The Lord made a covenant - ברית כרת 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 Joshua 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 2 Samuel 8:3, etc., and 2 Chronicles 9:26.
- 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.
But like the stars in the vast circuit of their appointed path, God's purposes know no haste and no delay. Through the symbols of the great darkness and the smoking furnace, God had revealed to Abraham the bondage of Israel in Egypt, and had declared that the time of their sojourning should be four hundred years. “Afterward,” He said, “shall they come out with great substance.” Genesis 15:14. Against that word, all the power of Pharaoh's proud empire battled in vain. On “the self-same day” appointed in the divine promise, “it came to pass, that all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt.” Exodus 12:41. So in heaven's council the hour for the coming of Christ had been determined. When the great clock of time pointed to that hour, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. DA 32.1
“When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son.” Providence had directed the movements of nations, and the tide of human impulse and influence, until the world was ripe for the coming of the Deliverer. The nations were united under one government. One language was widely spoken, and was everywhere recognized as the language of literature. From all lands the Jews of the dispersion gathered to Jerusalem to the annual feasts. As these returned to the places of their sojourn, they could spread throughout the world the tidings of the Messiah's coming. DA 32.2
At this time the systems of heathenism were losing their hold upon the people. Men were weary of pageant and fable. They longed for a religion that could satisfy the heart. While the light of truth seemed to have departed from among men, there were souls who were looking for light, and who were filled with perplexity and sorrow. They were thirsting for a knowledge of the living God, for some assurance of a life beyond the grave. DA 32.3
As the Jews had departed from God, faith had grown dim, and hope had well-nigh ceased to illuminate the future. The words of the prophets were uncomprehended. To the masses of the people, death was a dread mystery; beyond was uncertainty and gloom. It was not alone the wailing of the mothers of Bethlehem, but the cry from the great heart of humanity, that was borne to the prophet across the centuries,—the voice heard in Ramah, “lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.” Matthew 2:18. In “the region and shadow of death,” men sat unsolaced. With longing eyes they looked for the coming of the Deliverer, when the darkness should be dispelled, and the mystery of the future should be made plain. DA 32.4Read in context »
A more terrible stroke followed—murrain upon all the Egyptian cattle that were in the field. Both the sacred animals and the beasts of burden—kine and oxen and sheep, horses and camels and asses—were destroyed. It had been distinctly stated that the Hebrews were to be exempt; and Pharaoh, on sending messengers to the home of the Israelites, proved the truth of this declaration of Moses. “Of the cattle of the children of Israel died not one.” Still the king was obstinate. PP 267.1
Moses was next directed to take ashes of the furnace, and “sprinkle it toward heaven in the sight of Pharaoh.” This act was deeply significant. Four hundred years before, God had shown to Abraham the future oppression of His people, under the figure of a smoking furnace and a burning lamp. He had declared that He would visit judgments upon their oppressors, and would bring forth the captives with great substance. In Egypt, Israel had long languished in the furnace of affliction. This act of Moses was an assurance to them that God was mindful of His covenant, and that the time for their deliverance had come. PP 267.2
As the ashes were sprinkled toward heaven, the fine particles spread over all the land of Egypt, and wherever they settled, produced boils “breaking forth with blains upon man, and upon beast.” The priests and magicians had hitherto encouraged Pharaoh in his stubbornness, but now a judgment had come that reached even them. Smitten with a loathsome and painful disease, their vaunted power only making them contemptible, they were no longer able to contend against the God of Israel. The whole nation was made to see the folly of trusting in the magicians, when they were not able to protect even their own persons. PP 267.3
Still the heart of Pharaoh grew harder. And now the Lord sent a message to him, declaring, “I will at this time send all My plagues upon thy heart, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people; that thou mayest know that there is none like Me in all the earth.... And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to show in thee My power.” Not that God had given him an existence for this purpose, but His providence had overruled events to place him upon the throne at the very time appointed for Israel's deliverance. Though this haughty tyrant had by his crimes forfeited the mercy of God, yet his life had been preserved that through his stubbornness the Lord might manifest His wonders in the land of Egypt. The disposing of events is of God's providence. He could have placed upon the throne a more merciful king, who would not have dared to withstand the mighty manifestations of divine power. But in that case the Lord's purposes would not have been accomplished. His people were permitted to experience the grinding cruelty of the Egyptians, that they might not be deceived concerning the debasing influence of idolatry. In His dealing with Pharaoh, the Lord manifested His hatred of idolatry and His determination to punish cruelty and oppression. PP 267.4Read in context »
Although many of the Israelites had become corrupted by idolatry, yet the faithful stood firm. They had not concealed their faith, but openly acknowledged before the Egyptians that they served the only true and living God. They rehearsed the evidences of God's existence and power from creation down. The Egyptians had an opportunity of becoming acquainted with the faith of the Hebrews and their God. They had tried to subvert the faithful worshipers of the true God, and were annoyed because they had not succeeded, either by threats, the promise of rewards, or by cruel treatment. SR 113.1
The last two kings who had occupied the throne of Egypt had been tyrannical and had cruelly entreated the Hebrews. The elders of Israel had endeavored to encourage the sinking faith of the Israelites, by referring to the promise made to Abraham, and the prophetic words of Joseph just before he died, foretelling their deliverance from Egypt. Some would listen and believe. Others looked at their own sad condition, and would not hope. SR 113.2Read in context »
As men increased upon the earth, almost the whole world joined the ranks of rebellion. Once more Satan seemed to have gained the victory. But omnipotent power again cut short the working of iniquity, and the earth was cleansed by the Flood from its moral pollution. PP 332.1
Says the prophet, “When Thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness. Let favor be showed to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness, ... and will not behold the majesty of Jehovah.” Isaiah 26:9, 10. Thus it was after the Flood. Released from His judgments, the inhabitants of the earth again rebelled against the Lord. Twice God's covenant and His statutes had been rejected by the world. Both the people before the Flood and the descendants of Noah cast off the divine authority. Then God entered into covenant with Abraham, and took to Himself a people to become the depositaries of His law. To seduce and destroy this people, Satan began at once to lay his snares. The children of Jacob were tempted to contract marriages with the heathen and to worship their idols. But Joseph was faithful to God, and his fidelity was a constant testimony to the true faith. It was to quench this light that Satan worked through the envy of Joseph's brothers to cause him to be sold as a slave in a heathen land. God overruled events, however, so that the knowledge of Himself should be given to the people of Egypt. Both in the house of Potiphar and in the prison Joseph received an education and training that, with the fear of God, prepared him for his high position as prime minister of the nation. From the palace of the Pharaohs his influence was felt throughout the land, and the knowledge of God spread far and wide. The Israelites in Egypt also became prosperous and wealthy, and such as were true to God exerted a widespread influence. The idolatrous priests were filled with alarm as they saw the new religion finding favor. Inspired by Satan with his own enmity toward the God of heaven, they set themselves to quench the light. To the priests was committed the education of the heir to the throne, and it was this spirit of determined opposition to God and zeal for idolatry that molded the character of the future monarch, and led to cruelty and oppression toward the Hebrews. PP 332.2Read in context »