Genesis 15:12
And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him.
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(12) When the sun was going down.—The time described was the evening following the night on which he had received the assurance that his seed should be countless as the stars. He had then, in his trance, also asked for some security that Canaan should be the heritage of his posterity, and in answer had received the command to arrange, upon a large scale, the ceremonial of a solemn treaty-making. The morning had been spent in the performance of the command, and after wards he had watched, probably for several hours, by the side of the divided bodies, uncertain what would happen, but occupied in driving away the vultures, which gathered from all quarters round the abundant feast. At sunset the revelation came to him, not in a waking trance, as on the previous night, but in “a deep sleep,” and with those accompaniments of terror so powerfully described in Job 4:12-16, and which the creature cannot but feel when brought near to the manifest presence of the Creator (Daniel 10:8).

Lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him.—Heb., lo, a terror, even great darkness, falling upon him. The terror was not mental so much as bodily, caused by a deep gloom settling round him, such as would be the effect of an eclipse of the setting sun, and shutting all mortal things away from his view.

Genesis 15:12. And when the sun was going down — About the time of the evening oblation; for, he abode by them, praying and waiting till toward evening; a deep sleep fell upon Abram — Not a common sloop through weariness or carelessness, but a divine ecstasy, that, being wholly taken off from things sensible, he might be wholly taken up with the contemplation of things spiritual. And lo, a horror of great darkness fell upon him — This was designed to strike an awe upon the spirit of Abram, and to possess him with a holy reverence. Holy fear prepares the soul for holy joy; God humbles first, and then lifts up.

15:12-16 A deep sleep fell upon Abram; with this sleep a horror of great darkness fell upon him: a sudden change. The children of light do not always walk in the light. Several things were then foretold. 1. The suffering state of Abram's seed for a long time. They shall be strangers. The heirs of heaven are strangers on earth. They shall be servants; but Canaanites serve under a curse, the Hebrews under a blessing. They shall be suffers. Those that are blessed and beloved of God, are often sorely afflicted by wicked men. 2. The judgment of the enemies of Abram's seed. Though God may allow persecutors and oppressors to trample upon his people a great while, he will certainly reckon with them at last. 3. That great event, the deliverance of Abram's seed out of Egypt, is here foretold. 4. Their happy settlement in Canaan. They shall come hither again. The measure of sin fills gradually. Some people's measure of sin fills slowly. The knowledge of future events would seldom add to our comfort. In the most favoured families, and most happy lives, there are so many afflictions, that it is merciful in God to conceal what will befall us and ours.And the sun was about to set. - This visit of the Lord to Abram continues for two nights, with the intervening day. In the former night he led him forth to view the stars Genesis 15:5. The second night sets in with the consummation of the covenant Genesis 15:17. The revelation comes to Abram in a trance of deep sleep. The Lord releases the mind from attention to the communications of sense in order to engage it with higher things. And he who makes the loftier revelation can enable the recipient to distinguish the voice of heaven from the play of fancy.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. A deep sleep fell upon Abram; partly natural, from his labour in killing and sacrificing those creatures; and partly sent upon him from God, to make way for the following representation. He seemed to be covered with a dreadful darkness, which was either,

1. A token of God’s special presence: compare 1 Kings 8:12. Or,

2. A signification of the distressed and doleful condition of Abram’s seed; for darkness in Scripture is frequently mentioned as an emblem or sign of great misery, as Psalm 88:6 107:14, &c.

And when the sun was going down,.... Just setting, descending below the hemisphere; or "about to enter" (m) into his chamber, as Piscator observes, from whence he went forth in the morning, as a strong man to run his race; which at sunset is finished according to human appearance, and the common apprehensions of men, who have thought it goes under the earth, or drops into the ocean, see Psalm 19:5,

a deep sleep fell upon Abram: through the great fatigue he had had the preceding day, in doing what is before related; or rather through a more than ordinary influence of God upon him, which bound up his senses, and cast him into an ecstasy or trance, when he had the following prophecy and vision, which more fully explained to him the emblem he had been conversant with; this was such a sleep as fell on Adam, Genesis 2:21,

and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him; or such darkness as was horrible and terrible, so it was represented to his mind in vision; which signified the great afflictions after expressed by darkness, that should come upon his children in Egypt and elsewhere: and so Jarchi says it refers to the distresses and darkness of their captivities in Egypt, and in other places. The Targumists observe, that Abram in this vision saw the four monarchies that should bring his children into bondage.

(m) "et fuit sol ad intrandum", Montanus, Piscator.

And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him.
12. a deep sleep] See note on the same word in Genesis 2:21. LXX ἔκστασις.

an horror of great darkness fell] Lit. “an horror, even great darkness was falling.” A vivid description of the sensation of terror, preliminary to the revelation he was to receive.

Verse 12. - And when the sun was going down. Literally, was about to go down (cf. Gesenius, § 132). The vision having commenced the previous evening, an entire day has already passed, the interval being designed to typify the time between the pro-raise and its fulfillment (Kalisch). A deep sleep - tardemah (cf. Adam s sleep, Genesis 2:21); ἔκστασις (LXX.); a supernatural slumber, as the darkness following was not solely due to natural causes - fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness - literally, an, horror, a great darkness, i.e. an overwhelming dread occasioned by the dense gloom with which he was encircled, and which, besides Being designed to conceal the working of the Deity from mortal vision (Knobel), was meant to symbolize the Egyptian bondage (Grotius, Calvin, Rosenmüller, Keil, Aalisch), and perhaps also, since Abram's faith embraced a larger sphere than Canaan (Hebrews 11:10, 14, 16), and a nobler seed than Sarah's son (John 8:56), the sufferings of Christ (Wordsworth, Inglis) - fell upon him. Genesis 15:12"And when the sun was just about to go down (on the construction, see Ges. 132), and deep sleep (תּרדּמה, as in Genesis 2:21, a deep sleep produced by God) had fallen upon Abram, behold there fell upon him terror, great darkness." The vision here passes into a prophetic sleep produced by God. In this sleep there fell upon Abram dread and darkness; this is shown by the interchange of the perfect נפלה and the participle נפלת. The reference to the time is intended to show "the supernatural character of the darkness and sleep, and the distinction between the vision and a dream" (O. v. Gerlach). It also possesses a symbolical meaning. The setting of the sun prefigured to Abram the departure of the sun of grace, which shone upon Israel, and the commencement of a dark and dreadful period of suffering for his posterity, the very anticipation of which involved Abram in darkness. For the words which he heard in the darkness were these (Genesis 15:13.): "Know of a surety, that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them (the lords of the strange land), and they (the foreigners) shall oppress them 400 years." That these words had reference to the sojourn of the children of Israel in Egypt, is placed beyond all doubt by the fulfilment. The 400 years were, according to prophetic language, a round number for the 430 years that Israel spent in Egypt (Exodus 12:40). "Also that nation whom they shall serve will I judge (see the fulfilment, Exodus 6:11); and afterward shall they come out with great substance (the actual fact according to Exodus 12:31-36). And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace, and be buried in a good old age (cf. Genesis 25:7-8); and in the fourth generation they shall come hither again." The calculations are made here on the basis of a hundred years to a generation: not too much for those times, when the average duration of life was above 150 years, and Isaac was born in the hundredth year of Abraham's life. "For the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full." Amorite, the name of the most powerful tribe of the Canaanites, is used here as the common name of all the inhabitants of Canaan, just as in Joshua 24:15 (cf. Genesis 10:5), Judges 6:10, etc.).

By this revelation Abram had the future history of his seed pointed out to him in general outlines, and was informed at the same time why neither he nor his descendants could obtain immediate possession of the promised land, viz., because the Canaanites were not yet ripe for the sentence of extermination.

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