God’s promise to Abraham. — V.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 these happenings, after Abram had returned to his home at Hebron, the Lord spoke to him in a vision, while Abram was in a state of ecstasy, under the influence of God. Solemnly Jehovah reassures His servant in the face of the many dangers that surround him, in view, also, of the fact that he is still without a child: Do not fear; I am to thee a Shield, thy very great Reward. The Lord promised to defend him in all conflicts and so to bless him as to be his Reward Himself. V.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? V.3. And Abram said, Behold, to me Thou hast given no seed; and, lo, one born in my house is my heir. The promise which the Lord had given him, chap. 12, 2, seemed a thing of the far-distant past, and Abram’s faith was sorely tried. Time was going on from day to day, from year to year, and still he was childless, without offspring, forsaken. There seemed to be but one conclusion possible, namely, that one of his house-slaves, his steward, Eliezer of Damascus, would be his heir. That is implied in the unfinished sentence, and the repetition of the same thought emphasizes the feeling of desolation which was stealing over the heart of Abram. V.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. Not merely a member of the household of Abram, but his own natural son should be the heir of his goods, which implies that he should also be the heir of the Messianic prophecy. V.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. God’s patience has a wonderful sustaining and strengthening power. In order to impress upon His servant the exact meaning of His promise, the Lord brought him outside and had him look closely at the starry heavens, whether he felt able to count the stars. So great, in brief, would be the number of his descendants. This promise, in the last analysis, is Messianic. Through the one Seed, Christ, all nations on earth were to be blessed, and all men of all nations that have accepted the only salvation, that in Jesus Christ, are the descendants of Abraham in truth; they are the people of God, the spiritual Israel, Rom. 4, 18. V.6. And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness. Cp. Rom. 4, 5. Abram placed his trust in the promise of the Lord with all it implied, and therefore the Lord accepted him into the covenant of His grace. That is the way of salvation for all sinners, the way of obtaining that true righteousness by which we are justified before God. Christ has earned blessing, salvation, righteousness for all men, and all that accept this promise in faith have these wonderful gifts, are pure, holy, and righteous before God, because the righteousness of Christ is imputed to them.
The covenant sacrifice. — V.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. In preparing to give Abram a special sign of the covenant’s consummation and to assure him of the fact that his descendants would be the possessors of the land of Canaan, the Lord introduces Himself as He whose conduct in the past is a guarantee of His faithfulness in the future. V.8. And he said, Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it? This was not a question of doubt, but of a desire for some assurance in the case of this promise which transcended all human understanding. He was asking for a covenant sign. V.9, And He said unto him, Take ye an heifer of three years old, and a she-goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon. All of these were sacrificial animals, which, although they were not burned as sacrifices to Jehovah, yet were to be consecrated to Him, Lev. 1, 2. 14. V.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. V.11. And when the fowls came down upon the carcasses, Abram drove them away. V.12. And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him. At the direction of God, Abram prepared the sacrificial animals, the heifer, the ram, and the goat being cut in half lengthwise and the several pieces laid over against one another, by pairs, while the birds were not divided. The entire proceeding filled Abram with the deepest awe. When the birds of prey, eagles and vultures, came down to feed on the carcasses, Abram turned them away, drove them off. The ceremonial which was here enacted was that in use from ancient times, the contracting parties passing between the halves of the dead animals to indicate their reconciliation to a unity. The culmination of the strange scene came when, as the sun was setting, Abram was overcome by a deep sleep and a great horror fell upon him.
The founding of the covenant. — v.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; v.14. and also that nation whom they shall serve will I judge; and afterward shall they come out with great substance. The Lord Himself gives the explanation of some of the symbolical acts connected with the establishing of the covenant between Him and Abram. The latter should know for sure that his descendants would be strangers in a strange land for a matter of four hundred years, until the Lord Himself would execute judgment in their behalf and bring them out of the house of bondage, not empty, but with considerable property. V.16. And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. Abram himself would not be obliged to share in the afflictions which would come upon his children, but would die in peace, at an advanced age. V.16. But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full. The generations at that time were still reckoned at approximately one hundred years, and so four generations would represent, in round numbers, four hundred years. By that time the iniquity of the Amorites, here named as the representatives of all the Canaanites, would be fulfilled, and their annihilation by the children of Israel would come upon them as the judgment of the Lord. V.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. These happenings completed the symbolical events connected with the founding of the covenant between the Lord and Abram. A smoking furnace, like that used in potteries, and a torch, or cresset, passed between the halves of the animals, symbols of the glory of the Lord in fire. The animals thus are a type of the descendants of Abraham, of the children of Israel, as they were tortured almost unto death, especially by the Egyptians. The birds of prey are pictures of these enemies of Israel. That these vultures were driven away indicates that the Lord would deliver His people for the sake of the promise made to Abram. The great darkness and the horror pointed to the severity of the miseries and tribulations which would strike the Israelites. But that finally the glory of the Lord passed between the halves of the animals showed that God would at the last bring help to His people and deliver them from the hands of all their enemies. V.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; these two rivers would he the southern and northern boundary lines of the kingdom of Israel respectively, the brook of Egypt, the Wady el Arisch, or Rhinocolura, and the Euphrates: v.19. the Kenites, in the southeastern part of Canaan, and the Kenizzites, probably west of them, and the Kadmonites, toward the Euphrates, v.20. and the Hittites, especially numerous in what was afterward Northern Galilee, and the Perizsites, in what was later Eastern Samaria, and the Rephaims, in the Perean country east of the Jordan, v.21. and the Amorites, in the region west of the Dead Sea, and the Canaanites, in the upper valley of the Jordan and in the plain of Sharon, and the Girgashites, west of the Sea of Galilee, and the Jebusites, in what was later Northern Judea. The Lord purposely enumerates peoples living in every part of Canaan, in order to impress upon Abram the completeness of the possession which his descendants would enjoy. His promises never return to Him void, and He has a way of overcoming our weak faith by the perfection of His fulfillment, beyond all that we ask or understand.