Genesis 15:1 Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield
Derek A. Cuthbert
One lesson we have to learn is that fear is the beginning of defeat. On the other hand, courage is the beginning of success. We gain courage by the realization that we have a lot going for us. We derive strength from the knowledge that the Lord is with us. To Abraham he declared, "Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield." (Gen. 15:1.) This is exactly what we need in this tempting, permissive world-a shield to protect us from the "fiery darts of the wicked." (D&C 27:17.) (Hope [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1994], 104 - 105)
Genesis 15:2 the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus
Twenty years earlier, Abram had been promised that he would become a great nation (Gen. 12:2). He was not getting any younger and began to be concerned. Apparently, Eliezer was a faithful servant, born in Abram's house, who was the closest thing to a son that Abram could think of. Did the Lord intend him to leave his inheritance to Eliezer?
"Eliezer [is] most likely Abraham's servant, 'the Damascan.' Abraham may have adopted him as a son and, if Hurrian practice was applicable, he would be Abraham's beneficiary." (The Torah: A Modern Commentary, ed. by W. Gunther Plaut [New York, The Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1981], 109)
The patriarchal tradition was so strong for Abram; he was one who sought for "the blessings of the fathers" (Abr. 1:2) which would mean he would also be interested in the blessings of the children-or the opportunity to pass on his spiritual inheritance, his priesthood, the gospel, and his wisdom to his own flesh and blood.
Genesis 15:5 Look now toward heaven and tell the stars... So shall thy seed be
Bruce R. McConkie
The Lord said to his friend Abraham: "I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered." (Gen. 13:16.) And again: "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." (Gen. 15:5.) And yet again: "Thou shalt be a father of many nations." (Gen. 17:4.) And finally: "By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, . . . That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." (Gen. 22:16-18.)
All of these are biblical promises. Their full meaning, as there found, is hidden from the spiritually illiterate and can, in fact, be known only by revelation. As we are about to see, they pertain to the continuation of the family unit in the highest heaven of the celestial world. But first, be it noted, the same promises were renewed to Isaac and to Jacob in their days. To Isaac the Lord said: "I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." (Gen. 26:4.) And to Jacob the promise came in these words: "And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed." (Gen. 28:14.) (The Millennial Messiah: The Second Coming of the Son of Man [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1982], 262)
Genesis 15:6 he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness
Abraham's faith was what brought him the great promises and blessings from the Lord. Centuries later, when Abraham's descendents would overemphasize the importance of obedience to a dead law, Paul would remind them of Abraham's great faith.
Paul the Apostle
For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.
For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
...For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.
For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect:
Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.
Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all,
(As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.
Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be.
And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara's womb:
He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God;
And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.
And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.
Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him;
But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; (Romans 4:2-24)
Genesis 15:7 I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees
"Though the Bible recounts episodes in which Abraham heard the voice of the Lord and received revelations, it does not contain any record of Abraham beholding the Savior in vision. Yet the Savior, in the New Testament, referred to such an instance: 'Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.' (John 8:56.)
"It would appear that Abraham had such a vision but that the episode has been lost from the present biblical collection. The Joseph Smith translation of the Bible, however, contains such an account. After Jehovah had explained the inheritance of the promised land to Abraham, 'Abram looked forth and saw the days of the Son of Man, and was glad, and his soul found rest.' (JST Gen. 15:12.)" (Robert L. Millet, "The Plates of Brass: A Witness of Christ," Ensign, Jan. 1988, 29)
And Abram said, Lord God, how wilt thou give me this land for an everlasting inheritance?
And the Lord said, Though thou wast dead, yet am I not able to give it thee?
And if thou shalt die, yet thou shalt possess it, for the day cometh, that the Son of man shall live; but how can he live if he be not dead? he must first be quickened.
And it came to pass, that Abram looked forth and saw the days of the Son of man, and was glad, and his soul found rest, and he believed in the Lord; and the Lord counted it unto him for righteousness. (JST Gen. 15:9-12)
Genesis 15:9-10 he took unto him all these and divide them in the midst
The Lord answers Abram in a parable: the heifer, goat, ram, turtledove, and pigeon are all animals that would later be sacrificed under the Law of Moses. The Lord's command to Abraham shows him what great blessings the Lord has in store for him and his posterity-particularly after the children of Israel inherit the land.
When the Lord has Abram sacrifice the animals and cut them in half, he is not asking for an animal sacrifice; he is giving an object lesson. The divided animals represent the neighboring kingdoms in and around the land of Canaan. Abram will divide the surrounding nations in two, as easily as if they were his own heifer, goat, and ram. The spoil of the surrounding nations is his to enjoy. That is what the parable means. That is why Abram protects the animals from the fowls-they represent the wealth of his descendents as they take the spoil of subsequent generations.
Genesis 15:11 when the fowls came down on the carcases, Abram drove them away
Traditions from Abraham's youth may have developed from this story about Abram driving away the fowls. Abram was 14 when a similar incident occurred:
"And the seed time arrived for sowing the land. And they all went out together so that they might guard their seed from before the crows. And Abraham went out with those who sent out. And the lad was fourteen years old.
And a cloud of crows came so that they might eat the seed, and Abram used to run up to them before they settled upon the earth. And he would call out to them before they settled upon the earth to eat seed, and he said, 'Don't come down. Return to the place whence you came.' And they turned back.
And he caused the cloud of crows to turn back seventy times in that day. And none of the crows settled on any of the fields where Abram was, not one.
And all who were with him in all of the fields saw him as he was calling out. And all of the crows turned away. And his reputation was great in all the land of Chaldea." (Tvedtnes, Hauglid, & Gee, Traditions About the Early Life of Abraham [Provo: FARMS, 2001], 16)
Genesis 15:13-18 thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs
The Lord will do nothing save "he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7). Thus, Abram is told what will befall his descendants-they will be driven to Egypt by famine-and brought back to the land of promise by the Lord. Abram's own trip to Egypt was a symbolic foreshadowing of what his descendants would do. Both were driven there by famine. Both were preserved by the Lord. Both came to the land of Canaan to inherit the promised land. But only Abram was faithful in all that he was commanded. (See also commentary for Gen. 12:19-20)
Genesis 15:16 for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full
When the children of Israel invade the land of Canaan, they destroy most of the people who previously inherited the land. The Amorites were one of those groups (see Bible Dictionary). The reason the Lord commanded the children of Israel to destroy men, women, and children, leaving none alive was because of the wickedness of the people. The Book of Mormon explains this clearly: "this people had rejected every word of God, and they were ripe in iniquity; and the fullness of the wrath of God was upon them; and the Lord did curse the land against them... and he raiseth up a righteous nation, and destroyeth the nations of the wicked" (1 Ne. 17:35-37).
The Lord knows where the Amorites are headed. In Abram's day, they are wicked but are not quite ripe. 400 years later, they were ripe for destruction.
"Abraham and Isaac had negotiated peace with their neighbors and had purchased property in the land. The Lord told Abraham that the iniquity of the Amorites who possessed it was not yet full (see Gen. 15:16). But how iniquitous were they over four hundred years later when the children of Israel returned? Did they deserve the treatment they received? The facts are that the people who possessed the land were obsessed with licentiousness, incest, adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, and even human sacrifice (see Lev. 18:1-24; Deut. 12:31). These unnatural practices brought the consequences required by eternal law. As the Lord declared, 'The land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants' (Lev. 18:25)." (Edward J. Brandt, "Understanding the Old Testament: Keys to Resolving Difficult Questions," Ensign, Sept. 1980, 31)
Genesis 15:17 a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp... passed between those pieces
The smoke and burning lamp are symbolic of the Lord's protection. When the children of Israel travelled through Sinai, they were protected by the presence of Jehovah.
And they took their journey... in the edge of the wilderness
And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night:
And he took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people. (Ex. 13:20-22)
One would think that such an amazing daily demonstration of the Lord's power would have a powerful effect upon the minds of the children of Israel. If the cloud was always there to show the way to travel, and if the pillar of fire illuminated every night, it would take a pretty hardened heart to reject the command of Jehovah. Yet that is what the children of Israel did in spite of clouds of smoke, pillars of fire, manna falling from heaven, flocks of quail, and rocks flowing with water.
Genesis 15:18-21 Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river... Euphrates
One of the most pressing international problems facing the world today stems from the promises of God to Abraham. The fight for the land between the Nile and the Euphrates has been constant. The following Ensign article, though written several decades ago, is still as pertinent now as it was then:
With world attention centered on the conflict in the Middle East and the efforts of the United Nations to deal with the competing claims of Arabs and Israelis, the issues are becoming increasingly difficult to resolve. While the origins of the controversy lie deep in the social, religious, and political history of both groups, it is clear that a few basic issues are preventing a peaceful settlement and may even be driving the current hostilities toward another world war.
For Latter-day Saints who have strong feelings about the literal gathering of Israel and the eventual return of Judah to Jerusalem, the turmoil in the Middle East presents some interesting problems. The obvious difficulty, of course, is in deciding whether the current situation is in direct fulfillment of prophecy or merely part of the early stages. What follows is not an attempt to resolve nor even discuss that fulfillment-of-prophecy dilemma. This article is an effort to put this serious world problem into historical perspective.
These classical protagonists move in a part of the world that has been in conflict often through the centuries. Even before Abraham... this strip of land was a tremendous asset to those who possessed it and an irresistible target for those who would conquer it.
In the scriptures, Jehovah promised to Abraham's "seed" the land "from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates" (Gen. 15:18), and the promise is valid for Jew and Arab alike, through Isaac and Ishmael. Since the reign of early Hebrew kings, prior to 1000 B.C., the land has been a battleground for a succession of conquests by Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Ptolemies, Syrians, Romans, Moslems, Crusaders, Seljuk Turks, Mameluke Egyptians, Ottoman Turks, and even the British, who ruled for twenty-five years following World War I.
Through it all, the Arab and the Jew have survived in relative peace, and they have maintained a cultural and religious attachment to their ancestral home.
Beginning in the 1860s, however, there were groups of European Jews who promoted migration to the Holy Land. In 1897, a Central European journalist, Theodor Herzl, challenged the First World Zionist Congress to develop a program for creating a Jewish homeland.
The Balfour Declaration of 1917 bolstered the Zionist concept; this one-page letter from Britain's Lord Balfour to Lord Rothschild expressed British sentiments: "His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a home for the Jewish people." A gesture for the Arabs was included to the effect that "nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine." The Arabs, who outnumbered the Jews ten-to-one at that time, considered the proposed arrangement extremely unfair. The debates concerning the possibility of a Jewish state became even more bitter.
Prior to this, in 1916, the British and the French had secretly negotiated the "Sykes-Picot" agreement, which provided supervisory roles over various areas of the Arab world. The British were given responsibility for Palestine.
The struggle between Arab and Jew intensified in the years between the end of World War I and 1948, when hundreds of thousands of Jews moved into Palestine without Arab consent. This was territory occupied by Arabs for two thousand years.
In 1923, British administrators and occupation forces were installed in Palestine and became immediately aware of an emerging conflict between groups of immigrant Jews who were claiming the Holy Land as theirs and the long-settled Arab majority, who resented the intrusion.
When the British mandate ended in 1948, the problems between the Arabs and the Jews were reaching fever pitch. Unfortunately, the international community had paid little serious attention prior to 1948 to what was happening, although there were endless series of study commissions that provided little light and less direction.
Hitler's drive to exterminate the German Jews in the 1930s and the 1940s gave further impetus to Palestine's growth, and Zionism became a worldwide force encouraging Jews to migrate to the Holy Land. The Arabs saw themselves as being forced to give up much of their lands to Jewish settlers as part of an international effort to compensate the Jews for the suffering they had endured.
The situation grew even more intense at the end of World War II, when both peoples in their drives for nationalism were in direct opposition to one another. Both struggles surfaced at about the same time in the same territory. Peaceful coexistence began to erode on the political level when the Arabs sensed that the growing Jewish settlements would eventually unite in some kind of political entity and the Arabs would become a minority in their own homeland.
With the end of World War II, the United Nations moved officially to create a Jewish state. The 1947 partition of Palestine, which gave 54 percent of the land area to the Jews-who represented but one-third of the population and owned only ten percent of the land-was like a bone in the craw of the Arab world. Neither the Palestinian Arabs nor neighboring Arab states found the plan acceptable.
The Jews, however, accepted partition and on May 14, 1948, proclaimed the state of Israel. With British forces gone, the civil war that had been smoldering between the Jews and Arabs in Palestine erupted in a violent conflict. Nearly half a million Palestinian Arabs fled the war zone into adjacent Arab states, expecting to return to their homes following an Arab victory. That victory did not materialize, and the vast majority of those Arab refugees were forced to remain together outside of the newly created state of Israel. Some twenty-two years later the refugees are still one of the major sources of conflict in the Middle East.
The United Nations brought about an armistice in 1949, but this did not bring real peace. A propaganda war developed and sporadic border incidents and terrorism continued. The Palestinian Arabs did not form a state, and neither the Israelis nor the United Nations could bring them to the peace table. Meanwhile, the Israelis asserted their military superiority and drove the Arabs into deeper bitterness and frustration.
A new crisis arose in 1956, when Egypt's Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal. Israel saw this action as an opportunity to move things off center, to retaliate for border raids, and to force the Arabs to recognize Israel as a state. With British support, Israeli forces invaded the Sinai and under French air cover rolled their tanks swiftly across the peninsula to the Canal and into the southern tip of the Sinai at Sharm el Sheikh. Under pressure from the United Nations, the British and French pulled out and the Israelis retreated from the Sinai with the assurance that the United States would prevent Egypt from interfering with Israeli shipping through the Strait of Tiran.
The only consistent element in the uneasy truce between the 1956 Sinai campaign and a 1967 war was Arab opposition to Israel. The Arab states often disagreed with each other on many matters, but their one point of unity was the destruction of Israel, even though they could not agree on the best means of accomplishing this.
In the early months of 1967, the frequency and intensity of border incidents increased. The New York Times reported from Tel Aviv that "some Israeli leaders have decided that the use of force against Syria may be the only way to curtail terrorism." United Nations Secretary-General U Thant issued a statement in which he said, "Intemperate and bellicose utterances ... are unfortunately more or less routine on both sides of the line in the Near East. In recent weeks, however, reports emanating from Israel have attributed to some high officials in that state statements so threatening as to be particularly inflammatory in the sense that they could only heighten emotions and thereby increase tensions on the other side of the line." The Egyptians concluded that a massive troop buildup by them on the Sinai-Israeli border would deter the Israelis from attacking. Nasser requested the removal of the U.N. emergency forces from the border, moved his troops into the area, and again took control of Sharm el Sheikh at the Strait of Tiran.
The combination of the strait blockade and the movement of Arab troops to the Sinai-Israeli border encouraged the Arabs to proclaim even more loudly their objective of driving the Israelis into the sea.
The Israeli cabinet concluded that debate was no longer effective and that the only course was war. Israeli forces under Moshe Dayan, minister of defense, made a predawn strike on June 6, 1967. The Arabs still insist that they were only preparing for a possible Israeli strike, and that this war, like the others in which they were defeated, was just another step in the Israeli plans for conquest of the Arab people. The late Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, said, "War between us and Israel is inevitable," but evidently he could not predict that, in the early stages, the war would cost the Arabs 15,000 soldiers, two billion dollars worth of material, and 26,000 square miles of Arab land.
Again the war did not bring peace. Palestinian Arab guerillas became a recognized force in Middle East affairs. Disillusioned by the repeated failures of established leaders, their hope centered on Yasser Arafat, the leader of Al Fatah, the largest and most active guerilla group, and head of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The commandos continued to harass Israeli border settlements and defied the Jordanian government when troops opposed their terrorist tactics.
During 1970 a long accumulation of border incidents, commando raids, airplane hijacks, massive Israeli reprisals, and the involvement of the U.S. and the Soviets has added a great deal of heat to an already explosive situation.
Nasser, who died of a heart attack in 1970, left a legacy of dreams of Arab unity but realities of Arab instability. His successor, Anwar Sadat, assumed both elements when he was elected Egypt's president. He continues to promote the Egyptian objective of completely eliminating the state of Israel, which forms a geographical and psychological wedge in that dream of a contiguous Arab world. Commenting on U.S. involvement, Sadat declared, "The United States will not intimidate us even if it gives everybody in Israel a tank."
While the Israelis seek to consolidate the frontiers bordering the land they seized in the 1967 war, the Arabs clamor for the return of all captured Arab territory. Sadat vows, "We shall not surrender or yield even a handful of dust from Arabian soil."
Chances for peaceful resolution of the problems do not seem bright, but there is a wide range of views by knowledgeable persons.
Dr. J. Bruce Mayfield, a University of Utah professor of political science, spent several years in the Middle East. He sees the situation this way: "The Arab-Israeli conflict can best be understood in terms of conflicting images projected by both the Arabs and the Israelis. Each image is strongly tinged with misunderstanding and fear, but because each is based on a measure of truth, it is not likely that these perceptions will change in the near future. ... Frustrated by a failure to persuade the Arabs to accept the de facto situation and sit down to a rational resolution of outstanding issues, many Israelis often explain the continued resistance of the Arabs to settlement by suggesting that Arab politicians must necessarily be deceitful, fanatical, and unwilling to compromise. ... Thus both the Israeli image and the Arab image create a state of mind in which a settlement seems out of the question."
Dr. O. Preston Robinson, author of Biblical Sites in the Holy Land, comments on Arab theology in relation to Soviet influence:
"Most of the Arab people are Moslem in their religious beliefs. The Moslem faith, based upon the teachings of Mohammed, is firmly grounded in a belief in one God, their Allah. In our meetings with these peoples, this fact was strongly emphasized. They recognize the atheism of Communism. The Arabs' natural instincts drive a firm wedge between their religious concepts and the atheism of the Communists. Unfortunately, partially due to our own diplomatic errors, the Soviets have gained a strong foothold among the more radical of these peoples. Nevertheless, with the application of sound Christian principles, this trend can still be reversed."
...Behind the centuries of conflict, the changes in ownership, broken treaties, promises, and subjugation, the basic problem is simply that two peoples want the same land.
The most important element of the standoff is the human element-the strong emotion brought about by the Jews' need for a homeland where they can feel secure from persecution, which was taken to such incredible extremes by Hitler. Equally emotional about their plight, the Palestinian Arabs are consumed with hatred because they have not been permitted to return to their homes. The tragedy of both sides, the passion with which each side regards his position, is understandable, but it makes peace all the more difficult to achieve. (Herbert F. Murray, "Arab-Israeli Conflict," Ensign, Jan. 1971, 21-25)