God comes to Abram in a vision and says: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great” (Gen. 15:1). But Abram complains that God’s rewards can’t be good enough because he has no children to pass them on to. God reassures him that he will have a son to be is heir (and can dump that slave, Eliezer of Damascus, who is in for a very rude awakening when is 80+ year old master will suddenly have a kid to displace him).
This time, rather than comparing Abram’s children to grains of dust, he gives the slightly nicer comparison to stars in the sky.
So after whining that God’s rewards aren’t good enough and having God comply, Abram now asks for proof that he’s really going to get all this nice stuff. “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” (Gen. 15:8). Does no one in the Bible just say “thanks”?
In response, God tells Abram to bring a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old she-goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove (age not specified), and a young pigeon. So Abram gets these animals and “cut them in two, and laid each half over against the other” (Gen. 15:10). The birds escaped this fate and were not cut in two. Once laid out, Abram set about chasing away any birds of prey trying to nom on the carcasses.
At dusk, Abram falls asleep, “and lo, a dread and great darkness fell upon him” (Gen. 15:12). God says to Abram that his descendants will be “sojourners in a land that is not theirs, and will be slaves there, and they will be oppressed for four hundred years” (Gen. 15:13). But not to worry, because God will “bring judgement on the nation which they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions” (Gen. 15:14).
I’m mystified by the number of references to possessions in this book. I’m only on Chapter 15, but I’ve been told again and again about various people’s possessions, about Abram running off to rescue Lot’s possessions (oh yes, and Lot, too), about Abram unflinchingly prostituting his wife for more possessions… And now, I’m told by this good book that God thinks “great possessions” are an adequate recompense for four hundred years of oppression. All I can think while I read this is that I’ve never seen materialism promoted so vociferously from a godless source.
Moving on from God’s possession for oppression trade-off, he tells Abram that he will die peacefully at a nice old age, and that his descendants will return to Abram’s current home in the fourth generation “for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete” (Gen. 15:16).
I had some trouble with this last bit. A quick internet search tells me that the “spiritual interpretation” of this passage is that the Amorites (the current inhabitants?) aren’t totally depraved yet – so God’s just going to send the Hebrews into a holding pattern of slavery and oppression until the Amorites are ready to be conquered.
Dusk passes and we get a pretty weird image of a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch pass between the animal carcasses, and God makes a covenant with Abram. He promises that he will give Abram’s descendants “this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites” (Gen. 15:18-21).
Abram’s descendants are still waiting…
EDIT: For a slightly different interpretation of God’s gifts to Abram, check out this hilarious post over at Scotteriology.