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Genesis 15:1

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

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 יהוה דבר debar Yehovah, translated here word of the Lord, means the same with the λογος του Θεου of St. John, John 1:1, and, by the Chaldee paraphrases in the next clause, called מימרי meimeri, "my word," and in other places דיי מימרא meimera daiya, the word of Yeya, a contraction for Jehovah, which they appear always to consider as a person; and which they distinguish from פתגמא 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, מחזה machazeh, from חזה 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, etc. 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 Genesis 15:2, upon which God appears and says, I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward. The patriarch then, Genesis 15:3, freely opens the anxious apprehension of his heart, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed, etc., upon which God proceeds to assure him of posterity."

I am thy shield, etc. - 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, מאד הרבה שכרך 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, etc.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible
Verses 1-21

- 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.

Genesis 15:1-6

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.

Genesis 15:2-3

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.

Genesis 15:4-5

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.

Genesis 15:6

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.

Genesis 15:7-21

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.

Genesis 15:12-17

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.

Genesis 15:13-15

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.

Genesis 15:17

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.

Genesis 15:18-21

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.

Genesis 15:19-21

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.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
God assured Abram of safety and happiness; that he should for ever be safe. I am thy shield; or, I am a shield to thee, present with thee, actually caring for thee. The consideration that God himself is, and will be a shield to his people, to secure them from all evils, a shield ready to them, and a shield round about them, should silence all perplexing, tormenting fears.
Ellen G. White
The Upward Look, 321.3

Christ is the Lord our Righteousness. Let us take our stand on His side now, just now. Let none be ashamed to acknowledge Christ as their Saviour, their counselor, their guide, and their exceeding great reward. Is this sacrificing anything? Is it an honor to be numbered among Satan's army? Those who make this choice gain nothing. Only death, eternal death, awaits them. Let those who are tempted to choose the world, to strive to gain the recognition of the world, remember that unless they choose Christ here, they will not have the recognition of heaven. Tempted ones, whom have you chosen as your leader? ... UL 321.3

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Ellen G. White
The Upward Look, 181.4

The Word of the living God is to be our guide. Each one is to realize his dependence upon Him, whose he is by creation and by redemption. Read and study the statements made in the sixth chapter of John. Pray for an understanding of these truths. I am alarmed as I see the spiritual weakness of those who have had such great light. Had they walked in this light, they would have been strong in the Lord. But they have not, and those who come into the truth through their efforts look to human beings for wisdom, instead of looking to Jesus Christ, “the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9). When those who claim to believe in Christ receive Him by faith, He will be to them their sanctification, their righteousness, and their exceeding great reward.... UL 181.4

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Ellen G. White
Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, 34

Great is the reward in heaven of those who are witnesses for Christ through persecution and reproach. While the people are looking for earthly good, Jesus points them to a heavenly reward. But He does not place it all in the future life; it begins here. The Lord appeared of old time to Abraham and said, “I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.” Genesis 15:1. This is the reward of all who follow Christ. Jehovah Immanuel—He “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” in whom dwells “all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:3, 9)—to be brought into sympathy with Him, to know Him, to possess Him, as the heart opens more and more to receive His attributes; to know His love and power, to possess the unsearchable riches of Christ, to comprehend more and more “what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18, 19)—“this is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of Me, saith the Lord.” Isaiah 54:17. MB 34.1

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Ellen G. White
This Day With God, 45.7

Look unto Jesus, your pitying, loving Saviour. If you cast your helpless soul on Christ, He will bring joy and peace to your soul. He will be your crown of rejoicing, your exceeding great reward.—Letter 34, February 6, 1907, to the wife of a conference administrator in Australia. TDG 45.7

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