Genesis 15 Commentary

Commentary on Genesis Chapter 15

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Genesis 15 Commentary

Genesis 15 is rich in content even for commentaries that do not consider its Hebrew context. However, when the Hebrew context of Genesis 15 is probed, as the commentary below does, it reveals Jesus interacting with Abram.

GENESIS 15:1-21  1 After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” 2 But Abram said, “Lord GOD, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!” 4 And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” 5 Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness. 7 Then He said to him, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.” 8 And he said, “Lord GOD, how shall I know that I will inherit it?” 9 So He said to him, “Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. 11 And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. 12 Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him. 13 Then He said to Abram: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. 14 And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. 16 But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” 17 And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces. 18 On the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying: “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates - 19 the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”

What happened?
God is pleased with Abram and tells him that He is Abram’s “exceedingly great reward” (Genesis 15:1), to which Abram laments that given his childless state, even what he owns will be inherited by a hired servant known as “Eliezer of Damascus” (Genesis 15:2) and asks God what He will give him. God promises him descendents as many as the star and Abram believed God's promise (Genesis 15:6). But when God promised to give him land in the vicinity, Abram retorted, “How shall I know that I will inherit it?” (Genesis 15:8), and this is where things get interesting.

What is God’s response in Genesis 15:9?
Instead of giving Abram an answer, God tells him to go and fetch three animals and two birds.

What does Genesis 15:10 say Abraham did with them?
He killed them and cut the animals in half.

Did God tell him to do that?
No.

Then why did he do it?
When God told him to fetch the animals and the birds, Abram understood it as a command to prepare for a covenant.

What is a covenant?
It's an ancient blood oath best described with an example. To arrange a marriage, for example, the leading members of the two families gathered to discuss the terms, which included property but also future conduct of the soon-to-be spouses. After the terms have been agreed, they dug or found a small trench, killed, cut and laid animals on either side of the trench so that the blood gathered in it. The father of the groom then stood up, took off his sandals and walked through the trench, splattering the gathered blood on himself. The message was that if any of the promises he just made, including the good behavior of his son, are broken, the bride’s family may kill him - the father - and walk in his blood. The groom better not beat his wife, for example, as it could lead to the death of his father. Next, the bride's father stood up, took off his sandals and walked through the blood to back up his promises with his life.

What does Genesis 15:12 say about Abram?
“Horror and great darkness fell upon him.” This is a Hebrew expression that means he was scared to death or petrified by fear.

Why did he become so scared all of a sudden?
He realized that while God will keep His promise, he wasn't sure if he [Abram] or his descendents could keep his promise to obey and remain faithful to God. Abram realized that by taking this blood oath, he most likely was sentencing himself to a violent death, hence the fear.

What passed between the cut pieces first?
“A smoking oven” (Genesis 15:17).

What do fiery entities in the Old Testament represent?
The presence of God.

What are some other examples?
The burning bush: Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. And he led the flock to the back of the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the Angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. So he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn.” So when the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then He said, “Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.” Moreover He said, “I am the God of your father - the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God." (Exodus 3:1-6); and the pillar of fire: “So they took their journey from Succoth and camped in Etham at the edge of the wilderness. And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night. He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night from before the people. (Exodus 13:20-22)

So what did the smoking oven passing through the cut pieces accomplish?
It sealed God's end of the covenant.

Next goes Abram, right?
No, next goes a second fiery entity: “a burning torch... passed between those pieces.” (Genesis 15:17) 

What is a burning torch?
It is a fiery entity, hence God, that brings light to a dark environment.

What does John 1:4-5 say about the Word that became flesh?
“In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”

Who is being referred to in this verse, and as the “burning torch” in Genesis 15:17?
It’s Jesus. As Abram stood in front of the pool of blood trembling in fear, Jesus told him in Genesis 15:13-16 that while trials await him and his kids, implying that they indeed will fail to obey and remain faithful to God, both they and Abram will end up okay, then nudged Abram out of the way, and passed through the blood in his place, in effect declaring, "When you and your children mess up, I will pay for it with My life!" Two thousand years before His cross, Jesus sentenced Himself to death for our sins.

What did Jesus cry out on the cross just before dying?
It is finished! (John 19:30) His promise had been kept.

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