Genesis 15:10
And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
15:7-11 Assurance was given to Abram of the land of Canaan for an inheritance. God never promises more than he is able to perform, as men often do. Abram did as God commanded him. He divided the beasts in the midst, according to the ceremony used in confirming covenants, Jer 34:18,19. Having prepared according to God's appointment, he set himself to wait for the sign God might give him. A watch must be kept upon our spiritual sacrifices. When vain thoughts, like these fowls, come down upon our sacrifices, we must drive them away, and seek to attend on God without distraction.The Lord next confirms and explains the promise of "the land" to Abram. When God announces himself as Yahweh, who purposed to give him the land, Abram asks, Whereby "shall I know that I shall possess it?" He appears to expect some intimation as to the time and mode of entering upon possession. The Lord now directs him to make ready the things requisite for entering into a formal covenant regarding the land. These include all the kinds of animals afterward used in sacrifice. The number three is sacred, and denotes the perfection of the victim in point of maturity. The division of the animals refers to the covenant between two parties, who participate in the rights which it guarantees. The birds are two without being divided. "Abram drove them away." As the animals slain and divided represent the only mean and way through which the two parties can meet in a covenant of peace, they must be preserved pure and unmutilated for the end they have to serve.9-21. Take me an heifer, &c.—On occasions of great importance, when two or more parties join in a compact, they either observe precisely the same rites as Abram did, or, where they do not, they invoke the lamp as their witness. According to these ideas, which have been from time immemorial engraven on the minds of Eastern people, the Lord Himself condescended to enter into covenant with Abram. The patriarch did not pass between the sacrifice and the reason was that in this transaction he was bound to nothing. He asked a sign, and God was pleased to give him a sign, by which, according to Eastern ideas, He bound Himself. In like manner God has entered into covenant with us; and in the glory of the only-begotten Son, who passed through between God and us, all who believe have, like Abram, a sign or pledge in the gift of the Spirit, whereby they may know that they shall inherit the heavenly Canaan. And he, i.e. Abram, who by Divine instinct and precept did all this which here follows,

divided them in the midst, into two equal parts. This was done for two reasons.

1. To represent the torn and distracted condition in which his seed was to lie for a season.

2. To ratify God’s covenant with Abram and his seed; for this was a rite used in making covenants, as appears both from Scripture, Jeremiah 34:18, and other authors.

Laid each piece one against another, partly to encourage hope, that God would in his time put those parts together, and unite those dry bones, (to which the Israelites are compared, Ezekiel 37:1-28), and clothe them with flesh; and partly that the persons entering into covenant might pass between those parts, and so testify their union and conjunction in one and the same sacrifice.

The birds divided he not, either because there were two birds, and the one was laid against the other, which answered to the division of the larger creatures; or because they belonged not to the ceremony of the covenant, but were for the use of sacrifice, wherein they were to be offered whole, as afterwards was prescribed, Leviticus 1:15,17.

And he took unto him all these,.... The heifer, goat, ram, turtle, and young pigeon, not to himself, but to the Lord, as he was bid, and offered them before him, as the above Targums paraphrase it; or however he took them for his use, and set them before him, and did with them as he directed him:

and divided them in the midst; that is, the three animals, the heifer, goat, and ram; he did not take off their several limbs, and cut them up in small parts, but cut them in halves:

and laid each piece one against another; one half against the other, the left side against the right, shoulder against shoulder, and leg against leg, so that they might seem to join, or might be easily joined together again, or however answer one another; though it is generally thought there was such a distance of the one from the other, as that there might be a passage between them; it being usual in making covenants for the covenanters to pass between the parts of a creature slain, signifying, that should they break the covenant made, they deserved to be cut asunder as that creature was; see Gill on Jeremiah 34:18. So a burning lamp, or lamp of fire, an emblem of the divine Being, is said, Genesis 15:17, to pass between those pieces: all this was expressive of the afflictions of the posterity of Abram, of their being distressed in the land of Egypt, cut as it were in twain there, and of their various dispersions in other countries; and yet, like the bones in Ezekiel's vision, were gathered together, and united again: and it may be this may have respect to the division of the people of Israel into two kingdoms, in the times of Rehoboam, and their after reunion, and especially in the latter day, Ezekiel 37:7,

but the birds divided he not; but laid them one against another, as the pieces were laid; so the birds used in sacrifice under the law were not to be divided, Leviticus 1:17; which may signify, that when the people of the Jews, in the latter day, are converted, and brought together into their own land, when they will better answer the character of turtles and doves than they ever did, will be no more divided and separated from each other.

And he took unto him all these, and {c} divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not.

(c) This was the old custom in making covenants, Jer 39:18, to which God added these conditions, that Abram's posterity would be as torn in pieces, but after they would be rejoined: also that it would be assaulted, but yet delivered.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Verse 10. - And he took unto him all these, and divided (a word occurring only here in Genesis, and supposed by Michaelis to have been taken by Moses from the ancient document from which he transcribed this portion of his work. The word is afterwards found in Song of Solomon 2:17, and Jeremiah 34:18) them in the midst, - μέσα (LXX.); in equal parts (Onkelos) - and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not. So afterwards in the Mosaic legislation (Leviticus 1:7). Wordsworth detects in the non-dividing of the birds an emblem of "the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of peace and love; which is a Spirit of unity, and of "Christ's human spirit, which was not divisible." Kalisch, with more probability, recognizes as the reason of their not being divided the fact that such division was not required, both fowls being regarded as one part of the sacrifice only, and each, as the half, being placed opposite the other. Wordsworth numbers seven parts in the sacrifice, and sees a symbol of completeness and finality, the number seven being the root of shaba, to swear (Gesenius, p. 802); Kalisch reckons four, which he regards as "denoting perfection, but rather the external perfection of form than the internal one of the mind," and pointing "to the perfect possession of the Holy Land." The ritual here described is the same which was afterwards observed among the Hebrews in the formation of covenants (cf. Genesis 34:18), and appears to have extensively prevailed among heathen nations (cf. ' Iliad,' b. 124, "ὅρκια πιστὰ ταμόντες;" and the Latin phrase, "foedus icere"). Genesis 15:10Abram's question, "Whereby shall I know that I shall take possession of it (the land)?" was not an expression of doubt, but of desire for the confirmation or sealing of a promise, which transcended human thought and conception. To gratify this desire, God commanded him to make preparation for the conclusion of a covenant. "Take Me, He said, a heifer of three years old, and a she-goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon;" one of every species of the animals suitable for sacrifice. Abram took these, and "divided them in the midst," i.e., in half, "and placed one half of each opposite to the other (בּתרו אישׁ, every one its half, cf. Genesis 42:25; Numbers 16:17); only the birds divided he not," just as in sacrifice the doves were not divided into pieces, but placed upon the fire whole (Leviticus 1:17). The animals chosen, as well as the fact that the doves were left whole, corresponded exactly to the ritual of sacrifice. Yet the transaction itself was not a real sacrifice, since there was neither sprinkling of blood nor offering upon an altar (oblatio), and no mention is made of the pieces being burned. The proceeding corresponded rather to the custom, prevalent in many ancient nations, of slaughtering animals when concluding a covenant, and after dividing them into pieces, of laying the pieces opposite to one another, that the persons making the covenant might pass between them. Thus Ephraem Syrus (1, 161) observes, that God condescended to follow the custom of the Chaldeans, that He might in the most solemn manner confirm His oath to Abram the Chaldean. The wide extension of this custom is evident from the expression used to denote the conclusion of a covenant, בּרית כּרת to hew, or cut a covenant, Aram. קרם גּרז, Greek ὅρκια τέμνειν, faedus ferire, i.e., ferienda hostia facere faedus; cf. Bochart (Hieroz. 1, 332); whilst it is evident from Jeremiah 34:18, that this was still customary among the Israelites of later times. The choice of sacrificial animals for a transaction which was not strictly a sacrifice, was founded upon the symbolical significance of the sacrificial animals, i.e., upon the fact that they represented and took the place of those who offered them. In the case before us, they were meant to typify the promised seed of Abram. This would not hold good, indeed, if the cutting of the animals had been merely intended to signify, that any who broke the covenant would be treated like the animals that were there cut in pieces. But there is no sure ground in Jeremiah 34:18. for thus interpreting the ancient custom. The meaning which the prophet there assigns to the symbolical usage, may be simply a different application of it, which does not preclude an earlier and different intention in the symbol. The division of the animals probably denoted originally the two parties to the covenant, and the passing of the latter through the pieces laid opposite to one another, their formation into one: a signification to which the other might easily have been attached as a further consequence and explanation. And if in such a case the sacrificial animals represented the parties to the covenant, so also even in the present instance the sacrificial animals were fitted for that purpose, since, although originally representing only the owner or offerer of the sacrifice, by their consecration as sacrifices they were also brought into connection with Jehovah. But in the case before us the animals represented Abram and his seed, not in the fact of their being slaughtered, as significant of the slaying of that seed, but only in what happened to and in connection with the slaughtered animals: birds of prey attempted to eat them, and when extreme darkness came on, the glory of God passed through them. As all the seed of Abram was concerned, one of every kind of animal suitable for sacrifice was taken, ut ex toto populo et singulis partibus sacrificium unum fieret (Calvin). The age of the animals, three years old, was supposed by Theodoret to refer to the three generations of Israel which were to remain in Egypt, or the three centuries of captivity in a foreign land; and this is rendered very probable by the fact, that in Judges 6:25 the bullock of seven years old undoubtedly refers to the seven years of Midianitish oppression. On the other hand, we cannot find in the six halves of the three animals and the undivided birds, either 7 things or the sacred number 7, for two undivided birds cannot represent one whole, but two; nor can we attribute to the eight pieces any symbolical meaning, for these numbers necessarily followed from the choice of one specimen of every kind of animal that was fit for sacrifice, and from the division of the larger animals into two.
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