Genesis 15:1-12,17-18 - Countless points of light
Updated: Jan 19, 2022
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 The word of Yahweh came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”  But Abram said, “adonay Yahweh, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”  And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.”  But the word of Yahweh came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.”  He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”  And he believed Yahweh; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.  Then he said to him, “I am Yahweh who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.”  But he said, “adonay Yahweh, how am I to know that I shall possess it?”  He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.”  He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two.  And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.  As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.
 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.  On that day Yahweh made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.”
This is the Old Testament selection to be read aloud on the second Sunday in Lent, Year C, according to the lectionary for the Episcopal Church. It will be followed by a singing of Psalm 27, where David wrote, “For in the day of trouble he shall keep me safe in his shelter; he shall hide me in the secrecy of his dwelling and set me high upon a rock.” The first pair will precede a reading from Philippians, where Paul wrote, “Join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.” All will accompany the Gospel selection from Luke, where it is written: “Some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”’
Verse one actually begins by stating, “’a·ḥar ׀ had·də·ḇā·rîm hā·’êl·leh,” where there is a vertical bar placed between the first and second words. The bar acts to separate the two, while also joining them together. The three transliterated words say, “the following part ׀ acts these.” This says that this visit from Yahweh in a vision comes “after” “those acts” told of in Genesis 14 [with “had·də·ḇā·rîm” rooted in “dabar,” meaning “acts told in words”], which was specifically of Abram’s blessing by Melchizedek, the High Priest / King of Salem, which took place after Abram rescued Lot from having been taken hostage by the four kings of the plains. This beginning is not to be taken as some, “ho-hum” meaningless dribble, optional to be discarded by churches [the NRSV shows in translation: “After these things”]. These word make it clear that Yahweh appeared before Abram in a vision because Abram had been blessed by Melchizedek.
When we read Yahweh saying, “Do not be afraid,” this needs to be related to this being the first time Yahweh appeared to Abram in a “vision.” Prior to this event being told, Yahweh had spoken to Abram, telling him to leave the land of his father. Abram married Sarai and together with Lot they went to Canaan, and then Egypt, before back to Negev [southern Israel]. All along the way Abram built altars and made sacrifices to the God whose voice he heard. Because Melchizedek is one of those mysterious human forms that is never known to have died, he should be seen as a most holy priest on earth, perhaps the one who guarded the gate to Eden. Thus, the word of Yahweh came within a vision, where it is quite possible Yahweh appeared as Melchizedek to Abram, in angelic form.
Here, it is important to see Abram as a descendant of Noah, through his son Shem. Noah, Shem and Abram lived at the same time for thirty-nine years. Noah lived for nine hundred fifty years, with Shem living six hundred years. Due to that length of time that Shem lived, he actually outlived Abram-Abraham. This longevity must be seen as being due to having a lineage that goes back to Adam, as having divinely made ‘DNA’ within their bodies of flesh. All of the altars built by Abram were taught to him by his holy relatives, as altars were for making sacrifices to Yahweh (even if they did not know a name for Him). Abram was taught to be a priest to the One God; and, by then there were priests to many gods spreading around the earth. Altars were only built by priests, not ordinary human beings. Ordinary human beings built fires and fire pits to cook in and to receive heat and warmth from; but ordinary human beings were not (and still are not) priests. Abram served the God of his father and grandfather (Shem). Thus, Melchizedek would have known who Abram was and who he served as a priest.
Back when the voice of Yahweh told Abram to leave Haran, he was promised to be blessed with greatness, which included being the name of a nation of people. He had taken Sarai as his wife, perhaps out of love, perhaps out of her having the same religious views, and perhaps because he thought the promise of being a great nation, name, and head of a family [all promised in Genesis 11] would require him to have a wife. Being human AND being a priest meant being fruitful and multiplying. The fulfilment of the promise to be blessed had come through Melchizedek. Still, when Abram again hears Yahweh telling him of greatness, in verse two above, he pleads, “What will you give me, for I continue childless?”
This says being married for around a decade, giving it his best effort, had born no children. This said to Yahweh says this was an issue for Abram, because as a priest he was not supposed to be childless. Still, at least ten years after first hearing the voice of Yahweh telling Abram to go where He sent him, Abram was of a true priestly lineage, whose own self-interests had been set aside. This is the truth of Abram addressing Yahweh as his God, acknowledging that Abram knew he was an “adonay,” with the responsibility being his to lead others to live righteously and recognize Yahweh as the supreme deity.
When Abram then told Yahweh that the “heir of his house would be Eliezer of Damascus,” the meaning of that written [the meaning behind what appears to be names] actually has Abram say this: “acquisition of my house is 'the beginning of salvation' [Damascus] 'el of help' [Eliezer].” This is the only use of the ‘name’ Eliezer in Genesis. For Abram to see what he was building for Yahweh [being 'in His name' as an el], his actions were only 'the beginning of salvation' placed before ordinary human beings. The continuation of that plan for salvation would outlive Abram. As such, what Abram said is, “I need the el within my soul [recognizing himself as an “adonay”] to help me, if what I have dedicated my soul and life to do … for You … is to be left for anyone else to continue. As of now, all I have is possessions that will be taken at will.” Verse three then has Abram state this is because he is childless.
It is then in verse four that Yahweh tells Abram he will father a child, who will inherit all that is promised to Abram. At that point we read, “He brought him outside.” This should not be read literally, as if Yahweh was needing to have Abram walk outside his house to look up at the sky. The meaning should be seen as all taking place within a “vision,” such that Abram’s ‘sight’ had become totally Spiritual, not physical. Thus, the scene before Abram’s mind’s eye sudden became a “vision” of the stars in the universe. At that point, Yahweh told Abram his inability to number the stars was equal to how innumerable the descendants of Abram would be.
When we read, “And he believed Yahweh; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness,” the addition of another “Yahweh” that is not there has been stricken out. The literal translation of verse six says, “and he believed Yahweh ; and he accounted it to him as righteousness .” In both transliterations that add the third person masculine singular, as “he” along with “him,” are referring to Abram [not Yahweh]. The element of “righteousness” cannot be a judgment of Yahweh, because Yahweh IS. Abram was “righteous” because his soul was married to Yahweh [an elohim that was an “adonay”]; and, because of his commitment to that divine union, Abram did as Yahweh commanded. That becomes the definition of “righteousness,” because when Yahweh says to do something, it is the right thing to do. Therefore, Abram believed Yahweh’s comparison to the countless stars being his yet to be born one offspring; and, Abram had faith in that legacy being due to Yahweh’s plan for “righteousness” to be numerous on the earth … like in the heavens.
Verse eight is then shows to say, “[Abram] said, “adonay Yahweh, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” This is not a question asking Yahweh to give Abram some sign to know when he will have more offspring than can be counted. It is Abram asking as a holy priest of Yahweh – a leader of others, as one of the “lords” of the earth possessed by Yahweh (His elohim) – how will he be the father of innumerable peoples, when he has not yet seen one son born in his name. Abram asked "how" because the unstated reason Abram had no children was Sarai was barren. Thus, the question was relative to how that obstacle would be overcome.
The listing of animals to be brought from Abram’s herds and possession led him to kill them, as a priest does in sacrifices to Yahweh. These carcasses were not immediately burned on an altar. They were left dead in the open, which attracted vultures (scavenger birds of prey), which Abram had to keep from consuming his sacrifices (desecrating them). The symbolism of Abram having to defend his sacrifices to Yahweh from scavengers says that the world has been made to clean up all dead, with no regard to what life once filled those dead bodies. Without progeny, Abram would be unable to fend for any sacrifices made to Yahweh when he too was dead. Thus, the sacrifice of bodies of flesh was a sign to Abram that his legacy would be those who sacrificed their bodies as nothing worthy of defending, because the descendants of Abram would know defending their souls was what would make the name of Abram great.
When one sees that Abram was an "adonay" to Yahweh – one of His holy priests – Abram was a wife to Yahweh … one of His possessions. Likewise, Sarai, as a wife to Abram, was one of his possessions, like those animals Yahweh told Abram to bring before Him. When Abram divided the animals in two (except the doves), the lack of a command to burn them on an altar reflected what it would be like if Abram died childless. Sarai would not be able to burn sacrifices; but she would try to shoo away predators as long as she could, if Abram were to give up his soul from his flesh.
When verse twelve then says, “As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him,” the metaphor here is death. Abram going into a deep sleep means his body died and his soul was taken by Yahweh to show him the future – the sign he wanted to see. Yahweh showed Abram “strangers,” who were the children of Israel in Egypt, having struggled for “four hundred years.” All of this is written in the omitted verses; but because this is Lent, this aspect of the separation of a soul from its body after death – shown the future – is not a test one is preparing for at this time.
When verse seventeen returns the reader’s focus to a time “When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces,” this is the sacrifice of the flesh being burned. The darkness is a reflection of after Abram's death; but now, rather than someone standing in Abram's place defending the need to sacrifice animals, there are new priests to Yahweh, who will take Abram's place and pass a torch between the altars upon which the carcasses have been placed. Through the progeny of Abram the holy priesthood will continue on. This vision of a burnt offering [no live animals were sacrificed in the making of this vision] would then seal this agreement made between Yahweh and Abram, deeming this a holy agreement. With no child yet born to him, Abram was assured that his future legacy was in good hands.
As a reading selected to be read aloud on the second Sunday in Lent, the Covenant made with Abram is the same made with each and every soul that marries Yahweh and becomes one of His elohim. The livestock sacrificed becomes one’s body of flesh. The cutting them in two is the duality of a soul and the flesh being separated. One has to be willing to sacrifice one’s flesh and leave it behind for the vultures to fight over what one has left behind. The true legacy of every soul is eternal life. Without that, there is nothing of value that one leaves behind. The countless lights symbolize the spread of the Spirit through one’s ministry. One’s ministry is the test of righteousness; and, that test is easily passed, when one’s soul is letting Yahweh lead it to where one needs to go.