Chapter 15

Submitted by admin on Fri, 2019-12-13 16:38.

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Targum Jonathan indicates that one development Abram feared was that the “brothers” or relatives and the companions of those whom he had killed in the campaign to rescue his nephew Lot would “combine in legions” and come against him. That he must have had a measure of fear appears to be evident from the divine assurance that he was given. He received a vision from YHWH, telling him not to be afraid. He was promised protection, for YHWH would be a shield for him. Additionally, Abram’s reward would be very great. (15:1)

Abram responded in a state of discouragement because he had no offspring and his servant Eliezer of Damascus, one born in his household, would inherit everything. (15:2, 3) YHWH’s word then made it clear to Abram that Eliezer would not be the heir but that he would indeed have a son who would be. (15:4)

YHWH brought Abram outside, apparently outside his tent, and told him to look at the night sky, asking him to number the stars if he could do so. Then Abram received the assurance that his “seed” or descendants would be just as numerous. Abram believed what YHWH had revealed to him, and his faith was reckoned to him as “righteousness,” indicating that he had an approved relationship with YHWH. (15:5, 6)

YHWH is quoted as identifying himself as the One who brought Abram out of Ur of the Chaldeans (a city commonly identified with Tell el-Muqayyar on the south bank of the Euphrates in southern Iraq) to give him the land of Canaan. The giving of the land to Abram’s descendants as their inheritance was so certain that it was as if they received it as their possession from YHWH through Abram. At this point, YHWH made a covenant with Abram respecting the land. For this purpose, Abram was to select three-year-old domestic animals — a heifer, a female goat, and a ram — and a turtledove and a young pigeon. Abram cut all three animals in two and positioned them so that the halves of each animal matched, but he did not cut the birds in two. He probably placed the turtledove on one side and the young pigeon on the opposite side. (15:7-10)

The preparations that Abram made with the sacrificed animals corresponded with the ancient practice for concluding a covenant. After the procedure was carried out, the parties to a covenant or agreement would pass between the parts of the sacrificed victims, indicating thereby that they would merit death, or the same fate as the dead animals, if they did not live up to the terms of the covenant.

When birds of prey descended upon the carcasses, Abram drove them away as he continued to wait for what YHWH would do or would reveal to him. The Septuagint does not refer to Abram’s scaring the birds away but indicates that he sat by the sacrificed animals. “As the sun was going down, Abram fell into a deep sleep,” probably a trance. He then found himself enshrouded in a “fearful darkness,” one that must have made it impossible for him to see anything. That darkness apparently pointed to a coming dark or distressful time for the descendants of Abram, as is apparent from what was next revealed to him. His “seed” or descendants would find themselves in a land not belonging to them, come to be in a state of servitude, and be oppressed “400 years.” (15:11-13)

From the immediate context, one cannot establish how the reference to 400 years is to be understood. Therefore, explanations that have been given over the course of centuries vary. One way to understand the period of 400 years is to reconcile it with the chronology set forth in Exodus 12:40 and Galatians 3:16, 17. The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, wrote that 430 was the number of years that passed between the time that God made his covenant with Abraham (Abram) and the giving of the law to his descendants at Mount Sinai. When Abram responded in faith, leaving behind his country and relatives, and later entered Canaan, YHWH confirmed the covenant promise that Abram’s “seed” or descendants would be given the land of Canaan. (Genesis 12:7). Abram was then 75 years old. (Genesis 12:4) From that time until the giving of the law a period of 430 years passed, 215 years of which Abram (Abraham) and his descendants lived in the land of Canaan. (Genesis 12:4-6; 21:5; 25:26; 47:9) During the remaining 215 years, Abraham’s grandson Jacob and his descendants resided in Egypt. This agrees with the reading of the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Septuagint that the Israelites lived in “Egypt” and “Canaan” 430 years. (Exodus 12:40; the Masoretic Text, however, omits the mention of Canaan.) With seeming reference to Exodus 12:40, Josephus wrote that the Israelites left Egypt “430 years” after Abraham (Abram) came into Canaan, but “215 years only” after Jacob came to reside in Egypt. (Antiquities, II, xv, 2) In the year the Israelites departed from Egypt, the law covenant was concluded with them.

Based on the age of Abraham at the birth of Isaac, Isaac’s age at the birth of the twins Esau and Jacob, and the age at which Jacob and his family came to live in Egypt, a 400-year residence in that land is ruled out. Moreover, the descendants of Abraham did not suffer any oppression in Egypt for well over five decades after Jacob’s death. Accordingly, the period of oppression from Egyptians apparently is not to be regarded as continuing without letup for 400 years. One way to understand the affliction as coming upon the “seed” of Abram (Abraham) is to start it with what Isaac experienced from Ishmael, the son of his Egyptian mother Hagar. At the weaning of Isaac, Ishmael “played” with him. (Genesis 21:9) This playing apparently took the form of mocking. In Galatians 4:29, the apostle Paul referred to it as persecution. Abraham was 100 years old at the time Isaac was born. If the weaning of Isaac is considered as taking place when Abraham was 105 years old, the period of Egyptian affliction of the “seed” of Abraham had its start then and terminated 400 years after this incident when his descendants departed from Egypt as a free people.

YHWH made known to Abram that he would execute judgment against the nation responsible for oppressing his descendants and that they, with much property, would be able to leave that nation. As for Abram, he would die at a “good old age,” joining his forefathers in the realm of the dead “in peace,” not in a time or as a consequence of trouble or conflict. “In the fourth generation,” the descendants of Abram would come back to the land of Canaan, the land that YHWH had promised to give to Abram and his descendants. It was, however, not then the time for executing punitive judgment against the Amorites, the main inhabitants of Canaan. Their record of sin had not reached its ultimate level. (15:15, 16)

If the reference to the “fourth generation” is to be fitted into the period of about 215 years, it could be reckoned as follows: Jacob’s son Levi, his grandson Kohath, his great-grandson Amram, and his great-great-grandson Aaron. (Exodus 6:16, 18, 20)

While it continued to be dark after the sun had gone down, Abram saw a smoking fire pot, oven, or furnace and a flaming torch pass between the carcasses of the animals he had cut in half. According to the Septuagint, initially a “flame appeared.” What Abram witnessed tangibly confirmed to him that the promises YHWH had made to him would be fulfilled. As this was a unilateral covenant with him, Abram did not pass between the halves of the sacrificed animals. His descendants would be given the land extending from the “river of Egypt” (commonly identified with Wadi el-‛Arish to the southwest of Gaza) to the Euphrates River. The people then living in the land were the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaim, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites. The Septuagint includes the Heuites (Hivites). (15:17-21)


For the application that the apostle Paul made of Genesis 15:5, 6, see Romans 4:3-12, 18; Galatians 3:6-9. Also see the comments on the verses from Romans and Galatians in the Commentary section.