March 6, 2014

Commentary on the Book of Genesis

By: Tom Lowe

PART II: AN ACCOUNT OF ABRAHAM—Gen. 11:10-25:18.

Topic C: OFFSPRING AND CIRCUMCISION. Gen. 15:1-17:27.                        

Lesson II.C.2: The Promise of Canaan Renewed. (Gen. 15:7-21)  



Genesis 15:7-21 (KJV)

 

7 And he said unto him, I am the LORD that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it.

8 And he said, Lord GOD, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?

9 And he said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.

10 And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not.

11 And when the fowls came down upon the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

12 And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him.

13 And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; 14 And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.

15 And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age.

16 But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.

17 And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces.

18 In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates:

19 The Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites,

20 And the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims,

21 And the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.

 

 

Introduction

 

In this passage, assurance is given to Abram that he would receive the land of Canaan as an inheritance. God never promises more than he is able to perform, as men often do. In verses 9-21, God acts out what we would consider a strange and significant symbolism, though in Abram’s day it was neither strange nor rare. This is how David Baron explains the ceremony:

According to the ancient eastern method of making a covenant, both the contracting parties passed through the divided pieces of the slain animals, thus symbolically attesting that they pledged their very lives to the fulfillment of the engagement they made (see Jer. 34:18, 19). Now in Genesis 15, God alone, whose presence was symbolized by the smoking furnace and lamp of fire, passed through the midst of the pieces of the slain animals, while Abram was simply a spectator of this wonderful exhibition of God’s free grace.

 

This signified that it was an unconditional covenant, dependent for fulfillment on God alone.

 

 

According to another view of this passage, the sacrificial pieces represented the nation of Israel. The vultures speak of the Gentile nations. The land that is not theirs, of course, is Egypt. Israel would be delivered from Egyptian bondage and return to Canaan in the fourth generation. The smoking furnace and the burning lamp describe the national destiny of Israel—suffering and witness-bearing. This is not the correct interpretation as the following commentary will show.

 

 

Commentary

 

 

7 And he said unto him, I am the LORD that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it.

 

 

And he said unto him, I am the LORD that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees,

 

 

This self-identification and reference to God’s redemptive initiative corresponds to the standard opening sections of classic treaties, the preamble in which the royal covenant-maker proclaimed his method and title, followed by the historical prolog in which he recounted his mighty acts (cf. Ex. 20:2). This assured Israel that in spite of opposition and bondage, God would judge their enslavers and fulfill His promises.

 

 

In verses 7-11, God reminds Abram of three things concerning the land of Canaan for his encouragement:

1.       What God is in Himself: I am the Lord Jehovah; and therefore, I may give it to you, for I am sovereign Lord of all.

2.      What He had done for Abram: He had brought him out of Ur of the Chaldees, and away from the idolatrous influences that existed there.

3.      What He intended to do for him in the future: I brought you here on purpose to give you this land as an inheritance

to give thee this land to inherit it.

 

 

It was God’s purpose that a specifically identifiable land (vv.18-21) was intimately linked with Abram having many descendents, and in the Abrahamic covenant it was clearly revealed and, in a formal ceremony (vv. 9-21), it would be placed irrevocably beyond dispute.

 

 

Later Abraham was to acquire a small piece of land near Mamre by ordinary purchase. The transaction is described in Genesis 23:16-20—“And Abraham hearkened unto Ephron; and Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver, which he had named in the audience of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchant. And the field of Ephron, which was in Machpelah, which was before Mamre, the field, and the cave which was therein, and all the trees that were in the field, that were in all the borders round about, were made sure unto Abraham for a possession in the presence of the children of Heth, before all that went in at the gate of his city. And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah before Mamre: the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan. And the field, and the cave that is therein, were made sure unto Abraham for a possession of a burying place by the sons of Heth.” The contract here is startling when compared to the simple purchase of the field at Mamre. He and his descendents will be given—not sold—a vast territory from the borders of Egypt to the river Euphrates (v. 18). The lengthy list of persons to be conquered or dispossessed (vv. 19-21) underscores the size and wonder of the promise. It was only in David’s and Solomon’s reign that the promise was fulfilled.

 

The land is an important part of the covenant for it is in the land of Israel that the divine drama of ‘salvation history’ was enacted. The land of Israel will also be the stage for the final act of that drama when the Messiah returns to reign on earth.

 

 

For centuries Israel was a people without a land; and it seemed that the covenant promise would not be fulfilled. Then came May 14, 1948, and the rebirth of national Israel! Just as God kept His promise to Abraham and sent the Messiah, so will he keep his promise and restore the land to His people.

 

 

8 And he said, Lord GOD, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?

 

 

Abram asked a question, not a veiled accusation concerning the delayed fulfillment of the Promise, but a genuine request for information and assurance. He asked for a sign whereby he would know that he shall indeed inherit the land of Canaan. God was pleased to give him a sign, by which, according to Eastern ideas, the Lord guaranteed that he would keep His promise to give the land of promise to Abram’s descendants. In response, God affirmed His covenant with Abram in a remarkable ceremony (vv. 9-21). In effect, he swore that He would keep the covenant He made with Abram—He swore by none greater; He swore by Himself [For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he swore by himself” (Heb. 6:13).].

 

 

9 And he said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.

10 And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not.

 

 

And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst

 

He ‘cut’ the animals into two pieces. A covenant conveys the idea that the same thing will be done to the one who breaks this covenant. Ancient covenants were sometimes confirmed by cutting the sacrificial animals in two pieces and the two parties to the covenant walking between them [And I will give the men that have transgressed my covenant, which have not performed the words of the covenant which they had made before me, when they cut the calf in twain, and passed between the parts thereof, The princes of Judah, and the princes of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, and the priests, and all the people of the land, which passed between the parts of the calf; (Jer. 34:18-19).]. In this case, however, God alone passes between the animal pieces, in the form of a smoking furnace (v. 17) from which torch-like flames shoot out [And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly. (Ex. 19:8)], because this covenant with Abram was unconditional, and can be carried out by God Himself.  There were no conditions attached; this covenant of grace came from the generous heart of God. This ceremony was still being followed as late as the time of Jeremiah (see Jer. 34:18).

 

 

and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not.

 

 

Abram did as God commanded him. He divided the sacrifices in the midst, according to the ceremony in Jeremiah 34:18-19, which was used to confirm covenants. The oath ritual for which Abram prepared was customary in treaty ratification. From it were derived various phrases for making a covenant, like the Hebrew ‘cutting of the covenant.’ This ‘cutting of the covenant’ was not in itself a sacrifice. Rather, it was a sacred ceremony by which the men declared their solemn purpose to keep the agreement. Having prepared everything according to God’s instructions, Abram must wait for the sign God might give him. Abram did as God commanded him, although as yet he did not know how these things would become a sign to him.

 

 

11 And when the fowls came down upon the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

 

 

This is a very human scene. Abram gets everything ready, and while he is waiting for the Lord, the fouls of the air came down—the buzzard and crow came down to feast of the carrion. Abram is there shooing them away, for they are ready to swoop down on the sacrifices. If you had been there and seen everything Abram had done, you might have said, “Well brother Abram, apparently the one you are making a contract with hasn’t shown up, I guess he’s late!” Abram would have said, “No, I don’t think He’s late, He just told me to get things ready and that He would be here to make the contract.

 

 

12 And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him.

 

 

And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram;

 

 

God put him to sleep, not a common sleep due to weariness, but a deep sleep resembling that which God caused to come on Adam (Ge. 2:21). He did not need to be awake, because the covenant did not involve any promise on Abram’s part; therefore he would not walk through the parts (v. 17). Abram just believed God—that’s all.

 

 

and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him.

 

 

Dreams often seem so illogical that they appear fantastically irrelevant. Why should Abram, the great man, have had a horror of great darkness? You would suppose that what would come out of his unconscious mind would be serene and bright. But Abram had had heavy disappointments and times of peril and unrest. The worst of them was expressed in his cry to God, “Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir (Gen. 15:3). The years were passing by, and he was childless. The children of light do not always walk in the light; sometimes dark clouds and darkness are all around them.

 

 

13 And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years;

 

 

And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them;

 

 

Yahweh had promised Abraham descendents as numerous as the stars in heaven, but that multitude would go to a land of sojourn, just as Abraham had done. They would eventually return to the land of promise, carrying with them the riches of that land. This is a prophesy of Israel’s sojourn in Egypt, predicted to take place some three hundred years later and lasting about four hundred years (Ex. 12:40, 430 to be exact). Then God would judge that nation (v. 14) (Egypt in Exodus 15), and bring Israel out with great substance (v. 14) [And the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading troughs being bound up in their clothes upon their shoulders. And the children of Israel did according to the word of Moses; and they borrowed of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment: And the LORD gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they lent unto them such things as they required. And they spoiled the Egyptians. (Ex. 12:34-36)], and use them as a means of judgment upon the inhabitants of Canaan when the inequity of the Amorites (v. 16) would be full (v. 16).

 

 

In the Scriptures it is predicted that the Hebrews would be put out of the land three times. This is the first time. It also predicted that they would return back to the land, and they did this time. Later on it was the Babylonian captivity. They were carried into captivity and they returned. In A.D. 70 Jerusalem was destroyed and for the third time they were scattered. They have never returned from that. Their current presence in the land is in no way a fulfillment of Scripture. But according to the Word of God, they will come back some day exactly as it predicts.

 

 

and they shall afflict them four hundred years;

 

 

The length of the sojourn in Egypt is stated in a round number (cf. Ex. 12:40) and as four ‘generations,’ or better ‘lifetimes’ (v. 16), calculated at about a century each (less than the patriarchs own lifespan). Verse 15 shows that these four centuries did not include the 215 years spent by Abram, Isaac, and Jacob in Canaan, for the sojourn was to be experienced by Abram’s descendents after his death.

 

 

Abram’s seed would suffer for a long time. He must not flatter himself with thoughts that nothing but honor and prosperity would come to his family. He must surely be told that which he was loth to believe, that the promised seed would be persecuted seed.  They shall be strangers. They shall be servants. They shall be sufferers. Those whom they serve shall inflict them. Those that are loved and blessed by God, are often treated unkindly by wicked men. Though God may allow persecutors and oppressors to trample on His people for a great while, He will certainly reckon with them at a time of His choosing.

 

 

13 And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years;

 

 

Israel will eventually leave Egypt, but only after God’s judgment has broken the Egyptians will. God’s judgment not only forced the Egyptians to let the Israelites go, but punished them for all the hardships put upon them—the worst punishment being the death of Egypt’s first born. In all, God’s judgment consisted of ten plagues sent against Egypt; afterwards Moses was able to lead the people out triumphantly (Ex. 5-15).

 

 

15 And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age.

 

 

Abram died peacefully at a good old age. His good old age was 175 years (Ge. 25.7), which means he walked with God for a century (Ge. 12:4). In spite of Abraham’s occasional failures he accomplished the will of God and brought blessing to the whole world. This promise from God must have given Abraham and Sarah great encouragement during times of difficulty, just as promises like Philippians 1:6 and Ephesians 2:10 encourage God’s people today. Abram would not live to see the Promised Land in the hands of his family, but he must die as he lived, a stranger in it; to balance that, he would not live to see the troubles that would come upon his seed, much less to share in them. Good men are sometimes greatly favored by being taken away from the evil to come [The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart: and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come. (Isa. 57.1)]. Abram must be satisfied with the fact that he will go to his fathers in peace.

 

 

16 But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.

 

 

But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again:

 

 

The time scale envisioned here is a puzzle, since four generations is much shorter than four hundred years (v. 13). The Hebrew word dor usually means generations, but in this context ‘lifespan’ (i.e. of patriarchal dimensions) seems more suitable. The four generations can be seen in Exodus 6:16-20; Levi, Kohath, Amram, Moses. Israel has not yet occupied the land promised in verses 18-21. Solomon had dominion over it (1 Ki. 4:21, 24), as over vassal states, but his people did not occupy it. The covenant will be fulfilled when Christ returns to reign. Nothing can stop its fulfillment. What God has promised is as sure as if it had already happened. God’s times (cf. Dan 2:21) are not arbitrary, nor is His forbearance forever (cf. Pet. 3:9).

 

 

The happy ending is assured, for Israel would come again to Canaan and settle there in the land God promised them.

 

 

for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.

 

 

The deliverance of Israel would not come until the inequity of the Amorites was complete. The pagan inhabitants of Canaan must eventually be exterminated. A delay in judgment caused a delay in covenant fulfillment. Judgment on Egypt (v. 14) would mark the departure of Abram’s descendents for their land, and judgment on the Canaanites (broadly defined ethnically as Amorites) would mark their entrance into that land. God often allows evil to run its course, sometimes to the seeming detriment of His people, before He judges it. He is long suffering, not willing that any should perish—even the depraved Amorites [The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. (2 Pe. 3:9)]. He also allows evil to come to fruition so that the awful consequences of wickedness can be clearly seen by all. Thus, His wrath is demonstrated to be completely righteous. Because God was long-suffering with the nations in Canaan, He delayed their judgment so that they might have more time to repent (2 Pe. 3:8-9; Matt. 23:32). Those who condemn Israel (and God) for the way the Canaanites were treated seem to forget that God gave them centuries to repent of their wickedness. What God is saying to Abram is this: “I cannot put you in this land now because I love the Amorites also and I want to give them a chance to turn to me.” And God gave the Amorites four hundred years—that’s a long time, is it not?—to see if they would turn to Him. The only one in that land that turned to Him, as far as we know, was that Canaanite woman, Rahab the harlot. She turned to God; she believed him. All God asks you to do is to believe Him. God gave the Amorites this great period of opportunity.

 

 

It should be noted that the measure of sin fills gradually; those who continue in their wicked ways, are treasuring up unto themselves wrath. Some people’s measure of sin fills slowly. The people of Sodom, who were sinners before the Lord exceedingly; quickly filled their measure; so did the Jews of Christ’s time, but the inequity of the Amorites was slow in filling up.

 

17 And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces.

And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark,

God’s presence came in the darkness after sundown, like a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp—a light that shone, and yet was veiled in cloud and mystery.

behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces.

 

 

The smoking furnace, and a burning lamp symbolized the presence of God (just as the pillar of a cloud and the pillar of fire represented God’s presence to Israel in the wilderness), who solemnly promised by divine oath to fulfill His promise to Abram by passing alone through the animal pieces (vv. 9-11). Only the Lord Himself could fulfill its promises. He would make Abram’s descendents as numerous as the stars and give them a great land, stretching from the gates of Egypt to the mighty Euphrates.

 

 

18 In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates:

 

 

Unto thy seed have I given this land,

 

 

The land belongs to Abram’s seed only within the terms of the covenant. The terms of the covenant were not the result of negotiation; they were imposed by the Lord (cf. Ex. 34:10-11; 24:7); and the covenant was inaugurated at the foot of the flaming mountain (cf. Ex. 19:8). But the implication of the covenant in its present form would seem to be that the covenant would stand so long as Abraham’s descendents continued to follow the example set by him when he believed the Lord (Gen. 15:6). So Israel could be encouraged by this during the exodus as well as in subsequent times of distress, even during the Babylonian captivity.

 

 

from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates:

 

 

Scripture records both general (Ex. 23:31; Num. 13:21; Deut. 11:24; 1 Kin. 8:65; 2 Kin. 14:25; Isa. 27:12) and specific (Num. 34:1-12; Josh. 15:1-2; Ezek. 47:15-20; 48:1, 28) descriptions of the Promised Land, centering on the ancient land of Canaan. Such precise geographic boundaries will not allow for any redefinitions which would undermine God’s promise of its specificity. The river of Egypt was most probably what became known as the Wadi El Erish (not the Nile River), the southern border of Judah.

 

 

Solomon exercised control over a great portion of the Promised Land (1 Ki. 4:21; Ps. 72:8), but Israel did not possess all that land; the kings merely acknowledged Solomon’s sovereignty and paid tribute to him. When Jesus Christ reigns from the throne of David (Matt. 19:28; Luke 1:32), the land of Israel will reach the full dimensions promised by God.

 

 

19 The Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites,

20 And the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims,

21 And the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.

 

 

The various peoples who inhabited the land are named. Such precise listing of the nations in the land of Canaan attests again to the specificity of the Promised Land in God’s promises. It was their own fault that it took so long for them to possess the land. They forfeited their right by their sins, and by their own sloth and cowardice kept themselves from possessing it.

 

 

From this day forward this covenant was to be a reassurance and inspiration to Israelites and Jews (including twentieth-century Zionism). The ‘how’ and ‘when’ of the promise, however, are entirely within God’s control, which is explained in verses 13-16. Before the dimensions of the Promised Land are specified the historical perspective is given priority. Abram’s descendents face a very long wait, and bondage and oppression too, before the land will be theirs.

 

 

God’s covenant with Israel stands no matter what Israel believes. The covenant is unconditional; its fulfillment does not depend on man’s faith or faithfulness. In like manner, the New Covenant established by Jesus Christ is dependable whether people accept it or not. Those who put their faith in Jesus Christ enter into that covenant and receive eternal salvation (Heb. 5:9; 9:12), an eternal inheritance (Heb. 9:15), and eternal glory (1 Pe. 5:10).

 

 

In this passage, God has given Abram seven prophesies, all of which were fulfilled. The reference following each prophesy shows its fulfillment:

·         Abrams descendents would be strangers in a foreign land (Gen. 46:2-4).

·         They would be servants in that land (Ex. 1:7-14).

·         The servitude would last 430 years (Ex. 12:40).

·         God would judge the nation that would enslave them (Ex. 7-12).

·         Abram himself would be spared all of this (Gen. 25:7-8).

·         After four generations in Egypt, Israel would return to Canaan (Ex. 6:16-20—Moses was the fourth generation).

·         Israel would come out of Egypt with great wealth (Ex. 12:35-36; Ps. 105:37).

This passage encourages New Testament believers as well. God affirms solemnly that He will fulfill His promises concerning salvation and all the blessings that pertain to that life (cf. 2 Pe. 1:3-4); despite opposition, suffering, and even death. He keeps His word!

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let us pay particular attention to fulfilled prophesy as we continue to study the books of the Old Testament, because in them we can see God at work accomplishing his purposes for mankind. What a great God!

 

 

God has entered into a covenant with us, as He did with Abram; and in the glory of the only begotten Son, who passed between God and us, all who believe, have like Abram, a sign or pledge in the gift of the Spirit, whereby they may know that they shall inherit the heavenly Canaan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

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