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Genesis chapter 15

English Standard Version

New International Version

New American Standard Bible

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New Living Translation

King James Version

New King James Version

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.
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