Genesis 15:1 - 16:16
A Covenant and the Birth of Ishmael
In these chapters God cuts a berit with Abram or makes a Covenant. We see a new part of the covenant process. In Chapter 12 the Lord spoke to Abram and told him that He would make him a great nation. Abram went on to build an altar unto the Lord at Bethel. Now we are told that again the Word of the Lord came to Abram, "Fear not, I AM a shield to you. Your reward shall be very great."
(Prophetic visions and pronouncements frequently begin with..The Word of The Lord Came to...)
From Abrams response we are to understand that the Lord is reminding Abram of His Promise from Chapter 12 as Abram replies, "O Lord God, what can You give me seeing that I shall die childless and the one in charge of my household is Dammesek Eliezer?"
Abram further says, "Since You have granted me no offspring, my steward will be my heir." Most likely Dammesek refers to Eliezer the Damascan. Under Hurrian law, Abram could of adopted Eliezer as a son. Eliezer would then be Abram’s beneficiary.
However Eliezer was native born of the land of Damascus and not of Abram’s lineage.
The Word of the Lord came to him in reply, "That one shall not be your heir; none but your very own issue shall be your heir."
All this must have taken place in the tent of Abram during the night, because we are next told, He took him outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them." And The Lord said, "So shall your offspring be."
It notes that because Abram put his trust in The Lord, He reckoned it to his merit.
Then The Lord said to him, "I AM The Lord Who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as a possession."
Abram says, "Oh Lord God, how shall I know that I am to possess it?"
(We now see a new part of the Covenant ceremony)
The Lord answered, "Bring Me a three year-old heifer, a three-year-old she-goat, a three year-old ram, a turtledove and a young bird."
Abram did as he was told, slaughtered them and cut them in to two parts, placing each half opposite the other. He did not cut up the bird. He laid the pieces on the ground. We are told that birds of prey came down upon the carcasses and Abram drove them away.
As the sun was about to set, a deep sleep fell upon Abram and a dark dread descended upon him. The Lord said to Abram, "Know that your offspring shall be strangers in a land not theirs and they shall be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will execute judgement on the nation they shall serve and in the end they shall go free with great wealth. As for you. You shall go to your fathers in peace, you shall be buried at a ripe old age. And they shall return here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete."
When the sun set and it was very dark, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between the pieces. 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 Euphrates; the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites."
Birds of prey most likely were forces that try to prevent the covenant from being concluded.
Four hundred years is the time that the Hebrews were enslaved in Egypt after the death of Joseph.
The term fourth generation is figurative and could mean much later. Israel’s sons are four generations from Abraham.
The iniquity of the Amorites. Once it reaches its full measure, it will cause them to lose the land that they now possess. The relationship of morality and possession is part of the Holy Land’s special nature. The boundaries that are described are far greater than those of the present State of Israel or even those after the Six Day War in 1967.
The names of the tribes described denote the direction wherein they lived. The Kenites and the Kenizzites dwelt in the Negev which was south. The Kadmonites means easterners or also ancients. The other tribes are mentioned in Chapter 10 as descendants of Canaan.
We can see that the events must have taken place over at least two days if not more. During the first verses, Abram is in his tent and goes outside to count the stars. During further verses, Abram slaughters the sacrifice animals and we are told that he falls into a deep sleep as the sun was setting.
This Covenant has one outstanding feature that is the same as the Covenant that God made with Noah. It obligates God but demands nothing of man. This differs from the Covenant later made with Israel. Here God’s commitment is unconditional. God has made a universe, a world with immutable laws and conditions for an unchanging spiritual world as well. Unlike pagan deities of that time, whose universes were capricious and unpredictable, The Lord God shows Himself to be El-Ne-eman, a God who is faithful, dependable and trustworthy.
We see remnants of Covenant in the marriage ceremony. i.e the cutting of the cake or cutting of a ribbon to commemorate an opening of a new highway, bridge or business. The cutting of the pieces in the ancient ceremony of Covenant may have symbolized that the contracting parties were now the guarantors of wholeness who have finalized the pact.
Abram tells his wife of the prophecy. Sarai blames God for her problems. Instead of calling upon The Lord to give her wisdom, she comes up with her own solution. She tells Abram to consort with her maidservant Hagar. "Perhaps I will have a son by her?" This was part of the ancient laws and is confirmed in the Cod of Hammurabi. The Nuzi laws also provided for such an agreement for concubines.
So Abram heeds Sarai’s request. Sarai becomes angry with Abram. Sarai’s anger is not that he lay with Hagar, it is because Hagar displays an attitude of superiority over Sarai, her mistress. Sarai lays it out for Abram when she says, "The Lord decide between you and me!" Abram puts it back to Sarai saying, "Your maid is in your hands. Deal with her as you think is right."
The Hebrew word for wife, ishah, is also the term used for Hagar, although Hagar remained Sarai’s servant. Because of Hagar’s position as a servant and concubine she could not be sold or expelled therefore Sarai was aware that her harsh treatment would have the desired effect. Sarai treats Hagar harshly and Hagar runs away.
The next verses are very interesting. An angel of The Lord found Hagar by a spring of water in the wilderness and said to her, "Hagar slave of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?" Hagar says that she is running away. The angel of The Lord said to her, "Go back to your mistress and submit to her harsh treatment. I Will greatly increase your offspring. And they shall be too many to count. Behold you are with child and shall bear a son. You shall call him Ishmael, for The Lord has paid heed to your suffering. He shall be a wild ass of a man. His hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him. He shall dwell alongside of all his kinsmen."
And Hagar called The Lord Who spoke to her, "Your Are El-Roi" by which she meant, "Have I not gone on seeing after He saw me!" Therefore the well at Shur, where the spring was, is called Beer-lahi-roi.
We are told that Hagar bore a son to Abram and that Abram was 86 years old.
The name Ishmael means God Heeds.
The term wild ass of a man had a different connotation to the nomadic tribes of the region. It referred to the wild ass of the desert or living in highly mobile groups.