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Genesis: Chapter 15

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1After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” b Meaning of Heb uncertain 3And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 4But the word of the LORD came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6And he believed the LORD; and the LORD c Heb he reckoned it to him as righteousness.

7Then he said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.” 8But he said, “O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” 9He 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.” 10He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. 11And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

12As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. 13Then the LORD a Heb he said to Abram, “Know this for certain, that your offspring shall be aliens in a land that is not theirs, and shall be slaves there, and they shall be oppressed for four hundred years; 14but I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15As for yourself, you shall go to your ancestors in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16And they shall come back here in the fourth generation; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

17When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, 19the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”

Notes:

b Meaning of Heb uncertain

c Heb he

a Heb he

Text Commentary view alone

15.1–21 : The first covenant with Abraham.

The LORD promises Abraham protection, reward, and an heir in the wake of his recent military encounter with the eastern kings.

1 :

The promise to be a shield (Heb “magen”) for Abraham echoes Melchizedek's praise of the god who “delivered” (“miggen”) Abraham ( 14.20 ), and the reward replaces the goods he had refused from the king of Sodom ( 14.21–24 ).

2–5 :

Some scholars view the parallel objections from Abraham (vv. 2 and 3 ) and divine responses (vv. 4 and 5 ) as the first indicators of the existence of parallel non‐Priestly sources (J and E) that were interwoven here and in the rest of the Pentateuch (see the Introduction).

6 :

This verse indicates that Abraham considered his objections answered. Though later tradition has generally understood God to be the one who reckoned righteousness to Abraham (e.g., Rom 4.9; Gal 3.6 ), the subject is not specified in Hebrew. Righteousness is being true to one's social obligations and commitments. It is possible that it is Abraham here who reckons righteousness to the LORD, certifying that he now believes that the LORD will be true to his commitments in 15.1 (cf. 15.2–3).

7–21 :

This section parallels the promise‐objection‐reassurance pattern of 15.1–6 , but with the added component of a covenant ceremony sealing God's promise to give Abraham the land.

9–17 :

The ceremony ( 9–11, 17 ) reflects an ancient practice in which the participants in a covenant oath passed through the dismembered parts of an animal and proclaimed a similar fate on themselves if they disobeyed the terms of the agreement (cf. Jer 34.18 ). Perhaps because of this, the Heb word for “making” a covenant is literally to “cut” a covenant (found in 15.18 ). In this case, God passes between the pieces in the form of fire (see Ex 3.2; 13.21 ). A speech ( 15.12–16 ) has been inserted into this ceremony that echoes Abraham's earlier triumph over the eastern kings at “Dan” and return from there with “goods” (Heb “rekush”; 14.14–16 ). Here in v. 14 God promises a future judgment (Heb “dan”) on Egypt and escape of Abraham's descendants from there with yet more goods (again “rekush” in 15.14; see Ex 3.21–22; 12.33–36 ). Though this is promised in four generations at the end of the speech ( 15.16 ), a Priestly editor may have modified this in v. 13 to four hundred years in order to better match Priestly material in Exodus (Ex 12.40 ).

16 :

The iniquity of the Amorites, see Lev 20.23; Deut 9.4 .

18–21 :

The ceremony is concluded with God's promise to give the land of the Canaanite peoples (cf. 10.16–18 ) to Abraham.

18 :

The boundaries given here are the broadest definition of the promised land in the Hebrew Bible. They correspond to similarly broad, ideal descriptions of the land in the Deuteronomistic History (e.g., 2 Sam 8.3; 1 Kings 4.21; cf. Deut 1.7; 11.24; Josh 1.4 ). The phrase river of Egypt occurs only here, and may refer to the Nile. But elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible (e.g., Num 34.5; 2 Kings 24.7; Isa 27.12 ) and in other sources, the “Wadi of Egypt” is apparently either the Wadi Besor or the Wadi el‐Arish, both south of Gaza.

19–21 :

The list of ten nations here resembles similar such lists of Canaanite peoples in the Tetrateuch (e.g., Ex 3.8,17; 13.5 ) and Deuteronomistic history (e.g., Deut 7.1; 20.17; Josh 3.10 ). This list, however, is significantly longer than others. Though it is missing the “Hivites” (see 10.16–18a n. ), who occur on most other lists, this list is unique in including the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, and Rephaim.

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