And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if you be able to number them: and he said to him, So shall your seed be.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)He brought him forth.—There is no reason for regarding this as a poetical description of a merely mental emotion. With his senses dormant, but alive to every spiritual impression, Abram feels himself led forth from the tent into the open space around, and is there commanded to count the stars. As a matter of fact, the stars visible to the naked eye are not very numerous, but they have ever been a received metaphor for an infinite multitude, probably because, as men gaze, they perpetually see the faint radiance of more and more distant constellations. Thus they cannot be counted, and Abram’s seed was to be countless, because of the vastness of its number.
GOD’S COVENANT WITH ABRAM
Genesis 15:5 - Genesis 15:18.
1. Abram had exposed himself to dangerous reprisals by his victory over the confederate Eastern raiders. In the reaction following the excitement of battle, dread and despondency seem to have shadowed his soul. Therefore the assurance with which this chapter opens came to him. It was new, and came in a new form. He is cast into a state of spiritual ecstasy, and a mighty ‘word’ sounds, audible to his inward ear. The form which it takes-’I am thy shield’-suggests the thought that God shapes His revelation according to the moment’s need. The unwarlike Abram might well dread the return of the marauders in force, to avenge their defeat. Therefore God speaks to his fears and present want. Just as to Jacob the angels appeared as a heavenly camp guarding his undefended tents and helpless women; so, here and always, God is to us what we most need at the moment, whether it be comfort, or wisdom, or guidance, or strength. The manna tasted to each man, as the rabbis say, what he most desired. God’s gifts take the shape of man’s necessity.
Abram had just exercised singular generosity in absolutely refusing to enrich himself from the spoil. God reveals Himself as ‘his exceeding great reward.’ He gives Himself as recompense for all sacrifices. Whatever is given up at His bidding, ‘the Lord is able to give thee much more than this.’ Not outward things, nor even an outward heaven, is the guerdon of the soul; but a larger possession of Him who alone fills the heart, and fills the heart alone. Other riches may be counted, but this is ‘exceeding great,’ passing comprehension, and ever unexhausted, and having something over after all experience. Both these aspects of God’s preciousness are true for earth; but we need a shield only while exposed to attack. In the land of peace, He is only our reward.
2. Mark the triumphant faith which wings to meet the divine promise. The first effect of that great assurance is to deepen Abram’s consciousness of the strange contradiction to it apparently given by his childlessness. It is not distrust that answers the promise with a question, but it is eagerness to accept the assurance and ingenuous utterance of difficulties in the hope of their removal. God is too wise a father not to know the difference between the tones of confidence and unbelief, however alike they may sound; and He is too patient to be angry if we cannot take in all His promise at once. He breaks it into bits not too large for our lips, as He does here. The frequent reiterations of the same promises in Abram’s life are not vain. They are a specimen of the unwearied repetition of our lessons, ‘Here a little, there a little,’ which our teacher gives His slow scholars. So, once more, Abram gets the promise of posterity in still more glorious form. Before, it was likened to the dust of the earth; now it is as the innumerable stars shining in the clear Eastern heaven. As he gazes up into the solemn depths, the immensity and peace of the steadfast sky seems to help him to rise above the narrow limits and changefulness of earth, and a great trust floods his soul. Abram had lived by faith ever since he left Haran; but the historian, usually so silent about the thoughts of his characters, breaks through his usual manner of narrative to insert the all-important words which mark an epoch in revelation, and are, in some aspects, the most significant in the Old Testament. Abram ‘believed in the Lord; and He counted it to him for righteousness.’
Observe the teaching as to the nature and object of faith in that first clause. The word rendered ‘believed’ literally means to steady oneself by leaning on something. So it gives in a vivid picture more instructive than many a long treatise what faith is, and what it does for us. As a man leans his trembling hand on a staff, so we lay our weak and changeful selves on God’s strength; and as the most mutable thing is steadied by being fastened to a fixed point, so we, though in ourselves light as thistledown, may be steadfast as rock, if we are bound to the rock of ages by the living band of faith. The metaphor makes it plain that faith cannot be merely an intellectual act of assent, but must include a moral act, that of confidence. Belief as credence is mainly an affair of the head, but belief as trust is an act of the will and the affections.
The object of faith is set in sunlight clearness by these words,-the first in which Scripture speaks of faith. Abram leaned on ‘the Lord.’ It was not the promise, but the promiser, that was truly the object of Abram’s trust. He believed the former, because he trusted Him who made it. Many confusions in Christian teaching would have been avoided if it had been always seen that faith grasps a person, not a doctrine, and that even when the person is revealed by doctrine, it is him, and not only it, which faith lays hold of. Whether God speaks promises, teachings of truth, or commandments, faith accepts them, because it trusts Him. Christ is revealed to us for our faith by the doctrinal statements of the New Testament. But we must grasp Himself, as so revealed, if we are to have faith which saves the soul. This same thought of the true object of faith as personal helps us to understand the substantial identity of faith in all ages and stages of revelation, however different the substance of the creeds. Abram knew very little of God, as compared with our knowledge. But it was the same God whom Abram trusted, and whom we trust as made known in His Son. Hence we can stretch out our hands across the ages, and clasp his as partaker of ‘like precious faith.’ We walk in the light of the same sun,-he in its morning beams, we in its noonday glory. There has never been but one road to God, and that is the road which Abram trod, when ‘he believed in the Lord.’
3. Mark the full-orbed gospel truth as to the righteousness of faith which is embedded in this record of early revelation, ‘He counted it to him for righteousness.’ A geologist would be astonished if he came on remains in some of the primary strata which indicated the existence, in these remote epochs, of species supposed to be of much more recent date. So here we are startled at finding the peculiarly New Testament teaching away back in this dim distance. No wonder that Paul fastened on this <scripRef passage="Genesis 13:1-13">, which so remarkably breaks the flow of the narrative, as proof that his great principle of justification by faith was really the one only law by which, in all ages, men had found acceptance with God. Long before law or circumcision, faith had been counted for righteousness. The whole Mosaic system was a parenthesis; and even in it, whoever had been accepted had been so because of his trust, not because of his works. The whole of the subsequent divine dealings with Israel rested on this act of faith, and on the relation to God into which, through it, Abram entered. He was not a perfectly righteous man, as some passages of his life show; but he rose here to the height of loving and yearning trust in God, and God took that trust in lieu of perfect conformity to His will. He treated and regarded him as righteous, as is proved by the covenant which follows. The gospel takes up this principle, gives us a fuller revelation, presents the perfect righteousness of Christ as capable of becoming ours by faith, and so unveils the ground on which Abram and the latest generations are equally ‘accepted in the beloved.’ This reckoning of righteousness to the unrighteous, on condition of their faith, is not because of any merit in faith. It does not come about in reward of, but by means of, their faith, which is nothing in itself, but is the channel only of the blessing. Nor is it a mere arbitrary act of God’s, or an unreal imputing of what is not. But faith unites with Christ; and ‘he that is joined to the Lord is one spirit,’ so as that ‘in Him we have redemption.’ His righteousness becomes ours. Faith grafts us into the living Vine, and we are no longer regarded in our poor sinful individual personality, but as members of Christ. Faith builds us into the rock; but He is a living Stone, and we are living stones, and the life of the foundation rises up through all the courses of the great temple. Faith unites sinful men to God in Christ; therefore it makes them partakers of the ‘blessedness of the man, . . .to whom the Lord will not impute sin,’ and of the blessedness of the man to whom the Lord reckons his faith for righteousness. That same faith which thus clothes us with the white robe of Christ’s righteousness, in lieu of our own tattered raiment, also is the condition of our becoming righteous by the actual working out in our character of all things lovely and of good report. It opens the heart to the entrance of that divine Christ, who is first made for us, and then, by daily appropriation of the law of the spirit of life, is made in us, ‘righteousness and sanctification, and redemption.’ May all who read these lines ‘be found in Him,’ having ‘that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith!’
4. Consider the covenant which is the consequence of Abram’s faith, and the proof of his acceptance.
It is important to observe that the whole remainder of this chapter is regarded by the writer as the result of Abram’s believing God. The way in which Genesis 15:7 and the rest are bolted on, as it were, to Genesis 15:6, clearly shows this. The nearer lesson from this fact is, that all the Old Testament revelation from this point onward rests on the foundation of faith. The further lesson, for all times, is that faith is ever rewarded by more intimate and loving manifestations of God’s friendship, and by fuller disclosure of His purposes. The covenant is not only God’s binding Himself anew by solemn acts to fulfil His promises already made, but it is His entering into far sweeter and nearer alliance with Abram than even He had hitherto had. That name, ‘the friend of God,’ by which he is still known over all the Mohammedan world, contains the very essence of the covenant. In old days men were wont to conclude a bond of closest amity by cutting their flesh and interchanging the flowing blood. Henceforth they had, as it were, one life. We have not here the shedding of Abram’s blood, as in the covenant of circumcision. Still, the slain animals represent the parties to the covenant, and the notion of a resulting unity of the closest order as between God and Abram is the very heart of the whole incident.
The particulars as to the rite by which the covenant was established are profoundly illuminative. The significant division of the animals into two shows that they were regarded as representing the contracting parties, and the passing between them symbolised the taking up of the obligations of the covenant. This strange rite, which was widely spread, derives importance from the use of it probably made in Hebrews 9:16 - Hebrews 9:17. The new covenant, bringing still closer friendship and higher blessings, is sealed by the blood of Christ. He represents both God and man. In His death, may we not say that the manhood and the Godhead are parted, and we, standing as it were between them, encompassed by that awful sacrifice, and enclosed in its mysterious depths, enter into covenant with God, and become His friends?
We need not to dwell upon the detailed promises, of which the covenant was the seal. They are simply the fuller expansion of those already made, but now confirmed by more solemn guarantees. The new relation of familiar friendship, established by the covenant itself, is the main thing. It was fitting that God’s friend should be in the secret of His purposes. ‘The servant knoweth not what his lord doeth,’ but the friend does. And so we have here the assurance that faith will pierce to the discernment of much of the mind of God, which is hid from sense and the wisdom of this world. If we would know, we must believe. We may be ‘men of God’s counsel,’ and see deeply into the realities of the present, and far ahead into what will then become the certainties of the future, if only we live by faith in the secret place of the Most High, and, like John, lean so close on the Master’s bosom that we can hear His lowest whisper.
Notice, too, the lessons of the smoking furnace and the blazing torch. They are like the pillar of fire and cloud. Darkness and light; a heart of fire and a wrapping of darkness,-these are not symbols of Israel and its checkered fate, as Dean Stanley thinks, but of the divine presence: they proclaim the double aspect of all divine manifestations, the double element in the divine nature. He can never be completely known; He is never completely hid. Ever does the lamp flame; ever around it the smoke wreathes. In all His self-revelation is ‘the hiding of His power’; after all revelation He dwelleth ‘in the thick darkness.’ Only the smoke is itself fire, but not illumined to our vision. The darkness is light inaccessible. Much that was ‘smoke’ to Abram has caught fire, and is ‘light’ to us. But these two elements will ever remain; and throughout eternity God will be unknown, and yet well known, pouring Himself in ever-growing radiance on our eyes, and yet ‘the King invisible.’
Nor is this all the teaching of the symbol. It speaks of that twofold aspect of the divine nature, by which to hearts that love He is gladsome light, and to unloving ones He is threatening darkness. As to the Israelites the pillar was light, and to the Egyptians darkness and terror; so the same God is joy to some, and dread to others. ‘What maketh heaven, that maketh hell.’ Light itself can become the source of pain the most exquisite, if the eye is diseased. God Himself cannot but be a torment to men who love darkness rather than light. Love and wrath, life and death, a God who pities and who cannot but judge, are solemnly proclaimed by that ancient symbol, and are plainly declared to us in the perfect revelation in Christ Jesus.
Observe, too, the manner of the ratification of the covenant. The symbol of the Divine presence passed between the pieces. No mention is made of Abram’s doing so. Why this one-sided covenant? Because God’s gracious dealings with men are one-sided. He seeks no oaths from us; He does not exchange blessings for our gifts. His covenant is the free result of His unmotived love, and is ratified by a solemn sacrifice, which we do not offer. We have nothing to do but to take what He gives. All ideas of barter and bargain are far from Him. Our part is but to embrace His covenant, which is complete and ratified whether we embrace it or not. What a wonderful thought that is of a covenant-making and a covenant-keeping God! We do not hear so much of it as our fathers did. The more is the pity. It means that God has, as it were, buoyed out across the boundless ocean of His possible modes of action a plain course, which He binds Himself to keep; that He has frankly let us into the very secret of His doings; that He has stooped to use human forms of assurance to make it easier to trust Him; that He has confirmed His promise by a mighty sacrifice. Therefore we may enter into closest friendship with Him, and take for our own the exultant swan-song of Abram’s royal son: ‘Although my house be not so with God [although my life be stained, and my righteousness unfit to be offered to His pure eyes]; yet He hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure: for this is all my salvation, and all my desire.’Genesis 15:5. And he brought him forth — It seems, early in the morning; and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars: so shall thy seed be — 1st, So innumerable, for so the stars seem to a common eye. Abram feared he should have no child at all, but God tells him his descendants should be so many as not to be numbered. 2d, So illustrious, as the stars of heaven for splendour; for to “them pertained the glory,” Romans 9:4. Abram’s seed according to the flesh were like the “dust of the earth,” Genesis 13:16, but his spiritual seed are like the stars of heaven.Daniel 10:7; John 12:29.Quest. Seeing the sun was not yet going down, Genesis 15:12, how could he see the stars?
1. He might see them by representation in a vision, or by a Divine power strengthening his eyes to behold them.
2. It was not necessary he should then actually see them. He bids him make trial when he pleased, if he could number the stars which were now present to his mind, and would shortly be present and visible to his bodily eye. This he was not able to do; for though astronomers have presumed to give us the number of those stars which are distinctly visible to the eye, wherein yet they vary one from another, yet there are other stars innumerable, appear confusedly to the eye, and evidently by the help of glasses.
and said, look now towards heaven; either with his bodily eyes, or with the eyes of his mind:
and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them; this looks as if it were in a vision that this was said to him, and what follows done in the day, since it was in the daytime, before the sun was set, Genesis 15:12, when the stars could not be seen; and therefore were represented to his mind, and he was directed to consider them in it, whether they could be numbered by him or not: but this might be in the preceding night, or early in the morning, before the sun arose, that Abram was directed to go out of his tent, and view the heavens, and the multitude of stars in them, and try if he could number them; and he might be employed all the day following till sunset, in preparing the creatures for the sacrifice, in cutting them asunder, laying their pieces in order, and watching them, and driving the fowls from them. The multitude of his seed is before signified by the dust of the earth, which cannot be numbered, Genesis 13:16, and here by the stars of the sky innumerable; as they are to man, though not to God: some have pretended to number them, as Aratus, Eudoxus, and Hipparchus, among the ancients, and also modern astronomers; but then they are such only that are visible to the eye, and in one hemisphere, and their accounts are very various; whereas there are multitudes to be discerned by glasses, and some not to be distinguished, as in the galaxy, or milky way, and others in the other hemisphere. Now Abram here is bid to try what he could do, and this was in his own way; for he is said by many Heathen writers (h) to be famous for arithmetic and astrology, or astronomy; but as great a master as he was in these sciences, be was not able to number the stars, which is here plainly intimated, since it follows:
and he said, so shall thy seed be: as innumerable as the stars, as they were, even his natural seed, Hebrews 11:12; and especially his spiritual seed, who have the same kind of faith he had, and as they will be in the latter day particularly, Hosea 1:10.And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)5. tell the stars] i.e. count. A proverbial expression for the infinite and innumerable, as in Genesis 22:17, Genesis 26:4.
The word “tell” is Old English for “count,” as in Psalm 22:17, “I may tell all my bones”; Psalm 48:12, “tell the towers thereof”; Jeremiah 33:13, “And in the cities of Judah shall the flocks again pass under the hands of him that telleth them.” Cf. “And every shepherd tells his tale Under the hawthorn in the dale” (Milton, L’Allegro, 67, 68).Verse 5. - And he (Jehovah, or "the Word of the Lord") brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them (a proof that Abram's vision was not a dream): and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. Hence it has been inferred that Abram's vision was miraculously quickened to penetrate the depths of space and gaze upon the vastness of the stellar world, since the stars visible to the naked eye would not represent an innumerable multitude (Candlish). 2 Samuel 18:18), was, according to Josephus, two stadia from Jerusalem, probably by the brook Kidron therefore, although Absalom's pillar, which tradition places there, was of the Grecian style rather than the early Hebrew. The name King's dale was given to it undoubtedly with reference to the event referred to here, which points to the neighbourhood of Jerusalem. For the Salem of Melchizedek cannot have been the Salem near to which John baptized (John 3:23), or Aenon, which was eight Roman miles south of Scythopolis, as a march of about forty hours for the purpose of meeting Abraham, if not romantic, would, at least be at variance with the text of Scripture, where the kings are said to have gone out to Abram after his return. It must be Jerusalem, therefore, which is called by the old name Salem in Psalm 76:2, out of which the name Jerusalem (founding of peace, or possession of peace) was formed by the addition of the prefix ירוּ equals ירוּי "founding," or ירוּשׁ "possession." Melchizedek brings bread and wine from Salem "to supply the exhausted warriors with food and drink, but more especially as a mark of gratitude to Abram, who had conquered for them peace, freedom, and prosperity" (Delitzsch). This gratitude he expresses, as a priest of the supreme God, in the words, "Blessed be Abram of the Most High God, the founder of heaven and earth; and blessed be God, the Most High, who hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand." The form of the blessing is poetical, two parallel members with words peculiar to poetry, צריך for איביך, and מגּן. - עליון אל without the article is a proper name for the supreme God, the God over all (cf. Exodus 18:11), who is pointed out as the only true God by the additional clause, "founder of the heaven and the earth." On the construction of בּרוּך with ל, vid., Genesis 31:15; Exodus 12:16, and Ges. 143, 2. קנה, founder and possessor: קנה combines the meanings of κτίζειν and κτᾶσθαι. This priestly reception Abram reciprocated by giving him the tenth of all, i.e., of the whole of the booty taken from the enemy. Giving the tenth was a practical acknowledgment of the divine priesthood of Melchizedek; for the tenth was, according to the general custom, the offering presented to the Deity. Abram also acknowledged the God of Melchizedek as the true God; for when the king of Sodom asked for his people only, and would have left the rest of the booty to Abram, he lifted up his hand as a solemn oath "to Jehovah, the Most High God, the founder of heaven and earth," - acknowledging himself as the servant of this God by calling Him by the name Jehovah, - and swore that he would not take "from a thread to a shoe-string," i.e., the smallest or most worthless thing belonging to the king of Sodom, that he might not be able to say, he had made Abram rich. אם, as the sign of an oath, is negative, and in an earnest address is repeated before the verb. "Except (בּלעדי, lit., not to me, nothing for me) only what the young men (Abram's men) have eaten, and the portion of my allies...let them take their portion:" i.e., his followers should receive what had been consumed as their share, and the allies should have the remainder of the booty.
Of the property belonging to the king of Sodom, which he had taken from the enemy, Abram would not keep the smallest part, because he would not have anything in common with Sodom. On the other hand, he accepted from Salem's priest and king, Melchizedek, not only bread and wine for the invigoration of the exhausted warriors, but a priestly blessing also, and gave him in return the tenth of all his booty, as a sign that he acknowledged this king as a priest of the living God, and submitted to his royal priesthood. In this self-subordination of Abram to Melchizedek there was the practical prediction of a royal priesthood which is higher than the priesthood entrusted to Abram's descendants, the sons of Levi, and foreshadowed in the noble form of Melchizedek, who blessed as king and priest the patriarch whom God had called to be a blessing to all the families of the earth. The name of this royal priest is full of meaning: Melchizedek, i.e., King of Righteousness. Even though, judging from Joshua 10:1, Joshua 10:3, where a much later king is called Adonizedek, i.e., Lord of Righteousness, this name may have been a standing title of the ancient kings of Salem, it no doubt originated with a king who ruled his people in righteousness, and was perfectly appropriate in the case of the Melchizedek mentioned here. There is no less significance in the name of the seat of his government, Salem, the peaceful or peace, since it shows that the capital of its kings was a citadel of peace, not only as a natural stronghold, but through the righteousness of its sovereign; for which reason David chose it as the seat of royalty in Israel; and Moriah, which formed part of it, was pointed out to Abraham by Jehovah as the place of sacrifice for the kingdom of God which was afterwards to be established. And, lastly, there was something very significant in the appearance in the midst of the degenerate tribes of Canaan of this king of righteousness, and priest of the true God of heaven and earth, without any account of his descent, or of the beginning and end of his life; so that he stands forth in the Scriptures, "without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days nor end of life." Although it by no means follows from this, however, that Melchizedek was a celestial being (the Logos, or an angel), or one of the primeval patriarchs (Enoch or Shem), as Church fathers, Rabbins, and others have conjectured, and we can see in him nothing more than one, perhaps the last, of the witnesses and confessors of the early revelation of God, coming out into the light of history from the dark night of heathenism; yet this appearance does point to a priesthood of universal significance, and to a higher order of things, which existed at the commencement of the world, and is one day to be restored again. In all these respects, the noble form of this king of Salem and priest of the Most High God was a type of the God-King and eternal High Priest Jesus Christ; a thought which is expanded in Hebrews 7 on the basis of this account, and of the divine utterance revealed to David in the Spirit, that the King of Zion sitting at the right hand of Jehovah should be a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4).
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