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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Genesis 15

 

 

Introduction

Genesis 15. The Promise to Abraham of an Heir and the Land.—The analysis presents well-nigh insoluble difficulties, and critics are much divided as to details. It is generally agreed that elements from J and E have been combined, this being the first instance where E can be definitely traced. The opening of E is no longer preserved; the editor began to draw on it at the point where he found it serviceable. The story in Genesis 15:7 ff. is not a continuation of that in Genesis 15:1-6. The latter takes place by night (Genesis 15:5), the former begins in the daytime and ends after sunset. Twice over we have a promise of great prosperity. In Genesis 15:6 Abraham trusts God's promise; it is strange that in Genesis 15:8 he asks for it to be confirmed. Genesis 15:7 is also more natural at the beginning than in the middle of a revelation. But Genesis 15:1-6 is not itself a unity. "Yahweh" points to J, "in a vision" to E. Genesis 15:2 a and Genesis 15:3 a are practically doublets of Genesis 15:2 b and Genesis 15:3 b. But no agreement has been reached as to the analysis. Genesis 15:7-21 exhibits slight traces of E, but consists for the most part of J and later expansions. The chapter records how, in response to Abraham's misgivings, Yahweh promises him an heir and an innumerable posterity, and makes a covenant with him to assure him that his seed shall possess the land.


Verses 1-6

Genesis 15:1-6. From some unnamed cause Abraham is afraid; Yahweh encourages him in a vision with the assurance of Divine protection; some deed is deemed worthy of the promise, "thy reward shall be exceeding great" (mg.). "But what reward," he answers, "O Lord Yahweh, wilt thou give that can be of value to me? since I go hence (mg.) childless, and my heir is a home-born slave." To die without a child was to have one's name rooted out on earth. In Sheol there was continuance of bare existence, but no life in any real sense of the term (Isaiah 14:9-15*); hence the ancient Hebrew felt that if he did not live in his posterity death meant the end of life. Yahweh tells him that a son of his own begetting shall be his heir, and, bringing him out of his tent to look at the starry sky, affirms that his seed shall be similarly innumerable. The faith of Abraham rises to meet the promise, and this faith is counted to him for righteousness, a theme which Paul developed in his great expositions of justification by faith (Romans 4, Galatians 3).

Genesis 15:2. The closing words are, it can hardly be doubted, corrupt; the restoration is a matter of great uncertainty. No discussion is here possible; the latest emendation is by Procksch, "the son of the ruler of my house, Eliezer, will be my heir."

Genesis 15:5. tell: i.e. count (cf. the tellers in a division in the House of Commons).


Verses 1-21

Genesis 12:1 to Genesis 25:18. The Story of Abraham.—In this section the three main sources, J. E, P are present. Gunkel has given strong reasons for holding that J is here made up of two main sources, one connecting Abraham with Hebron, the other with Beersheba and the Negeb. The former associates Abraham with Lot. (For details, see ICC.) On the interpretation to be placed on the figures of Abraham and the patriarchs, see the Introduction. The interest, which has hitherto been diffused over the fortunes of mankind in general, is now concentrated on Abraham and his posterity, the principle of election narrowing it down to Isaac, Ishmael being left aside, and then to Jacob, Esau being excluded.


Verses 7-21

Genesis 15:7-21. The Making of the Covenant.—In this scene Abraham is told that he is to inherit Canaan. He asks for confirmation of the promise. Yahweh bids him select three animals and two birds, such as were eligible for sacrifice, though they were not to be used precisely for this purpose. The animals were divided into two equal portions, but in conformity with later sacrificial usage (Leviticus 1:17) not the birds. Presumably the turtle dove was placed on the one side, the pigeon on the other. The carrion birds, ominous of evil, descend on the carcases, but their attack is foiled. At sunset a trance-sleep falls upon Abraham, and a great darkness, or, as the companion document puts it, a horror. It is the coming of Yahweh that freezes him with supernatural dread, a state suggested here with concise power, but portrayed with incomparable skill in the description of Eliphaz's experience in Job 4. "The scene is a vivid transcript of primitive religious experience. The bloody ceremony just described was no perfunctory piece of symbolism; it touched the mind below the level of consciousness; and that impression (heightened in this case by the growing darkness) induced a susceptibility to psychical influences readily culminating in ecstasy or vision" (Skinner, p. 281). In Genesis 15:13-16 the inner meaning of Genesis 15:11 is laid bare. As the birds of prey swooped on the carcases, so the seed of Abraham should be oppressed four hundred years, but as Abraham succeeded in driving them away, so his seed should return in the fourth generation. When the sun had set, Abraham sees through the darkness a smoking stove and a flaming torch passing between the pieces (Genesis 15:17). This was a manifestation of Yahweh (Numbers 9:15*, Bennett compares Exodus 19:18; Exodus 24:17, Psalms 18:8). His action gives us a clue to the meaning of the ritual. The cutting of the victim in two is not a form of imprecation symbolising the fate invoked on themselves by the parties to the covenant should they prove unfaithful (cf. 1 Samuel 11:7). The division into equal halves, the arrangement of each opposite to the other, above all the passing between the two, are not accounted for in this way. Robertson Smith (RS2, 480f.) explains that originally the victim was divided and each party took its share. When it ceased to be eaten they stood between the portions to symbolise that they were taken into the mystical life of the victim (see on Jeremiah 34:18 in Cent.B). The terms of the covenant follow in Genesis 15:18-21. The land promised is defined as stretching from the Nile to the Euphrates, limits which were not actually realised; possibly we should read "brook of Egypt," the Wady el-Arish, the usual SW. limit. The chapter closes with an exceptionally long list (Genesis 15:10) of peoples to be dispossessed by Israel. Briefer lists are numerous (Exodus 3:8*). The Kadmonites are not mentioned elsewhere· possibly they dwelt in the desert E. of Palestine; Kenites and Kenizzites lived in the Negeb and were absorbed by Judah. The Hittites were a great people in the N. (pp. 53, 55f.); here some branch must be meant. On the Perizzite cf. Genesis 13:7*, the Rephaim Genesis 14:5*, the Amorite Genesis 14:7*. The Girgashites are often mentioned in these enumerations, but we have nothing to fix their locality. The Jebusites were the people of Jerusalem (Joshua 15:8; Joshua 15:63*, Judges 12:1; Judges 19:10*).

Genesis 15:13. The duration of the Egyptian bondage is here described as 400 years. Since in 16 the return is to take place in the fourth generation, it would seem as if a generation was reckoned as 100 years, i.e. if the two statements come from the same hand; but more probably 400 years is due to the editor, for P reckons the stay of the Hebrews in Egypt as 430 years (Exodus 12:40). Four generations are given from Levi to Moses in Exodus 6:16-20.—stranger: sojourner (gçr) the technical term for resident alien (p. 110, Leviticus 17:8 f.*, Deuteronomy 1:16*, Psalms 15*).

Genesis 15:16. Amorite: used here for the inhabitants of Canaan as a whole; the delay in the fulfilment of the promise is due to the fact that as yet they have not filled up the measure of their sin to the point at which Divine punishment will be inflicted.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Genesis 15:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/genesis-15.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, October 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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