God expands the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant
15:1 Abram will be promised a rightful heir. It will be Isaac (through Sarah) not Ishmael (through Hagar), through which great tensions will later on arise that will bear evil fruit in the final days of world history.
Through a vision. A frequent way in which God spoke to those who would be His prophets. Nachmanides, the Jewish scholar, points out that this vision probably took place in the day time.
Do not fear. Possibly because of reprisals for his intervention in the war between the kings mentioned in chapter 14. More than likely it refers to the anxiety and doubt building up in Abraham because of his childlessness.
I am a shield to you. A symbol of defence and protection, used often in the Psalms. God would shield him from the arrows of adversity.
Your reward shall be very great. For obedience to God’s call, and his uprightness of life, he would be greatly blessed but so would his family through the generations.
15:2 Despite God’s assurances, Abraham has a flush of doubt. He felt it was impossible to have children at his age, so what was God going to give as a replacement for a son?
What wilt Thou give me? We are able to look into the soul of the Patriarch and see that no earthly values could replace a child. Isaac will be the highest of a human treasure. In most cultures of that day the child had no rights, but the one coming to Abraham, would carry on the promises made by God. While other peoples sometimes killed their children, the Roman historian Tacitus said such a practice was contemptible among the Jews.
The Rabbis often spoke of children as “the Messiahs of mankind,” i.e. the child is the regenerative force in humanity.
Eliezer of Damascus. This was Abraham’s chief servant who would inherit all the promises made to his master if there were no natural seed born to him. Eliezer was important to Abraham as shown in chapter 24. And he was truly a faithful servant.
15:3 One born in my house. This would mean Eliezer, Abraham’s servant. It would certainly not mean Lot who had returned to Sodom.
15:4 Behold. This is an exclamatory meant for the reader. “Get this!” God answered Abraham with a sense of absoluteness and authority. Eliezer, though a faithful servant, would not be his heir. His heir would be born by a miracle since Abraham and Sarah were well beyond the age to have children. From Abraham’s very body, his seed, his heir would come! God waited all this time in order to make the birth of the nation of Abraham a miracle, not simply something that happened by natural means!
15:5 Look towards the heavens. The point is not that Abraham would have as many children as the millions or billions of stars in the sky, but that his children would be uncountable. “So shall you descendants be.”
15:6 Believed in the Lord. Abraham now trusts what God said, but more, he is placing his entire faith in Him. He was ready to wait God’s time, without doubting God’s truth. Despite darkness and disappointment, and despite the fact that circumstances all point in the opposite direction, Abraham trusted in God.
He reckoned it to him as righteousness. Before, he may have been simply following a voice but now, he truly trusts. Paul uses this verse to show how God converted his belief into “reckoned” righteousness. This is a position that makes one saved! “Counted his trust as real religion.” (Moffatt) (see Gal. 3:-9)
15:7 I brought you out of Ur. The Lord now rehearses how Abraham arrived in the land; not by his own devices but by God’s sovereignty. I “give you this land to posses it.”
15:8 How may I know that I shall possess it? He does not doubt God but his flesh desires confirmation of the vision that had been granted him.
15:9-11 The Lord now prescribes the animals needed to make a “blood covenant,” a contract. Animals would be cut in two, signifying that “the two will be one” in regard to the issue in view. The two parties will walk between the pieces of animals to show an agreement made. Abraham will wait for God to come down and walk between the pieces of animals with him.
15:12 A deep sleep. Abraham falls into a deep trance, almost like in a nightmare. The Lord will reveal a future plan, an unfolding of events that will take place with his descendants some distance away.
15:13 Your descendants will be strangers. This tells Abraham that he will have children even in his old age. They will be temporary sojourners in a land that does not belong to them (Egypt). And, they will be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years. This four hundred years could be calculated from the close of Joseph’s reign of authority, when he died, in 1804 B.C., until the time that Joshua took over from Moses and led them back into the land promised to Abraham’s children, in 1405 B.C. This is 400 years! During that time the children of Israel had been enslaved in Egypt, and had wandered in the wilderness (that actually belonged to Egypt) for forty years. The count could also be calculated from the peak of Joseph’s reign (1845 B.C.) until the beginning of the exodus from Egypt (1445 B.C.).
Many believe too that the 400 years is a round figure, but when fully figured, comes up to 430 years. Galatians 3:17 makes the calculation 430 years which probably includes some of the time of the rule of Joseph.
15:14 With many possessions. Prophecy always comes about literally and historically, though prophetic utterances may include, but not always, signs, symbols, illustrations, and metaphors. “Literalness” is the mark of prophecy! The “many possessions” was fulfilled when Israel left Egypt (Exod. 12:35-on).
15:15 Shall go to your fathers. The death of Abraham is predicted in one of those remarkable phrases which seem to prove that the Hebrews were not unacquainted with the doctrine of immortality. Here in this passage the soul is said to go to the eternal abiding place of the fathers, even though the bodies are placed in far different locations. Abraham would be buried in Canaan but all of his forefathers were buried in Babylon. (Rabbi Kalisch)
In peace. Because of his trust in God, Abraham was assured of dying in peace and assurance. And, his death would be some time off—he would be buried “in a good old age.”
15:16 In the fourth generation. See 15:13. People were living longer with 100 years seen as a generation. The Arabic word dahr is used for a hundred years or more. (Burckhardt) These four generations are not to be computed from Abraham and the time of this vision but from the time when his posterity first came to Egypt, or during the time of Joseph. (Rabbi Rashi)
The iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete. Amorite denotes all of the people in Canaan generally speaking. Some of their sins are mentioned in Leviticus 18:21-30. The postponement of the penalty against them shows God’s divine patience. God would give them time to repent. Through Abraham and his descendants “the way of the Lord with justice and mercy” was shown. But the Canaanite people did not embrace Him! They gradually accumulated guilt. God’s prescience (His foreknowledge) was certain that their hearts would never turn to Him. Abraham’s children would act as whips and judge the people of the land when they entered under Joshua’s leadership in 1405 B.C.
15:17 A smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between [the pieces of the animals]. The Hebrew grammar allows for one lamp or light passing between the animals. The passage could read: “A smoking oven EVEN a flaming torch …” Abraham was knocked out. The light pictured the presence of God “cutting” the covenant for Himself. This tells us the covenant was unconditional, i.e. not conditioned on Abraham’s goodness, perfection, faithfulness, but on God’s sovereign word and His own fulfillment of the covenant. The covenant was now ratified.
15:18 The Lord made [cut] a covenant with Abraham. The perfect tense in Hebrew is used although it refers to the future, in order to denote the certainty of the promise. God will accomplish it! The extent of the land is enormous! It extends from the river of Egypt (“Brook of Egypt”) to the South, all the way to the Euphrates River in Babylon. This promise has never been fulfilled (though the “reach” was theoretical during the reign of Solomon), but will be when the Messiah inaugurates the David 1000 year reign of the Kingdom!
15:19-21 Some of the tribes mentioned here were friendly to Israel, but some were not.