Look now toward heaven - It appears that this whole transaction took place in the evening; see on Genesis 13:14; (note). Abram had either two visions, that recorded in Genesis 15:1, and that in Genesis 15:12, etc.; or what is mentioned in the beginning of this chapter is a part of the occurrences which took place after the sacrifice mentioned Genesis 15:9, etc.: 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 Genesis 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.
- The Faith of Abram
1. דבר dābār “a word, a thing;” the word being the sign of the thing.
2. אדני 'ǎdonāy “Adonai, the Lord;” related: “bring down, lay down.” This is the name usually read in place of Yahweh; but when, as in the present case, יהוה yehovâh and אדני 'ǎdonāy are in apposition, אלהים 'ĕlohı̂ym is read instead of the former. The Jews from a feeling of reverence avoided the utterance of this sacred name except on the most solemn occasions. This is said to have arisen from a stringent interpretation of Leviticus 24:16. According to some, this name was pronounced only once a year by the high priest, on the day of atonement, in the Holy of Holies, and according to others only in the solemn benedictions pronounced by the priests. At an earlier period, however, the name must have been freely used by the people, since it enters into the composition of proper names. Adon אדן 'ǎdôn in the singular and plural is used as a common name. משׁק mesheq “possession,” בן־משׁק ben -mesheq “possessor.” This forms a paronomasia with דמשׂק dameśeq which is for דמשׂקי damaśqı̂y אליעזר ‛elı̂y'ezer “Eliezer, God of help, or mighty to help.”
19. קיני qēynı̂y Kenite, patronymic of קין qayı̂n Kain. קנזי qenı̂zı̂y Kenizzite, patronymic of קנז qenaz Kenaz, “hunter.” קדמני qademonı̂y Kadmonite, “eastern, old.”
The events recorded in the preceding chapter manifest the sway of the new nature in Abram, and meet the approval of the Lord. This approval is exhibited in a heavenly visit to the patriarch, in which the Lord solemnly reiterates the promise of the seed and the land. Abram believes in the Lord, who thereupon enters into covenant with him.
After these things, - - the victory, the blessing, and the self-denial recorded in the previous chapter. “The word of the Lord,” manifesting himself by speech to his servant. “In the vision” the intelligent observer passes from the merely sensible to the supersensible sphere of reality. “Fear not, Abram.” The patriarch had some reason to fear. The formidable allies had indeed been defeated, and the fruits of their marauding enterprise wrested from them. But they might resume their purpose, and return with an overwhelming force. And Abram was still a stranger in a foreign land, preoccupied by tribes of another race, who would combine against him as soon as they suspected him of being an intruder. But the Lord had stood by him and given him the victory, and now speaks to him in the language of encouragement. “I am thy shield, thy exceeding great reward.” The word I is separately expressed, and, therefore, emphatic in the original.
I, Jehovah (Yahweh), the Self-existent One, the Author of existence, the Performer of promise, the Manifester of myself to man, and not any creature however exalted. This was something beyond a seed, or a land, or any temporal thing. The Creator infinitely transcends the creature. The mind of Abram is here lifted up to the spiritual and the eternal. (1) thy shield. (2) thy exceeding great reward. Abram has two fears - the presence of evil, and the absence of good. Experience and conscience had begun to teach him that both of these were justly his doom. But Yahweh has chosen him, and here engages himself to stand between him and all harm, and himself to be to him all good. With such a shield from all evil, and such a source of all good, he need not be afraid. The Lord, we see, begins, as usual, with the immediate and the tangible; but he propounds a principle that reaches to the eternal and the spiritual. We have here the opening germ of the great doctrine of “the Lord our righteousness,” redeeming us on the one hand from the sentence of death, and on the other to a title to eternal life.
Notwithstanding the unbounded grandeur and preciousness of the promise, or rather assurance, now given, Abram is still childless and landless; and the Lord has made as yet no sign of action in regard to these objects of special promise. “Lord Jehovah (Yahweh).” The name אדני 'ǎdonāy is here for the first time used in the divine records. It denotes one who has authority; and, therefore, when applied to God, the Supreme Lord. Abram hereby acknowledges Yahweh as Supreme Judge and Governor, and therefore entitled to dispose of all matters concerning his present or prospective welfare. “What wilt thou give me?” Of what use will land or wealth be to me, the immediate reward specified by the promise? Eliezer of Damascus is master of my house. “To me thou hast given no seed.” This was the present shield mentioned also in former words of promise. There is something strikingly human in all this. Abram is no enthusiast or fanatic. He fastens on the substantive blessings which the Lord had expressly named.
The Lord reiterates the promise concerning the seed. As he had commanded him to view the land, and see in its dust the emblem of the multitude that would spring from him, so now, with a sublime simplicity of practical illustration, he brings him forth to contemplate the stars, and challenges him to tell their number, if he can; adding, “So shall thy seed be.” He that made all these out of nothing, by the word of his power, is able to fulfill his promise, and multiply the seed of Abram and Sarai. Here, we perceive, the vision does not interfere with the notice of the sensible world, so far as is necessary Daniel 10:7; John 12:29.
And Abram believed in the Lord. - Thus, at length, after many throes of labor, has come to the birth in the breast of Abram “faith in Yahweh,” on his simple promise in the absence of all present performance, and in the face of all sensible hinderance. The command to go to the land which the Lord would show him, accompanied with the promise to make of him a great nation, had awakened in him a certain expectation; which, however, waited for some performance to ripen it into faith. But waiting in a state of suspense is not faith, but doubt; and faith after performance is not faith, but sight. The second and third renewal of the promise, while performance was still unseen in the distance, was calculated to slay the expectancy that still paused for realization, to give it the vitality of a settled consent and acquiescence in the faithfulness of God, and mature it into conviction and confession.
What was there now, then, to call forth Abram‘s faith more than at the first promise? There was the reiteration of the promise. There was the withholding of the performance, leaving room for the exercise of pure faith. There was time to train the mind to this unaccustomed idea and determination. And, lastly, there was the sublime assurance conveyed in the sentence, “I am thy shield, thy exceeding great reward,” transcending all the limits of time and place, comprehending alike the present and the eternal, the earthly and the heavenly. This, coupled with all the recorded and unrecorded dealings of the Lord, leads him to conceive the nobler feeling of faith in the Promiser, antecedent to any part of the execution, any unfolding of the plan, or any removal of the obvious difficulty. The moment of deliverance draws nigh, when Abram at length ventures to open his mouth and lay bare, in articulate utterance, the utmost questionings of his soul before the Lord. And then, in due time is effected the birth of faith; not by commencing the accomplishment of the promise, but by the explicit reassertion of its several parts, in the light of that grand assurance which covers it in its narrowest and in its most expanded forms. Thus, faith springs solely from the seed of promise. And from that moment there stands up and grows within the breast of man the right frame of mind toward the God of mercy - the germ of a mutual good understanding between God and man which will spread its roots and branches through the whole soul, to the exclusion of every noxious plant, and blossom forth unto the blessed fruit of all holy feelings and doings.
And he counted it to him for righteousness. - First. From this confessedly weighty sentence we learn, implicitly, that Abram had no righteousness. And if he had not, no man had. We have seen enough of Abram to know this on other grounds. And here the universal fact of man‘s depravity comes out into incidental notice, as a thing usually taken for granted, in the words of God. Second. Righteousness is here imputed to Abram. Hence, mercy and grace are extended to him; mercy taking effect in the pardon of his sin, and grace in bestowing the rewards of righteousness. Third. That in him which is counted for righteousness is faith in Yahweh promising mercy. In the absence of righteousness, this is the only thing in the sinner that can be counted for righteousness. First, it is not of the nature of righteousness. If it were actual righteousness, it could not be counted as such. But believing God, who promises blessing to the undeserving, is essentially different from obeying God, who guarantees blessing to the deserving. Hence, it has a negative fitness to be counted for what it is not. Secondly, it is trust in him who engages to bless in a holy and lawful way. Hence, it is that in the sinner which brings him into conformity with the law through another who undertakes to satisfy its demands and secure its rewards for him. Thus, it is the only thing in the sinner which, while it is not righteousness, has yet a claim to be counted for such, because it brings him into union with one who is just and having salvation.
It is not material what the Almighty and All-gracious promises in the first instance to him that believes in him, whether it be a land, or a seed, or any other blessing. All other blessing, temporal or eternal, will flow out of that express one, in a perpetual course of development, as the believer advances in experience, in compass of intellect, and capacity of enjoyment. Hence, it is that a land involves a better land, a seed a nobler seed, a temporal an eternal good. The patriarchs were children to us in the comprehension of the love of God: we are children to those who will hereafter experience still grander manifestations of what God has prepared for them that love him. The shield and exceeding great reward await a yet inconceivable enlargement of meaning.
The Lord next confirms and explains the promise of “the land” to Abram. When God announces himself as Yahweh, who purposed to give him the land, Abram asks, Whereby “shall I know that I shall possess it?” He appears to expect some intimation as to the time and mode of entering upon possession. The Lord now directs him to make ready the things requisite for entering into a formal covenant regarding the land. These include all the kinds of animals afterward used in sacrifice. The number three is sacred, and denotes the perfection of the victim in point of maturity. The division of the animals refers to the covenant between two parties, who participate in the rights which it guarantees. The birds are two without being divided. “Abram drove them away.” As the animals slain and divided represent the only mean and way through which the two parties can meet in a covenant of peace, they must be preserved pure and unmutilated for the end they have to serve.
And the sun was about to set. - This visit of the Lord to Abram continues for two nights, with the intervening day. In the former night he led him forth to view the stars Genesis 15:5. The second night sets in with the consummation of the covenant Genesis 15:17. The revelation comes to Abram in a trance of deep sleep. The Lord releases the mind from attention to the communications of sense in order to engage it with higher things. And he who makes the loftier revelation can enable the recipient to distinguish the voice of heaven from the play of fancy.
Know, know thou. - Know certainly. This responds to Abram‘s question, Whereby shall I know? Genesis 15:8. Four hundred years are to elapse before the seed of Abram shall actually proceed to take possession of the land. This interval can only commence when the seed is born; that is, at the birth of Isaac, when Abram was a hundred years of age and therefore thirty years after the call. During this interval they are to be, “first, strangers in a land not theirs” for one hundred and ninety years; and then for the remaining two hundred and ten years in Egypt: at first, servants, with considerable privilege and position; and at last, afflicted serfs, under a hard and cruel bondage. At the end of this period Pharaoh and his nation were visited with a succession of tremendous judgments, and Israel went out free from bondage “with great wealth” Genesis 15:16
In the fourth age. - An age here means the average period from the birth to the death of one man. This use of the word is proved by Numbers 32:13 - “He made them wander in the wilderness for forty years, until all the generation that had done evil in the sight of the Lord was consumed.” This age or generation ran parallel with the life of Moses, and therefore consisted of one hundred and twenty years. Joseph lived one hundred and ten years. Four such generations amount to four hundred and eighty or four hundred and forty years. From the birth of Isaac to the return to the land of promise was an interval of four hundred and forty years. Isaac, Levi, Amram, and Eleazar may represent the four ages.
For the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet full. - From this simple sentence we have much to learn. First. The Lord foreknows the moral character of people. Second. In his providence he administers the affairs of nations on the principle of moral rectitude. Third. Nations are spared until their iniquity is full. Fourth. They are then cut off in retributive justice. Fifth. The Amorite was to be the chief nation extirpated for its iniquity on the return of the seed of Abram. Accordingly, we find the Amorites occupying by conquest the country east of the Jordan, from the Arnon to Mount Hermon, under their two kings, Sihon and Og Numbers 21:21-35. On the west of Jordan we have already met them at En-gedi and Hebron, and they dwelt in the mountains of Judah and Ephraim Numbers 13:29, whence they seem to have crossed the Jordan for conquest Numbers 21:26. Thus had they of all the tribes that overspread the land by far the largest extent of territory. And they seem to have been extinguished as a nation by the invasion of Israel, as we hear no more of them in the subsequent history of the country.
And the sun went down. - The light of day is gone. The covenant is now formally concluded. Abram had risen to the height of faith in the God of promise. He is come into the position of the father of the faithful. He is therefore qualified for entering into this solemn compact. This covenant has a uniqueness which distinguishes it from that with Noah. It refers to a patriarch and his seed chosen out of a coexisting race. It is not, however, subversive of the ancient and general covenant, but only a special measure for overcoming the legal and moral difficulties in the way, and ultimately bringing its comprehensive provisions into effect. It refers to the land of promise, which is not only a reality, but a type and an earnest of all analogous blessings.
The oven of smoke and lamp of flame symbolize the smoke of destruction and the light of salvation. Their passing through the pieces of the victims and probably consuming them as an accepted sacrifice are the ratification of the covenant on the part of God, as the dividing and presenting of them were on the part of Abram. The propitiatory foundation of the covenant here comes into view, and connects Abram with Habel and Noah, the primeval confessors of the necessity of an atonement.
In that instant the covenant was solemnly completed. Its primary form of benefit is the grant of the promised land with the extensive boundaries of the river of Egypt and the Euphrates. The former seems to be the Nile with its banks which constitute Egypt, as the Phrat with its banks describes the land of the East, with which countries the promised land was conterminous.
The ten principal nations inhabiting this area are here enumerated. Of these five are Kenaanite, and the other five probably not. The first three are new to us, and seem to occupy the extremities of the region here defined. The Kenite dwelt in the country bordering on Egypt and south of Palestine, in which the Amalekites also are found Numbers 24:20-22; 1 Samuel 15:6. They dwelt among the Midianites, as Hobab was both a Midianite and a Kenite Numbers 10:29; Judges 1:16; Judges 4:11. They were friendly to the Israelites, and hence some of them followed their fortunes and settled in their land 1 Chronicles 2:55. The Kenizzite dwelt apparently in the same region, having affinity with the Horites, and subsequently with Edom and Israel Genesis 36:11, Genesis 36:20-23; Joshua 15:17; 1 Chronicles 2:50-52. The Kadmonite seems to be the Eastern, and, therefore, to hold the other extreme boundary of the promised land, toward Tadmor and the Phrat. These three tribes were probably related to Abram, and, therefore, descendants of Shem. The other seven tribes have already come under our notice.
In the obedience of faith, Abraham had forsaken his native country—had turned away from the graves of his fathers and the home of his kindred. He had wandered as a stranger in the land of his inheritance. He had waited long for the birth of the promised heir. At the command of God he had sent away his son Ishmael. And now, when the child so long desired was entering upon manhood, and the patriarch seemed able to discern the fruition of his hopes, a trial greater than all others was before him. PP 148.1
The command was expressed in words that must have wrung with anguish that father's heart: “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, ... and offer him there for a burnt offering.” Isaac was the light of his home, the solace of his old age, above all else the inheritor of the promised blessing. The loss of such a son by accident or disease would have been heart rending to the fond father; it would have bowed down his whitened head with grief; but he was commanded to shed the blood of that son with his own hand. It seemed to him a fearful impossibility. PP 148.2
Satan was at hand to suggest that he must be deceived, for the divine law commands, “Thou shalt not kill,” and God would not require what He had once forbidden. Going outside his tent, Abraham looked up to the calm brightness of the unclouded heavens, and recalled the promise made nearly fifty years before, that his seed should be innumerable as the stars. If this promise was to be fulfilled through Isaac, how could he be put to death? Abraham was tempted to believe that he might be under a delusion. In his doubt and anguish he bowed upon the earth, and prayed, as he had never prayed before, for some confirmation of the command if he must perform this terrible duty. He remembered the angels sent to reveal to him God's purpose to destroy Sodom, and who bore to him the promise of this same son Isaac, and he went to the place where he had several times met the heavenly messengers, hoping to meet them again, and receive some further direction; but none came to his relief. Darkness seemed to shut him in; but the command of God was sounding in his ears, “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest.” That command must be obeyed, and he dared not delay. Day was approaching, and he must be on his journey. PP 148.3
Returning to his tent, he went to the place where Isaac lay sleeping the deep, untroubled sleep of youth and innocence. For a moment the father looked upon the dear face of his son, then turned tremblingly away. He went to the side of Sarah, who was also sleeping. Should he awaken her, that she might once more embrace her child? Should he tell her of God's requirement? He longed to unburden his heart to her, and share with her this terrible responsibility; but he was restrained by the fear that she might hinder him. Isaac was her joy and pride; her life was bound up in him, and the mother's love might refuse the sacrifice. PP 148.4Read in context »
Another act of humiliation remained for the ten brothers. They now confessed to their father the deceit and cruelty that for so many years had embittered his life and theirs. Jacob had not suspected them of so base a sin, but he saw that all had been overruled for good, and he forgave and blessed his erring children. PP 232.1
The father and his sons, with their families, their flocks and herds, and numerous attendants, were soon on the way to Egypt. With gladness of heart they pursued their journey, and when they came to Beersheba the patriarch offered grateful sacrifices and entreated the Lord to grant them an assurance that He would go with them. In a vision of the night the divine word came to him: “Fear not to go down into Egypt; for I will there make of thee a great nation. I will go down with thee into Egypt; and I will also surely bring thee up again.” PP 232.2
The assurance, “Fear not to go down into Egypt; for I will there make of thee a great nation,” was significant. The promise had been given to Abraham of a posterity numberless as the stars, but as yet the chosen people had increased but slowly. And the land of Canaan now offered no field for the development of such a nation as had been foretold. It was in the possession of powerful heathen tribes, that were not to be dispossessed until “the fourth generation.” If the descendants of Israel were here to become a numerous people, they must either drive out the inhabitants of the land or disperse themselves among them. The former, according to the divine arrangement, they could not do; and should they mingle with the Canaanites, they would be in danger of being seduced into idolatry. Egypt, however, offered the conditions necessary to the fulfillment of the divine purpose. A section of country well-watered and fertile was open to them there, affording every advantage for their speedy increase. And the antipathy they must encounter in Egypt on account of their occupation—for every shepherd was “an abomination unto the Egyptians”—would enable them to remain a distinct and separate people and would thus serve to shut them out from participation in the idolatry of Egypt. PP 232.3Read in context »
In the beginning, God gave to Adam one wife, thus showing his order. He never designed that man should have a plurality of wives. Lamech was the first who departed in this respect from God's wise arrangement. He had two wives, which created discord in his family. The envy and jealousy of both made Lamech unhappy. When men began to multiply upon the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, they took them wives of all which they chose. This was one of the great sins of the inhabitants of the old world, which brought the wrath of God upon them. This custom was practiced after the flood, and became so common that even righteous men fell into the practice, and had a plurality of wives. Yet it was no less sin because they became corrupted, and departed in this thing from God's order. 3SG 99.1Read in context »
The Lord said of Noah and his family, who were saved in the ark, “For thee have I seen righteous before Me in this generation.” Genesis 7:1. Noah had but one wife, and their united family discipline was blessed of God. Because Noah's sons were righteous they were preserved in the ark with their righteous father. God has not sanctioned polygamy in a single instance. It is contrary to His will. He knew that the happiness of man would be destroyed by it. Abraham's peace was greatly marred by his unhappy marriage with Hagar. SR 76.1Read in context »