rabbis assert that when God is addressed as YHWH, it speaks of His mercy and when He is addressed as Elohim, it speaks of His power as Creator. I like this theory much better that the "JEDP" theory of source criticism, which was so popular in the 18th - 20th centuries. See Special Topic: NAMES FOR DEITY.

"in a vision" This implies that it was at night, which is also supported by Genesis 15:5. With the remaining content of chapter 15, particularly Genesis 15:12, it is uncertain whether this vision came in one night or if it was spread out over two nights (i.e., two visions, Genesis 15:1-6, Genesis 15:7-21). The term "vision" (BDB 303) found here is different from "appeared" (BDB 906) found in Genesis 12:7. The term here is a rare one, found only in three chapters of the Bible, Genesis 15:1; Numbers 24:4, Numbers 24:16; and Ezekiel 13:7.

The NIDOTTE, vol. 4, p. 354, has an interesting summary of the ways YHWH reveals Himself in Genesis.

1. by words (BDB 55) - Genesis 12:1-3; Genesis 13:14-17; Genesis 21:12-13; Genesis 22:1-2

2. by visions - Genesis 15:1-6 (BDB 303); Genesis 46:2-4 (BDB 909 I)

3. by dreams - Genesis 20:3-7 (BDB 538); Genesis 28:12-15 (BDB 321); Genesis 31:10-13 (BDB 321), 24 (BDB 538)

4. theophanies, (lit. "appeared," BDB 906) - Genesis 12:7; Genesis 17:1; Genesis 18:1; Genesis 26:2, Genesis 26:24; Genesis 35:1, Genesis 35:9; Genesis 48:3

5. by the angel of YHWH (see Special Topic at Genesis 12:7) - Genesis 16:7-13; Genesis 21:17-19; Genesis 22:11-12, Genesis 22:15-18; Genesis 31:11

The methods vary, but the initiating revelations of Deity confront humanity, not for the sake of the individuals themselves, but for YHWH's redemptive plan to reach all peoples!

"do not fear, Abram" This VERB (BDB 431, KB 432, Qal IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense) is recurrent in Genesis (cf. Genesis 15:1; Genesis 21:17; Genesis 26:24; Genesis 46:3). YHWH knows sin has caused our hearts to fear (fear Him, fear life, fear ourselves). It is first used in Genesis 3:10 of Adam and Eve's fear of God after they sinned. The rabbis say that this fear is connected with chapter 14, particularly (1) fear of the battle; (2) fear of reprisal by the nations whose kings he killed; or (3) fear of God because he had taken human life. However, from the context of chapters 12 through 15 it is possible that the fear is connected with Abram's continued childlessness.

"I am a shield to you" This term "shield" (BDB 171) is a military term functioning as a metaphor for a "protector" or "provider" (cf. Psalms 3:3; Psalms 28:7; Psalms 33:20; Psalms 84:9; and 91:4). The term "shield" is etymologically related to the term "delivered" (BDB 171, cf. Genesis 14:20). For a good definition of the term "shield" see Deuteronomy 33:29. I prefer Luther's translation over the New American Standard Bible because he implies that the "shield" and "reward" are God Himself-"I Am both your shield and reward" (cf. NKJV). There is no stated VERB in this phrase.

"Your reward shall be very great" Abram had been tested with the desire for wealth and spoils in Genesis 15:3 and 14:21-24 and he rejected these materialistic opportunities. God had promised in chapter 12 both descendants and land. However, in this continuing affirmation of God's promise, God Himself is Abram's greatest possession (as He was for the later Levites, cf. Numbers 18:20; Deuteronomy 10:9).

Genesis 15:2 "O Lord GOD" This is the first time that the combination of these divine names appears together in the Bible. It occurs in Genesis only here and Genesis 15:8. They are literally "Adonai YHWH." We can see these names together in Deuteronomy 10:17. The term Adonai (lit. "my Lord," is used in Canaanite literature, but not other Semitic languages) seems to be much like the term Kurios in the NT, which implies "master," "husband," "owner," or "Lord." See Special Topic: NAMES FOR DEITY at Genesis 12:1.

There are several names for Deity which combine two names. However,

1. YHWH Elohim - Genesis 2:4

2. Adonai YHWH - Genesis 15:2

though often translated the same way in English, they are distinct in meaning and emphasis.

"what will You give me since I am childless" The focal point of Abram's concern was his continuing childlessness. His concern was based on God's initial promise in Genesis 12:1-3. The ancients saw childlessness as a curse from God, yet God was affirming Abram as the recipient of a special favor. Abram was seeking the physical manifestation of that promised favor.

The word "childless" (BDB 792) is a rare word. It is used only four times.

1. of Abram (not Sarai) - Genesis 15:2

2. as punishment for incest - Leviticus 20:20, Leviticus 20:21

3. metaphorically of Jehoiakim not being succeeded on the throne by one of his sons - Jeremiah 22:30

"and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus" There is a play on the rare Hebrew word for "heir" (משׁק), which may mean "acquisition" or "possession" (BDB 606, NIDOTTE, vol. 2, p. 971) and the term "Damascus" (דמשק, BDB 199). They sound similar in the Hebrew language. Some see this as being related to the Hurrian adoption customs found in the Nuzi Tablets from the second millennium B.C.

Some assume that "Eliezer" (BDB 451), which means "God is help," is the servant mentioned in Genesis 24:2.

The term (BDB 606) translated "heir" is a rare term. The normal VERB for "heir" (BDB 439, KB 441) is found in Genesis 15:4, Genesis 15:5 (twice), 7,8. They both mean "take possession of." This phrase is explained by Genesis 15:3.

Genesis 15:3 "Since You have given no offspring" Abram, by this repetition, shows the level of anxiety that he felt. Abram is a good example of faith mixed with doubt. Abram believed God, but that did not mean that he did not have questions about some aspects of His promises. God does not despise a sincere questioner! God would bring him through a series of trials and tests until Abram knew that his greatest possession was God Himself (esp. chapter 22).

Genesis 15:4 "but one who shall come forth from your own body" It must be noted that this is still twenty-five years in the future. It does assert specifically that the child will come from Abram, but it does not assert that he will come from Sarai. This is the cause of the complications found in chapter 16.

The translated phrase "from your own body" is literally "of your inward parts." This word (BDB 588) is used in several senses.

1. lower viscera - 2 Samuel 20:10; 2 Chronicles 21:15

2. stomach - Job 20:14; Ezekiel 3:3; Ezekiel 7:19; Jonah 1:17; Jonah 2:1; 2 Samuel 7:12; 2 Samuel 16:11

3. sex organs

a. male - Genesis 15:4

b. female - Isaiah 49:1

4. the physical location of human emotions - Song of Song of Solomon 5:4, Song of Solomon 5:14; Isaiah 16:11; Isaiah 63:15; Jeremiah 4:19; Jeremiah 31:20; Lamentations 2:11

Genesis 15:5 "Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them" God addressed Abram with two commands.

1. look - BDB 613, KB 661, Qal IMPERATIVE

2. count - BDB 707, KB 765, Qal IMPERATIVE

God's blessing would be abundant and evident (cf. Genesis 12:2; Genesis 17:2).

God used several metaphors with which Abram would have been familiar to describe the abundance of his descendants.

1. dust (cf. Genesis 13:16; Genesis 28:14; Numbers 23:10)

2. stars (cf. Genesis 15:5; Genesis 22:17; Genesis 26:4)

3. sand (cf. Genesis 22:17 and Genesis 32:12)

From the promise of Genesis 12:3 and the concept of "a kingdom of priests" (cf. Exodus 19:5-6) to the universal prophecies of Isaiah (cf. Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6; Isaiah 51:4), Abraham's family would be much bigger than anyone dreamed. It would include believing Gentiles (cf. Luke 2:32; Acts 13:47; Acts 26:23; Romans 2:28-29; Romans 4:0; Galatians 3:7-9, Galatians 3:29).

Genesis 15:6 "Then he believed in the LORD" This is not to imply that Abram did not believe back in chapter 12, for he did leave Ur and follow God. But, here the term "believe" (BDB 52, KB 63, Hiphil PERFECT, which denotes a life of trust, not just this one act) is from the root אמנ, from which we get "amen." The root means "to be strong" or "to lean upon." Abraham put his complete trust in the promise of God that he would have descendants. It was an act of faith without sight (cf. Genesis 22:16, Genesis 22:18; Hebrews 11:1). Abram took God at His word, by faith, without demanding physical sight. This is extremely important because this becomes the basis of Paul's argument of justification by grace through faith found in Romans 4:0 and Galatians 3:0. Paul also uses Habakkuk 2:4 in Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11 and the author of Hebrews in Gen. 10:38. It seems that the essence of the term is "Abraham leaned upon YHWH and not upon himself." Throughout this section of Genesis is emphasized again and again that it is God's initiating love, not human resources, which is required for their salvation. The term "believed" can be translated in English by three words: believe, trust, and faith (cf. Exodus 4:5, Exodus 4:31; Deuteronomy 1:32; 2 Chronicles 20:20; Isaiah 43:10, relates to Messiah in Isaiah 28:16 and refers to unbelief in Numbers 14:11; Numbers 20:12; Deuteronomy 9:23; 2 Kings 17:14; Psalms 78:22). It seems that the essence of the OT term is found in "trust" or "trustworthiness," not focused in ourselves, but in the faithfulness of God and His promises.

Notice Abram believes

1. in the Lord (personal relationship)

2. in His word (propositional revelation)

It has been helpful for me to characterize biblical faith as

1. faith in a person (YHWH/Christ)

2. trust in the truths about that person (the Bible)

3. living a life like that person (OT obedience/Christlikeness)

All three are crucial, not optional!

SPECIAL TOPIC: Believe, Trust, Faith, and Faithfulness in the Old Testament (אמן)

"and He reckoned it to him" The term "reckoned" (BDB 362, KB 359, Qal IMPERFECT) can mean "counted" or "considered." It is used quite often by the priests in connection with the sacrifices (cf. Leviticus 7:18; Leviticus 17:4; and Numbers 18:27). As a person brought a sacrifice to the priest, the sacrifice was counted or reckoned on the person's behalf. God counted unto Abram His own righteousness, thereby fully accepting him.

"as righteousness" This term (BDB 842) originally meant a "measuring reed" and thereby it came to refer to a standard of measurement. God Himself is that standard of measurement, therefore, most of the Hebrew and Greek words for "sin" mean a deviation from the standard of God's own righteousness. This term has developed in its meaning.

1. it meant God's moral nature as can be seen clearly in the eighth century Prophets

2. it came to mean God's help for the helpless (cf. Psalms 10:16-18 and 72:12). This concept is further developed in Jesus' day by almsgiving (cf. Matthew 6:1)

3. the last major usage of this term "righteousness" applies to spiritual salvation. This is particularly noted in Isaiah 40-55 and Paul's use in the NT. Paul speaks of our righteousness with God based solely on God's initiating love and our faith response in Romans 4:3 and Galatians 3:6.

4. we can see the continuing use of this term in James 2:14-16

Here the word is used, not in the sense of "sinlessness," but that Abram's trust in YHWH's promises had opened the door for a trusting/faithful relationship to continue. This was not Abram's first (or last) act of trusting YHWH. Abram's reception of YHWH's initiating promises allowed an intimate fellowship to develop and deepen.


Genesis 15:7 "I Am the LORD" This is YHWH, the special covenant name for Deity. See Special Topic at Genesis 12:1.

"who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans" There is some discrepancy over the location of where God first spoke to Abram. It was either in Ur or in Haran. Compare Genesis 11:31-1 with Nehemiah 9:7 and Acts 7:2. Some even try to assert that God spoke with Terah, Abram's father, in Ur and to Abram in Haran, but I think this is an inappropriate understanding. It is surely possible that a revelation came at both Ur and Haran. Also, at this point, I would like to mention how precisely the books of Genesis and Deuteronomy fit into the culture of the second millennium B.C., particularly the Hittite/Suzeraine treaty formulas. These historical documents, along with Nuzi and Mari tablets, have shown us how culturally appropriate Genesis 15:2, Genesis 15:17, and Genesis 16:2 were in their own day. The historicity of the Patriarchs is confirmed in light of recent archaeological finds.

As so often in these early chapters of Genesis, later names of cities and countries are used. The name Chaldean is not used of a people in Mesopotamia (i.e., southern Babylon) until the sixth century B.C. Israeli scribes were trained in Egypt, where scribes felt free to update the texts they copied (not so with Mesopotamian scribes).

Genesis 15:8 "how may I know that I shall possess it" Abram, whose faith had been counted as righteousness in Genesis 15:6, now expresses his need for confirmation (cf. Genesis 15:2-3). This is theologically significant. God accepted Abram, not because of his perfect faith, but because of God's perfect love. Even amidst doubt God accepted him and, so too, us (cf. John 20:24-29). Abram is/was serving a larger theological purpose (i.e., redemptive paradigm).

Genesis 15:9 Abram is commanded (BDB 542, KB 534, Qal IMPERATIVE) to bring several animal sacrifices.

1. a three year old heifer

2. a three year old female goat

3. a three year old ram

4. a turtledove

5. a young pigeon

The exact reason for these specific animals is uncertain. They are mentioned later in the Mosaic legislation, which may mean that they had a cultural significance that we do not fully understand. In Genesis 15:10 they are cut in half and laid opposite each other, except for the birds. This was the cultural norm for "cutting" a covenant (see Special Topic at Genesis 13:14, cf. Jeremiah 34:18). Some have assumed that the animal's death was a way of warning the participants of the covenant of what would happen to them if they broke the stipulations of the covenant. However, this is uncertain.

Genesis 15:11 "The birds of prey came down upon the carcases" There has been much discussion among commentators about why Genesis 15:11 is recorded. Some of the theories are:

1. they are symbolic of Abram's doubts

2. they are symbolic of Israel's enemies (cf. Ezekiel 17:3, Ezekiel 17:7, Ezekiel 17:12)

3. it took several hours for God to manifest Himself and this is simply a sign of the historicity of the account (i.e., the presence of dead animals caused flesh-eating birds to appear)

For me, because I am so nervous about allegories and typologies which are not mentioned specifically in the NT, number 3 seems to be the best option. Note these offerings were not burnt. This was a covenant ceremony, not a sacrifice.

"and Abram drove them away" It seems very strange that the Hebrew VERB "blew them away" (BDB 674, KB 728, Hiphil IMPERFECT) should be used here. This metaphor was often used of God (cf. Psalms 147:18; Isaiah 40:7), but how this is connected with Abram's action is uncertain.

Verses 12-16

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 15:12-16 12Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him. 13God said to Abram, "Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. 14But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions. 15As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age. 16Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete."

Genesis 15:12 "Now when the sun was going down" This implies that a new day was beginning (cf. Genesis 1:5). Exactly how long this vision lasted is uncertain, but it may cover two nights and one day (see note at Genesis 15:1c).

"a deep sleep fell upon Abram" This is the same Hebrew phrase (BDB 922) that is used concerning the deep sleep that fell upon Adam when God took one of his ribs to create Eve (cf. Genesis 2:21). This VERB implies a divinely initiated unconsciousness in preparation for revelation (cf. Job 4:13; Job 33:15).

NASB“terror and great darkness" NKJV“horror and great darkness" NRSV“a deep and terrifying darkness" TEV“fear and terror" NJB“a deep and dark dread"

The term "terror" (BDB 33, KB 41) means fright, horror, terror, dread. It is often used in poetic passages of God's terror.

1. to enemies - Exodus 15:16; Exodus 23:27

2. to Job - 9:34; 13:21

3. to Israel - Deuteronomy 32:25; Psalms 88:16

The term "darkness" (השכח, BDB 365, KB 362 and its related root חשכ) relates to

1. cosmic darkness - Genesis 1:2

2. one of the plagues of the Exodus - Exodus 10:21

3. death/underworld - Psalms 139:7-12

4. disaster - Job 15:22-30; Job 20:26; Isaiah 8:22; Isaiah 50:10

5. God's hiddenness - Psalms 18:11

6. lack of revelation - Micah 3:6

Again, there have been several interpretations of this phrase.

1. that although God's promises were wonderful it would be a long, hard road to fulfillment

2. that humans are always physically drained after God's revelations of the future; this is true of Daniel and many of the other prophets

3. that God was approaching, which is always frightening (cf. Job 4:12-21)

Genesis 15:13 "Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs" The phrase "know for certain" is the result of the combination of the INFINITE ABSOLUTE and the IMPERFECT VERB of the same root (BDB 393, KB 390), "to know," which is a grammatical way to show emphasis. YHWH is answering Abram's question of Genesis 15:8. There is still a faith/doubt struggle in Abram! This does not offend God!

Notice that the land of Egypt is not mentioned specifically. The term "strangers" means "sojourners" (BDB 158) or someone who has limited rights because they are not official citizens of a nation. YHWH is predicting the Egyptian experience. Faith in God does not mean an easy life! God's promises are delayed and often misunderstood, but faith remains.

"they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years" There seems to be a discrepancy between this verse, which is mentioned in Acts 7:6 in Stephen's speech, and Exodus 12:40, which mentions the number 430 and is quoted by Paul in Galatians 3:17. The Septuagint and the Samaritan Pentateuch take this 430 year period as the Patriarch's sojourn both in Canaan and Egypt. It is possible that the number 400 is simply a round number. The rabbis say that it extends from the birth of Isaac until the Exodus. It must be taken into account that Genesis 15:16 mentions the fourth generation and, from our best computation, that is exactly how long this period lasted.

Genesis 15:14 "But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve and afterwards they will come out with many possessions" This is amply fulfilled in Genesis 15:2 and 12:35-56. These very possessions consisted of the gold, silver, bronze, and jewelry that was used to construct the tabernacle and its furniture (cf. Exodus 25-40).

This text cannot be used to assert that faith always produces wealth. Initially prosperity was a way to attract the nations to YHWH. However, the focus was never on the prosperity, but on the faith relationship. One of my favorite commentators, Gordon Fee, himself a charismatic, denounces the use of proof-texts such as this to preach a "health, wealth, prosperity" gospel. His booklet is penetrating (i.e., The Disease of the Health and Wealth Gospels).

Genesis 15:15 "you shall go to your father in peace" The Hebrew term "peace" (BDB 1022) denotes a contention with the life and God (see Special Topic following). God promises Abraham that he will live to a ripe, old age and will die a gentle death. There is also the question of what it means to be "gathered to your fathers." It is obviously a reference to Sheol (cf. Deuteronomy 32:50), but some wonder if it means that in Sheol families are together. This may be reading too much into this passage because Abram's parents were not YHWHists and, therefore, may be in a different part of Hades or Sheol. We are uncertain about the afterlife and the biblical terms of Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, and exactly how they relate to each other in an intermediate state.

SPECIAL TOPIC: Where Are the Dead?


Genesis 15:16 "for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete" This shows that God was continuing to try to bring the Canaanite population of the Promised Land to Himself. Melchizedek was a Canaanite. Only after adequate opportunity and time does God judge them and remove them. This is not an act of favoritism toward the Jews, for when they take up the practices of the Canaanites, they are also removed from the land (i.e., the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles).

Amorite and Canaanite are both used as a way to refer to all the tribes of Canaan. In a sense this text is a foreshadow of the conflict that will occur when Israel conquers the land, but is itself conquered by Canaanite idolatry. This foreshadowing is similar to Genesis 9:20-27, esp. Gen. 15:25. It is Ham who sins, but his son Canaan who is cursed. Canaanite culture is the problem. Many, most, if not all, of the regulations in the Pentateuch are related to Canaanite culture and worship. Israel was to be distinct! Israel was to reveal YHWH!

How this got into the text of Genesis is that either

1. God is preparing them for future events

2. a later scribe added these comments to highlight his own day

Just a note, when I mention a later scribe or editor this is not meant to depreciate "inspiration." I assume the Spirit guided all the writers, editors, scribes, and the compilers! The real author of Scripture is God. Exactly how, when, and who of the historical process is unknown (lost to history).

Verses 17-21

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 15:17-21 17It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces. 18On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your descendants I have given this land, From the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates: 19the Kenite and the Kenizzite and the Kadmonite 20and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Rephaim 21and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Girgashite and the Jebusite."

Genesis 15:17 "there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between the pieces" YHWH appeared to Abram in a form which he would have understood culturally. A smoking oven seems to be

1. a means of hiding YHWH's presence (i.e., the Shekinah Cloud of Glory of the Exodus)

2. a symbol of deity which provided protection in the Akkadian curse tablets

3. a symbol of both judgment and protection (cf. Zechariah 12:6)

4. in Mesopotamia this symbolism represented divine purification.

Inside the oven was fire. God is often associated with fire, not only in the biblical account, but also in Zoroastrianism. I personally believe that this oven is connected with the fact that most covenants are ratified by a covenant meal and this oven symbolized that meal. Also, it is theologically significant to notice that Abram does not pass between the pieces; only God does. This is another inference that the covenant is from God's resources and not human effort, merit, and resources. This was a God-initiated, God-performed covenant (cf. 2 Samuel 7:8-16; Psalms 89:20-37).


Genesis 15:18 "On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram" The term "to make" literally means "to cut" (BDB 503, KB 500, Qal PERFECT). This term cut is not etymologically related to the word in Genesis 15:10 (BDB 144, KB 167), but it does become a standard, biblical metaphor for "making a covenant."


"covenant" "Covenant" (BDB 136) becomes a central motif of biblical literature. It speaks of both promises and obligations on the part of both God and humanity. There is a unique combination of conditional and unconditional aspects to covenants in the biblical material. Are the covenants conditional or unconditional? Yes! It seems that God's unconditional love is dependent on mankind's faith and repentant response (cf. Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:0; Mark 1:15; Acts 3:16, Acts 3:19; Acts 20:21). This seems somewhat paradoxical, but it is God's way of working with sinful mankind. See Special Topic: Covenant.

"From the river of Egypt" Usually, this refers to the Nile River, but in the context of other biblical promises of the boundaries of the Promised Land, it must mean the "wadi El-arish" (cf. Numbers 34:5 and Joshua 15:4). These dimensions of the Promised Land were partially fulfilled in David's day, but more completely in Solomon's (cf. 1 Kings 4:21).

Genesis 15:19-21 We find the listing here of ten tribes which made up the Canaanite population. Sometimes the number of these tribes varies: (1) Joshua 24:11 has 7 tribes; (2) Exodus 3:17 has 6 tribes; and (3) Exodus 23:28 lists 3 tribes. The exact number is uncertain, but it is obvious that the term "Amorite," which means "highlander," or the term "Canaanite," which means "lowlander," becomes a corporate term for all of the tribes. See Special Topic: PRE-ISRAELITE INHABITANTS OF PALESTINE at Genesis 12:6.

Genesis 15:20 "Hittite" From Genesis 10:15 we see that these people came from Heth (BDB 366). They later formed a major empire in central Turkey.

"the Rephaim" These seem to be very tall human beings (BDB 952, cf. Joshua 12:4; Joshua 17:15; 1 Chronicles 20:4) like the Anakim (cf. Genesis 15:1 and 3:11) and possibly the Nephilim (cf. Genesis 6:0 and Numbers 13:33). See Special Topic: Terms Used for Tall/Powerful Warriors or People Groups.

Genesis 15:21 "the Jebusite" These are the inhabitants of Jerusalem who will remain unconquered until David's day (BDB 101, cf. Judges 1:21; Judges 19:11; 2 Samuel 5:6ff). See Special Topic: Salem, Jebus, Jerusalem.


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. Explain and define in your terms the significant words used in Genesis 15:6. Relate this to Romans 4:0 and Galatians 3:0.

2. Why do so many people allegorize Genesis 15:11?

3. What is the significance of God appearing to Abraham as a smoking oven and a flaming torch (Genesis 15:17)?

4. Why are the tribes of Canaan listed differently (cf. Genesis 15:19-21)?

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Genesis 15". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/genesis-15.html. 2021.
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