Bible Commentary

Genesis 15

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

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(Read all of Genesis 15)

Verse 1

[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 things — (1.) After that act of generous charity which Abram had done, in rescuing his neighbours, God made him this gracious visit. (2.) After that victory which he had obtained over four kings; lest Abram should be too much elevated with that, God comes to tell him he had better things in store for him.

The word of the Lord came unto Abram — That is, God manifested himself to Abram, in a vision - Which supposeth Abram awake, and some sensible token of the presence of the divine glory, saying, Fear not Abram - Abram might fear lest the four kings he had routed, should rally and fall upon him. No, saith God, fear not: fear not their revenge, nor thy neighbour's envy; I will take care of thee.

I am thy shield — Or, emphatically, I am a shield to thee, present with thee, actually defending thee. The consideration of this, that God himself is, a shield to his people, to secure them from all destructive evils, a shield ready to them, and a shield round about them, should silence all perplexing fears.

And thy exceeding great reward — Not only thy rewarder, but thy reward. God himself is the felicity of holy souls; He is the portion of their inheritance, and their cup.

Verse 3

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

Behold to me thou hast given no seed — Not only no son, but no seed. If he had had a daughter, from her the promised Messias might have come, who was to be the Seed of the Woman; but he had neither son nor daughter.

Verse 5

[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.

And he brought him forth — It seems, early in the morning, and said, look now toward heaven, and tell the stars: so shall thy seed be - 1. So innumerable, for so the stars seem to a common eye. Abram feared he should have no child at all, but God tells him his descendents should be so many as not to be numbered. 2. So illustrious, as the stars of heaven for splendour; for to them pertained the glory, Romans 9:4. Abram's seed according to the flesh were like the dust of the earth, Genesis 13:16, but his spiritual seed are like the stars of heaven.

Verse 6

[6] And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.

And he believed in the Lord — That is, believed the truth of that promise which God had now made him, resting upon the power, and faithfulness of him that made it: see how the apostle magnifies this faith of Abram, and makes it a standing example, Romans 4:19-21. He was not weak in faith; he staggered not at the promise: he was strong in faith; he was fully persuaded. The Lord work such a faith in every one of us.

And he counted it to him for righteousness — That is, upon the score of this he was accepted of God, and, by faith he obtained witness that he was righteous, Hebrews 11:4. This is urged in the New Testament to prove, that we are justified by faith without the works of the law, Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6, for Abram was so justified, while he was yet uncircumcised. If Abram, that was so rich in good works, was not justified by them, but by his faith, much less can we. This faith, which was imputed to Abram for righteousness, had newly struggled with unbelief, Genesis 15:2, and coming off, conqueror, it was thus crowned, thus honoured.

Verse 7

[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.

I am the lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees — Out of the fire of the Chaldees, so some: that is, from their idolatries; for the Chaldeans worshipped the fire. Or, from their persecutions. The Jewish writers have a tradition, that Abram was cast into a fiery furnace for refusing to worship idols, and was miraculously delivered. It is rather a place of that name. Thence God brought him by an effectual call, brought him by a gracious violence; snatched him as a brand out of the burning. Observe how God speaks of it as that which he gloried in.

I am the Lord that brought thee out — He glories in it as an act both of power and grace.

To give thee this land to inherit it — Not only to possess it, but to possess it as an inheritance, which is the surest title. The providence of God hath secret, but gracious designs in all its various dispensations: we cannot conceive the projects of providence, 'till the event shews what it was driving at.

Verse 8

[8] And he said, Lord GOD, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?

Whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it? — This did not proceed from distrust of God's power or promise, but he desired this, 1. For the strengthening of his own faith. He believed, Genesis 15:6, but here he prays, Lord help me against my unbelief, Now, he believed, but he desired a sign, to be treasured up against an hour of temptation. 2. For the ratifying of the promise to his posterity, that they also might believe it.

Verse 9

[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.

Take me an heifer — Perhaps Abram expected some sign from heaven, but God gives him a sign upon a sacrifice. Those that would receive the assurances of God's favour, must attend instituted ordinances, and expect to meet with God in them. Observe, 1. God appointed that each of the beasts used for his service should be three years old, because then they were at their full growth and strength. God must be served with the best we have. 2. We do not read that God gave Abram particular directions how to manage these, knowing that he was well versed in the custom of sacrifices. 3. Abram took as God appointed him, though as yet he knew not how these things should become a sign to him. He divided the beasts in the midst, according to the ceremony used in continuing covenants, Jeremiah 34:18,19, where it is said, they cut the calf in twain, and passed between the parts. 4. Abram, having prepared according to God's appointment, set himself to expect what sign God would give him by these.

Verse 12

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

And when the sun was going down — About the time of the evening oblation. Early in the morning, while the stars were yet to be seen, God had given him orders concerning the sacrifices, Genesis 15:5, and we may suppose it was at least his morning's work to prepare them, and set them in order; which when he had done, he abode by them praying and waiting 'till towards evening.

A deep sleep fell upon Abram — Not a common sleep through weariness or carelessness, but a divine extasy, that being wholly taken off from things sensible, he might be wholly taken up with the contemplation of things spiritual. The doors of the body were locked up, that the soul might be private and retired, and might act the more freely.

And lo, a horror of great darkness fell upon him — This was designed to strike an awe upon the spirit of Abram, and to possess him with a holy reverence. Holy fear prepares the soul for holy joy; God humbles first, and then lifts up.

Verse 13

[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;

Thy seed shall be strangers — So they were in Canaan first, Psalms 105:11,12, and afterwards in Egypt: before they were lords of their own land, they were strangers in a strange land. The inconveniences of an unsettled state make a happy settlement the more welcome. Thus the heirs of heaven are first strangers on earth.

And them they shall serve — So they did the Egyptians, Exodus 1:13. See how that which was the doom of the Canaanites, Genesis 9:25, proves the distress of Abram's seed: they are made to serve; but with this difference, the Canaanites serve under a curse, the Hebrews under a blessing.

And they shall afflict them — See Exodus 1:11. Those that are blessed and beloved of God are often afflicted by wicked men. This persecution began with mocking, when Ishmael the son of an Egyptian, persecuted Isaac, Genesis 21:9, and it came at last to murder, the basest of murders, that of their new born children; so that more or less it continued 400 years.

Verse 14

[14] 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, even the Egyptians, will I judge — This points at the plagues of Egypt, by which God not only constrained the Egyptians to release Israel, but punished them for all the hardships they had put upon them. The punishing of persecutors is the judging of them; it is a righteous thing with God, and a particular act of justice, to recompense tribulation to those that trouble his people. 3. The deliverance of Abram's seed out of Egypt.

And afterwards shall they come out with great substance — Either after they have been afflicted 400 years, or, after the Egyptians are judged and plagued.

Verse 15

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

Thou shalt go to thy fathers — At death we go to our fathers, to all our fathers that are gone before us to the state of the dead, to our godly fathers that are gone before us to the state of the blessed. The former helps to take off the terror of death, the latter puts comfort into it.

Thou shalt be buried in a good old age — Perhaps mention is made of his burial here, where the land of Canaan is promised him, because a burying-place was the first possession he had in it. Old age is a blessing, if it be a good old age: theirs may be called a good old age, 1. That are old and healthful, not loaded with such distempers as make them weary of life: 2. That are old and holy, whose hoary head is found in the way of righteousness, old and useful, old and exemplary for godliness, that is indeed a good old age.

Verse 16

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

They shall come hither again — Hither to the land of Canaan, wherein thou now art. The reason why they must not have the land of promise in possession till the fourth generation, is because the iniquity of the Amorites was not yet full. The righteous God has determined, that they shall not be cut off till they are arrived to such a pitch of wickedness; and therefore till it come to that, the seed of Abram must be kept out of possession.

Verse 17

[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.

When the sun was gone down the sign was given — The smoaking furnace signified the affliction of his seed in Egypt: they were there in the furnace of affliction, and labouring in the very fire. They were there in the smoke, their eyes darkened that they could not see to the end of their troubles. 2. The burning lamp speaks comfort in this affliction; and this God shewed Abram at the same time with the smoaking furnace. The lamp notes direction in the smoke; God's word was their lamp, a light shining in a dark place. Perhaps too this burning lamp prefigured the pillar of a cloud and fire which led them out of Egypt. 3. The passing of these between the pieces was the confirming of the covenant God now made with him. It is probable this furnace and lamp, which passed between the pieces, burned and consumed them, and so compleated the sacrifice, and testified God's acceptance of it, as of Gideon's, Judges 6:21, Manoah's, Judges 13:19,20, and Solomon's, 2 Chronicles 7:1. So it intimates, 1. That God's covenants with man are made by sacrifice, Psalms 50:5, by Christ, the great sacrifice. 2. God's acceptance of our spiritual sacrifices is a token for good, and an earnest of farther favours.

Verse 18

[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:

In that same day, the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land - He had said before, To thy seed will I give this land, but here he saith, I have given it; that is, 1. I have given the promise, the charter is sealed and delivered, and cannot be disanulled. 2. The possession is as sure in due time, as if it were now actually delivered to them. In David's time and Solomon's their jurisdiction extended to the utmost of these limits, 2 Chronicles 9:26. And it was their own fault that they were not sooner and longer in possession of all these territories. They forfeited their right by their sins, and by their own sloth and cowardice kept themselves out of possession. The present occupants are named, because their number and strength and long prescription, should be no hindrance to the accomplishment of this promise in its season; and to magnify God's love to Abram and his seed, in giving to that one nation the possession of many nations.

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