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

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary



The narrative of this chapter is remarkable for its visional symbolism and far-reaching lessons of divine revelation. Here, for the first time, occurs that profound expression, “the Word of Jehovah,” significant of the self-revealing of God through Him who “was in the beginning with God.” John 1:2. This “Word” is the more impressive here as coming to Abram in “a vision . ” Possibly Abram lay down to sleep under the open sky, heavy and despondent over the uncertainty of the divine promises touching his seed . In his dreams the Lord speaks loudly to him, and impresses the spoken word by a soul-stirring vision of his power . Comp . Numbers 12:6. He arouses from his sleep with the profound spell of the vision still upon him and gives utterance to the words of Genesis 15:2-3. Then “behold,” (Genesis 15:4,) the WORD again speaks, and pledges him an heir, and under the power and leading of this Word, he cannot sleep, but rises and walks abroad under the night sky; and again the WORD tells him to look on high and number the stars, if he would know the number of his posterity. Genesis 15:5. The fulness and force of the revelation dispel all doubt, and he passes from the gloomy state of dubious “fear” (Genesis 15:1) to the righteousness of faith. Genesis 15:6. All the rest of the night he seems to have communed with God, and with the break of the morning asked to have his faith deepened and intensified into knowledge, (Genesis 15:8,) and in answer to that yearning, the covenant, by means of five representative sacrificial offerings, (Genesis 15:9,) is visibly established between Jehovah and Abram. Genesis 15:10-18. Here we note the symbolism of cutting a covenant. All day long the “Friend of God” is busy in preparing the victims, and keeping off the birds of prey, (Genesis 15:11,) and the shadows of another evening begin to gather round him, when he falls into a deep, prophetic, trance-sleep, (Genesis 15:12,) in which his soul is made to feel the terror of some of the dark aspects of his vision. Along with that sense of horror comes the verbal prediction of Israel’s bondage and exodus, together with the doctrine that God is the great ruler and judge of nations. Genesis 15:13-16. The whole vision closes with the movement of smoke and fire symbols of God’s presence between the pieces, (Genesis 15:17,) thus sealing the covenant, and giving Abram to “know of a surety” (comp. Genesis 15:8; Genesis 15:13) the promise of his great inheritance, and ten Canaanitish nations are mentioned as types of world-powers to be destroyed before the ultimate triumph of the chosen seed.

Verse 1

1. After these things After the exciting events of the last chapter Abram returned to the oak grove of Mamre, and seems to have grown despondent . He had implicitly confided in Jehovah, and would not entangle himself with the nations around him beyond the simple alliances of mutual friendship . But where was his reward? The years passed on and he remained childless, and yet Jehovah had promised to make his seed as the dust of the earth . Genesis 13:16. It would have been only human, under such circumstances, to yield to doubts and fears, and the recent invasion of the Eastern kings may well have impressed him with a feeling of insecurity and danger. Under such circumstances a fresh revelation from Jehovah was especially opportune.

The word of the Lord came “This is the first time in which the word of the Lord is said to “come” (Hebrews, to be) unto man. The ancient Jews regarded all the manifestations of Jehovah as made through his Word, or through the Shechinah, and hence the Targums often translate Lord by Word of the Lord where there is such manifestation. God is also often said to reveal himself by his angel, or messenger; and yet this angel is identified with him, as Jacob wrestled with an angel in the form of man, (Genesis 32:24,) who yet is called God . Genesis 32:28-30. Hagar receives a communication from an angel whom yet she names God. Genesis 16:7; Genesis 16:13. The promised Messiah was to be the ‘angel of mighty counsel,’ (Isaiah 9:5, in LXX,) the ‘angel of the covenant,’ (Malachi 3:1,) and when at last the ‘Word was made flesh’ these Old Testament adumbrations of the Incarnation were understood as they could not have been by patriarchs and prophets. The God revealed was ever the Word, afterwards Incarnate, although they knew it not.” HENGST. Christol., 3: 2.

Vision All the incidents of this chapter may have passed before Abram in vision, that is, “in a state of ecstasy by an inward spiritual intuition, and that not in a nocturnal vision, as in Genesis 46:2, but in the daytime.” Keil. But more likely it continued through one day and parts of two nights. See note at the beginning of the chapter.

Fear not. Why this admonition? 1) The flesh shrinks when the purest are brought face to face with God. So Daniel, (Daniel 10:19,) Mary, (Luke 1:30,) and John, (Revelation 1:17,) shrank before their wondrous revelations, and heard the strengthening words, “Fear not.” 2) Abram had just fought and vanquished the confederate kings of the East (chap. 14,) in order to rescue Lot, his “brother,” and would naturally fear a rally and return of these powerful chiefs.

I am thy shield A mighty defence against all earthly foes. With such a cover, why fear?

Exceeding great reward Or, thy reward shall be great exceedingly; grow greater and greater with the coming years. “There is here a double promise, 1) of protection from evil, and 2) bestowal of good. God would be a shield between him and all his foes, and would be himself a reward ‘great exceedingly’ (not simply bestow rewards) for his obedience and trust. He was childless and landless, but JEHOVAH himself, the Self-existent, would be his inheritance.” Newhall.

Verse 2

2. Abram said Abram’s words here betray a sort of doubt and some trouble .

Lord God Hebrews, Adonai Jehovah, words occurring in this connexion here for the first time . The same combination of the words occur elsewhere in the Pentateuch only at Genesis 15:8; Deuteronomy 3:24, and Genesis 9:26; and in all these instances the words are a direct address to God .

What wilt thou give me What is that “great reward” to be? All the riches of the earth are worthless to me without an heir .

I go childless The expression may mean either, I continue childless, that is, go on in life without issue; or, I go forth childless; that is, as one of the Targums has it, go forth out of the world without an heir.

The steward of my house Hebrews, A son of possession of my house. The one who would have the possessions of my house, on my decease, would be my principal servant, and overseer of my entire household.

This Eliezer of Damascus Hebrews, this Damascus Eliezer; or, he of Damascus, Eliezer. This Eliezer is commonly supposed to be the eldest servant of Abram’s house mentioned in Genesis 24:2, and the supposition is every way probable . When Abram departed from Haran and came into the land of Canaan he would naturally have passed through Damascus . An old tradition related by Nicolaus of Damascus, (see Josephus, Ant. 1: 7,) associates the Hebrew patriarch with that city, and this Eliezer may have been born in Abram’s household while he tarried in or near Damascus, and thence have been known afterward as the Damascene. Kitto’s notion, (see Kitto’s Cyc.,) that he was a relative of Abram nearer than Lot, and therefore first heir to his possessions, seems far-fetched, and altogether unnecessary. The patriarchal law of inheritance seems to have preferred the members of the household before any other relations. The Mosaic law of inheritance (Numbers 27:8-11) was a later institution; but even if prevalent in Abram’s time, it applied to landed estates rather than moveable possessions . Abram was now utterly cut off from native land and kindred, and not yet owning a foot of land, he would not contemplate the passing over of his flocks and herds and other riches to any but his own dependents .

Verse 3

3. One born in my house Hebrews, a son of my house . Abram here refers again to Eliezer, whom he has just called a son of possession of my house; and this confirms our view stated above, that the oldest servant of a childless patriarch was regarded as the principal heir .

Verse 4

4. Behold How vivid the revelation!

This shall not be thine heir Such an express answer touching his heir was potent to quell all further doubt and fear .

Verse 5

5. Brought him forth abroad Whether in vision, or on the night following the day of the vision of Genesis 15:1, has been disputed . Either supposition is allowable, and some think the whole transaction occupied two nights and one day . Another view is, to regard the whole transaction up to Genesis 15:12 as a vision of the daytime . See note at the beginning of the chapter .

Tell the stars Rather, number the stars . The Lord had promised him posterity numberless as the grains of dust, (Genesis 13:16;) now he compares their number to the stars. “God does not tell him how, but a third time, more emphatically and sublimely than ever, the great promise is repeated, and Abram is led forth, ‘whether in the body or out of the body’ it matters not, to look into the deep Asiatic heavens, and the stars are pointed out to him as emblems of his seed.

So shall thy seed be In numbers, in heavenly splendor. No proof or evidence whatever is offered him, nothing but the naked word of God.” Newhall.

Verse 6

6. He believed “Hebrews, and he trusted in Jehovah, and he counted it to him righteousness,” or it was counted, (one counted,) so Sept . , followed by Paul in Romans 4:3. A weighty comment of the inspired historian, which unifies the patriarchal, Mosaic, and Christian dispensations, as shown by Paul in the Epistle to the Romans . He is landless and childless, yet in the word of JEHOVAH, the SELF-EXISTENT, he has land and seed . This special act of trust in God, this signal instance of naked faith, (not Abram’s general or habitual faith,) was reckoned as righteous: not only by God, but in all generations of the faithful it stands forth as a monument of Abram’s righteousness. There is a parallel passage in Psalms 106:30, where the deed of Phinehas, in executing God’s judgment, is commended, ‘and that was counted to him for righteousness,’ that is, this single act called for God’s special approval . So here, Abram’s trust in God’s simple word is stamped as righteousness, because such faith is the root of all virtues, it is the central source of the godly life, without which all outward works are as plants having no root . As Abram, in darkness and discouragement trusted God for the blessings promised him, and thus received God’s approval and this monumental position among believers, so, as Paul shows us, shall we be reckoned righteous if, in our darkness, we believe on Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, Romans 4:24. ” Newhall .

Verse 7

7. I…

brought thee out of Ur Jehovah now reminds Abram of the past, and assures him of the former pledge to give him that land for an inheritance . As if to say: “I have had a purpose with thee from the beginning of thy wanderings, and will I be likely to let it fail?”

Verse 8

8. Whereby shall I know Abram would pass from belief to knowledge . He would have some visible token or sign . “Even where there is much faith, a man may distrust himself; may feel that, though now the belief is strong, yet ere long the first impression, and so the firm conviction, may fade away . Thus Gideon, (Judges 6:17,) Hezekiah, (2 Kings 20:8,) the blessed Virgin, (Luke 1:34,) asked a sign in confirmation of their faith, and, as here to Abram, it was graciously given them . ” Speaker’s Commentary .

Verse 9

9. Take me Select for me . Not any of the animals taken at random is a suitable victim for sacrifice, or for symbolic revelations .

Heifer… goat… ram… Three separate animals representing the three classes of animals suitable for sacrificial offering, and each to be three years old, the age of full maturity and vigour . The fowls suitable for sacrifice were to be represented by a turtle-dove and a young pigeon. These two kinds of fowls were also adopted among the Mosaic offerings . Comp . Leviticus 1:14; Leviticus 5:7; Leviticus 12:8.

Verse 10

10. Divided them in the midst Cut them into two halves, and placed the portions opposite to each other, with space enough for one to walk between . This explains the Hebrew expression כרת ברית , to cut a covenant . See Genesis 15:18. The two parts of the victim seem to have represented the two parties to the covenant; and when the two parties thus covenanting passed between the pieces, their union was represented as sealed by the blood of life. Comp. Jeremiah 34:18, and see further on Genesis 15:17.

Birds divided he not So also the Mosaic law, Leviticus 1:17. Probably Abram laid the dove on one side and the pigeon on the other, as if they were two pieces.

Verse 11

11. Fowls came down Birds of prey, seeking to devour the carcasses. These unclean birds may be regarded as types of the enemies of the chosen seed, and Abram’s driving them away until the darkness of evening came on, was a sign that the covenant people would be delivered from the destruction threatened by their foes . Some see in these birds of prey a type of the Egyptians .

Verse 12

12. When the sun was going down Hebrews, was about to go down . All day long had Abram been busy selecting the victims, slaying them, and placing them in order . See introductory note to the chapter . Now night comes on again, and a deep sleep fell upon Abram A profound slumber, like that which fell on Adam when Jehovah God would take one of his ribs . Genesis 2:21. This sleep was superinduced by divine agency, and is called in the Sept . an ecstasy . It doubtless served a special purpose in conveying or impressing the word of God upon his soul .

And, lo, a horror of great darkness fell upon him Both the horror and the darkness seem to have been a deepening effect of the manner of the vision . The language used cannot legitimately mean that “when he awoke he was terrified by the dense darkness which surrounded him . ” Kalisch. The horror and darkness were rather a part of the vision of his sleep.

Verse 13

13. Thy seed shall be a stranger The Egyptian bondage is here foretold . That oppressive, but important, period in the history of the chosen seed, and its duration, is stated in round numbers as four hundred years. In Exodus 12:40, it is said that “the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years.” There we have the exact statement of history; here the more general one of prophecy. For the question of chronology here involved, see note on Exodus 12:40.

Verse 14

14. That nation… will I judge As seen in the history of the plagues of Egypt. Come out with great substance See Exodus 12:31-36.

Verse 15

15. Go to thy fathers A profound expression, suggestive of reunion in another and immortal life . Comp . Genesis 25:8; Gen 39:29; Genesis 49:33. To go to one’s father or people implies that they were somewhere living still . That the words do not here mean being buried in the ancestral tomb is evident from the fact that Abram was not buried with his father; and then, in all the passages cited above, the burial is mentioned as subsequent and distinct .

A good old age One hundred and seventy-five years old; Genesis 25:7-8.

Verse 16

16. In the fourth generation Evidently reckoning one hundred years as an average generation among these patriarchs .

For the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full Another sentence of profound significance . The Amorites were the most powerful and widespread of all the inhabitants of Canaan, and are here named as representing all the Canaanitish tribes . Their origin is noted in Genesis 10:16, where see note . Those who “dwelt in Hazezon-tamar” had been recently smitten by the eastern invaders . Genesis 14:7. But Abram was at this time confederate with one of their princes, (Genesis 14:13,) and the presence of such saintly characters as Melchizedek preserved the many from utter moral degeneracy and ruin . But Melchizedek would depart, and Abram’s seed be removed from the land, and the nations would fill up the cup of their iniquity and become ripe for destruction . In this verse Murphy notes the following lessons: “1) The Lord foreknows the moral character of men. 2) In his providence he administers the affairs of nations on the principles of moral rectitude. 3) Nations are spared until their iniquity is full. 4) They are then cut off in retributive justice.”

Verse 17

17. When the sun went down, and it was dark The progress of time is marked; in Genesis 15:12, when the sun was going down; here when it went down, and darkness was on all things. The Hebrew word for darkness in this verse is different from that so rendered in Genesis 15:12. There it means soul darkness; here night’s darkness.

A smoking furnace Hebrews, an oven of smoke. According to Jahn, the tannur, here rendered furnace, was a moveable oven, constructed of brick, and plastered within and without with clay. The burning lamp is not to be regarded as another and distinct object, separate from the furnace. A better version is, flames of fire. The thing seen was a moving oven, from the top of which issued a flame of fire in the midst of a cloud of smoke. Like the pillar of cloud and fire, (Exodus 13:21,) this smoke and flame were symbols of the presence and power of Jehovah; not solely “symbols of the wrath of God,” (Keil,) nor yet to be construed as “the smoke of destruction, and the light of salvation . ” Murphy . All these thoughts lie in the background, but the great thought is, that Jehovah himself, by these symbols of his personal presence and manifestation, condescends to covenant with Abram, and passed between those pieces. God’s penal judgments may well be symbolized by a smoking furnace, (comp . Genesis 19:28; Malachi 4:1,) and flaming fire may denote either the consuming wrath (Psalms 89:46; Lamentations 2:3) or the salvation of God, (Isaiah 62:1:) and Jehovah’s presence and power among his covenant people would be displayed in both these ways avenging them on their enemies when they were injured, and chastening and smiting them when they sinned .

Verse 18

18. Made a covenant Hebrews, cut a covenant, in allusion to the cutting of the victims into pieces and passing between them . Abram had passed between the pieces before the sun went down, and now Jehovah completes the cutting of the covenant by causing the burning symbols of his presence to pass between the pieces and repeating, for the fourth time, Unto thy seed have I given this land. Comp . Genesis 15:7; Genesis 15:12, and Genesis 7:13; Genesis 7:15. The utmost boundaries of the land are here given as the river of Egypt on the southwest, unto the great river, the river Euphrates, on the north-east. The designation of the Euphrates as the great river favours the opinion that the river of Egypt is not the Nile, which was also great, but the wady-el-Arish, called the river (or brook נחל ) of Egypt, in Joshua 15:4. This view is further confirmed by the fact that the dominion of Israel did actually extend, in Solomon’s time, between these borders, (see 1 Kings 4:24,) but never extended to the Nile . Most commentators, however, understand the Nile here, and think these two great rivers are mentioned in a general way, as representing the two great nations or world-powers on the east and west of Canaan.

Verse 19

19. Kenites… Kenizzites… Kadmonites Ten nations are now mentioned as occupying this vast territory, seven of whom (those mentioned Genesis 15:20-21) have been previously noticed . The number ten, occurring in such a prophecy as this, may well be understood to have some symbolistic significance . It seems to be the symbolic number of completed development in godless worldly empire and rule, as the toes of the image in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, (Daniel 2:42,) and the ten horns of the fourth beast . Daniel 7:7; Daniel 7:20; Daniel 7:24. Comp . Revelation 13:1; Revelation 17:3; Revelation 17:12. These ten heathen nations rise in prophetic vision before Abram, as representing all that long line of opposing world-forces which shall make war upon the godly seed, but in the end of the ages be overcome, so that “the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High.” Daniel 7:27. “ The Kenites inhabited rocky and mountainous tracts in the south and south-west of Palestine, near the territory of the Amalekites . Numbers 24:21. They may have spread, in a western direction, to the land of Egypt; so that by their expulsion the frontiers of the promised land would have nearly touched the valley of the Nile . ” Kalisch . Moses’s father-in-law was of this tribe, and some of his descendants journeyed with the children of Israel, (Judges 1:16, see note,) and settled in the north of Palestine . Judges 4:11; Judges 5:24. In Saul’s time a friendly feeling was still shown toward them on account of ancient kindness, 1 Samuel 15:6; comp . 1 Samuel 27:11; 1 Samuel 30:29. Of the Kenizzites we have no other mention, and they were probably destroyed at an early date . The name of the Kadmonites would seem to designate them as eastern, and it is plausibly conjectured that they occupied the eastern part of the territory here given to Abram’s seed . No other mention of their name occurs .

Verse 20

20. Hittites Descendants of Heth . See on Genesis 10:15.

Perizzites See on Genesis 13:7.

Rephaim See on Genesis 14:5. For an account of the tribes mentioned in Genesis 15:21, see on Genesis 10:16; Genesis 10:19.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Genesis 15". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/genesis-15.html. 1874-1909.
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