Back to the Basics: Genesis 15
Previously, in The Bible
A bunch of folks tried to kill off the wicked and sinful nations of Sodom and Gomorrah and end up taking Abram’s nephew Lot as a prisoner. Abram allies with some bad guys (the Amonites) and ends up rescuing not only Lot, but a bunch of Sodomites and their stuff as well.
1 After these things the word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.
2 And Abram said, Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?
3 And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.
Guess Eliezer isn’t good enough to be Abram’s heir. Bet that made Eliezer feel really great. I remember something about the fact that Jesus had to be able to trace his lineage all the way back to Abram, or something to that effect, so I’m guessing that’s part of what this is all about.
4 And, behold, the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.
Oh, now that’s a nice image.
5 And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.
Just thinking about this for a few minutes, and it strikes me as another piece of evidence that this is more made-up tribal bullshit. There’s a very direct promise here – Abram’s offspring is going to be like the number of stars in the sky. That can be taken either one of two ways – the number of visible stars in the sky, or the overall number of starts in the heavens (universe). The Yale Bright Star Catalog totals the number of starts visible to the naked eye as ~9000. Alternatively, the number of stars in the universe is estimated to be ~70 sextillion (that’s 70 thousand million million million). Either way, Gods numbers are waaayyyyy off target.
6 And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
7 And he said unto him, I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it.
8 And he said, Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?
9 And he said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.
10 And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not.
11 And when the fowls came down upon the carcases, Abram drove them away.
I’m not the biggest fan of PETA. As a matter of fact, I’m a great and abiding fan of sitting down to eat a big fat giant steak now and then. The bible, though, is absolutely chock full of downright animal abuse. Here’s Abram taking a how, a goat, a sheep, and two birds, cutting them all in half, and then hanging out and shooing away vultures when they tried to get a piece of the action. Why in the hell does God seem to enjoy the slaughter of innocent animals so much?
12 And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him.
13 And he said unto Abram, 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;
14 And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.
15 And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age.
16 But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.
Promises straight from God to Abram:
1) Abram’s descendants will be strangers in a land that isn’t theirs (I’m figuring Egypt)
2) These descendants will be afflicted for 400 years
3) God will judge their captors
4) The descendants will leave with a lot of stuff
5) Abram will “go to thy fathers in peace” at an old age (He’ll die peacefully, I guess?)
6) Abram’s descendants will be back in the promised land after 4 generations
Several of these are very specific. Trust me, I’ll be watching to see how accurately these play out.
17 And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces.
18 In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates:
19 The Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites,
20 And the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims,
21 And the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.
Once again, God’s promising a bunch of land, but I’m going to lay money on the fact that he didn’t make a similar appearance to the folks getting kicked out.
All my life I’ve heard the same thing about the bible, that it’s divinely inspired, internally consistent and free of contradictions. I’ll admit, I didn’t go into this with the faith of a believer, but I didn’t expect as many spots where this book is so clearly the work of tribal historians and long-after rewrites. The passage here about making Abrams descendants as numerous as the stars is a great example. God, as the omnipotent, omniscient author of the universe, would know exactly how many stars there were in the sky. On the other hand, a tribal nomad looking up at the sky would see an uncountable number, great for using in vague prophecies.
On the other side, there’s several very specific prophecies in this chapter – mainly the prophecy of 400 years of affliction and Abram’s descendants being back in the promised land after 4 generations. Prophecy in the bible is a twitchy thing (and I’ve gone over this previously) – first you’ve got to grant that the prophecy was, in fact, written prior to the events in question, as opposed to being added after the fact in one of the many, many, many copies/translations in order to lend credence to the book as being divine. Second, vague prophecies are, quite frankly, absolute bullshit. Look at Nostradamus – his prophecies are so wide open that it’s easy to fit circumstance to prophecy and claim that the prophecy was correct. Very specific prophecies, testable prophecies, are different – like the 400 years of affliction. For the moment, I’ll grant that the 400 years and 4 generation prophecies were written prior to the events happening. I’ll be interested to see how they play out.