Genesis Chapter 15: Abraham’s Vision and Promise

Nov 25th, 2009 | By | Category: Genesis, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

Genesis Chapter 15: Abraham’s Vision and Promise

Gen. 15:1 After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.

After the war in which Abram was victorious and recovered Lot, the word of God came to him in a vision: “Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.” What was the basis of Abram’s needing this encouragement? He feared he would die childless, and being a stranger, he feared attacks by residents of the land. This incident occurred prior to Ishmael’s birth, which took place when Abram was 86 years old (Gen. 16:16). It was now ten years after Abram had entered Canaan, and he was 85 years old (Gen. 16:3).

Gen. 15:2 And Abram said, Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?

Gen. 15:3 And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.

Since Abram was childless, he thought maybe Eliezer, his steward over the servants, would be his heir.

Gen. 15:4 And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.

God corrected Abram and said that the heir would not be Eliezer but one born of his own bowels. It is easy to see how Sarai and Abram would now reason: Sarai is barren, so if the heir has to come from Abram’s bowels, it must be through another woman, that is, Hagar.

Gen. 15:5 And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.

Gen. 15:6 And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.

The vision continued—and it was so real that it was as if God spoke direct to Abram. God said (paraphrased), “Thy seed shall be as the stars of heaven in number.” Abram believed God, and it was counted to Abram for righteousness. In other words, it was just as if God had actually spoken the words.

Verse 5 was the first mention of Abram’s seed being as the stars of heaven. Previously the seed was likened to only the dust of the earth (Gen. 13:16).

Gen. 15:7 And he said unto him, I am the LORD that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it.

God gave Abram a strong assurance: “I brought you out of Ur to inherit this land.”

Gen. 15:8 And he said, Lord GOD, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?

Abram asked, “How may I know that I shall inherit the land?”

Gen. 15:9 And he said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.

Gen. 15:10 And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not.

In answer to Abram’s question in verse 8, God told him to take the following, which are to be calculated in symbolic time using the principle of a day for a year:

Heifer 3 years old

She goat 3 years old

Ram 3 years old

Turtledove 1 year old

Pigeon 1 year old

11 years x 360 = 3,960 years

The 3,960 years extended from the original promise to Abram ten years earlier, when he was 75 years old (or 2045 BC) to 1914, when Chaim Weizmann was told that if he could invent a means of supplying England with TNT to fight the Germans (and he did), he would be remembered and Israel would be looked on with favor as a homeland (Gen. 12:4).

Abram was 75 years old when he entered Canaan, and he was 86 years old when Hagar bore Ishmael—an 11-year difference. No doubt Abram and Sarai thought the 11 years indicated by the sacrifice were 11 literal years, and Sarai thought the timing would be right if Hagar could have a son to fulfill 11 literal years. (Years can be literal, but days are symbolic. Jeremiah talked of 70 literal years of desolation of the land while the Israelites were in captivity.) The implication of 11 “years” in verses 9 and 10 renewed the hope of Abram and Sarai for a child.

And as a result of World War I, hope was given to the Jew of a homeland. With this sign (not the fulfillment), Jews began to return to Palestine.

Abram took the animals (heifer, she goat, and ram) and divided them in the middle, separated them, and laid the matching pieces together with a little space in between. In other words, he chopped the backbone in half and laid the pieces parallel to each other. The birds were cut down the backbone and opened up, but they were left as one piece; that is, the halves of the birds remained joined. The halves symbolized the Old and New Testaments, which are not separate. Just as the two Testaments are bound together in the Bible, so they are joined figuratively as well. Another example in Scripture where animals were associated with time periods was Joseph’s dream of seven fat and then seven lean cows.

The sacrifice (of a heifer 3 years old, a she goat 3 years old, a ram 3 years old, and a turtledove and a pigeon, each a year old), showing 11 x 360, brings us up to AD 1914 and answered Abram’s query, “How shall I know that I shall inherit the land?” (verse 8). As a result of World War I, the Turkish rule over Palestine was broken. In 1917, the Balfour Declaration was signed, giving Jews the right to colonize land in Palestine.

Heifer (female cow) represents the Ancient Worthies.

She goat (female goat) represents the “Great Company” of ages prior to Christ (the school of the prophets).

Ram (male sheep) represents Jesus.*

Turtledove (male or female—sex is hard to determine with these birds, but probably a male) represents the Little Flock.†

Pigeon (male or female—sex is hard to determine with these birds, but probably a male) represents the Great Company.

Note: The following footnotes give proofs for the interpretation of the symbols.

*John the Baptist called Jesus ”the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The Apostle Paul said, “Christ our passover [lamb] is sacrificed for us” (1 Cor. 5:7). A ram was the central or focal point. Chronologically speaking, a ram (Jesus) was between the development of these four classes when the First Advent occurred. It was 4,128 years from Adam’s creation to Jesus’ birth, plus 33 1/2 more years to the Crucifixion. Since less than 2,000 years have expired following the Crucifixion, the first two classes are top-heavy (years prior to Christ) versus the last two classes (years after Christ).

†In Song 6:9, Jesus called the Little Flock “my dove, my undefiled [one].” One difference between those prior to Christ and those after Christ in regard to being more than overcomers is that Christians have been peacemakers. And the dove is a symbol of peace, gentleness, and purity. The dove that returned to Noah in the Ark with a branch represents Christ, and the branch shows peace and reconciliation. The Ancient Worthies often fought battles; in contrast, peacemaking was urged by Jesus, for the Gospel Age is a different calling. Jesus said, “All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword” (Matt. 26:52). We are to be peacemakers with faith in God. Jesus is the Prince of Peace to the Christian Church.

Incidentally, the advice of John the Baptist to the people when the time of trouble at the end of the Jewish Age was imminent was as follows (Luke 3:9-14):

1. To the soldiers: Do violence to no man. Do not accuse anyone falsely. Be content with your wages.

2. To the publicans (tax collectors): Collect only what you are supposed to collect.

3. To the people: If you have two coats, give one coat to someone who has none. The same principle applied to food.

The heifer and the she goat classes were developed simultaneously. The turtledove and the pigeon classes were developed simultaneously. The heifer and the turtledove classes were more than conquerors. The she goat and the pigeon classes were conquerors.

Gen. 15:11 And when the fowls came down upon the carcases, Abram drove them away.

Abram drove away the fowl that tried to tear pieces of carcass flesh to consume it. To have let the fowl do so would signify breaking the contract. It would have broken the continuity of thought and distracted from the meaning. (For the same reason, babies should not be allowed to cry in meetings.) The fowl would also have desecrated or polluted the arrangement.

The “fowl” picture Satan and the fallen angels. (We are reminded of the Parable of the Sower, in which fowl came along and devoured seed that fell by the wayside.) Abram’s driving away the fowl is comparable to the Christian’s repelling evil thoughts and distractions. For the aged Abram to run around trying to ward off the fowl required effort, and it takes effort on our part as well.

Gen. 15:12 And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him.

The sun (a symbol of favor) was going down. The woman of Revelation 12:1, representing the true Church, was “clothed with the sun,” that is, the gospel. Specifically here in Genesis, the “sun” represents the favor Abram received in having the vision of the 3,960 years. Before the sun had sunk below the horizon (verse 17), Abram was given an assurance regarding his inheritance. But as the sun was going down and it was growing darker, he was getting the sensation of danger.

Gen. 15:13 And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years;

Gen. 15:14 And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.

Gen. 15:15 And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age.

Abram was told of trouble for his seed and affliction for 400 years, but his seed would be liberated after that period of time. This communication was a hint to Abram, if he heeded it, that the 11 years had to be symbolic, for the 400 years would occur within the 11 “years.”

Abram was told that he would soon have a seed, that his seed would have problems for 400 years, and that he would live to “a good old age” (but not 400 years). The seed would enter the Promised Land after the 400 years.

For Abram’s seed to be a “stranger” (verse 13) meant being a foreign resident in the land. In contrast, a “sojourner” just passed through or stayed temporarily and thus lacked rights; that is, he had no roots in the land. God was saying to Abram, “You are a stranger in the land as far as others are concerned but not from my standpoint. This land is yours. You have rights in the land, but it will not appear that way. Later you will inherit the land.”

Abram was told his seed would be a stranger in Egypt, and for 215 years, the Israelites were in Egypt. Also, from the covenant with Abram to Jacob’s entering Egypt was a period of 215 years. Hence a total of 430 years, starting when the covenant was first made with Abram, passed until the Exodus. The “four hundred years” here are round numbers, for Exodus 12:40,41 and Galatians 3:17 specifically state the time period as 430 years. God promised Abram the land when he stepped into Canaan, but Abram did not inherit it then. Abram was a sojourner, and the period of sojourning of the Israelites was 430 years.

From the covenant with Abram to Jacob’s entering Egypt = 215 years

From Jacob’s entering Egypt to the Exodus = 215 years

Notice, however, that verse 13 says the affliction would last 400 years, and that statement is more accurate. When Abram first entered Canaan, he was not especially afflicted. The affliction began with the birth of Isaac 25 years later, which is only a five-year difference from the round number of 400 years (or 405 years). At the end of the 400 years, the land where the Israelites dwelled (that is, Egypt) would be judged. And what happened? There were plagues on Egypt, destruction in the Red Sea, etc., and the Israelites left Egypt with “great substance” (all their own cattle and possessions plus gifts bestowed by the Egyptian people).

Gen. 15:16 But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.

The Amorites were considered the residents of Canaan, probably because they were more populous than the other peoples there. The Amorites regarded Abram, etc., as sojourners with no rights.

The “fourth generation” was 400 years, a hundred years being equivalent to a generation. In Scripture, a “generation” can be 40, 70, 100, or 120 years. The four generations in Egypt were Levi, Kohath, Amram, and Moses.

“For the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.” This statement is an example of God’s foreknowledge. He knew not only that their iniquity would come to the full but also when.

Hence this was definite foreknowledge. Also, this statement shows that there are occupation rights. (A more up-to-date example is “squatter’s rights,” which were recognized in the Western part of the United States in the past.) The Amorites occupied the land at that time and thus had rights. God told Abram, “If you do as I say and go to Canaan, I will give you the land.” That promise was based on God’s foreknowledge that iniquity would come to the full for the Amorites, but until then, they had occupation rights. In warfare, one who defeats the enemy and occupies the land obtains a right to occupancy. Iniquity in full results in forfeiting occupancy rights. Today Israel has occupancy rights by defeating enemies, but the enemy (the displaced) dictates the terms—improperly.

Gen. 15:17 And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces.

Abram saw a smoking furnace and a shining light pass between the pieces of the animals. This development showed God’s acceptance—as if God was going between the pieces. Abram had already fulfilled his part of the covenant by leaving Ur and going to Canaan. The covenant was conditional until Abram entered Canaan, but now it was unconditional.

The passing of a smoking furnace (representing God) between the pieces of the sacrifice signified the ratifying of the covenant. Jeremiah 34:18-20 provides helpful information by referring to a prior sacrifice in which a calf had been cut down the middle with each part being laid opposite to the other. The individuals passed between the pieces to show their agreement to abide by the covenant. Later, after disobedience, God criticized Judah and said punishment would come for violating the covenant.

Abram did not walk through the animal pieces because he had already fulfilled his part of the covenant by leaving Ur and his kindred. It now remained for God to fulfill His part of the covenant. Hence the smoking furnace and the burning lamp represented that God was going through the animal pieces. God thus ratified the covenant that was previously made with Abram. (God did not inaugurate the covenant at that time, for the fulfillment was far future— even future to today.) Abram had a test of faith and confidence in God’s promises, and as with the Christian, the reward was not received in the present life. Another point: Because no man can see God and live, His presence was shown representatively by the smoking furnace and the burning lamp.

How or why was the “smoking furnace” a representation of Jehovah? Smoke showed God’s dedication of both the Tabernacle of Moses and Solomon’s Temple, events that were future to Abram’s day. God spoke to Moses out of the fiery pillar of the Tabernacle cloud. The cloud was a “pillar of fire by night” to guide the Israelites with a luminescence. If the cloud moved at night, the Israelites were to travel, following the cloud. That same cloud was a cloud of smoke (that is, a dark cloud) by day. With the cloud being fire at night and a little darker by day, a “smoking furnace” representation of God led the Israelites through the Wilderness of Sin.

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet” (Psa. 119:105). God’s Word is a token of His presence. Hence the “burning lamp” going between the pieces, in connection with the smoking furnace, was a confirmation of the symbolic picture.

Abram had a vivid dream originally, but he actually walked through the animal pieces to fend off the fowls lest they pollute the sacrifice. Now God Himself was ratifying the covenant, thus assuring Abram that the covenant would be fulfilled.

Comment: Happening at night, this event would have been very dramatic. Abram had sacrificed the animals earlier in the day and for hours chased away the fowls. Now that it was dark, the sight of the smoking furnace and the burning lamp would have been very impressive—awesomely reverential.

Gen. 15:18 In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates:

Abram’s seed would get the land from the “river of Egypt” to the “great river” Euphrates.

Twice previously God had promised Abram the land (Gen. 12:7; 13:15). Now He reiterated the promise again, and each time there was an added detail.

Previously God told Abram he would get all the land he could see by looking north, south, east, and west. Now he was told that the boundaries would be far greater than what he could see, that is, from what is presently the Suez Canal to the river Euphrates in Lebanon. Hence Lebanon will eventually go to Abraham and his seed. Under Solomon’s reign, the Euphrates was the northern boundary, and it will be again.

In connection with Joshua’s giving the land to the 12 tribes, the “river of Egypt” was the Wadi El Arish (Josh. 15:4,47). A wadi is normally a dry riverbed, but it flows with water at certain times of the year when the rains come. In other words, a wadi is not a continuously flowing body of water.

In contrast, the “river of Egypt” here in verse 18 was actually a river that had water yearround. This river could not be the Nile because prophecies regarding Egypt would bar such an interpretation. Therefore, this “river of Egypt” refers to a river that was dug out to make the

Suez Canal, which goes from the Mediterranean Sea to the Gulf of Suez.

Gen. 15:19 The Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites,

Gen. 15:20 And the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims,

Gen. 15:21 And the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.

In verses 19-21, ten peoples are mentioned who will be displaced from the land when Abram receives his inheritance. Abram will get the land from the Suez Canal to the Euphrates, and that land was then occupied by these ten peoples.

The ten peoples are a reminder of the ten toes of the image in Daniel chapter 2, which will be displaced by the stone (Christ’s Kingdom). After the stone strikes the image, it will grow until eventually it fills the whole earth. From Jerusalem, or Israel, will radiate God’s blessings. Before the stone strikes the image, it represents the Church in glory, but after it strikes the image, the stone will center down here. The stone kingdom will be Israelitish under the Ancient Worthies.

“Jerusalem shall be called a city of truth” (Zech. 8:3). “In those days … ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you” (Zech. 8:23). The Jews referred to here are Jews indeed, not just Jews outwardly.


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