Genesis 15:17
And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces.
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(17) A smoking furnace.—The word really means the circular firepot which Orientals use in their houses to sit round for purposes of warmth. This one was wreathed in smoke, out of which shot “a burning lamp” (Heb., a torch of flame). For not two symbols, but only one, passed between the divided carcases. Abram had probably passed between them immediately after arranging them, and now Jehovah does the same. Fire is the recognised symbol of the Deity, as in the burning bush, the pillar of fire, the lightnings on Mount Sinai, &c.

Genesis 15:17. Behold a smoking furnace — This signified the affliction of his seed in Egypt: they were there in the furnace of affliction, and labouring in the very fire. They were there in the smoke, their eyes darkened that they could not see to the end of their troubles. And a burning lamp — This speaks comfort in this affliction: and this God showed Abram at the same time with the smoking furnace. The lamp notes direction in the smoke; God’s word was their lamp, a light shining in a dark place. Perhaps, too, this burning lamp prefigured the pillar of a cloud and fire which led them out of Egypt. The “passing of these between the pieces” was the confirming of the covenant God now made with him.

15:17-21 The smoking furnace and the burning lamp, probably represented the Israelites' severe trials and joyful deliverance, with their gracious supports in the mean time. It is probable that this furnace and lamp, which passed between the pieces, burned and consumed them, and so completed the sacrifice, and testified God's acceptance of it. So it intimates that God's covenants with man are made by sacrifice, Ps 50:5. And we may know that he accepts our sacrifices, if he kindles in our souls pious and devout affections. The bounds of the land granted are stated. Several nations, or tribes, are spoken of, that must be cast out to make room for the seed of Abram. In this chapter we perceive in Abram faith struggling against, and triumphing over, unbelief. Wonder not, believers, if you meet with seasons of darkness and distress. But it is not the will of God that you should be cast down: fear not; for all that he was to Abram he will be to you.And the sun went down. - The light of day is gone. The covenant is now formally concluded. Abram had risen to the height of faith in the God of promise. He is come into the position of the father of the faithful. He is therefore qualified for entering into this solemn compact. This covenant has a uniqueness which distinguishes it from that with Noah. It refers to a patriarch and his seed chosen out of a coexisting race. It is not, however, subversive of the ancient and general covenant, but only a special measure for overcoming the legal and moral difficulties in the way, and ultimately bringing its comprehensive provisions into effect. It refers to the land of promise, which is not only a reality, but a type and an earnest of all analogous blessings.

The oven of smoke and lamp of flame symbolize the smoke of destruction and the light of salvation. Their passing through the pieces of the victims and probably consuming them as an accepted sacrifice are the ratification of the covenant on the part of God, as the dividing and presenting of them were on the part of Abram. The propitiatory foundation of the covenant here comes into view, and connects Abram with Habel and Noah, the primeval confessors of the necessity of an atonement.

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. By which symbol God designed to represent, either,

1. The future state of Abram’s seed; the

smoking furnace signifying Israel’s misery in the iron furnace of Egypt, as it is called, Jeremiah 11:4; and the

burning lamp noting their deliverance, or light shining out of darkness. Or,

2. His own presence; for God is called a consuming fire, Hebrews 12:29; and both smoke and fire are elsewhere mentioned as the signs and means of God’s appearance. See Exodus 3:2 19:9,16,18 20:18. And this sense seems to be favoured by the following words, it being the custom of persons entering into covenant to pass between such pieces as hath been said; and because God hath no body which could visibly do so, therefore he doth it in this type or shadow.

And it came to pass, when the sun went down,.... It was going down when the deep sleep fell on Abram, and now it was quite gone or set:

and it was dark; which is not always the case as soon as the sun is set, there is a twilight for a while, and if a clear night the stars appear; but, as Aben Ezra observes, this was a dark and cloudy night; so it was a dark night, a time of great affliction and distress to the posterity of Abram, when their sun was set, or after the death of Joseph:

behold a smoking furnace; or the likeness of one, as Aben Ezra notes; for all this was represented in a visionary way to Abram, and was an emblem of the great troubles and afflictions of the children of Israel in Egypt, called the iron furnace, Deuteronomy 4:20, and may have respect to the furnaces in which they burnt the bricks they made, see Exodus 9:8; the Jewish paraphrases make this to be a representation of hell, which is prepared for the wicked in the world to come, as a furnace surrounded with sparks and flames of fire; and Jarchi says, it intimated to Abram, that the kingdoms would fall into hell:

and a burning lamp, that passed between those pieces; or a lamp of fire (o); an emblem of the Shechinah, or majesty of God, who afterwards appeared in a pillar of fire before the Israelites in the wilderness, after their deliverance out of Egypt, and when their salvation went forth as a lamp that burneth, of which this was a token: this burning lamp passed between the pieces of the heifer, goat, and ram, that Abram had divided in the midst, as was usually done when covenants were made, see Jeremiah 34:18; and here God made a covenant with Abram, as appears from Genesis 15:18; and, as a confirmation of it, passed between the pieces in a lamp of fire, showing that he was and would be the light and salvation of his people, Abram's seed, and an avenger of their enemies; only God passed between the pieces, not Abram, this covenant being as others God makes with men, only on one side; God, in covenanting with men, promises and gives something unto them, but men give nothing to him, but receive from him, as was the case between God and Abram: however, it is very probable, that this lamp of fire consumed the pieces, in like manner as fire from heaven used to fall upon and consume the sacrifices, in token of God's acceptance of them.

(o) "lampas ignis", V. L. Pagninus, Montanus; so Vatablus, Schmidt.

And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces.
17. a smoking furnace] The sign of the covenant is given in the appearance of a kiln, from which issued smoke and a blazing torch; and this passed through the two rows of the divided carcases. The figure described as a “smoking furnace” (tannur) was that of a clay constructed kiln, or furnace, such as is used for baking purposes by the Fellaheen. It is the κλίβανος = “oven,” of Matthew 6:30. For the fire and smoke as a symbol of the Theophany, see Exodus 13:21; Exodus 19:18; Exodus 24:17.

Verse 17. - And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, - literally, and it was (i.e. this took place), the sun went down; less accurately, ἐπεὶ δὲ ὁ ἤλιιος ἐγένετο πρὸς δυσμὰς (LXX.), which was the state of matters in Ver. 12. Here the sun, which was then setting, is described as having set - and it was dark, - literally, and darkness was, i.e. a darkness that might be felt, as in Ver. 12; certainly not φλὸξ ἐγένετο (LXX.), as if there were another flame besides the one specified in the description - behold a smoking furnace, - the תַּנּוּר, or Oriental furnace, had the form of a cylindrical fire-pot (cf. Gesenius, p. 869; Keil in loco) - and a burning lamp - a lamp of fire, or fiery torch, emerging from the smoking stove: an emblem of the Divine presence (cf. Exodus 19:18) - that passed between those pieces - in ratification of the covenant. Genesis 15:17When the sun had gone down, and thick darkness had come on (היה impersonal), "behold a smoking furnace, and (with) a fiery torch, which passed between those pieces," - a description of what Abram saw in his deep prophetic sleep, corresponding to the mysterious character of the whole proceeding. תּנּוּר, a stove, is a cylindrical fire-pot, such as is used in the dwelling-houses of the East. The phenomenon, which passed through the pieces as they lay opposite to one another, resembled such a smoking stove, from which a fiery torch, i.e., a brilliant flame, was streaming forth. In this symbol Jehovah manifested Himself to Abram, just as He afterwards did to the people of Israel in the pillar of cloud and fire. Passing through the pieces, He ratified the covenant which He made with Abram. His glory was enveloped in fire and smoke, the produce of the consuming fire, - both symbols of the wrath of God (cf. Psalm 18:9, and Hengstenberg in loc.), whose fiery zeal consumes whatever opposes it (vid., Exodus 3:2). - To establish and give reality to the covenant to be concluded with Abram, Jehovah would have to pass through the seed of Abram when oppressed by the Egyptians and threatened with destruction, and to execute judgment upon their oppressors (Exodus 7:4; Exodus 12:12). In this symbol, the passing of the Lord between the pieces meant something altogether different from the oath of the Lord by Himself in Genesis 22:16, or by His life in Deuteronomy 32:40, or by His soul in Amos 6:8 and Jeremiah 51:14. It set before Abram the condescension of the Lord to his seed, in the fearful glory of His majesty as the judge of their foes. Hence the pieces were not consumed by the fire; for the transaction had reference not to a sacrifice, which God accepted, and in which the soul of the offerer was to ascend in the smoke to God, but to a covenant in which God came down to man. From the nature of this covenant, it followed, however, that God alone went through the pieces in a symbolical representation of Himself, and not Abram also. For although a covenant always establishes a reciprocal relation between two individuals, yet in that covenant which God concluded with a man, the man did not stand on an equality with God, but God established the relation of fellowship by His promise and His gracious condescension to the man, who was at first purely a recipient, and was only qualified and bound to fulfil the obligations consequent upon the covenant by the reception of gifts of grace.
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