The Covenant with Abram.#In the first section (vv. 1–6), Abraham is promised a son and heir, and in the second (vv. 7–21), he is promised a land. The structure is similar in both: each of the two promises is not immediately accepted; the first is met with a complaint (vv. 2–3) and the second with a request for a sign (v. 8). God’s answer differs in each section—a sign in v. 5 and an oath in vv. 9–21. Some scholars believe that the Genesis promises of progeny and land were originally separate and only later combined, but progeny and land are persistent concerns especially of ancient peoples and it is hard to imagine one without the other. 1Some time afterward, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: Do not fear, Abram! I am your shield; I will make your reward very great.
2But Abram said, “Lord God, what can you give me, if I die childless and have only a servant of my household, Eliezer of Damascus?” 3Abram continued, “Look, you have given me no offspring, so a servant of my household will be my heir.” 4Then the word of the Lord came to him: No, that one will not be your heir; your own offspring will be your heir.#Gn 17:16. 5He took him outside and said: Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so, he added, will your descendants be.#Gn 22:17; 28:14; Ex 32:13; Dt 1:10; Sir 44:21; Rom 4:18; Heb 11:12. 6#1 Mc 2:52; Rom 4:3, 9, 22; Gal 3:6–7; Jas 2:23. Abram put his faith in the Lord, who attributed it to him as an act of righteousness.#Abraham’s act of faith in God’s promises was regarded as an act of righteousness, i.e., as fully expressive of his relationship with God. St. Paul (Rom 4:1–25; Gal 3:6–9) makes Abraham’s faith a model for Christians.
7He then said to him: I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as a possession.#Gn 11:31; 12:1; Ex 32:13; Neh 9:7–8; Acts 7:2–3. 8“Lord God,” he asked, “how will I know that I will possess it?” 9#Cutting up animals was a well-attested way of making a treaty in antiquity. Jer 34:17–20 shows the rite is a form of self-imprecation in which violators invoke the fate of the animals upon themselves. The eighth-century B.C. Sefire treaty from Syria reads, “As this calf is cut up, thus Matti’el shall be cut up.” The smoking fire pot and the flaming torch (v. 17), which represent God, pass between the pieces, making God a signatory to the covenant. He answered him: Bring me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.#Lv 1:14. 10He brought him all these, split them in two, and placed each half opposite the other; but the birds he did not cut up. 11Birds of prey swooped down on the carcasses, but Abram scared them away. 12As the sun was about to set, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a great, dark dread descended upon him.
13#The verses clarify the promise of the land by providing a timetable of its possession: after four hundred years of servitude, your descendants will actually possess the land in the fourth generation (a patriarchal generation seems to be one hundred years). The iniquity of the current inhabitants (called here the Amorites) has not yet reached the point where God must intervene in punishment. Another table is given in Ex 12:40, which is not compatible with this one. Then the Lord said to Abram: Know for certain that your descendants will reside as aliens in a land not their own, where they shall be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years.#Ex 12:40; Nm 20:15; Jdt 5:9–10; Is 52:4; Acts 13:20; Gal 3:17. 14But I will bring judgment on the nation they must serve, and after this they will go out with great wealth.#Ex 3:8, 21–22. 15You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace; you will be buried at a ripe old age. 16In the fourth generation#Generation: the Hebrew term dor is commonly rendered as “generation,” but it may signify a period of varying length. A “generation” is the period between the birth of children and the birth of their parents, normally about twenty to twenty-five years. The actual length of a generation can vary, however; in Jb 42:16 it is thirty-five and in Nm 32:13 it is forty. The meaning may be life spans, which in Gn 6:3 is one hundred twenty years and in Is 65:20 is one hundred years. your descendants will return here, for the wickedness of the Amorites is not yet complete.#1 Kgs 21:26.
17When the sun had set and it was dark, there appeared a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch, which passed between those pieces. 18#The Wadi, i.e., a gully or ravine, of Egypt is the Wadi-el-‘Arish, which is the boundary between the settled land and the Sinai desert. Some scholars suggest that the boundaries are those of a Davidic empire at its greatest extent; others that they are idealized boundaries. Most lists of the ancient inhabitants of the promised land give three, six, or seven peoples, but vv. 19–21 give a grand total of ten. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying: To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the Great River, the Euphrates,#Ex 32:13; Neh 9:8; Ps 105:11; Sir 44:21. 19#Dt 7:1. the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.
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The Lord's covenant with Abram
1After this, the Lord spoke to Abram in a dream. God said, ‘Do not be afraid Abram. I will keep you safe. I myself will give you many good gifts.’
2But Abram said, ‘Almighty Lord, there is one gift that I want. I still have no children. When I die, Eliezer of Damascus will receive everything that I have. 3Because you have not given me any children, understand this: Everything that I have will one day belong to a servant in my house.’ #15:3 Eliezer of Damascus was Abram's servant. Abram did not have any children. When Abram died, there was no son to continue the family.
4The Lord gave Abram this message: ‘No! Eliezer will not be the one who receives your things. You will have your own son. He will be the one who receives everything that you have.’
5The Lord took Abram outside. He said to Abram, ‘Look up at the sky. Count the stars. They are too many for you to count!’ Then God said, ‘That is how many descendants you will have.’
6Abram believed the Lord. As a result, the Lord accepted Abram as right with him.
7The Lord also said to Abram, ‘I am the Lord. I brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to bring you to this land. I am giving it to you. It will belong to you.’ 8But Abram said, ‘Almighty Lord, how can I be sure that this land will belong to me?’
9The Lord said to Abram, ‘Bring a young cow, a goat and a male sheep to offer them to me. Each animal must be three years old. Also bring a dove and a young pigeon.’
10Abram brought the three animals and the two birds to offer to God. Abram cut each animal in two pieces. He put the halves opposite each other. But he did not cut the birds in two pieces. 11Some birds flew down to eat the animals' dead bodies. But Abram sent them away.
12When the sun was going down, Abram started to sleep. Suddenly he became very afraid because it was dark all around him. 13Then the Lord said to Abram, ‘Be sure of this: Your descendants will live in a foreign country. They will be strangers there. People will do bad things to them and they will become slaves. This will continue for 400 years. 14But I will punish the people of that country who give them trouble. After this, your descendants will leave that country. They will take many valuable things with them. 15But as for you, Abram, you will have a long life. When you die, you will have peace in your mind. 16After four generations, your descendants will come back here to Canaan. At that time, I will punish the Amorites because they do very bad things. But the time has not yet arrived that I will punish them.’ #15:16 The Amorites lived in Canaan. They did not worship the Lord God. They worshipped false gods. They killed children and gave them as sacrifices to these gods. God told Abram that when his descendants returned to Canaan, he would punish the Amorites at that time.
17Then the sun went down and it became dark. Abram saw a pot that had coals in it. The coals were burning and making smoke. There was also a branch that burned with bright fire. These passed between the halves of the animals that Abram had cut in two pieces. #15:17 The fire showed that God was passing between the halves of the animals. This showed that he was making a covenant with Abram.
18On that day, the Lord made a covenant with Abram. The Lord promised, ‘I give this land to your descendants. The land starts from the river of Egypt and continues as far as the River Euphrates. 19These people live in the land: Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.’ #15:21 These are the people who lived in the land of Canaan that God was giving to Abram and his descendants. Abram's descendants would win against these people. Then they would take the land for themselves to live in, because God had given it to them.
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