Genesis 15:9
And he said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.
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(9, 10) Take me an heifer . . . —This form of making a covenant was probably that usual in Babylonia, and thus Abram received the assurance of his inheritance by means of a ceremonial with which he was familiar. But in most ancient languages men are said to cut or strike a covenant, because the most solemn formula involved either the cutting of victims in two, or striking them dead, as was the Roman manner. The severing of the bodies was not, as some suppose, to represent the two parties; but, as explained in Jeremiah 34:18-20, it set forth the penalty of perjury, and was usually accompanied by the imprecation upon the covenant-breaker of a destruction as complete as that which had befallen the slaughtered animals. There is no mention in this place of a sacrifice, although the animals are those subsequently set apart for sacrifice by the Levitical law. The heifer, she-goat, and ram at three years old would each have attained its full maturity; but there may be a further symbolic meaning in there being three animals each three years old.

Laid each piece . . . —More exactly, and laid each half over against the other. The birds were not divided; but as there were two, Abram probably placed one on one side and one on the other.

Genesis 15:9. Take me a heifer — Perhaps Abram expected some sign from heaven, but God gives him a sign upon a sacrifice. Those that would receive the assurances of God’s favour, must attend instituted ordinances, and expect to meet with God in them.

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. Take and offer at my command, and for my service,

an heifer of three years old, at which time it is perfect in stature and strength, and therefore fittest for God’s service. This and the other creatures here following, and sacrifices, are the same which afterwards were prescribed in the Levitical law.

And he said unto him, take me an heifer of three years old,.... This, with what follows, is the sign by which Abram might know that he, that is, his seed, should inherit the land of Canaan; for the whole of this is an emblem of the state and condition of his posterity, until they should enter into that land: wherefore he is ordered to "take" out of his herds and flocks this and the following creatures, which were used in sacrifice before the ceremonial law was given, as well as under it; and the distinction of creatures for sacrifice, though not for food, was known as early, as appears from Genesis 8:20; hence Onkelos renders the phrase, "offer before me"; and the Targum of Jonathan is,"take unto me oblations, and offer before me.''Though this difference is to be observed, that the Levitical law required creatures of a year old only to be offered; whereas these were three years old, because they are then at their full growth, and in their full strength and greatest perfection; and such were used among the Heathens for sacrifice; so Lucian (h) represents Ganymedes as proposing to Jupiter, that if he would let her go she would offer a ram of three years old: but it should be remarked, that these creatures here were not taken merely for sacrifice, nor is there any mention made of their being offered; though it is probable they might be offered after they had answered the principal end, which was to be a sign, whereby Abram might know that his seed should inherit the land; but the intention of God was, that as by them Abram's seed might be taught what sort of creatures they were to offer for their sins, so chiefly to show that they themselves would fall a sacrifice to the rage and fury of their enemies, in a land not theirs, and be used as these creatures were: and the number three may denote the three complete centuries in which they would be afflicted, and in the fourth come out safe and whole like the undivided birds, the turtle, dove, and pigeon, to which they were comparable. Ramban (i) thinks, that this number represents the three sorts of sacrifices, the burnt offering, the sin offering, and the peace offering; and that of these three kinds of animals, only one individual of them was taken, and is called "treble", because each individual were joined together. Onkelos renders it three heifers, and so three goats and three rams afterwards; in which he is followed by Jarchi and Ben Melech; the former thinks the three heifers refer to the heifer of the day of atonement, that for uncertain murder, and the red heifer; and in like manner he interprets the three goats and rams; but the Targum of Jonathan, and Aben Ezra, interpret them as we do of creatures of three years old: it follows:

and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove and a young pigeon. Some Jewish writers (k) have a notion that these creatures represent the four monarchies; the "heifer", the Babylonian monarchy, which had three kings, Nebuchadnezzar, Evilmerodach, and Belshazzar; but others make this to be the fourth monarchy, they call Idumaean or Roman, which is like an heifer at grass, Jeremiah 50:11, which passage better suits with Babylon; the "goat", Media (or Persia), which had three kings, Cyrus, Darius, and Ahasuerus; and the "ram", Grecia; but others say the goat signifies the Grecian monarchy, and the ram the Medo-Persian monarchy, which latter agrees with Daniel 8:3; and by the "turtle", the word for which, in the Syriac language, signifies an ox, they understand, some the children of Ishmael, or the Turkish empire, and others Edom, or the Roman: but it is much better to interpret them of Abram's posterity, comparable to these creatures, both for their good and bad qualities; to an "heifer" for laboriousness in service, and patience in sufferings; and for their backslidings, Hosea 4:16; to a "goat" for their vicious qualities, their lusts and lasciviousness; and to a "ram", for their strength and fortitude; and to a "turtle", and a young pigeon, for their simplicity, innocence, and harmlessness, when they were in their purest state, see Psalm 74:19; and it may be observed, that these were the only fowl used in sacrifice.

(h) Dialogis Deorum. (i) Apud Munster in loc. (k) Vid. Bereshit Rabba, sect. 43. fol. 39. 2. Pirke Eliezer, c. 28.

And he said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.
9. Take me an heifer, &c.] The sign to Abram is the sign of the covenant, of which the ceremonial is here described. This ceremonial is evidently of great antiquity. The writer, perhaps, intends to refer the origin of the institution to the time of Abram and to this occasion. The ceremony is as follows: (1) Animals permitted for sacrifice are selected. (2) They are killed, and their carcases divided. (3) The divided portions are placed in two rows over against each other. (4) The contracting parties pass between the rows, invoking, as they do so, an imprecation upon any violator of the covenant, that he should in like manner be cut asunder.

It is this ceremonial which causes the making of a covenant to be expressed by words meaning “to cut,” e.g. Heb. karath b’rîth, Lat. foedus icere, Gr. ὅρκια τέμνειν.

The details of the ceremony probably differed slightly from age to age. The origin of some old customs is lost in obscurity. Why, for instance, are the animals mentioned to be three years old? is it because they are to be full grown? (Cf. 1 Samuel 1:24, R.V. marg.) Why are the birds not to be divided like the beasts? These are questions of a technical ritual character to which at present we can give no answer.

The most interesting Scriptural illustration of covenant ceremonial is afforded by Jeremiah 34:18, “the covenant which they made before me, when they cut the calf in twain and passed between the parts thereof.”

Verse 9. - And he said unto him, Take me (literally, for me, i.e. for my use in sacrifice) an heifer of three years old. So rightly (LXX., Syriac, Samaritan, Arabic, Josephus, Bochart, Rosenmüller, Keil); not three heifers (Onkelos, Jarchi, Kimchi, et alii). And a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old. These offerings, afterwards prescribed by the law (Exodus 29:15; Numbers 15:27; Numbers 19:2; Deuteronomy 21:3), were three in number, and of three years each, to symbolize him who was, and is, and is to come (Wordsworth); perhaps rather to indicate-the perfection of the victim in respect of maturity (Murphy). Cf. Ganymede's offering (in 'Lucian's Dialogues') of a three years old ram for a ransom. And a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon - also prescribed by the law (Leviticus 1:14; Luke 2:24). Genesis 15:9Abram'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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