Genesis Chapter 15

We get ‘back to God’, as it were, in Chapter 15. Most of this chapter is a conversation between God and Abram, though it’s definitely more one-sided: the first sentence of this chapter describes how the “word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision” (1). While the disembodied voice isn’t new, this is the first time I can remember that the word “vision” being used to describe encounters with God. Case in point: there’s none of this with Adam and Eve — God just starts talking to them.

Depending on your previous beliefs, the explanation for this could range from “merely a translation issue” to “proof that religion is just people on drugs making stuff up.” Either way, the nature of this visitation shows that God seems increasingly mystical and abstract, as if he’s distancing himself from this own creation. Perhaps he’s discovering he can be more effective as a ‘mysterious power’ than a human-like entity, like when he caused those plagues in Egypt.

Abram finally questions God directly about his promise — “Behold, to me thou hast given no seed” (3) — so he may be losing faith and/or patience. I know God works in mysterious ways, but I’m guessing the reason it’s taking so long is that Abram, our hero, must pass more ‘tests’ before God can give him his reward. God also tells Abram, “I am thy shield” (1), so God is not only the reward giver in the hero’s journey, but also the supernatural aid and mentor. (God wears a lot of hats, I guess; no wonder you only need one.)

God is more specific in his promise this time: “he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir” (4). Besides the uncomfortable connotation of “bowels” for modern readers (that’s not where babies come from), this diction is also uncomfortable because, throughout this whole conversation, there’s absolutely no talk of Sarai and her contribution, implying that she’s merely a vessel, that Abram’s “seed” is the one who gives it life. But I suppose that wasn’t medically obvious either back then. Again, taking bets now on whether Sarai will actually bear him a child…

God also again promises that Abram’s descendants will number greatly, though in this version of the metaphor, he tells Abram to number the “stars” (5) instead of dust, and that his legacy will be just as great. (Wait, is that where the title of Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars comes from? Oh, it’s actually from a later Psalm. I’ll make it my favorite line anyway.)

Using “stars” instead of dust in this comparison creates a more hopeful tone, probably just what Abram needs to lift his spirits. However, this hope is juxtaposed with an unfortunate corollary to God’s promise.

After Abram makes some animal sacrifices to God, he drives off the scavenger birds from the carcasses but not the “horror of great darkness” that visits him that night. At first I was confused and thought this “horror” was supposed to be Satan or something, but it’s actually the voice of God again, with a heavy “well, actually…” to deliver:

Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. (13-14)

Whelp, that’s a prophecy, all right. And, I presume — like prophecies in other works of literature — it’s useless to try to fight them. Though we don’t get Abram’s reaction directly in the text, he may have been somewhat comforted by the promise that he himself “shalt be buried in a good old age” (15). Unlike his ancestors, who will toil for four hundred years. I know Noah lived like twice that long, but something tells me that’s going to seem like a helluva long time.

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