Genesis 15:8
And he said, LORD God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(8) Lord God.—Heb., Lord Jehovah, as in Genesis 15:2.

Whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?—Jehovah had required Abram to leave his home in Ur of the Chaldees on a general promise of future endowment with the land of Canaan. Abram now asks this question, not from want of faith, but from a desire for a more direct confirmation of the promise and fuller knowledge of the details. What Abram, therefore, receives is an exact and circumstantial prophecy, made in the form of a solemn covenant.

Genesis 15:8. Whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it? — This inquiry did not proceed from distrust of God’s power or promise, but he desired a token for the strengthening of his own faith, and for the ratifying of the promise to his posterity, that they also might believe it.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.4. This shall not be thine heir—To the first part of his address no reply was given; but having renewed it in a spirit of more becoming submission, "whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it" [Ge 15:8], he was delighted by a most explicit promise of Canaan, which was immediately confirmed by a remarkable ceremony. He asks a sign, not out of distrust of God’s promise, for he was strong in faith, Romans 4:20, but for further assurance and confirmation of it. And such an asking of a sign was not an unusual practice with good men, as Judges 6:37 2 Kings 20:8, not are they reproved for it; but on the contrary, Ahaz was commanded to ask a sign, and reproved for not asking it, Isaiah 7:1-25. And he said, Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it? Not as questioning or doubting whether he should or not; but this he asked for the further confirmation of his faith in the promise, and for the sake of his posterity, that they might more easily and strongly believe that they should inherit the land given and promised to them; nor is it culpable to ask a sign of God with such a view; good men have done it, as Gideon, Judges 6:36, and Hezekiah, 2 Kings 20:8, without being blamed for it; yea, Ahaz is blamed for not asking one, Isaiah 7:10. And he said, Lord GOD, {b} whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?

(b) This is a particular motion of God's Spirit, which is not lawful for all to follow, in asking signs: but was permitted for some by a peculiar motion, as to Gideon and Ezekiel.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
8. whereby shall I know] Abram requests a sign to assure him of the fulfilment of the promise: cf. the action of Gideon, Jdg 6:17, and of Hezekiah, 2 Kings 20:8. On “Lord God,” see note on Genesis 15:2.Verse 8. - And he said, Lord God (Adonai Jehovah; vide Ver. 2), whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it? Not the language of doubt, though slight misgivings are not incompatible with faith (cf. Judges 6:17; 2 Kings 20:8; Luke 1:34), and questioning with God "is rather a proof of faith than a sign of incredulity" (Calvin); but of desire for a sign in confirmation of the grant (Luther), either for the strengthening of his own faith (Chrysostom, Augustine, Keil, 'Speaker's Commentary'), or for the sake of his posterity (Jarchi, Michaelis), or for some intimation as to the time and mode of taking possession (Murphy). Rosenmüller conceives the question put in Abram's mouth to be only a device of the narrator's to lead up to the subject following. The words of Jehovah run thus: "Fear not, Abram: I am a shield to thee, thy reward very much." הרבּה an inf. absol., generally used adverbially, but here as an adjective, equivalent to "thy very great reward." The divine promise to be a shield to him, that is to say, a protection against all enemies, and a reward, i.e., richly to reward his confidence, his ready obedience, stands here, as the opening words "after these things" indicate, in close connection with the previous guidance of Abram. Whilst the protection of his wife in Egypt was a practical pledge of the possibility of his having a posterity, and the separation of Lot, followed by the conquest of the kings of the East, was also a pledge of the possibility of his one day possessing the promised land, there was as yet no prospect whatever of the promise being realized, that he should become a great nation, and possess an innumerable posterity. In these circumstances, anxiety about the future might naturally arise in his mind. To meet this, the word of the Lord came to him with the comforting assurance, "Fear not, I am thy shield." But when the Lord added, "and thy very great reward," Abram could only reply, as he thought of his childless condition: "Lord Jehovah, what wilt Thou give me, seeing I go childless?" Of what avail are all my possessions, wealth, and power, since I have no child, and the heir of my house is Eliezer the Damascene? משׁק, synonymous with ממשׁק (Zephaniah 2:9), possession, or the seizure of possession, is chosen on account of its assonance with דּמּשׂק. בּן־משׁק, son of the seizing of possession equals seizer of possession, or heir. Eliezer of Damascus (lit., Damascus viz., Eliezer): Eliezer is an explanatory apposition to Damascus, in the sense of the Damascene Eliezer; though דּמּשׂק, on account of its position before אליעזר, cannot be taken grammatically as equivalent to דּמּשׂקי.

(Note: The legend of Abram having been king in Damascus appears to have originated in this, though the passage before us does not so much as show that Abram obtained possession of Eliezer on his way through Damascus.)

To give still more distinct utterance to his grief, Abram adds (Genesis 15:3): "Behold, to me Thou hast given no seed; and lo, an inmate of my house (בּן־בּיתי in distinction from יליד־בּית, home-born, Genesis 14:14) will be my heir." The word of the Lord then came to him: "Not he, but one who shall come forth from thy body, he will be thine heir." God then took him into the open air, told him to look up to heaven, and promised him a posterity as numerous as the innumerable host of stars (cf. Genesis 22:17; Genesis 24:4; Exodus 32:13, etc.). Whether Abram at this time was "in the body or out of the body," is a matter of no moment. The reality of the occurrence is the same in either case. This is evident from the remark made by Moses (the historian) as to the conduct of Abram in relation to the promise of God: "And he believed in Jehovah, and He counted it to him for righteousness." In the strictly objective character of the account in Genesis, in accordance with which the simple facts are related throughout without any introduction of subjective opinions, this remark appears so striking, that the question naturally arises, What led Moses to introduce it? In what way did Abram make known his faith in Jehovah? And in what way did Jehovah count it to him as righteousness? The reply to both questions must not be sought in the New Testament, but must be given or indicated in the context. What reply did Abram make on receiving the promise, or what did he do in consequence? When God, to confirm the promise, declared Himself to be Jehovah, who brought him out of Ur of the Chaldees to give him that land as a possession, Abram replied, "Lord, whereby shall I know that I shall possess it?" God then directed him to "fetch a heifer of three years old," etc.; and Abram fetched the animals required, and arranged them (as we may certainly suppose, thought it is not expressly stated) as God had commanded him. By this readiness to perform what God commanded him, Abram gave a practical proof that he believed Jehovah; and what God did with the animals so arranged was a practical declaration on the part of Jehovah, that He reckoned this faith to Abram as righteousness.

The significance of the divine act is, finally, summed up in Genesis 15:18, in the words, "On that day Jehovah made a covenant with Abram." Consequently Jehovah reckoned Abram's faith to him as righteousness, by making a covenant with him, by taking Abram into covenant fellowship with Himself. האמין, from אמן to continue and the preserve, to be firm and to confirm, in Hiphil to trust, believe (πιστεύσιν), expresses "that state of mind which is sure of its object, and relies firmly upon it;" and as denoting conduct towards God, as "a firm, inward, personal, self-surrendering reliance upon a personal being, especially upon the source of all being," it is construed sometimes with ל (e.g., Deuteronomy 9:23), but more frequently with בּ (Numbers 14:11; Numbers 20:12; Deuteronomy 1:32), "to believe the Lord," and "to believe on the Lord," to trust in Him, - πιστεύειν ἐπὶ τὸν Θεόν, as the apostle has more correctly rendered the ἐπίστευσεν τῷ Θεῷ of the lxx (vid., Romans 4:5). Faith therefore is not merely assensus, but fiducia also, unconditional trust in the Lord and His word, even where the natural course of events furnishes no ground for hope or expectation. This faith Abram manifested, as the apostle has shown in Romans 4; and this faith God reckoned to him as righteousness by the actual conclusion of a covenant with him. צדקה, righteousness, as a human characteristic, is correspondence to the will of God both in character and conduct, or a state answering to the divine purpose of a man's being. This was the state in which man was first created in the image of God; but it was lost by sin, through which he placed himself in opposition to the will of God and to his own divinely appointed destiny, and could only be restored by God. When the human race had universally corrupted its way, Noah alone was found righteous before God (Genesis 7:1), because he was blameless and walked with God (Genesis 6:9). This righteousness Abram acquired through his unconditional trust in the Lord, his undoubting faith in His promise, and his ready obedience to His word. This state of mind, which is expressed in the words בּיהוה האמין, was reckoned to him as righteousness, so that God treated him as a righteous man, and formed such a relationship with him, that he was placed in living fellowship with God. The foundation of this relationship was laid in the manner described in Genesis 15:7-11.

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