{4}         God’s covenant confirmed (Gen 15—16)


Part H. Abram’s Migration to Canaan (12:1—16:16)

H5.   Confirmation of the covenant (15:1–21)

·         This was the deeply mystical passage describing the fearful moment when God passed through the sacrifice and confirmed the covenant with His presence (v.17). God also revealed the historical context in which the promise would be fulfilled—through the exodus and conquest (v.13–16).

H6.   Birth of Ishmael (16:1–16)

·         The childless Sarai used her own design by asking her maidservant Hagar to provide Abram with a child. Abram and Sarai were repeating Eden’s sin of doubting the word of God. After Hagar became pregnant, a rivalry between Sarai and Hagar intensified, ending with the escape of Hagar. However, she was commanded by God to return and later gave birth to Ishmael.


15:1     After this (things): This phrase introduces a new episode, similar to many other places in the OT.

vision: Visions and dreams were common modes of revelatory speech to the patriarchs. Sometimes a theophany (appearance of God) occurred as a physical phenomenon such as a thunderstorm (Ex 19; Hab 3:8) or human form (Gen 18:1–2; 28:13; 35:24,30).

shield: protection; God promised to give him physical protection from harm.

15:4     a son coming from your own body: God told Abram to wait for the birth of his own child. But God did not specify here whether the son would be from his wife Sarai.

15:5     count the stars: The star metaphor occurred again for Abram at Moriah (Gen 22:17).

15:6     Abram believed the LORD: Abram entrusted his future to what God would do for him as opposed to what he could do for himself to obtain the promises.

credited it to him as righteousness: God assigned Abram’s faith the value of righteousness—right standing with God, acceptance by God. Righteousness came by a faith response, not by works.

15:7     I am: The divine self-identification “I am” was also used for Moses (Ex 20:2). Jesus often used “I am” to indirectly identify Himself with God.

15:8     how can I know: Abram asked God for confirmation of the land promise.

15:9     Bring me a heifer: The 5 animals requested for the ritual slaughter were slightly different from Israel’s sacrifices. Heifer, goat, and ram used here were 3-year olds (Israel’s practice used 1-year olds). Turtledove and young pigeon were not for later sacrifices.

15:10   arranged the halves: Abram arranged the parts facing one another forming a passageway between the pieces, except for the birds which were probably too small to divide.

15:11   birds of prey: They were unclean and were a threat to the slaughtered animals. If they touched the animals, the sacrifice would be unclean and improper.

15:12   a deep sleep: a trance or daydream state that is not totally unconscious.

thick and dreadful darkness: related to the gloomy forecast of enslavement for Abram’s descendants.

15:13   Know for certain: a response to Abram’s earlier question of “how can I know?” This verse also prophesied that his descendants would experience a 400-year servitude in a foreign land.

15:16   fourth generation: Hebrew word for “generation” (dor) denotes a span of time but not necessarily a fixed number of years. Since v.13 refers to 400 years, one generation might be equivalent to 100 years. Further, Abram’s first-generation (Isaac) was born after 100 years (Gen 21:5).

the sin of the Amorites: Amorites in OT fluctuates in meaning, either referring to all of Canaan’s population (Am 2:10) or to a specific group. Their sins were condemned in Mosaic Law—because of much violence and sexual sins in their religious rites.

15:17   smoking firepot with a blazing torch: Smoke and fire depict God’s awesome and eerie presence.

passed between the pieces: It was a visible sign that God made the commitment to fulfil the covenant.

15:19   the land of the Kenites: The 10 groups enumerated here may symbolize completeness, thus representing the entire occupants in Canaan.

16:1     an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar: She could have been a gift from Pharaoh.

16:2     Abram agreed: Abram’s misguided compliance is cast in the same words as Adam’s obedience to his wife (Gen 3:17): Sarai “took” Hagar and “gave” her “to her husband”.

16:3      living in Canaan ten years: The ancient custom was that if the wife could not produce children, the husband might marry another. That barrenness was a ground for a divorce after a 10-year period is a rabbinic explanation for Sarai’s action. However, multiple wives were wrong according to God’s will (Gen 2:24) and posed a threat to the stability of a family which is sadly illustrated by the strife in Abram’s house.

16:6     whatever you think best: “best” means “the good (way)”. Abram did not give permission to Sarai to do whatever she was pleased; rather, Abram directed his wife to treat Hagar in the right way.

mistreated Hagar: related to subjugation, oppression, even despair. This is improper behaviour.

16:7     angel of the LORD: The angel is equated with God in some texts (theophany). Traditionally, Christian interpreters ascribed the angel to the preincarnate divine Son of God (Christophany).

the road to Shur: Shur was the region in northwest Sinai as Hagar moved toward Egypt.

16:11   name him Ishmael: Ishmael means God hears.

16:12   wild donkey of a man: Hagar’s child had 4 characteristics: (1) “wild donkey of a man” indicates a lifestyle outside accepted social conventions, anticipating his desert residence. (2) His hostile behaviour toward “everyone”. (3) The response of this is that “everyone’s hand against him”. (4) His violence is “toward all his brothers”, hence breaking the bonds of family loyalty. Ishmael was prophesied to be an antagonist whose hostilities were indiscriminate and without restraint.

16:13   the LORD who spoke to her: the angel was God Himself.

the God who sees me: Perhaps “a God of seeing” (ESV) is a better translation.

16:14   Beer Lahai Roi: meaning “the well of the Living (One) who sees me”.


·         After Abram and Sarai waited for 10 years to have a child, they finally took the matter into their hands by having Hagar as a substitue wife. Their lack of faith brought disaster to the family. Even today, the Israelites are bearing the burden of this poor decision as the descendants of Ishmael (the Arabs) still try to destroy Israel.

·         Although Sarai initiated the involvement of Hagar, she blamed Abram for the results. It is often easier to blame someone else for a mistake than to admit an error and ask forgiveness. Just like Adam and Eve blamed someone else.