Verses of Genesis 15
Genesis 15:8 Commentary - Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae (Old and New Testaments)
COVENANT CONFIRMED TO ABRAM
Gen 15:8. And lie said, Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?
THE innumerable instances of God’s condescension which occur in the holy Scriptures, familiarize the idea of it so much to our minds, that we cease to wonder at it even on occasions the most stupendous. In the history before us we are ready to conceive of God as if he was a man like ourselves. His appearances to Abram are so frequent, his intercourse with him so intimate, his regard for him so tender and affectionate, that we really lose sight of the Deity in the Friend. Every fresh manifestation of himself seems only introductory to still higher exercises of his condescension and grace. In the preceding verses God had been pleased to allay the fears of Abram, and confirm his hopes of a numerous posterity: but, Abram being still desirous of receiving stronger assurances respecting his possession of the promised land, God graciously complied with his request in this respect also, and confirmed his expectations of it in a manner that deserves particular attention.
Let us consider,
The inquiry which Abram made—
We may perhaps be disposed to blame this inquiry, as savouring of vain curiosity, or sinful distrust. To obviate such misconceptions, we shall distinctly state,
[The very same act may be good or evil, according to the principle from which it proceeds. Had this inquiry arisen from unbelief, it would have been decidedly sinful. It would have resembled the question which Zacharias asked, when the angel told him from God, that he should have a child; “Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years [Note: Luk 1:18.]:” for which unbelieving question he was immediately struck dumb. If, on the other hand, it expressed a wish to be informed more clearly respecting the divine purposes, or to receive those superabundant testimonies which God himself was willing to communicate, then it was perfectly innocent, and consistent with the strongest faith. It was for the purpose of instruction only that the blessed Virgin inquired of the angel, how she should have a child, since she was a Virgin [Note: Luk 1:34.]. The question did not materially differ from that of Zacharias; but the principle was different; and therefore the one received a gracious answer; the other a severe rebuke. Many instances are recorded where God has been graciously pleased to give signs to his people for the confirmation of their faith, when there was not any doubt upon their minds respecting either his faithfulness or power. When he appeared to Gideon, and told him that he should deliver his country from the yoke of Midian; Gideon said, “If now I have found grace in thy sight, then shew me a sign that thou talkest with me:” in answer to which, God caused fire to come out of the rock, and consume the kid and cakes which Gideon had prepared for him [Note: Jdg 6:14; Jdg 6:17; Jdg 6:21.]: and presently afterwards, he gave him another sign, making the dew to fall alternately on the fleece and on the ground, while the other remained perfectly dry [Note: Jdg 6:36-40.]. In the same manner he gave to Hezekiah a choice of signs, offering to make the shadows on the sun-dial to go backward or forward ten degrees, according as he should desire [Note: 2Ki 20:8-11.]. From hence it appears that the inquiries which proceed from faith, are good and acceptable to God: and that Abram’s was of this nature is manifest; because his faith on this occasion was specially commended by God himself.]
[If we were to limit the inquiry to the mere circumstance of Abram’s inheriting Canaan in his own person, it would be indeed of very little importance: for he never did possess (except the burying-ground which he purchased) one single foot of ground in the country [Note: Act 7:5.], nor, as far as appears, had he any expectation of gaining any permanent settlement in it. But, viewed in its just extent, the inquiry comprised in it nothing less than the happiness of Abram and of all mankind. We are willing to allow that the prospect of having a posterity so numerous and so renowned, must be gratifying to flesh and blood: but that was, at best, but a very small part of Abram’s hope: he regarded the promised land as the scene of all those wonderful transactions, where God should be honoured and enjoyed by his posterity; where the redemption of mankind should be effected by the Messiah; and where the final rest of the redeemed should be typically exhibited: in the possession of that, all his hopes centred; yea, all his happiness in time and in eternity was bound up. If by any means that were prevented from taking place, the day of Christ, which he had foreseen, would never arrive; and consequently all his own prospects of salvation, as also of the salvation of the whole world, would be altogether annihilated. Canaan was in his estimation the pledge and earnest of heaven [Note: Heb 11:10; Heb 11:13; Heb 11:16.]: and if he failed of the one, both he and all mankind must fail of the other also. Surely when so much depended on that event, the most reiterated assurances respecting it were no more than what it became him to desire.]
We shall be yet more fully convinced that Abram’s inquiry was proper, if we notice,
The way which God took to satisfy him respecting it—
God commanded Abram to take of every animal that was proper to be offered in sacrifice, whether of beasts or birds; each beast was to have attained its full age and perfection (for nothing but an absolutely perfect sacrifice could avail for ratifying of God’s covenant with man), and, after being slain, their parts were to be divided and placed opposite to each other, so that a sufficient space should be left for a man to pass between them. Whether this way of making covenants had obtained before, or whether it was first suggested by God on this occasion, we cannot tell: but we have notices of it in the heathen world, both among the Greeks and Romans; and it was certainly practised by the Jews also [Note: Jer 34:18-19.]. But, whatever was its origin, God appointed it now for the purpose of satisfying Abram’s mind. The sacrifice being prepared, God accompanied it,
With significant emblems—
[God designed to give Abram a just conception of the manner in which the desired object should be accomplished; and by various emblems shewed him that it should be against much opposition—after many troubles—and long delays.
The opposition was signified to Abram by “the fowls that came down upon the carcasses,” and that were with difficulty driven away. It is no uncommon thing for the enemies of our salvation, whether men or devils, to be represented by this figure [Note: 1 with Jer 34:20 and Mat 13:19.]. And it was indeed verified by the efforts which the Egyptians made to detain them in bondage, and the confederacies which the nations of Canaan formed to obstruct their entrance into the land, or to dispossess them of it when they were there.
“The horror of great darkness that fell upon Abram when he was in a deep sleep [Note: 2.],” denoted the heavy troubles that his posterity should endure in Egypt; such troubles as made them groan for anguish of spirit, and made “the soul of God himself to be grieved for the misery of Israel [Note: Jdg 10:16.].” Perhaps too the judgments inflicted on them through the various oppressions of the Midianites and Philistines, the Assyrians and Chaldeans, might be represented to his mind.
The long interval of time that passed between the promise and the ratification of it, even from the earliest dawn, while the stars were yet shining bright, to the return of darkness after the setting of the sun—all this time had Abram to wait: and though part of it would be consumed in the preparing of the sacrifices, yet a considerable part was occupied in his endeavours to drive away the fowls, and in the preternatural sleep and horror that came upon him. This lapse of time, I say, intimated the delay that should take place before the promise should be fulfilled, or his wishes receive their final completion.
If in deciphering these emblems we seem to have gone beyond the line of sober interpretation, let us turn to the explanation which God himself gives us of them, and we shall see all these particulars distinctly enumerated;—the opposition they should encounter, the troubles they should endure, and the delay they should experience, even four hundred years [Note: 3.]. And so far from exceeding the limits of sobriety, we are by no means certain that much more is not intended under these emblems, even to designate the trials and conflicts which the children of Abraham shall experience in their way to the promised land.]
With demonstrative attestations—
[After the parts of the sacrifice were properly disposed, it was customary for the parties who covenanted with each other, to pass between them [Note: Jer 34:18-19.] ; intimating, if not expressing, their willingness to be cut asunder in like manner, if they should ever violate their engagements. God therefore, assuming the appearance of a smoking furnace and a burning lamp, passed visibly between the pieces that were placed opposite to each other; and thereby ratified the covenant on his part, as Abram, in all probability, did on his part. Why God assumed these diversified appearances, we cannot absolutely determine. But at all times, if he did not assume the human or angelic shape, he revealed himself in the likeness of fire. It was in a burning bush that he was seen by Moses [Note: Exo 3:2.] ; and in a burning mountain by Israel [Note: Exo 19:18 with Heb 12:18.] ; and in a pillar of smoke and fire that he went before his people in the wilderness [Note: Exo 14:19-20; Exo 24:17.]: from whence we are disposed to think that, though the appearances were diverse, the intent was one; namely, to represent himself to Abram, as he did to his descendants, as “the Glory and Defence” of all his people [Note: Isa 4:5.]. Under this character he shewed himself to Abram, and, passing between the pieces of the sacrifice, pledged himself for the accomplishment of all that he had promised.]
Let us learn from hence,
To make a similar inquiry relative to the inheritance which we seek—
[We profess to be looking for heaven and eternal glory. Ought we not then, every one of us, to ask, “Whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?” Surely the inquiry is as important to us, as Abram’s was to him: and we have more encouragement to ask the question, because God has provided us with such ample means of solving it. As for any thing to confirm the veracity of God, nothing can be added to what he has already done: he has sent his only dear Son into the world to die for us; he has given his Holy Spirit to instruct us; he has already brought myriads, of Gentiles as well as Jews, to the possession of the inheritance; so that nothing remains but to inquire into the marks whereby he has taught us to judge of our own character. Am I “poor in spirit?” Then is the kingdom mine, and I shall surely inherit it [Note: Mat 5:3.]. Am I living daily upon Christ, as the Israelites did upon the manna? Then I have, and shall have, everlasting life [Note: Joh 6:53-58.]. Am I “keeping his commandments diligently and without reserve?” Then I may know from hence my interest in his favour [Note: 1Jn 3:24 with 1Th 1:3-4.]. We are not to expect visions, such as were vouchsafed to Abram: “we have a more sure word of prophecy; and to that it behoves us to take heed [Note: 2Pe 1:19.].” Let us then “examine ourselves whether we be in the faith:” let us “prove our own selves [Note: 2Co 13:5.]:” thus shall we “make our calling and election sure [Note: 2Pe 1:10.],” and be enabled to say with confidence, “I know that when the earthly house of this tabernacle shall be dissolved, I have an house, not made with hands, eternal in the heavens [Note: 2Co 5:1.].”]
To look forward to the full possession of our inheritance without regarding any difficulties that we may have to encounter in our way to it—
[Abram was not discouraged either with the difficulties or delays which he was instructed to expect. He never once regretted the losses he had sustained in leaving his native country; nor was he wearied with the inconveniences of a pilgrim’s life. He steadily pursued the path of duty in expectation of the promised blessings [Note: Heb 6:15.]. Let us then “walk in the steps of our father Abraham.” Let our prospect of the inheritance reconcile us to the hardships of our pilgrimage; and our view of the prize animate us throughout the whole of our course. If enemies oppose us, and troubles come upon us, and our possession of the inheritance be delayed, it is no more than what God has taught us to expect. But God has said, “He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.” Let us therefore confide in that promise, and expect its accomplishment to our souls. Let us not be weary in well-doing; “for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.”]
Verses of Genesis 15
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Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae (Old and New Testaments)
Charles Simeon (1759 - 1836) was an English evangelical Anglican cleric.
Horae Homileticae reflects the rich source of Biblical understanding of Simeon, a towering figure in the history of evangelical theology.