Genesis 15


God appears to Abram in a vision, and gives him great

encouragement, 1.

Abram's request and complaint, 2, 3.

God promises him a son, 4;

and an exceedingly numerous posterity, 5.

Abram credits the promise, and his faith is counted unto

him for righteousness, 6.

Jehovah proclaims himself, and renews the promise of Canaan

to his posterity, 7.

Abram requires a sign of its fulfilment, 8.

Jehovah directs him to offer a sacrifice of five different

animals, 9;

which he accordingly does, 10, 11.

God reveals to him the affliction of his posterity in

Egypt, and the duration of that affliction, 12, 13.

Promises to bring them back to the land of Canaan with

great affluence, 14-16.

Renews the covenant with Abram, and mentions the

possessions which should be given to his posterity, 18-21.


Verse 1. The word of the Lord came unto Abram] This is the

first place where God is represented as revealing himself by his

word. Some learned men suppose that the debar Yehovah,

translated here word of the Lord, means the same with the λογοσ

τουθεου of St. John, Joh 1:1, and, by the Chaldee paraphrases

in the next clause, called meimeri, "my word," and in other

places meimera daiya, the word of Yeya, a contraction

for Jehovah, which they appear always to consider as a person; and

which they distinguish from pithgama, which signifies merely

a word spoken, or any part of speech. There have been various

conjectures concerning the manner in which God revealed his will,

not only to the patriarchs, but also to the prophets, evangelists,

and apostles. It seems to have been done in different ways. 1.

By a personal appearance of him who was afterwards incarnated for

the salvation of mankind. 2. By an audible voice, sometimes

accompanied with emblematical appearances. 3. By visions which

took place either in the night in ordinary sleep, or when the

persons were cast into a temporary trance by daylight, or when

about their ordinary business, 4. By the ministry of angels

appearing in human bodies, and performing certain miracles to

accredit their mission. 5. By the powerful agency of the Spirit

of God upon the mind, giving it a strong conception and

supernatural persuasion of the truth of the things perceived by

the understanding. We shall see all these exemplified in the

course of the work. It was probably in the third sense that the

revelation in the text was given; for it is said, God appeared to

Abram in a vision, machazeh, from chazah, to

see, or according to others, to fix, fasten, settle; hence chozeh,

a SEER, the person who sees Divine things, to whom alone they are

revealed, on whose mind they are fastened, and in whose memory and

judgment they are fixed and settled. Hence the vision which was

mentally perceived, and, by the evidence to the soul of its Divine

origin, fixed and settled in the mind.

Fear not] The late Dr. Dodd has a good thought on this passage;

"I would read, says he, "the second verse in a parenthesis, thus:

For 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 to him this prophetical view, and

this strong renovation of the covenant. In this light all follows

very properly. Abram had said so and so in Ge 15:2, upon which

God appears and says, I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great

reward. The patriarch then, Ge 15:3, freely opens the anxious

apprehension of his heart, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed,

&c., upon which God proceeds to assure him of posterity."

I am thy shield, &c.] Can it be supposed that Abram understood

these words as promising him temporal advantages at all

corresponding to the magnificence of these promises? If he did he

was disappointed through the whole course of his life, for he

never enjoyed such a state of worldly prosperity as could justify

the strong language in the text. Shall we lose sight of Abram,

and say that his posterity was intended, and Abram understood the

promises as relating to them, and not to himself or immediately to

his own family? Then the question recurs, Did the Israelites ever

enjoy such a state of temporal affluence as seems to be intended

by the above promise? To this every man acquainted with their

history will, without hesitation, say, No. What then is intended?

Just what the words state. GOD was Abram's portion, and he is the

portion of every righteous soul; for to Abram, and the children

of his faith, he gives not a portion in this life. Nothing, says

Father Calmet, proves more invincibly the immortality of the soul,

the truth of religion, and the eternity of another life, than to

see that in this life the righteous seldom receive the reward of

their virtue, and that in temporal things they are often less

happy than the workers of iniquity.

I am, says the Almighty, thy shield-thy constant covering and

protector, and thy exceeding great reward, sekarcha

harbeh meod, "THAT superlatively multiplied reward of thine." It

is not the Canaan I promise, but the salvation that is to come

through the promised seed. Hence it was that Abram rejoiced to

see his day. And hence the Chaldee Targum translates this place,

My WORD shall be thy strength, &c.

Verse 2. What wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless] The

anxiety of the Asiatics to have offspring is intense and

universal. Among the Hindoos the want of children renders all

other blessings of no esteem. See Ward.

And the steward of my house] Abram, understanding the promise

as relating to that person who was to spring from his family, in

whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed, expresses his

surprise that there should be such a promise, and yet he is about

to die childless! How then can the promise be fulfilled, when,

far from a spiritual seed, he has not even a person in his family

that has a natural right to his property, and that a stranger is

likely to be his heir? This seems to be the general sense of the

passage; but who this steward of his house, this Eliezer of

Damascus, was, commentators are not agreed. The translation of

the Septuagint is at least curious: οδευιοσμασεκοικολενουσμου

ουτοσδαμασκοσελιεζερ. The son of Masek my homeborn maid, this

Eliezer of Damascus, is my heir; which intimates that they

supposed meshek, which we translate steward, to have been

the name of a female slave, born in the family of Abram, of whom

was born this Eliezer, who on account of the country either of his

father or mother, was called a Damascene or one of Damascus. It

is extremely probable that our Lord has this passage in view in

his parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Lu 16:19. From the name

Eliezer, by leaving out the first letter, Liezer is formed,

which makes Lazarus in the New Testament, the person who, from an

abject and distressed state, was raised to lie in the bosom of

Abraham in paradise.

Verse 5. Look now toward heaven] It appears that this whole

transaction took place in the evening; See Clarke on Ge 13:14.

Abram had either two visions, that recorded in Ge 15:1, and that in

Ge 15:12, &c.; or what is mentioned in the beginning of this

chapter is a part of the occurrences which took place after the

sacrifice mentioned Ge 15:9, &c.: but it is more likely that

there was a vision of that kind already described, and afterwards

a second, in which he received the revelation mentioned

Ge 15:13-16. After the first vision he is

brought forth abroad to see if he can number the stars; and as

he finds this impossible, he is assured that as they are to him

innumerable, so shall his posterity be; and that all should spring

from one who should proceed from his own bowels-one who should be

his own legitimate child.

Verse 6. And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him

for righteousness.] This I conceive to be one of the most

important passages in the whole Old Testament. It properly

contains and specifies that doctrine of justification by faith

which engrosses so considerable a share of the epistles of St.

Paul, and at the foundation of which is the atonement made by the

Son of God: And he (Abram) believed heemin, he put

faith) in Jehovah, vaiyachshebeita lo, and he counted

it-the faith he put in Jehovah, to HIM for righteousness,

tsedakak, or justification; though there was no act in the case

but that of the mind and heart, no work of any kind. Hence the

doctrine of justification by faith, without any merit of works;

for in this case there could be none-no works of Abram which could

merit the salvation of the whole human race. It was the promise

of God which he credited, and in the blessedness of which he

became a partaker through faith. See at the close of the chapter;

See Clarke on Ge 15:19; see also on "Ro 4:13", &c.

Verse 7. Ur of the Chaldees] See Clarke on Ge 11:31

Verse 8. And he said, Lord God] Adonai Yehovah, my

Lord Jehovah. Adonai is the word which the Jews in reading always

substitute for Jehovah, as they count it impious to pronounce this

name. Adonai signifies my director, basis, supporter, prop, or

stay; and scarcely a more appropriate name can be given to that

God who is the framer and director of every righteous word and

action; the basis or foundation on which every rational hope

rests; the supporter of the souls and bodies of men, as well as of

the universe in general; the prop and stay of the weak and

fainting, and the buttress that shores up the building, which

otherwise must necessarily fall. This word often occurs in the

Hebrew Bible, and is rendered in our translation Lord; the same

term by which the word Jehovah is expressed: but to distinguish

between the two, and to show the reader when the original is

Yehovah, and when Adonai, the first is always put in

capitals, LORD, the latter in plain Roman characters, Lord. For

the word Jehovah See Clarke on Ge 2:4, and on "Ex 34:6".

Whereby shall I know] By what sign shall I be assured, that I

shall inherit this land? It appears that he expected some sign,

and that on such occasions one was ordinarily given.

Verse 9. Take me a heifer] eglah, a she-calf; a

she-goat, ez, a goat, male or female, but distinguished

here by the feminine adjective; meshullesheth, a

three-yearling; a ram, ayil; a turtle-dove,

tor, from which come turtur and turtle; young pigeon,

gozal, a word signifying the young of pigeons and eagles. See

De 32:11. It is worthy of remark, that every animal allowed or

commanded to be sacrificed under the Mosaic law is to be found in

this list. And is it not a proof that God was now giving to Abram

an epitome of that law and its sacrifices which he intended more

fully to reveal to Moses; the essence of which consisted in its

sacrifices, which typified the Lamb of God that takes away the

sin of the world?

On the several animals which God ordered Abram to take, Jarchi

remarks: "The idolatrous nations are compared in the Scriptures to

bulls, rams, and goats; for it is written, Ps 22:12:

Many bulls have compassed me about. Da 8:20:

The ram which thou hast seen is the king of Persia. The rough

goat is the king of Greece. Da 8:21. But the Israelites are

compared to doves, &c.; So 2:14:

O my dove, that art in the cleft of the rock. The division of

the above carcasses denotes the division and extermination of the

idolatrous nations; but the birds not being divided, shows that

the Israelites are to abide for ever." See Jarchi on the place.

Verse 10. Divided them in the midst] The ancient method of

making covenants. as well as the original word, have been already

alluded to, and in a general way explained. See Ge 6:18. The

word covenant from con, together, and venio, I come, signifies

an agreement, association, or meeting between two or more parties;

for it is impossible that a covenant can be made between an

individual and himself, whether God or man. This is a theological

absurdity into which many have run; there must be at least two

parties to contract with each other. And often there was a third

party to mediate the agreement, and to witness it when made. Rabbi

Solomon Jarchi says, "It was a custom with those who entered into

covenant with each other to take a heifer and cut it in two, and

then the contracting parties passed between the pieces." See this

and the scriptures to which it refers particularly explained,

Ge 6:18. A covenant always supposed one of these

four things: 1. That the contracting parties had been hitherto

unknown to each other, and were brought by the covenant into a

state of acquaintance. 2. That they had been previously in a

state of hostility or enmity, and were brought by the covenant

into a state of pacification and friendship. 3. Or that, being

known to each other, they now agree to unite their counsels,

strength, property, &c., for the accomplishment of a particular

purpose, mutually subservient to the interests of both. Or, 4. It

implies an agreement to succour and defend a third party in cases

of oppression and distress. For whatever purpose a covenant was

made, it was ever ratified by a sacrifice offered to God; and the

passing between the divided parts of the victim appears to have

signified that each agreed, if they broke their engagements, to

submit to the punishment of being cut asunder; which we find from

Mt 24:51; Lu 12:46, was an ancient mode of punishment. This

is farther confirmed by Herodotus, who says that Sabacus, king of

Ethiopia, had a vision, in which he was ordered μεσουσδιατεμειν,

to cut in two, all the Egyptian priests; lib. ii. We find also

from the same author, lib. vii., that Xerxes ordered one of the

sons of Pythius μεσονδιατεμειν, to be cut in two, and one half to

be placed on each side of the way, that his army might pass

through between them. That this kind of punishment was used among

the Persians we have proof from Da 2:5;Da 3:29. Story of

Susanna, verses 55, 59. See farther, 2Sa 12:31, and 1Ch 20:3.

These authorities may be sufficient to show that the passing

between the parts of the divided victims signified the punishment

to which those exposed themselves who broke their covenant

engagements. And that covenant sacrifices were thus divided, even

from the remotest antiquity, we learn from Homer, Il. A., v. 460.



"They cut the quarters, and cover them with the fat; dividing

them into two, they place the raw flesh upon them."

But this place may be differently understood.

St. Cyril, in his work against Julian, shows that passing

between the divided parts of a victim was used also among the

Chaldeans and other people. As the sacrifice was required to make

an atonement to God, so the death of the animal was necessary to

signify to the contracting parties the punishment to which they

exposed themselves, should they prove unfaithful.

Livy preserves the form of the imprecation used on such

occasions, in the account he gives of the league made between the

Romans and Albans. When the Romans were about to enter into some

solemn league or covenant, they sacrificed a hog; and, on the

above occasion, the priest, or pater patratus, before he slew the

animal, stood, and thus invoked Jupiter: Audi, Jupiter! Si prior

defecerit publico consilio dolo malo, tum illo die, Diespiter,

Populum Romanum sic ferito, ut ego hune porcum hic hodie feriam;

tantoque magis ferito, quanto magis potes pollesque! Livii Hist.,

lib. i., chap. 24. "Hear, O Jupiter! Should the Romans in public

counsel, through any evil device, first transgress these laws, in

that same day, O Jupiter, thus smite the Roman people, as I shall

at this time smite this hog; and smite them with a severity

proportioned to the greatness of thy power and might!"

But the birds divided he not.] According to the law, Le 1:17,

fowls were not to be divided asunder but only cloven for the

purpose of taking out the intestines.

Verse 11. And when the fowls] haayit, birds of prey,

came down upon the carcasses to devour them, Abram, who stood by

his sacrifice waiting for the manifestation of GOD, who had

ordered him to prepare for the ratification of the covenant, drove

them away, that they might neither pollute nor devour what had

been thus consecrated to God.

Verse 12. A deep sleep] tardemah, the same word which is

used to express the sleep into which Adam was cast, previous to

the formation of Eve; Ge 2:21.

A horror of great darkness] Which God designed to be expressive

of the affliction and misery into which his posterity should be

brought during the four hundred years of their bondage in Egypt;

as the next verse particularly states.

Verse 13. Four hundred years] "Which began," says Mr. Ainsworth,

"when Ishmael, son of Hagar, mocked and persecuted Isaac,

Ge 21:9; Ga 4:29; which fell out

thirty years after the promise, Ge 12:3; which promise was

four hundred and thirty years before the law, Ga 3:17; and

four hundred and thirty years after that promise came Israel out

of Egypt, Ex 12:41."

Verse 14. And also that nation, &c.] How remarkably was this

promise fulfilled, in the redemption of Israel from its bondage,

in the plagues and destruction of the Egyptians, and in the

immense wealth which the Israelites brought out of Egypt! Not a

more circumstantial or literally fulfilled promise is to be found

in the sacred writings.

Verse 15. Thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace] This verse

strongly implies the immortality of the soul, and a state of

separate existence. He was gathered to his fathers- introduced

into the place where separate spirits are kept, waiting for the

general resurrection. Two things seem to be distinctly marked

here: 1. The soul of Abram should be introduced among the

assembly of the first-born; Thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace.

2. His body should be buried after a long life, one hundred and

seventy-five years, Ge 25:7. The body was buried; the soul went

to the spiritual world, to dwell among the fathers-the patriarchs,

who had lived and died in the Lord. See Clarke on Gen 25:8.

Verse 16. In the fourth generation] In former times most people

counted by generations, to each of which was assigned a term of

years amounting to 20, 25, 30, 33, 100, 108, or 110; for the

generation was of various lengths among various people, at

different times. It is probable that the fourth generation here

means the same as the four hundred years in the preceding verse.

Some think it refers to the time when Eleazar, the son of Aaron,

the son of Amram, the son of Kohath, came out of Egypt, and

divided the land of Canaan to Israel, Jos 14:1. Others think the

fourth generation of the Amorites is intended, because it is

immediately added, The iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full;

but in the fourth generation they should be expelled, and the

descendants of Abram established in their place. From these words

we learn that there is a certain pitch of iniquity to which

nations may arrive before they are destroyed, and beyond which

Divine justice does not permit them to pass.

Verse 17. Smoking furnace and a burning lamp] Probably the

smoking furnace might be designed as an emblem of the sore

afflictions of the Israelites in Egypt; but the burning lamp was

certainly the symbol of the Divine presence, which, passing

between the pieces, ratified the covenant with Abram, as the

following verse immediately states.

Verse 18. The Lord made a covenant] carath berith

signifies to cut a covenant, or rather the covenant sacrifice;

for as no covenant was made without one, and the creature was cut

in two that the contracting parties might pass between the pieces,

hence cutting the covenant signified making the covenant. The same

form of speech obtained among the Romans; and because, in making

their covenants they always slew an animal, either by cutting its

throat, or knocking it down with a stone or axe, after which they

divided the parts as we have already seen, hence among the

percutere faedus, to smite a covenant, and scindere faedus, to

cleave a covenant, were terms which signified simply to make or

enter into a covenant.

From the river of Egypt] Not the Nile, but the river called

Sichor, which was before or on the border of Egypt, near to the

isthmus of Suez; see Jos 13:3; though some think that by this a

branch of the Nile is meant. This promise was fully accomplished

in the days of David and Solomon. See 2Sa 8:3, &c., and

2Ch 9:26.

Verse 19. The Kenites, &c.] Here are ten nations mentioned,

though afterwards reckoned but seven; see De 7:1; Ac 13:19.

Probably some of them which existed in Abram's time had been

blended with others before the time of Moses, so that seven only

out of the ten then remained; see part of these noticed

Ge 10:1-31.

IN this chapter there are three subjects which must be

particularly interesting to the pious reader. 1. The

condescension of GOD in revealing himself to mankind in a

variety of ways, so as to render it absolutely evident that he had

spoken, that he loved mankind, and that he had made every

provision for their eternal welfare. So unequivocal were the

discoveries which God made of himself, that on the minds of those

to whom they were made not one doubt was left, relative either to

the truth of the subject, or that it was God himself who made the

discovery. The subject of the discovery also was such as

sufficiently attested its truth to all future generations, for it

concerned matters yet in futurity, so distinctly marked, so

positively promised, and so highly interesting, as to make them

objects of attention, memory, and desire, till they did come; and

of gratitude, because of the permanent blessedness they

communicated through all generations after the facts had taken


2. The way of salvation by faith in the promised Saviour, which

now began to be explicitly declared. God gives the promise of

salvation, and by means in which it was impossible, humanly

speaking, that it should take place; teaching us, 1. That the

whole work was spiritual, supernatural, and Divine; and, 2. That

no human power could suffice to produce it. This Abram believed

while he was yet uncircumcised, and this faith was accounted to

him for righteousness or justification; God thereby teaching that

he would pardon, accept, and receive into favour all who should

believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. And this very case has ever

since been the standard of justification by faith; and the

experience of millions of men, built on this foundation, has

sufficiently attested the truth and solidity of the ground on

which it was built.

3. The foundation of the doctrine itself is laid in the covenant

made between God and Abram in behalf of all the families of the

earth, and this covenant is ratified by a sacrifice. By this

covenant man is bound to God, and God graciously binds himself to

man. As this covenant referred to the incarnation of Christ; and

Abram, both as to himself and posterity, was to partake of the

benefits of it by faith; hence faith, not works, is the only

condition on which God, through Christ, forgives sins, and brings

to the promised spiritual inheritance. This covenant still stands

open; all the successive generations of men are parties on the one

side, and Jesus is at once the sacrifice and Mediator of it. As

therefore the covenant still stands open, and Jesus is still the

Lamb slain before the throne, every human soul must ratify the

covenant for himself; and no man does so but he who, conscious of

his guilt, accepts the sacrifice which God has provided for him.

Reader, hast thou done so! And with a heart unto righteousness

dost thou continue to believe on the Son of God? How merciful is

God, who has found out such a way of salvation by providing a

Saviour every way suitable to miserable, fallen, sinful man! One

who is holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners; and

who, being higher than the heavens, raises up his faithful

followers to the throne of his own eternal glory! Reader, give

God the praise, and avail thyself of the sin-offering which lieth

at the door.

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