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Genesis chapter 15

New International Version

1 After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: 'Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.'
2 But Abram said, 'Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?' 3 And Abram said, 'You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.'
4 Then the word of the LORD came to him: 'This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.' 5 He took him outside and said, 'Look up at the sky and count the stars--if indeed you can count them.' Then he said to him, 'So shall your offspring be.'
6 Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
7 He also said to him, 'I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.'
8 But Abram said, 'Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?'
9 So the LORD said to him, 'Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.'
10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.
12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the LORD said to him, 'Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.'
17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, 'To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates-- 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.'
English Standard Version

1 After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” 4 And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” 5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6 And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
7 And he said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” 8 But he said, “O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” 9 He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. 11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. 13 Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”
17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, 19 the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.”
King James Version

1 After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.
2 And Abram said, Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus? 3 And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir. 4 And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. 5 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. 6 And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
7 And he said unto him, I am the LORD that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it. 8 And he said, Lord GOD, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it? 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. 10 And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not. 11 And when the fowls came down upon the carcases, Abram drove them away.
12 And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him. 13 And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; 14 And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. 15 And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. 16 But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.
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. 18 In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates: 19 The Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites, 20 And the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims, 21 And the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.
New American Standard Bible

1 After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, 'Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great.'
2 But Abram said, 'Lord GOD, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?' 3 Abram also said, 'Since You have given me no son, one who has been born in my house is my heir.' 4 Then behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, 'This man will not be your heir; but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.' 5 And He took him outside and said, 'Now look toward the heavens and count the stars, if you are able to count them.' And He said to him, 'So shall your descendants be.' 6 Then he believed in the LORD; and He credited it to him as righteousness. 7 And He said to him, 'I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it.' 8 But he said, 'Lord GOD, how may I know that I will possess it?' 9 So He said to him, 'Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.' 10 Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, and laid each half opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds. 11 And birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, and Abram drove them away.
12 Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him. 13 Then God said to Abram, 'Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years. 14 But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions. 15 As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age. 16 Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the wrongdoing of the Amorite is not yet complete.'
17 Now it came about, when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, a smoking oven and a flaming torch appeared which passed between these pieces.
18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, 'To your descendants I have given this land, From the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates:
19 the land of the Kenite, the Kenizzite, the Kadmonite, 20 the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Girgashite, and the Jebusite.'
New Living Translation

1 Some time later, the LORD spoke to Abram in a vision and said to him, 'Do not be afraid, Abram, for I will protect you, and your reward will be great.'
2 But Abram replied, 'O Sovereign LORD, what good are all your blessings when I don't even have a son? Since you've given me no children, Eliezer of Damascus, a servant in my household, will inherit all my wealth. 3 You have given me no descendants of my own, so one of my servants will be my heir.'
4 Then the LORD said to him, 'No, your servant will not be your heir, for you will have a son of your own who will be your heir.' 5 Then the LORD took Abram outside and said to him, 'Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That's how many descendants you will have!'
6 And Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD counted him as righteous because of his faith.
7 Then the LORD told him, 'I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as your possession.'
8 But Abram replied, 'O Sovereign LORD, how can I be sure that I will actually possess it?'
9 The LORD told him, 'Bring me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.' 10 So Abram presented all these to him and killed them. Then he cut each animal down the middle and laid the halves side by side; he did not, however, cut the birds in half. 11 Some vultures swooped down to eat the carcasses, but Abram chased them away.
12 As the sun was going down, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a terrifying darkness came down over him. 13 Then the LORD said to Abram, 'You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. 14 But I will punish the nation that enslaves them, and in the end they will come away with great wealth. 15 (As for you, you will die in peace and be buried at a ripe old age.) 16 After four generations your descendants will return here to this land, for the sins of the Amorites do not yet warrant their destruction.'
17 After the sun went down and darkness fell, Abram saw a smoking firepot and a flaming torch pass between the halves of the carcasses. 18 So the LORD made a covenant with Abram that day and said, 'I have given this land to your descendants, all the way from the border of Egypt to the great Euphrates River-- 19 the land now occupied by the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites.'
Christian Standard Bible

1 After these events, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield; your reward will be very great.
2 But Abram said, "Lord GOD, what can you give me, since I am childless and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" 3 Abram continued, "Look, you have given me no offspring, so a slave born in my house will be my heir."
4 Now the word of the LORD came to him: "This one will not be your heir; instead, one who comes from your own body will be your heir." 5 He took him outside and said, "Look at the sky and count the stars, if you are able to count them." Then he said to him, "Your offspring will be that numerous."
6 Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
7 He also said to him, "I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess."
8 But he said, "Lord GOD, how can I know that I will possess it?"
9 He said to him, "Bring me a three-year-old cow, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon."
10 So he brought all these to him, cut them in half, and laid the pieces opposite each other, but he did not cut the birds in half. 11 Birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away. 12 As the sun was setting, a deep sleep came over Abram, and suddenly great terror and darkness descended on him.
13 Then the LORD said to Abram, "Know this for certain: Your offspring will be resident aliens for four hundred years in a land that does not belong to them and will be enslaved and oppressed. 14 However, I will judge the nation they serve, and afterward they will go out with many possessions. 15 But you will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure."
17 When the sun had set and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch appeared and passed between the divided animals. 18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, "I give this land to your offspring, from the brook of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates River: 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hethites, Perizzites, Rephaim, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites."

What does Genesis chapter 15 mean?

Genesis 15 consists entirely of an extended encounter between the Lord and Abram, the man who will later be renamed Abraham. This concludes with the formal establishment of God's covenant promise to Abram: to give him and his descendants the land of Canaan.

The chapter begins with the "word of the Lord" coming to Abram in a vision. This arrives with reassurance to Abram about God's continued commitment to him: Don't be afraid. I am your shield. Your reward will be great. Abram, though, takes the opportunity of this visitation from the Lord to ask some hard questions. He is curious about God's repeated promises to him.

First, addressing the promise that God will make of him a great nation, Abram respectfully points out that his current heir is a servant, not a son. He has no children. And, at this point, Abram is well over seventy-five years old (Genesis 12:4). God's response is to show Abram the stars. Using this as an analogy, God repeats His promise that Abram's descendants will be so numerous as to be uncountable.

Abram believes God. This statement, from Genesis 15:6, is one of the key verses in all of the Bible. Abram's belief in God is credited to him as righteousness. In the New Testament, both Paul and James quote this verse (Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23), making it a cornerstone of the Christian teaching that God's acceptance of us comes by His grace and through our faith.

Even though Abram has faith, he respectfully asks one more question of the Lord, in response to God's repeated promise to give him the land of Canaan: "How am I to know?" God doesn't reject Abram's request for reassurance. Instead He instructs Abram to gather five specific animals, to cut some in half, and to arrange them in a specific way. This begins a covenant ritual between God and Abram that is momentarily interrupted by birds of prey trying to eat the remains of Abram's slaughtered animals.

Before God completes the ritual, He causes a deep sleep to fall on Abram and reveals to Abram a prophecy about the future of his descendants. They will live as captives for 400 years in another country, serving that nation. When the time comes, they will be released with abundant possessions and return to execute God's judgment on the Amorites and other inhabitants) of the land of Canaan. Abram learns that he will live to a good, old age, but that he will not live to see the troubling events of this prophecy.

Finally, God completes the covenant ritual in a dramatic fashion. Abram witnesses a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch pass through the pieces of the animals, a sight he would likely long remember as evidence of God's covenant promises. God completes the covenant by describing both the southern and northern borders of the Promised Land, as well as identifying the peoples who would have previously occupied the various regions of the land when Abram's descendants would receive it as their own.