What does Genesis 15:12 mean?
ESV: As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him.
NIV: As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.
NASB: Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him.
CSB: As the sun was setting, a deep sleep came over Abram, and suddenly great terror and darkness descended on him.
NLT: As the sun was going down, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a terrifying darkness came down over him.
KJV: And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, a horror of great darkness fell upon him.
NKJV: Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him.
Verse Commentary:
Abram, the man who will soon be renamed Abraham, is in the midst of a covenant ritual between himself and the Lord. In the previous verses, the Lord instructed Abram to bring to him five animals. Abram cut a heifer, goat, and ram in half, arranging the halves opposite of each other and chasing birds of prey away from them. This attack on the covenant promise is symbolic of Israel's future captivity under Egypt.

At this point in the story, the sun is going down. Previously, God had instructed Abram to look at the stars (Genesis 15:5). That moment either took place within Abram's vision or on the previous night. On this night, at dusk, Abram seems supernaturally overpowered by a deep sleep and a great and dreadful darkness.

In the following verses, the Lord will speak to Abram in a dream or vision as he sleeps or after Abram is awakened. The upcoming words will prophesy the slavery of Abram's descendants in Egypt, their eventual exodus, and their conquest of the sinful nations of Canaan.
Verse Context:
Genesis 15:1–21 falls between Abram's heroic rescue of Lot in Genesis 14 and his less-than-heroic choice to have a child with his wife's servant in chapter 16. Chapter 15 features Abram's hard questions to the Lord about how the lofty promises of uncountable descendants and possession of the land will be kept. God responds, in part, by formalizing His covenant promises to Abram with an elaborate ritual. He also reveals to Abram details about the difficult circumstances his descendants will face before they come back to take possession of the land ''in the fourth generation.''
Chapter Summary:
Genesis 15 consists entirely of a long encounter between the Lord and Abram. When the ''word of the Lord'' comes to Abram in a vision to bring reassurance of God's support for him, Abram takes the opportunity to press God with questions. Abram asks both about his childlessness and how he can know he will one day possess the land of Canaan. God responds, and Abram believes. God's response includes leading Abram through a covenant ritual involving slaughtered animals, as well as a prophecy about the future of Abram's descendants before the time will come to occupy the Promised Land.
Chapter Context:
Where Genesis 14 was an action-packed story of war and rescue, Genesis 15 consists of a single conversational encounter between the Lord and Abram. This concludes with the formalizing of God's covenant promises to Abram in a dramatic covenant ritual. Abram respectfully asks the Lord some hard questions about how the seemingly impossible promises might be kept. God responds and Abram believes. In addition, God reveals to Abram a prophecy about the difficult future his descendants will face as servants in another country before returning to take possession of the land of Canaan.
Book Summary:
The book of Genesis establishes fundamental truths about God. Among these are His role as the Creator, His holiness, His hatred of sin, His love for mankind, and His willingness to provide for our redemption. We learn not only where mankind has come from, but why the world is in its present form. The book also presents the establishment of Israel, God's chosen people. Many of the principles given in other parts of Scripture depend on the basic ideas presented here in the book of Genesis. Within the framework of the Bible, Genesis explains the bare-bones history of the universe leading up to the captivity of Israel in Egypt, setting the stage for the book of Exodus.
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