The Word Made Fresh
1Time passed, and the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision. “Don’t be afraid, Abram,” said the LORD, “I am your protector, and your reward will be substantial.”
2“What will you give me, LORD God?” Abram answered. “I don’t have any children. All I have will be passed on to Eliezer of Damascus. 3Since you haven’t given me any heirs my slave will inherit everything I have.”
4But the LORD’s insisted, “He will not be your heir. Your own child will be your heir. No one else.” 5Then the LORD brought him outside and said, “Look up and count the stars if you can. Your descendants will be that numerous.”
6Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD saw that as a sign of faithfulness. 7Then the LORD said, “I am the LORD who led you from the Chaldean city of Ur to this land, to give it to you as your own possession.”
8Abram said, “But LORD God, how can I know it is mine?”
9The LORD said, “Bring me a three-year-old heifer, a three year old female goat, a three year old lamb, a turtledove and a young pigeon.”
10Abram brought them, slaughtered them and cut them in two, and laid the halves side by side. He laid out the birds as well, but did not butcher them. 11He drove away the vultures that came down to tear at them. 12At sunset he dozed off into a fitful sleep, and felt a deep, threatening darkness coming over him.
13Then the LORD said to him, “You can be sure of this: your descendants will find themselves in a strange land and will be treated as foreigners and will become slaves there. They will be oppressed for 400 years. 14But then I will punish the people that enslaved them, and they will leave there with great wealth. 15As for you, you shall join your ancestors in peace at a ripe old age. 16It will be four generations later when they return to this land, however, until the wickedness of the Amorites has reached its limits.”
17The sun was set and darkness came, and then a firepot and a burning torch appeared and passed between the halves of the sacrificial animals. 18On that same day the LORD made a promise to Abram: “I will give this land to your descendants, from the river of Egypt to the great river Euphrates, 19all the land that is occupied now by the Kenites, Kenizzites , Kadmonites, 20Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaim, 21Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.
1-6: God speaks to Abram a third time. In the first encounter with God, Abram was promised land (12:1). In the second encounter he was promised lineage (13:15) to inherit the land. But years have passed and still no heir has been born, and now Abram is worrying about his legacy. In this vision God tells Abram, “I am your shield;” a new promise we haven’t heard before, but appropriate in the light of the last chapter’s battles. But all the stuff Abram has accumulated through God’s blessings and through his own cleverness is no longer satisfying to him (this happens to all of us sooner or later), and he wants to know what’s going to happen to his stuff. As it stands, we are told that Eliezer of Damascus will inherit everything. No information is given as to the identity of this Eliezer. Early commentators speculated that he was the highly regarded servant who was sent to find a wife for Isaac later, but this is no more than speculation. Given what we know of the customs of the time, Eliezer must have been a close relative; but that raises the question of why Lot wouldn’t qualify.
Nevertheless, in a vision God assures Abram that his own son will be his heir. He tells Abram to go outside and look up at the stars, and God tells him his descendants will be that numerous. Abram is convinced by the vision. He believes God, and God credits that as a sign of faithfulness. Centuries later the apostle Paul latches onto that (see Romans 4:3) to prove his point about being saved through faith and not works.
7-11: Now the subject shifts from lineage to land. God promises Abram the land he has settled in, a promise God has given before. Abram asks for a sign, and God tells him to bring certain sacrifices. Note that the three animals are to be three years old, a tripling of the number 3. Three symbolizes the arising of life (which first appeared on the 3rd day of creation). It is nighttime, and although the text says that Abram brought them and cut them in half, we are not sure this actually happened because we have not been told that the vision has ended.
12-16: Indeed, it does seem to be a continuation of the vision, because now we are told that the sun goes down, but Abram has already been out to look at the stars! A vision is usually understood to be a “waking dream.” Now, though, he falls completely asleep and begins to dream. His dream is dark and terrifying, but in the midst of it God speaks and tells Abram what will happen in years to come. His descendants will be slaves in a foreign land for 400 years but will be rescued in God’s time. Obviously, this is a reference to the sojourn in Egypt. Abram himself is promised a peaceful death at a ripe old age.
17-21: In his dream he sees a smoking firepot, followed by a lighted torch, pass between the halves of his sacrifice – a signal that God has ratified the promise given – and hears God again promise the land to his descendants. The boundaries mentioned here will never be realized, though, unless you include their exile to Babylon (in the Euphrates valley) a millennium and a half hence. Of course, there is some uncertainty about the extent reached during the kingdom of David, who stretched Israel’s domain to its farthest.
When God chooses someone to use to forward God’s plan, God always provides whatever is necessary for success.