Genesis (Part 62)

Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.

Genesis 15:5-6

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.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

_________________________

God tells Abram that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky.

From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:

Verse 5

(5) He brought him forth.—There is no reason for regarding this as a poetical description of a merely mental emotion. With his senses dormant, but alive to every spiritual impression, Abram feels himself led forth from the tent into the open space around, and is there commanded to count the stars. As a matter of fact, the stars visible to the naked eye are not very numerous, but they have ever been a received metaphor for an infinite multitude, probably because, as men gaze, they perpetually see the faint radiance of more and more distant constellations. Thus they cannot be counted, and Abram’s seed was to be countless, because of the vastness of its number.

“heaven” = שָׁמַיִם shâmayim, shaw-mah’-yim; dual of an unused singular שָׁמֶה shâmeh; from an unused root meaning to be lofty; the sky (as aloft; the dual perhaps alluding to the visible arch in which the clouds move, as well as to the higher ether where the celestial bodies revolve):—air, × astrologer, heaven(-s).

We first looked at this word in Genesis 1:1 but it is used repeatedly throughout Genesis.

“stars” = כּוֹכָב kôwkâb, ko-kawb’; probably from the same as H3522 (in the sense of rolling) or H3554 (in the sense of blazing); a star (as round or as shining); figuratively, a prince:—star(-gazer).; כַּבּוֹן Kabbôwn, kab-bone’; from an unused root meaning to heap up; hilly; Cabon, a place in Palestine:—Cabbon.; כָּוָה kâvâh, kaw-vaw’; a primitive root; properly, to prick or penetrate; hence, to blister (as smarting or eating into):—burn.

This is only the second time we have seen this word in Genesis. The first usage was Genesis 1:16. The usage of stars is interesting. For Christians, it is believed that one of Abram’s descendants was “the bright and morning star.”

If we skip ahead a small distance, we see this comparison (descendants and stars) occur again. Genesis 22:16

16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

And now I will borrow some unvetted research from https://judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/84592/how-many-descendants-did-abraham-give-rise-to

A very literal reading would put that number as 10 to the 22nd power (which is the current scientific estimate for both the number of stars in the visible universe and, coincidentally, of the sands of the seashore, according to:

https://youtu.be/2-UuWx8zCYw?t=2m30s

10 to the 22nd power = 10 followed by 22 zeros

100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

(I suppose that means we should expect Abraham’s descendants to continue multiplying for a long time.)

Are modern day Jews *really* descendants of Abraham? This is a point of contention for some. However, the nation of Israel actually spends quite a bit of time and effort studying genetics – particularly as it relates to relocating the lost tribes of Israel. This article (link) addresses some of those genetic doubters.

“On the Y-DNA test that tracks the paternal line, 75-85% of Jews have a Semitic ancestry, that is to say they are from the Middle East. ‘Semitic’ may also include Turkey and Northern Syria, going back 3,000 years,” Greenspan explained.

Moving on: David Guzik’s Commentary has a LOT to say about verse six.

4. (Gen 15:6) Abram’s response of faith to God’s promise.

And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.

a. And he believed in the LORD: When Abram put his trust in God, specifically in God’s promise to him (descendants who would also produce the Messiah), God credited this belief to Abram’s account as righteousness.

i. There are essentially two types of righteousness: righteousness we accomplish by our own efforts, and righteousness accounted to us by the work of God when we believe.

ii. Since none of us can be good enough to accomplish perfect righteousness, we must have God’s righteousness accounted to us by doing just what Abram did: he believed in the LORD.

iii. God’s accounting is not pretending. God does not account to us a pretended righteousness, but a real one in Jesus Christ.

b. And He accounted it to him for righteousness: This is one of the clearest expressions in the Bible of the truth of salvation by grace, through faith. This is the first time believe is used in the Bible; this is the first time righteousness is used in the Bible. It is the gospel in the Old Testament, quoted four times in the New Testament.

i. What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”(Romans 4:1-3)

ii. Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised. (Romans 4:9-10)

iii. And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore “it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead (Romans 4:19-24).

iv. Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?; just as Abraham “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. (Galatians 3:5-7)

c. He accounted it to him for righteousnessRomans 4:9-10 makes much of the fact this righteousness was accounted to Abram before he was circumcised (Genesis 17). No one could say Abram was made righteous because of his obedience or fulfillment of religious law or ritual. It was faith and faith alone that caused God to account Abram as righteous.

i. “When the article of justification has fallen, everything has fallen …. This is the chief article from which all other doctrines have flowed …. It alone begets, nourishes, builds, preserves, and defends the church of God; and without it the church of God cannot exist for one hour.” (Luther, cited in Boice)

d. He believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness: The faith making Abram righteous wasn’t so much believing in God (as we usually speak of believing in God), as it was believing God. Those only believing in God (in the sense of believing He exists) are merely qualified to be demons (James 2:19).

If you read through the notes, you see that many Christians place a great value in the text where it says that God (he) counted to Abram (him) as righteousness. This is viewed as being an example of grace through faith.

From the Pulpit Commentary:

Genesis 15:6And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness. Verse 6. – And he believed in the Lord. The hiphil of the verb aman, to prop or stay, signifies to build upon, hence to rest one’s faith upon; and this describes exactly the mental act of the patriarch, who reposed his confidence in the Divine character, and based his hope of a future seed on the Divine word. And he counted it to him. Ἐλογίσθη αὐτῷ (LXX.), which is followed by nearly all the ancient versions, and by Paul in Romans 4:3; but the suffix ך (a feminine for a neuter, as in Job 5:9Psalm 12:4Psalm 27:4vide Glass, ‘ Phil,’ lib. 3. cp. 1:19), clearly indicates the object of the action expressed by the verb הָשַׁב, to think, to meditate, and then to impute (λογίζομαι), followed by לְ of pers. and acc. of the thing (cf. 2 Samuel 19:20Psalm 32:2). The thing in this case was his faith in the Divine promise. For righteousness. צְדְקְהְ – εἰς δίκαιοσύνην (LXX.); neither for merit and justice (Rabbi Solomon, Jarchi, Ealiseh), nor as a proof of his probity (Gesenius, Rosenmüller); but unto and with a view to justification (Romans 4:3), so that God treated him as a righteous person (A Lapide), not, however, in the sense that he was now “correspondent to the will of God both in character and conduct” (Keil), but in the sense that he was now before God accepted and forgiven’ (Luther, Calvin, Murphy, Candlish), which “passive righteousness, however, ultimately wrought in him an “active righteousness of complete conformity to the Divine will” (‘Speaker’s Commentary’).

From Ellicott:

(6) He believed in the Lord (in Jehovah) . . . —We have here the germ of the doctrine of free justification. Abram was both a holy man and one who proved his faith by his works; but nevertheless the inspired narrator inserts this reflection, not after the history of the offering of Isaac, but in the account of this vision, where all that Abram did was to believe, and for that belief’s sake was accounted righteous before God. For the definite conclusions deduced from this verse by St. Paul see Romans 4. The quotation there is from the LXX., and gives the general sense, but the correct rendering of the Hebrew is that given in our version.

The “counted to him for righteousness” phrasing is used again in Psalm 106:31.

And that was counted to him as righteousness
    from generation to generation forever.

The Christian New Testament, in the Book of Romans, Chapter 4, this phrase from Genesis is discussed at length. The notion of righteousness, by grace, through faith, is a central tenant of Christianity itself.

What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.

But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
And whose sins are covered;
Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.” [Note: Quoting Psalms 32:1]

Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. 10 How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised. 11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, 12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised.

13 For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect, 15 because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression.

16 Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all 17 (as it is written, “I have made you a father of many nations”) in the presence of Him whom he believed—God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; 18 who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, “So shall your descendants be.” 19 And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. 20 He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. 22 And therefore “it was accounted to him for righteousness.”

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