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Genesis 15

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The Cutting of the Covenant

15:1 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram! I am your shield 1  and the one who will reward you in great abundance.” 2 

15:2 But Abram said, “O sovereign Lord, 3  what will you give me since 4  I continue to be 5  childless, and my heir 6  is 7  Eliezer of Damascus?” 8  15:3 Abram added, 9  “Since 10  you have not given me a descendant, then look, one born in my house will be my heir!” 11 

15:4 But look, 12  the word of the Lord came to him: “This man 13  will not be your heir, 14  but instead 15  a son 16  who comes from your own body will be 17  your heir.” 18  15:5 The Lord 19  took him outside and said, “Gaze into the sky and count the stars – if you are able to count them!” Then he said to him, “So will your descendants be.”

15:6 Abram believed 20  the Lord, and the Lord 21  considered his response of faith 22  as proof of genuine loyalty. 23 

15:7 The Lord said 24  to him, “I am the Lord 25  who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans 26  to give you this land to possess.” 15:8 But 27  Abram 28  said, “O sovereign Lord, 29  by what 30  can I know that I am to possess it?”

15:9 The Lord 31  said to him, “Take for me a heifer, a goat, and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.” 15:10 So Abram 32  took all these for him and then cut them in two 33  and placed each half opposite the other, 34  but he did not cut the birds in half. 15:11 When birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

15:12 When the sun went down, Abram fell sound asleep, 35  and great terror overwhelmed him. 36  15:13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain 37  that your descendants will be strangers 38  in a foreign country. 39  They will be enslaved and oppressed 40  for four hundred years. 15:14 But I will execute judgment on the nation that they will serve. 41  Afterward they will come out with many possessions. 15:15 But as for you, 42  you will go to your ancestors 43  in peace and be buried at a good old age. 44  15:16 In the fourth generation 45  your descendants 46  will return here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its limit.” 47 

15:17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking firepot with a flaming torch 48  passed between the animal parts. 49  15:18 That day the Lord made a covenant 50  with Abram: “To your descendants I give 51  this land, from the river of Egypt 52  to the great river, the Euphrates River – 15:19 the land 53  of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 15:20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 15:21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites.” 54 

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1 sn The noun “shield” recalls the words of Melchizedek in 14:20. If God is the shield, then God will deliver. Abram need not fear reprisals from those he has fought.

2 tn Heb “your reward [in] great abundance.” When the phrase הַרְבּה מְאֹדֵ (harbeh mÿod) follows a noun it invariably modifies the noun and carries the nuance “very great” or “in great abundance.” (See its use in Gen 41:49; Deut 3:5; Josh 22:8; 2 Sam 8:8; 12:2; 1 Kgs 4:29; 10:10-11; 2 Chr 14:13; 32:27; Jer 40:12.) Here the noun “reward” is in apposition to “shield” and refers by metonymy to God as the source of the reward. Some translate here “your reward will be very great” (cf. NASB, NRSV), taking the statement as an independent clause and understanding the Hiphil infinitive absolute as a substitute for a finite verb. However, the construction הַרְבּה מְאֹדֵ is never used this way elsewhere, where it either modifies a noun (see the texts listed above) or serves as an adverb in relation to a finite verb (see Josh 13:1; 1 Sam 26:21; 2 Sam 12:30; 2 Kgs 21:16; 1 Chr 20:2; Neh 2:2).

sn Abram has just rejected all the spoils of war, and the Lord promises to reward him in great abundance. In walking by faith and living with integrity he cannot lose.

3 tn The Hebrew text has אֲדֹנָי יֱהוִה (’adonay yehvih, “Master, Lord”). Since the tetragrammaton (YHWH) usually is pointed with the vowels for the Hebrew word אֲדֹנָי (’adonay, “master”) to avoid pronouncing the divine name, that would lead in this place to a repetition of אֲדֹנָי. So the tetragrammaton is here pointed with the vowels for the word אֱלֹהִים (’elohim, “God”) instead. That would produce the reading of the Hebrew as “Master, God” in the Jewish textual tradition. But the presence of “Master” before the holy name is rather compelling evidence that the original would have been “Master, Lord,” which is rendered here “sovereign Lord.”

4 tn The vav (ו) disjunctive at the beginning of the clause is circumstantial, expressing the cause or reason.

5 tn Heb “I am going.”

6 tn Heb “the son of the acquisition of my house.”

sn For the custom of designating a member of the household as heir, see C. H. Gordon, “Biblical Customs and the Nuzu Tablets,” Biblical Archaeologist Reader, 2:21-33.

7 tn The pronoun is anaphoric here, equivalent to the verb “to be” (R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 23, §115).

8 sn The sentence in the Hebrew text employs a very effective wordplay on the name Damascus: “The son of the acquisition (בֶּן־מֶשֶׁק, ben-mesheq) of my house is Eliezer of Damascus (דַּמֶּשֶׁק, dammesheq).” The words are not the same; they have different sibilants. But the sound play gives the impression that “in the nomen is the omen.” Eliezer the Damascene will be Abram’s heir if Abram dies childless because “Damascus” seems to mean that. See M. F. Unger, “Some Comments on the Text of Genesis 15:2-3,” JBL 72 (1953): 49-50; H. L. Ginsberg, “Abram’s ‘Damascene’ Steward,” BASOR 200 (1970): 31-32.

9 tn Heb “And Abram said.”

10 tn The construction uses הֵן (hen) to introduce the foundational clause (“since…”), and וְהִנֵּה (vÿhinneh) to introduce the main clause (“then look…”).

11 tn Heb “is inheriting me.”

12 tn The disjunctive draws attention to God’s response and the particle הִנֵּה (hinneh, translated “look”) mirrors Abram’s statement in v. 3 and highlights the fact that God responded to Abram.

13 tn The subject of the verb is the demonstrative pronoun, which can be translated “this one” or “this man.” That the Lord does not mention him by name is significant; often in ancient times the use of the name would bring legitimacy to inheritance and adoption cases.

14 tn Heb “inherit you.”

15 tn The Hebrew כִּי־אִם (ki-im) forms a very strong adversative.

16 tn Heb “he who”; the implied referent (Abram’s unborn son who will be his heir) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

17 tn The pronoun could also be an emphatic subject: “whoever comes out of your body, he will inherit you.”

18 tn Heb “will inherit you.”

19 tn Heb “he”; the referent (the Lord) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

20 tn The nonconsecutive vav (ו) is on a perfect verbal form. If the composer of the narrative had wanted to show simple sequence, he would have used the vav consecutive with the preterite. The perfect with vav conjunctive (where one expects the preterite with vav consecutive) in narrative contexts can have a variety of discourse functions, but here it probably serves to highlight Abram’s response to God’s promise. For a detailed discussion of the vav + perfect construction in Hebrew narrative, see R. Longacre, “Weqatal Forms in Biblical Hebrew Prose: A Discourse-modular Approach,” Biblical Hebrew and Discourse Linguistics, 50-98. The Hebrew verb אָמַן (’aman) means “to confirm, to support” in the Qal verbal stem. Its derivative nouns refer to something or someone that/who provides support, such as a “pillar,” “nurse,” or “guardian, trustee.” In the Niphal stem it comes to mean “to be faithful, to be reliable, to be dependable,” or “to be firm, to be sure.” In the Hiphil, the form used here, it takes on a declarative sense: “to consider something reliable [or “dependable”].” Abram regarded the God who made this promise as reliable and fully capable of making it a reality.

21 tn Heb “and he”; the referent (the Lord) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

22 tn Heb “and he reckoned it to him.” The third feminine singular pronominal suffix refers back to Abram’s act of faith, mentioned in the preceding clause. On third feminine singular pronouns referring back to verbal ideas see GKC 440-41 §135.p. Some propose taking the suffix as proleptic, anticipating the following feminine noun (“righteousness”). In this case one might translate: “and he reckoned it to him – [namely] righteousness.” See O. P. Robertson, “Genesis 15:6: A New Covenant Exposition of an Old Covenant Text,” WTJ 42 (1980): 259-89.

23 tn Or “righteousness”; or “evidence of steadfast commitment.” The noun is an adverbial accusative. The verb translated “considered” (Heb “reckoned”) also appears with צְדָקָה (tsÿdaqah, “righteousness”) in Ps 106:31. Alluding to the events recorded in Numbers 25, the psalmist notes that Phinehas’ actions were “credited to him as righteousness for endless generations to come.” Reference is made to the unconditional, eternal covenant with which God rewarded Phinehas’ loyalty (Num 25:12-13). So צְדָקָה seems to carry by metonymy the meaning “loyal, rewardable behavior” here, a nuance that fits nicely in Genesis 15, where God responds to Abram’s faith by formally ratifying his promise to give Abram and his descendants the land. (See R. B. Chisholm, “Evidence from Genesis,” A Case for Premillennialism, 40.) In Phoenician and Old Aramaic inscriptions cognate nouns glossed as “correct, justifiable conduct” sometimes carry this same semantic nuance (DNWSI 2:962).

sn This episode is basic to the NT teaching of Paul on justification (Romans 4). Paul weaves this passage and Psalm 32 together, for both use this word. Paul explains that for the one who believes in the Lord, like Abram, God credits him with righteousness but does not credit his sins against him because he is forgiven. Justification does not mean that the believer is righteous; it means that God credits him with righteousness, so that in the records of heaven (as it were) he is declared righteous. See M. G. Kline, “Abram’s Amen,” WTJ 31 (1968): 1-11.

24 tn Heb “And he said.”

25 sn I am the Lord. The Lord initiates the covenant-making ceremony with a declaration of who he is and what he has done for Abram. The same form appears at the beginning of the covenant made at Sinai (see Exod 20:1).

26 sn The phrase of the Chaldeans is a later editorial clarification for the readers, designating the location of Ur. From all evidence there would have been no Chaldeans in existence at this early date; they are known in the time of the neo-Babylonian empire in the first millennium b.c.

27 tn Here the vav carries adversative force and is translated “but.”

28 tn Heb “he”; the referent (Abram) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

29 tn See note on the phrase “sovereign Lord” in 15:2.

30 tn Or “how.”

31 tn Heb “He”; the referent (the Lord) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

32 tn Heb “he”; the referent (Abram) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

33 tn Heb “in the middle.”

34 tn Heb “to meet its neighbor.”

sn For discussion of this ritual see G. F. Hasel, “The Meaning of the Animal Rite in Genesis 15,” JSOT 19 (1981): 61-78.

35 tn Heb “a deep sleep fell on Abram.”

36 tn Heb “and look, terror, a great darkness was falling on him.”

37 tn The Hebrew construction is emphatic, with the Qal infinitive absolute followed by the imperfect from יָדַע (yada’, “know”). The imperfect here has an obligatory or imperatival force.

38 tn The Hebrew word גֵּר (ger, “sojourner, stranger”) is related to the verb גּוּר (gur, “to sojourn, to stay for awhile”). Abram’s descendants will stay in a land as resident aliens without rights of citizenship.

39 tn Heb “in a land not theirs.”

40 tn Heb “and they will serve them and they will oppress them.” The verb עִנּוּ, (’innu, a Piel form from עָנָה, ’anah, “to afflict, to oppress, to treat harshly”), is used in Exod 1:11 to describe the oppression of the Israelites in Egypt.

41 tn The participle דָּן (dan, from דִּין, din) is used here for the future: “I am judging” = “I will surely judge.” The judgment in this case will be condemnation and punishment. The translation “execute judgment on” implies that the judgment will certainly be carried out.

42 tn The vav with the pronoun before the verb calls special attention to the subject in contrast to the preceding subject.

43 sn You will go to your ancestors. This is a euphemistic expression for death.

44 tn Heb “in a good old age.”

45 sn The term generation is being used here in its widest sense to refer to a full life span. When the chronological factors are considered and the genealogies tabulated, there are four hundred years of bondage. This suggests that in this context a generation is equivalent to one hundred years.

46 tn Heb “they”; the referent (“your descendants”) has been supplied in the translation for clarity.

47 tn Heb “is not yet complete.”

sn The sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its limit. The justice of God is apparent. He will wait until the Amorites are fully deserving of judgment before he annihilates them and gives the land to Israel.

48 sn A smoking pot with a flaming torch. These same implements were used in Mesopotamian rituals designed to ward off evil (see E. A. Speiser, Genesis [AB], 113-14).

49 tn Heb “these pieces.”

50 tn Heb “cut a covenant.”

51 tn The perfect verbal form is understood as instantaneous (“I here and now give”). Another option is to understand it as rhetorical, indicating certitude (“I have given” meaning it is as good as done, i.e., “I will surely give”).

sn To your descendants I give this land. The Lord here unconditionally promises that Abram’s descendants will possess the land, but he does not yet ratify his earlier promises to give Abram a multitude of descendants and eternal possession of the land. The fulfillment of those aspects of the promise remain conditional (see Gen 17:1-8) and are ratified after Abraham offers up his son Isaac (see Gen 22:1-19). For a fuller discussion see R. B. Chisholm, “Evidence from Genesis,” A Case for Premillennialism, 35-54.

52 sn The river of Egypt is a wadi (a seasonal stream) on the northeastern border of Egypt, not to the River Nile.

53 tn The words “the land” are supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons.

54 tn Each of the names in the list has the Hebrew definite article, which is used here generically for the class of people identified.



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