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Genesis 15:4-8

Context

15:4 But look, 1  the word of the Lord came to him: “This man 2  will not be your heir, 3  but instead 4  a son 5  who comes from your own body will be 6  your heir.” 7  15:5 The Lord 8  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 9  the Lord, and the Lord 10  considered his response of faith 11  as proof of genuine loyalty. 12 

15:7 The Lord said 13  to him, “I am the Lord 14  who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans 15  to give you this land to possess.” 15:8 But 16  Abram 17  said, “O sovereign Lord, 18  by what 19  can I know that I am to possess it?”

1 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.

2 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.

3 tn Heb “inherit you.”

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

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

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

7 tn Heb “will inherit you.”

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

9 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.

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

11 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.

12 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.

13 tn Heb “And he said.”

14 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).

15 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.

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

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

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

19 tn Or “how.”



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