Genesis 15:9
And he said to 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). 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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