Verses 17-21 (Genesis 15:17-21)

Here is, I. The covenant ratified (Gen. 15:17); the sign which Abram desired was given, at length, when the sun had gone down, so that it was dark; for that was a dark dispensation.

1. The smoking furnace signified the affliction of his seed in Egypt. They were there in the iron furnace (Deut. 4:20), the furnace of affliction (Isa. 48:10), labouring in the very fire. They were there in the smoke, their eyes darkened, that they could not see to the end of their troubles, and themselves at a loss to conceive what God would do with them. Clouds and darkness were round about them.

2. The burning lamp denotes comfort in this affliction; and this God showed to Abram, at the same time that he showed him the smoking furnace. (1.) Light denotes deliverance out of the furnace; their salvation was as a lamp that burneth, Isa. 62:1. When God came down to deliver them, he appeared in a bush that burned, and was not consumed, Exod. 3:2. (2.) The lamp denotes direction in the smoke. God?s word was their lamp: this word to Abram was so, it was a light shining in a dark place. Perhaps this burning lamp prefigured the pillar of cloud and fire, which led them out of Egypt, in which God was. (3.) The burning lamp denotes the destruction of their enemies who kept them so long in the furnace. See Zech. 12:6. The same cloud that enlightened the Israelites troubled and burned the Egyptians.

3. The passing of these between the pieces was the confirming of the covenant God now made with him, that he might have strong consolation, being fully persuaded that what God promised he would certainly perform. It is probable that the furnace and lamp, which passed between the pieces, burnt and consumed them, and so completed the sacrifice, and testified God?s acceptance of it, as of Gideon?s (Jdg. 6:21), Manoah?s (Jdg. 13:19, 20), and Solomon?s, 2 Chron. 7:1. So it intimates, (1.) That God?s covenants with man are made by sacrifice (Ps. 50:5), by Christ, the great sacrifice: no agreement without atonement. (2.) God?s acceptance of our spiritual sacrifices is a token for good and an earnest of further favours. See Jdg. 13:23. And by this we may know that he accepts our sacrifices if he kindle in our souls a holy fire of pious and devout affections in them.

II. The covenant repeated and explained: In that same day, that day never to be forgotten, the Lord made a covenant with Abram, that is, gave a promise to Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, Gen. 15:18. Here is,

1. A rehearsal of the grant. He had said before, To thy seed will I give this land, Gen. 12:7; Gen. 13:15. But here he says, I have given it; that is, (1.) I have given the promise of it, the charter is sealed and delivered, and cannot be disannulled. Note, God?s promises are God?s gifts, and are so to be accounted. (2.) The possession is as sure, in due time, as if it were now actually delivered to them. What God has promised is as sure as if it were already done; hence, it is said, He that believes hath everlasting life (John 3:36), for he shall as surely go to heaven as if he were there already.

2. A recital of the particulars granted, such as is usual in the grants of lands. He specifies the boundaries of the land intended hereby to be granted, Gen. 15:18. And then, for the greater certainty, as is usual in such cases, he mentions in whose tenure and occupation these lands now were. Ten several nations, or tribes, are here spoken of (Gen. 15:19-21) that must be cast out, to make room for the seed of Abram. They were not possessed of all these countries when God brought them into Canaan. The bounds are fixed much narrower, Num. 34:2-12. etc. But, (1.) In David?s time, and Solomon?s, their jurisdiction extended to the utmost of these limits, 2 Chron. 9:26. (2.) It was their own fault that they were not sooner and longer in possession of all these territories. They forfeited their right by their sins, and by their own sloth and cowardice kept themselves out of possession. (3.) The land granted is here described in its utmost extent because it was to be a type of the heavenly inheritance, where there is room enough: in our father?s house are many mansions. The present occupants are named, because their number, and strength, and long prescription, should be no hindrance to the accomplishment of this promise in its season, and to magnify God?s love to Abram and his seed, in giving to that one nation the possessions of many nations, so precious were they in his sight, and so honourable, Isa. 43:4.

- Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary