Genesis (Part 63)

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

Genesis 15:7-16

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.” But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” 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.”


It may seem contradictory at first that the previous set of verses say that Abram’s faith was counted to him as righteousness. Then, in these verses, he is asking how he will know that he will possess what God has promised?

The contradiction disappears though when we read the intention of the question correctly.

From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:

(8) Lord God.—Heb., Lord Jehovah, as in Genesis 15:2.

Whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?—Jehovah had required Abram to leave his home in Ur of the Chaldees on a general promise of future endowment with the land of Canaan. Abram now asks this question, not from want of faith, but from a desire for a more direct confirmation of the promise and fuller knowledge of the details. What Abram, therefore, receives is an exact and circumstantial prophecy, made in the form of a solemn covenant.

Abram was not asking whether or not it would happen. He has full faith that it will. Abram is asking *how* the thing will happen.

The Pulpit Commentary concurs with this interpretation with some citations both from the Bible itself and from Christian theologians throughout history.

Genesis 15:8And he said, Lord GOD, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?Verse 8. – And he said, Lord God (Adonai Jehovah; vide Ver. 2), whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it? Not the language of doubt, though slight misgivings are not incompatible with faith (cf. Judges 6:172 Kings 20:8Luke 1:34), and questioning with God “is rather a proof of faith than a sign of incredulity” (Calvin); but of desire for a sign in confirmation of the grant (Luther), either for the strengthening of his own faith (Chrysostom, Augustine, Keil, ‘Speaker’s Commentary’), or for the sake of his posterity (Jarchi, Michaelis), or for some intimation as to the time and mode of taking possession (Murphy). Rosenmüller conceives the question put in Abram’s mouth to be only a device of the narrator’s to lead up to the subject following.

In reply, we see, with God’s instructions, Abram’s portion of implementing a covenant with God.

Ellicott explains what is happening in verses 9 and 10 below.

(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.

Verse 11 lets us know something else regarding this ceremony. It was not instantaneous. The carcasses were lying out in the open for long enough that they attracted birds of prey. Abram had to chase them away and continue waiting.

In verse 12, God’s answer to Abram’s actions begin to manifest.

12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him.

“sun” = שֶׁמֶשׁ shemesh, sheh’-mesh; from an unused root meaning to be brilliant; the sun; by implication, the east; figuratively, a ray, i.e. (architectural) a notched battlement:— east side(-ward), sun (rising), west(-ward), window.

“deep sleep” = תַּרְדֵּמָה tardêmâh, tar-day-maw’; from H7290; a lethargy or (by implication) trance:—deep sleep

“dreadful” = אֵימָה ʼêymâh, ay-maw’; or (shortened) אֵמָה ʼêmâh; from the same as H366; fright; concrete, an idol (as a bugbear):—dread, fear, horror, idol, terrible, terror.

“great” = גָּדוֹל gâdôwl, gaw-dole’; or גָּדֹל gâdôl; (shortened) from H1431; great (in any sense); hence, older; also insolent:— aloud, elder(-est), exceeding(-ly), far, (man of) great (man, matter, thing,-er,-ness), high, long, loud, mighty, more, much, noble, proud thing, × sore, (×) very.

“darkness” = חֲשֵׁכָה chăshêkâh, khash-ay-kaw’; or חֲשֵׁיכָה chăshêykâhxlit chăshêkâh corrected to chăshêykâh; from H2821; darkness; figuratively, misery:—darkness.


Does it sound like this was pleasant for Abram? Uh, no. We can read this to mean that Abram fell into a trance wherein terrifying and significant darkness/misery fell over him. It is not spelled out why exactly the trance led to such a situation for Abram in verse 12, however, I like the interpretation given by the Pulpit Commentary.

And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him.Verse 12. – And when the sun was going down. Literally, was about to go down (cf. Gesenius, § 132). The vision having commenced the previous evening, an entire day has already passed, the interval being designed to typify the time between the pro-raise and its fulfillment (Kalisch). A deep sleep – tardemah (cf. Adam s sleep, Genesis 2:21); ἔκστασις (LXX.); a supernatural slumber, as the darkness following was not solely due to natural causes – fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness – literally, an, horror, a great darkness, i.e. an overwhelming dread occasioned by the dense gloom with which he was encircled, and which, besides Being designed to conceal the working of the Deity from mortal vision (Knobel), was meant to symbolize the Egyptian bondage (Grotius, Calvin, Rosenmüller, Keil, Aalisch), and perhaps also, since Abram’s faith embraced a larger sphere than Canaan (Hebrews 11:10, 14, 16), and a nobler seed than Sarah’s son (John 8:56), the sufferings of Christ (Wordsworth, Inglis) – fell upon him.

  • Designed to conceal the working of the Deity
  • Symbolic of the prophesied Egyptian bondage

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.”

God gives Abram some more specifics about his future.

The first section of what God tells Abram involves the more distant future.

  • Abram’s offspring will travel to another land and be servants there
  • Abram’s descendants will be afflicted for four hundred years
  • God will bring judgment on the unnamed nation that they will serve.
  • Abram’s descendants will come out of this land with great possessions

In the next section, Abram learns more about his own future.

  • Abram will die in peace
  • Abram will live until he is old

In the third section, we return to Abram’s descendants.

  • In the fourth generation, Abram’s descendants will return to the land that God promised to Abram because the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.

Keep in mind that Abram’s question to God was a *how* question.

But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?”

The above information is God’s answer to how Abram will possess the land. God tells him that 1) the possession will be through his descendants, 2) the possession will be hundreds of years from now, and 3) the possession will take place after centuries of bondage in another land, 4) none of these events will begin to take place (servanthood in a foreign land) during Abram’s long life, and 5) “the iniquity of the Amorites” is given as a reason for why Abram’s descendants must return to possess the land.

I want to reverse engineer this section so let’s start by talking about the Amorites who represent the answer to the “why?” question of Abram’s possession of the land. Who were they?

אֱמֹרִי ʼĔmôrîy, em-o-ree’; probably a patronymic from an unused name derived from H559 in the sense of publicity, i.e. prominence; thus, a mountaineer; an Emorite, one of the Canaanitish tribes:—Amorite.

What was so wrong with the Amorites? It is generally agreed that Abram lives in some kind of peaceful arrangement with the Amorites. In Genesis 14:24, some Amorites are mentioned has having aided Abram in the battle against the Four Kings to recover Lot.

24 I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me. Let Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre take their share.”

What does Wikipedia have to say about the Amorites?

In the earliest Sumerian sources concerning the Amorites, beginning about 2400 BC, the land of the Amorites (“the Mar.tu land”) is associated not with Mesopotamia but with the lands to the west of the Euphrates, including Canaan and what was to become Syria by the 3rd century BC, then known as The land of the Amurru, and later as Aram and Eber-Nari.

They appear as an uncivilized and nomadic people in early Mesopotamian writings from SumerAkkad, and Assyria, to the west of the Euphrates. The ethnic terms Mar.tu (“Westerners”), Amurru (suggested in 2007 to be derived from aburru, “pasture”) and Amor were used for them in Sumerian, Akkadian, and Ancient Egyptian respectively.  From the 21st century BC, possibly triggered by a long major drought starting about 2200 BC, a large-scale migration of Amorite tribes infiltrated southern Mesopotamia. They were one of the instruments of the downfall of the Third Dynasty of Ur, and Amorite dynasties not only usurped the long-extant native city-states such as IsinLarsaEshnunna, and Kish, but also established new ones, the most famous of which was to become Babylon, although it was initially a minor insignificant state.

Known Amorites wrote in a dialect of Akkadian found on tablets at Mari dating from 1800–1750 BC. Since the language shows northwest Semitic forms, words and constructions, the Amorite language is a Northwest Semitic language, and possibly one of the Canaanite languages. The main sources for the extremely limited knowledge about Amorite are the proper names, not Akkadian in style, that are preserved in such texts. The Akkadian language of the native Semitic states, cities and polities of Mesopotamia (Akkad, Assyria, Babylonia, Isin, Kish, Larsa, Ur, Nippur, Uruk, Eridu, Adab, AkshakEshnunnaNuziEkallatum, etc.), was from the east Semitic, as was the Eblaite of the northern Levant.

That’s the secular historical record. What does the Biblical record say about the Amorites?

Genesis 10:15 15 Canaan fathered Sidon his firstborn and Heth, 16 and the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites.

The term Amorites is used in the Bible to refer to certain highland mountaineers who inhabited the land of Canaan, described in Genesis as descendants of Canaan, the son of Ham (Gen. 10:16). They are described as a powerful people of great stature “like the height of the cedars” (Amos 2:9) who had occupied the land east and west of the Jordan. The height and strength mentioned in Amos 2:9 has led some Christian scholars, including Orville J. Nave, who wrote the Nave’s Topical Bible, to refer to the Amorites as “giants”.

In Deuteronomy, the Amorite king, Og, was described as the last “of the remnant of the Rephaim” (Deut 3:11). The terms Amorite and Canaanite seem to be used more or less interchangeably, Canaan being more general and Amorite a specific component among the Canaanites who inhabited the land.

The Biblical Amorites seem to have originally occupied the region stretching from the heights west of the Dead Sea (Gen. 14:7) to Hebron (Gen. 13:8; Deut. 3:8; 4:46–48), embracing “all Gilead and all Bashan” (Deut. 3:10), with the Jordan valley on the east of the river (Deut. 4:49), the land of the “two kings of the Amorites”. Sihon and Og (Deut. 31:4 and Joshua 2:10; 9:10). Both Sihon and Og were independent kings. The Amorites seem to have been linked to the Jerusalem region, and the Jebusites may have been a subgroup of them (Ezek. 16:3). The southern slopes of the mountains of Judea are called the “mount of the Amorites” (Deut. 1:7, 19, 20).

The Book of Joshua speaks of the five kings of the Amorites were first defeated with great slaughter by Joshua (Josh. 10:5). Then, more Amorite kings were defeated at the waters of Merom by Joshua (Josh. 11:8). It is mentioned that in the days of Samuel, there was peace between them and the Israelites (1 Sam. 7:14). The Gibeonites were said to be their descendants, being an offshoot of the Amorites who made a covenant with the Hebrews. When Saul later broke that vow and killed some of the Gibeonites, God is said to have sent a famine to Israel.

And… there it is. Giants.

Amos 2:9

“Yet I destroyed the Amorites before them,
    though they were tall as the cedars
    and strong as the oaks.
I destroyed their fruit above
    and their roots below.

Deuteronomy 3:11

11 (Og king of Bashan was the last of the Rephaites. His bed was decorated with iron and was more than nine cubits long and four cubits wide. It is still in Rabbah of the Ammonites.)

  • You may remember from earlier parts of our study that Rephaim can directly be translated as “giants.”

MUCH of the Old Testament – from Genesis until even the time of David – is concerned with eradicating giants from the earth. Samuel even refers to a six fingers being an indicator of “giant” heritage.

2 Samuel 21:20 – And there was again war at Gath, where there was a man of great stature, who had six fingers on each hand, and six toes on each foot, twenty-four in number, and he also was descended from the giants.

The “giants” appear on the earth in Genesis Chapter 6. Almost immediately, God goes to work eradicating them. Much of non-Biblical ancient writing of the Hebrew people, not canonical or no longer canonical in all places, focuses on giants, too (the Book of Enoch, the Book of the Giants, etc.) That Old Testament interest and focused continued onward through the Second Temple period.

If we know that the Amorites exist through Canaan, do we trace that heritage directly to Canaan himself? Let us consider again how Canaan was fathered (Part 41 of the study.) Ham saw his own father’s nakedness. As a result, Noah cursed Ham’s son Canaan. We do not know why. The text is short on details or explanation. One theory regarding this event is that Ham saw the nakedness of Noah’s wife and fathered Canaan by her. If so, and if Noah’s wife had a giant’s genetic heritage… well, that might explain how the Flood did not wipe out all giants. They lived on after through the gigantic line of Canaan. The wives of Noah and all of his sons are conspicuously unmentioned throughout this section of Genesis. Let me again reiterate that this paragraph is purely speculative.

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls revealed that the books of Enoch, the Giants, etc., were widely read and distributed for the few hundred years immediately preceding the destruction of the Temple by the Romans. There is some evidence that these books were read by, and referred to, by early Christians as well. If it seems like I focus a lot on the topic of giants in this study of Genesis, it is because the underlying text itself focuses a lot on this topic. The religious history through the Second Temple period also focuses a lot of this subject. There is some religious scholarship that even associates giants with demons. It was deemed vitally important.

God also lets Abram know a timetable of events. Is there any way to prove that this prophecy occurred in advance of events? No. Presumably, though, if it was known to the twelve tribes of Israel, during their time in Egypt, it would have provided them with some measure of guidance and comfort.

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