Genesis 15: God’s Covenant with Abram

1 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”

-This time we are told how God spoke to Abram, through a vision. In the bible a vision can be many different things. Sometimes a vision is something someone sees while asleep, sometimes while awake, sometimes while walking or doing something. It does not seem to matter what the individual is doing at the time, what happens is the person sees images in their minds-eye and they can’t seem to control it because it is from God. We learned that when the world was created, God spoke the command, Jesus was the command, and the Spirit carried out the command. Going by this structure, we can claim the Abram was visited by the Holy Spirit and the Spirit was with Him showing him this vision.

2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus? 3 And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.”

-Poor Eliezer. It’s reasonable to assume he was probably Abram’s most loyal servant.

4 And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” 5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

-Pay attention to the wording here. “The word” of the Lord came to him and then it says God brought him outside. In John 1:1, Jesus is referred to as “The Word” and then we are given a picture of a man-like individual guiding Abram outside like a host guides a guest. Could this have been another appearance of Jesus? It does not say the vision guided him outside, it says he was “brought” outside. The Hebrew word used here is “yatsa” which means “to go or come out”. So Abram was “go’ed” out, not guided in a Spiritual sense. A reasonable interpretation is that God was in the form of a man guiding him outside. Fun fact: to date, scientists have been able to number 300 sextillion starts as of an article from 2010: http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2010/12/01/scientists-sextillion-stars/ . Does this mean that literally Abram’s descendants are 300 sextillion in number? In this case I would not define this literally because the wording is “So shall your offspring be”. In other words, God is saying “Its like this”. Abram’s descendants will be like the number of stars in the sky which at the time, everyone would probably assume there was some 2,000 because that’s about how many you can see without any kind of telescope. Its amazing that in time we have both learned that Abram’s descendants really are in the billions to this day and we’ve discovered such an incalculable number of stars has given this verse new meaning. Abram could not have imagined life on earth existing this long because at this point it had been less than 400 years since the flood and we know Shem was still living at the time somewhere near 480 and he lives until he is 600.

6 And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

-This is one the most important verses in the entire bible! These 13 words explain exactly how it is we can go to heaven despite being horrible sinners. Because of the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross, all it takes is faith in the Lord and God counts that the same as if we never sinned and did good deeds. Faith in God washes over sins. Keep in mind, this is being told at the same time the Israelites are being given the law. Even then, they are told that the most important thing to have is faith, not to do everything perfect. We’ve already seen a number of examples even with these first 15 chapters of Genesis of God showing great mercy even to horrible sinners. Cain seemed to go on and have success in life despite living as a fugitive against God and he was not killed immediately for killing his own brother. Lamech was not struck dead for taking on two wives and declaring a new curse as if he were God. When the flood happened, there had been 100 years of warning where it can be assumed Noah told people what he was doing and why and no one believed him. God waiting until the world was sufficiently evil, giving them a chance to turn around. We see grace, after grace, after grace. God has never been one to immediately enact justice and He always seems to show compassion and give people a chance to change. And no matter what we’ve done, as long as we have faith, God counts that as righteousness. Abram has seemed like a very righteous man up to this point but we’ve seen him not completely obey God’s original plan by taking his family and possessions with him and lying while in Egypt. But that did not disqualify him in God’s sight and we see Abram becoming more and more like God. Abram’s very life is an example of the Christian life of today. We start out as babies and over time, we learn to walk and to talk. Eventually, some of us may learn to be fully grown and sprint and teach others. Abram is on this journey and the fact that he now trusts God shows how far he has come.

7 And he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.”

-The fact that God identifies Himself as the one who originally lead Abram away from Ur must mean that Abram did not know it was from God and may have only assumed or just decided to obey a strange voice or instinct out of fear. Maybe there was no decision at all and he simply found himself doing it. However, if that was the case he probably would have gone straight to Canaan instead of stopping in Haran and taking his father and household so it seems most reasonable to assume a free will choice here. This gives Abram some credit for his incomplete disobedience because he did not know the source of this strange message he was getting and probably wasn’t sure whether to obey it. He may have doubted his sanity. This is important to take note in case you, the reader, ever think God may have told you something but are not sure and may be hesitant. The fact that this happened to Abram way back when shows that it could happen today and this is quite normal. Go before the Lord and ask him for confirmation and tell him you would like to obey this if it is from Him and do it anyway as long as there is nothing sinful. If there’s even a chance God has told you to do something you need to do it. Better you think you’re serving the Lord and be wrong than to be afraid and not do what the Lord commands out of fear of humiliation. As we learned, God counts faith as righteousness. Faith is not about being given all the information or knowing for sure. Faith in itself is a risk, it is a blind jump. That is the very definition of faith, doing something even if it doesn’t make sense or the reward doesn’t seem worth the risk. I’ve heard one philosopher claim that “faith is the antithesis of reason”. I don’t have a problem with this definition because it does seem to be true. The bible itself does have evidence that can be verified in terms of history, archeology, names of people and places, but in terms of “proof” that all this is real? You will never find it scientifically. Once you are a believer and you study the word, you will start to see and understandings that are proof to you but there will never be any kind of scientific proof that what the bible says is real. It can only be believed on faith, there is plenty of reason to doubt it, its fantastical. The world does not experience the things talked about in the bible every day like huge miracles and because are brains are natural wired to sin, we more often see what the world identifies as “the real world” rather than the Spiritual side of things. A person can never truly reason their way to and understand of God or anything like visions. It all comes down to faith. Just believe!

8 But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?”

Well, so much for faith, right? Not completely because the fact that Abram asks means he does indeed believe he’s talking to God and that God can give him a sign. As mentioned before, Abram is on a journey and he is growing into the believer that he will one day be as Abraham, a man willing to sacrifice his son because God tells him to. Abram is not there yet and while he believes in God and God guiding him, he still questions God’s ability to give him a son because there is still a fleshly nature within him fighting. From a worldly perspective, it doesn’t make sense. Abram and Sarai have been trying for years and they are getting to old to physically be capable of having children. It just seems so outrageous and aside from Abram’s military victor and the ( possible) visit from God in the flesh when he was brought outside, Abram has not witnessed miracles of this type. He may truly not no that nothing is impossible with God and may only be viewing Him as a super-powerful deity that does indeed have limitations instead of God the creator that has no limitations aside from sinning against Himself or changing.

9 He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half.

-These seems bizarre and gruesome but this was actually a common practice of the day. Men would draw covenants and contracts in this manner, a “blood” contract if you will. The idea being if either side broke this contract, they would end up like this animal. God is essentially swearing on His own life, on pain of death, that He will do as He has promised to Abram. This is not necessary for God to do because anything He declares happens, period. But God is doing this for Abram’s benefit to give Him a gift of faith that He will do what has been promised. One animal was usually enough for this kind of contract so the number of animals may have been a sign of the importance of the contract to use so many. It’s interesting the bird were not cut in half. We are not given the reason why. This would mean between the five animals there were 4 halves and the turtledove and pigeon would have been on either side of the other as halves. Note that all these animals are clean animals. No unclean animal can ever be sacrificed to God.

11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. 12a As the sun was going down,

-This implies that there was a great amount of waiting, probably several hours while Abram sat there waiting for God to show up. The patience must have made him doubt his sanity again but patience is a Godly virtue and impatience is a result of our sinful nature. God may have waiting as part of Abram’s journey teaching him patiences or perhaps it symbolized to Abram that this was going to take a long time.

12b a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. 13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

-Abram is given a vision in a dream this time. Notice it says dreadful and great darkness fell on him. While would there be dread and darkness when Abram is being told that the promise will be fulfilled? I have a possible explanation from my own experience. When I was 16 years old, I truly believe I had not one but two visions in my dreams. I remember the feeling and what I saw, it was something like described in the bible and while strange, I had absolutely no doubt as to their meaning. I was shown that nothing is more important than what was done on the Cross in one and I was flat out told in another that God loves me. Even though these were wonderful positive messages and I was blessed far beyond anything I could ever deserve to be given these confirmations of my faith, I felt a deep dread and fear unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I woke up sweating and more terrified then at any other point in my life. The fact that something was happening beyond my control and I somehow knew that this was from God gave me a deep terror. It may have done something else as well. If as mentioned before that the Spirit visits people when they have visions and this is what happened, the Spirit also does something else…it reveals truth. The Holy Spirit bestows gifts and one of those gifts are faith, another is wisdom, another is discernment. These things help us in our faith and in our journey to God. It makes sense that if God’s very nature is honesty and the truth that the Holy Spirit when touching someone would reveal the truth. My feeling, and perhaps Abram’s feeling of darkness and dread, may have been us feeling our own sin. Temporarily, we felt how horrible we are to God and our entire bodies had a physical reaction. Again, I have no wish to try and inject my own personal experience into scripture and wish to draw from scripture blindly to accept the truth. But this description is so much like my own experience before I ever looked at this passage closely to know before hand that I cannot help myself but draw from it. But I advise the reader to take what has been written here with a grain of salt. As stated before, nothing of the Spiritual can be proven and its still possible I just had a weird dream and the fact that I thought it was from God scarred me and it wasn’t. Even without my experience, the Holy Spirit revealing the truth of Abram’s nature while the vision occurred seems a reasonable theory on its own.

17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.

-This occurred while Abram was asleep. This is most unlike a contract because in such a ritual, both parties would cross between as a sign of the blood oath. But Abram was not making a deal with God, God was simply giving his promise. Abram is not required to do anything as part of this contract and so he was taken completely out of the deal. The contract is simply God vowing that He will do something. An image of a pot suggests a contained fire and the torch is being held as if by an invisible hand. God later is seen in the image of burning fire in several instances and this seems to be symbolic of the presence of God. If one believes that God walking in the form of a man was God the Father and not Jesus then its a reasonable question to ask why God did not come in the flesh and perform this ritual as He may have done before when guiding Abram? Or why didn’t Jesus come either? The reason is that this is a promise from God the Father and God the Son, Jesus, is the word and the voice that submits to God. God the Father is the authority in their relationship and only He can make promises. The Son does nothing apart from the will of the Father who sent Him. Jesus cannot make a contract in His own name or on behalf of God the Father, He can only submit to God as does the Holy Spirit and they do not have a will of their own. So God the Father Himself had to be present to do this but God the Father does not visit in the form of a man. So God was present but the visible sign that human eyes see is fire.

18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, 19 the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.”

-Some of these people’s have been mentioned and genealogies given, some genealogies are unknown, and some are only ever mentioned in this one passage in the whole of the bible. These could be descendants from others sons that are not mentioned in scripture or we may be getting already to a time when groups are no longer named based on their common ancestor but by a King or a description of who they are. We talked about before how the term “Perizzites” has come to be known as a term meaning “belonging to a village”. One would assume given this is Canaanite territory that all these groups are descended from Canaan but we can no longer assume this. One of the few details we have of Kenites it that Moses father-in-law was a Kenite so presumably his wife was of this bloodline as well. Kadmonites is a term in Hebrew that has come to mean “easterners” so perhaps these people migrated from the Caldeans or even farther East. Rephaim is a term that means “giants” and whoever these people descended from seem to be from Golan in Israel. The Hebrew root “rapha” actually means to heal so perhaps these people were called this because as Giants, they were considered super healthy. The others are Canaanite tribes. Interesting that God says this nation will stretch from the Nile river to the Euphrates river, a much larger territory than the nation of Israel that began and exists today. Does this mean Israel will be much larger and the promise has yet to be completely revealed? This territory would encompass the modern nations of eastern Egypt, Israel, all of Jordan, northern Saudi Arabia, half of Iraq, all of Lebanon, most of Syria, and possibly a small stretch of Turkey too. Here is a picture to illustrate: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/61/Greater_Israel_map.jpg/1024px-Greater_Israel_map.jpg . Given that some of the peoples who were identified and did not settle within the confines of what we think of as Israel also fortifies this thought. Are we still, even today, going to witness a war between Israel and these nations that would eventually cause the territory of Israel to actually stretch this far? God said it and this does not appear to be hyperbole. God is never given to hyperbole. This must be that at some point in time, Israel truly will have these boundaries some day. This leads members of these nations to be extremely fearful and on high conspiracy alert to this day that “The Zionists” will go to war and take this land because it is identified as Abraham’s promised land in the bible. It could also simply be that another of Abram’s descendants, Ishmael, may be in the blood of the citizens of these nations today as the Muslims believe and in that sense, the promise was fulfilled already and descendants of Abram do exist from the Nile to the Euphrates.

Spanish Words:

escudo = shield
galardón = award, prize
prole = offspring
heredero = heir
becerra = calf
heredar = to inherit
rapiña = robbery
esclava = slave, bracelet
ajena = alien, someone different
juzgar = to judge
puesto = position

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