Matthew Poole's Commentary
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.A comfortable promise to Abram, Genesis 15:1. His prayer for an heir, Genesis 15:2,3. The promise of an answer to his prayer, Genesis 15:4,5. Abram’s faith, Genesis 15:6. He desires a sign, Genesis 15:7,8. God gives him one, Genesis 15:9. He observes it, Genesis 15:10,11. God appears to him when in a deep sleep, Genesis 15:12. A prediction of evil to befall his posterity, Genesis 15:13. Their deliverance, Genesis 15:14-16. The covenant concerning Canaan renewed, Genesis 15:17-21.
God anciently revealed himself to men two ways; either,
1. When the man was asleep, in a dream; or,
2. In a vision, Numbers 12:6, when he was awake: and this either,
1. When he was rapt into an ecstasy, wherein his senses are idle, but his mind is active and elevated to the contemplation and understanding of what God reveals. See Numbers 12:6-8 24:4 Isaiah 1:1 Acts 10:10,11. Or,
2. When the thing was manifested by an external representation. So here, God seems to have appeared to Abram in the shape of a man, as he did Genesis 18:1-33, as may be gathered from Genesis 15:5,10.
Fear not, Abram; neither the return of those enemies whom thou hast smitten and provoked, nor the envy of thy neighbours for this glorious victory, nor for thy own desolate condition. Seeing thou didst trust to my protection, I will be a shield or a protector to thee; and seeing thou didst so honourably and for my sake reject other rewards, taken by thyself, and offered by the king of Sodom, thou shalt be no loser by it; I will abundantly recompense all thy piety to me, and charity to thy afflicted kinsman Lot, and thy liberality towards others: I will bless thee with all sorts of good things, as well as defend thee from all evil; which two things make a man completely happy.
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?What pleasure can I take in any other gifts, so long as thou dost withhold from me that great and promised gift of that blessed and blessing Seed, in the giving of whom thy honour and the world’s happiness is so highly concerned? Genesis 12:3.
Seeing I go childless; either,
1. I pass the time of my life, going on and growing in years, and hastening to my long home. Or,
2. I die, i.e. am about to die, or likely to die.
Going is ofttimes put for dying, as 1 Chronicles 17:11, compared with 2 Samuel 7:12 Job 10:21 14:20 Matthew 26:24. What good will the world do me, if I have no heir to possess it? If God lose the glory of his truth in making good his promise, and I lose the comfort of my long hoped-for child, and that such a child the effect of a Divine promise, one out of whose loins he must come, in whom all nations shall be blessed?
The steward of my house; Heb. The son of the care, or government, or management of my house, i.e. he who manageth the affairs of my house. A usual Hebraism, as captives are called children of captivity, Ezra 4:1, and afflicted persons, children of affliction, Proverbs 31:5. Others read the verse thus,
And the steward of my house, this Eliezer of Damascus, understand, shall be my heir; which words may easily be supplied out of Genesis 15:3. And such supplements of a word or short sentence out of a member or verse either foregoing or following, are frequent in Scripture, as Numbers 24:22 Zechariah 14:18 Nehemiah 5:2 Habakkuk 2:3 Ephesians 2:1.
Damascus may be the name either of a man, or of a place so called.
And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.Of such see Genesis 14:14 Ecclesiastes 2:7. And these are opposed to them that are born of a man’s body, Job 19:17 Proverbs 31:2 Jeremiah 2:14.
Mine heir; either,
1. By nearness of relation, being, as some conceive, descended from Aram the eldest son of Shem. Or,
2. For a recompence of his fidelity: compare Proverbs 17:2. Or,
3. because he only had the exact knowledge and absolute power of all his master’s estate, Genesis 24:10, and therefore could easily keep all after his master’s death. All which reasons concurring might give occasion for this speech.
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.i.e. Out of thy own body: see Genesis 35:11 2 Samuel 7:12 2 Chronicles 6:9.
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.Quest. Seeing the sun was not yet going down, Genesis 15:12, how could he see the stars?
1. He might see them by representation in a vision, or by a Divine power strengthening his eyes to behold them.
2. It was not necessary he should then actually see them. He bids him make trial when he pleased, if he could number the stars which were now present to his mind, and would shortly be present and visible to his bodily eye. This he was not able to do; for though astronomers have presumed to give us the number of those stars which are distinctly visible to the eye, wherein yet they vary one from another, yet there are other stars innumerable, appear confusedly to the eye, and evidently by the help of glasses.
And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.He believed in the Lord, i.e. he was fully persuaded that God was able to fulfil, and would certainly fulfil, the promise made to him concerning a child, and especially concerning the Messias, who should come out of his loins by that child, and that both himself and all people should be justified and blessed in and through him.
He counted it to him, or reckoned, or imputed, as this word is translated, Romans 4:10,22,
for righteousness, i.e. for a righteous and worthy action, as Psalm 106:31; and further, in respect of this action and grace of faith, whereby he relied upon God for the promised Seed, and upon the promised Seed too, he pronounced him a just and righteous person notwithstanding his failings, which even this history acquaints us with, and graciously accepted him as such; which sense is easily gathered from St. Paul’s explication and accommodation of this passage, Romans 4:9,18,22.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
And he said, Lord GOD, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?He asks a sign, not out of distrust of God’s promise, for he was strong in faith, Romans 4:20, but for further assurance and confirmation of it. And such an asking of a sign was not an unusual practice with good men, as Judges 6:37 2 Kings 20:8, not are they reproved for it; but on the contrary, Ahaz was commanded to ask a sign, and reproved for not asking it, Isaiah 7:1-25.
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.Take and offer at my command, and for my service,
an heifer of three years old, at which time it is perfect in stature and strength, and therefore fittest for God’s service. This and the other creatures here following, and sacrifices, are the same which afterwards were prescribed in the Levitical law.
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.And he, i.e. Abram, who by Divine instinct and precept did all this which here follows,
divided them in the midst, into two equal parts. This was done for two reasons.
1. To represent the torn and distracted condition in which his seed was to lie for a season.
2. To ratify God’s covenant with Abram and his seed; for this was a rite used in making covenants, as appears both from Scripture, Jeremiah 34:18, and other authors.
Laid each piece one against another, partly to encourage hope, that God would in his time put those parts together, and unite those dry bones, (to which the Israelites are compared, Ezekiel 37:1-28), and clothe them with flesh; and partly that the persons entering into covenant might pass between those parts, and so testify their union and conjunction in one and the same sacrifice.
The birds divided he not, either because there were two birds, and the one was laid against the other, which answered to the division of the larger creatures; or because they belonged not to the ceremony of the covenant, but were for the use of sacrifice, wherein they were to be offered whole, as afterwards was prescribed, Leviticus 1:15,17.
And when the fowls came down upon the carcases, Abram drove them away.The fowls came to devour them; whereby is signified, either,
1. The disturbance and distraction which good men are exposed to in the service of God from evil spirits and men; or rather,
2. The great peril of Abram’s posterity, who were not only torn in pieces like these sacrifices, but even the remainder of them were likely to be devoured by the Egyptians, whose king is compared to an eagle, the chief of the birds of prey, Ezekiel 17:1-24.
Abram drove them away by the blast of his mouth, as the Hebrew word signifies; representing Abram’s conquest over all his enemies by faith and prayer, whereby he engaged God to be the Preserver and Deliverer of his people.
And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him.A deep sleep fell upon Abram; partly natural, from his labour in killing and sacrificing those creatures; and partly sent upon him from God, to make way for the following representation. He seemed to be covered with a dreadful darkness, which was either,
1. A token of God’s special presence: compare 1 Kings 8:12. Or,
2. A signification of the distressed and doleful condition of Abram’s seed; for darkness in Scripture is frequently mentioned as an emblem or sign of great misery, as Psalm 88:6 107:14, &c.
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;In a land that is not theirs, i.e. in Canaan and Egypt; for though Canaan was theirs by promise, to be fulfilled in after-times, yet it was not theirs by actual donation and possession; but they were strangers in it, Genesis 17:8 Psalm 105:11,12.
Four hundred years, exactly four hundred and five years; but a small sum is commonly neglected in a great number, both in sacred and profane writers. There were four hundred and thirty years between the first promise, or between the renewing and confirming of the promise by the gift of Isaac, and Israel’s going out of Egypt, or God’s giving of the law, Exodus 12:40 Galatians 3:17; but part of this time Abraham with his son Isaac lived in much honour and comfort; but after Isaac grew up, the affliction here mentioned began with Isaac in Canaan, and continued to him and his posterity in Egypt till this time was expired.
And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.That nation whom they shall serve, i.e. Egypt, the principal seat of their servitude, and the instrument of their sorest bondage,
will I judge, i.e. punish, as that word is used, Psalm 51:4 Obadiah 1:21, and elsewhere.
With great substance; the accomplishment of this, see Exodus 3:22 11:2 12:35,37.
And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age.To thy fathers, i.e. either,
1. Into heaven, where thy godly progenitors are gone; or,
2. Into the state of the dead, where all thy fathers are gone before thee. This may seem more probable, at least in this place, partly, because this or the like phrase is indifferently used concerning good and bad men; see Genesis 25:8 Psalm 49:19; partly, because this phrase is so expounded, Acts 13:36, He, i.e. David, was laid to his fathers, and (for that is) saw corruption; partly, because some of Abraham’s fathers, and particularly Nahor, his grandfather, who lived and died an idolater, cannot with any warrant from Scripture be presumed to be gone to the place of blessedness in their souls. Free from those afflictions which shall come upon thy posterity after thy decease.
But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.In the fourth generation; in the end of the four hundred years mentioned Genesis 15:13, a generation being at that time reckoned at one hundred years, or thereabouts. Or, in the fourth generation numbered from their going into Egypt, or from their leaving Canaan; which may possibly be implied by these words,
they shall come hither. So Caleb was the fourth from Judah, and Moses the fourth from Levi, and so doubtless many others.
The iniquity of the Amorites, i.e. of the people inhabiting Canaan. And the Amorites, one of those people, Genesis 15:21, are here put for all the rest, as Genesis 48:22 1 Kings 21:26 2 Kings 21:2 Amos 2:10, either because they were the greatest and stoutest of all, Amos 2:9, or because Abram dwelt among that people, Genesis 13:18 14:13. All men’s sins are kept by God as in a book of remembrance, not one of them is lost; and as God exactly observes the number and measure of men’s sins, so he determines within himself how far and how long he will bear with sinful men or nations, and what shall be the period of his patience; and when that comes, their measure is full, and their destruction infallibly comes. See Jeremiah 51:13 Matthew 23:32 1 Thessalonians 2:16.
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.By which symbol God designed to represent, either,
1. The future state of Abram’s seed; the
smoking furnace signifying Israel’s misery in the iron furnace of Egypt, as it is called, Jeremiah 11:4; and the
burning lamp noting their deliverance, or light shining out of darkness. Or,
2. His own presence; for God is called a consuming fire, Hebrews 12:29; and both smoke and fire are elsewhere mentioned as the signs and means of God’s appearance. See Exodus 3:2 19:9,16,18 20:18. And this sense seems to be favoured by the following words, it being the custom of persons entering into covenant to pass between such pieces as hath been said; and because God hath no body which could visibly do so, therefore he doth it in this type or shadow.
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:Unto thy seed have I given this land, i.e. decreed and promised in due time to give, which makes it as sure as if it were actually given to them. Or,
I will give; words of the past time being oft put for the future, especially in prophecies.
The river of Egypt; not Nilus, which elsewhere is so called, but a less river, as is sufficiently implied, because this is opposed to the
great river here following; but a river called Sihor, which divides Egypt from Canaan. See Numbers 34:5 Joshua 13:3 1 Chronicles 13:5. The accomplishment hereof, see 2 Samuel 8:3 1 Kings 4:21 9:21.
The Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites,The Kenites are supposed the same with the Midianites, by comparing Exodus 3:1, with Judges 1:16. See also Numbers 24:21 1 Samuel 15:6.
The Kenizzites, thought to be the Idumeans, who sprung from Kenaz of Esau’s race. But this seems not to agree with Deu 2:5, where God expressly saith to the Israelites concerning the Idumeans,
I will give you none of their lands, & c.
The Kadmonites, i.e. the eastern people, as the word signifies, elsewhere called the Hivites, Joshua 9:1, who lived near the Mount Hermon, Joshua 11:3, which was in the east part of Canaan. See Psalm 89:12.
And the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims,No text from Poole on this verse.
And the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.No text from Poole on this verse.