We have here a full and particular discovery made to Abram of God’s purposes concerning his seed. Observe,
I. The time when God came to him with this discovery: When the sun was going down, or declining, about the time of the evening oblation, 1 Kgs. 18:36; Dan. 9:21. Early in the morning, before day, while the stars were yet to be seen, God had given him orders concerning the sacrifices (Gen. 15:5), and we may suppose it was, at least, his morning’s work to prepare them and set them in order; when he had done this, he abode by them, praying and waiting till towards evening. Note, God often keeps his people long in expectation of the comforts he designs them, for the confirmation of their faith; but though the answers of prayer, and the performance of promises, come slowly, yet they come surely. At evening time it shall be light.
II. The preparatives for this discovery. 1. A deep sleep fell upon Abram, not a common sleep through weariness or carelessness, but a divine ecstasy, like that which the Lord God caused to fall upon Adam (Gen. 2:21), that, being hereby wholly taken off from the view of things sensible, he might be wholly taken up with the contemplation of things spiritual. The doors of the body were locked up, that the soul might be private and retired, and might act the more freely and like itself. 2. With this sleep, a horror of great darkness fell upon him. How sudden a change! But just before we had him solacing himself in the comforts of God’s covenant, and in communion with him; and here a horror of great darkness falls upon him. Note, The children of light do not always walk in the light, but sometimes clouds and darkness are round about them. This great darkness, which brought horror with it, was designed, (1.) To strike an awe upon the spirit of Abram, and to possess him with a holy reverence, that the familiarity to which God was pleased to admit him might not breed contempt. Note, Holy fear prepares the soul for holy joy; the spirit of bondage makes way for the spirit of adoption. God wounds first, and then heals; humbles first, and then lifts up, Isa. 6:5, 6 (2.) To be a specimen of the methods of God’s dealings with his seed. They must first be in the horror and darkness of Egyptian slavery, and then enter with joy into the good land; and therefore he must have the foretaste of their sufferings, before he had the foresight of their happiness. (3.) To be an indication of the nature of that covenant of peculiarity which God was now about to make with Abram. The Old-Testament dispensation, which was founded on that covenant, was a dispensation, [1.] Of 4c7f darkness and obscurity, 2 Cor. 3:13, 14. [2.] Of dread and horror, Heb. 12:18
III. The prediction itself. Several things are here foretold.
1. The suffering state of Abram’s seed for a long time, Gen. 15:13. Let not Abram flatter himself with the hopes of nothing but honour and prosperity in his family; no, he must know, of a surety, that which he was loth to believe, that the promised seed should be a persecuted seed. Note, God sends the worst first; we must first suffer, and then reign. He also lets us know the worst before it comes, that when it comes it may not be a surprise to us, John 16:4. Now we have here,
(1.) The particulars of their sufferings. [1.] They shall be strangers; so they were, first in Canaan (Ps. 105:12) and afterwards in Egypt; before they were lords of their own land they were strangers in a strange land. The inconveniences of an unsettled state make a happy settlement the more welcome. Thus the heirs of heaven are first strangers on earth, a land that is not theirs. [2.] They shall be servants; so they were to the Egyptians, Exod. 1:13. See how that which was the doom of the Canaanites (Gen. 9:25), proves the distress of Abram’s seed: they are made to serve, but with this difference, the Canaanites serve under a curse, the Hebrews under a blessing; and the upright shall have dominion in the morning, Ps. 49:14. [3.] They shall be suffers. Those whom they serve shall afflict them; see Exod. 1:11. Note, Those that are blessed and beloved of God are often sorely afflicted by wicked men; and God foresees it, and takes cognizance of it.
(2.) The continuance of their sufferings—four hundred years. This persecution began with mocking, when Ishmael, the son of an Egyptian, persecuted Isaac, who was born after the Spirit, Gen. 21:9; Gal. 4:29. It continued in loathing; for it was an abomination to the Egyptians to eat bread with the Hebrews, Gen. 43:32; and it came at last to murder, the basest of murders, that of their new-born children; so that, more or less, it continued 400 years, though, in extremity, not so many. This was a long time, but a limited time.
2. The judgment of the enemies of Abram’s seed: That nation whom they shall serve, even the Egyptians, will I judge, Gen. 15:14. This points at the plagues of Egypt, by which God not only constrained the Egyptians to release Israel, but punished them for all the hardships they had put upon them. Note, (1.) Though God may suffer persecutors and oppressors to trample upon his people a great while, yet he will certainly reckon with them at last; for his day is coming, Ps. 37:12, 13. (2.) The punishing of persecutors is the judging of them: it is a righteous thing with God, and a particular act of justice, to recompense tribulations to those that trouble his people. The judging of the church’s enemies is God’s work: I will judge. God can do it, for he is the Lord; he will do it, for he is his people’s God, and he has said, Vengeance is mine, I will repay. To him therefore we must leave it, to be done in his way and time.
3. The deliverance of Abram’s seed out of Egypt. That great event is here foretold: Afterwards shall they come out with great substance. It is here promised, (1.) That they should be enlarged: Afterwards they shall come out; that is, either after they have been afflicted 400 years, when the days of their servitude are fulfilled, or after the Egyptians are judged and plagued, then they may expect deliverance. Note, The destruction of oppressors is the redemption of the oppressed; they will not let God’s people go till they are forced to it. (2.) That they should be enriched: They shall come out with great substance; this was fulfilled, Exod. 12:35, 36. God took care they should have, not only a good land to go to, but a good stock to carry with them.
4. Their happy settlement in Canaan, Gen. 15:16. They shall not only come out of Egypt, but they shall come hither again, hither to the land of Canaan, wherein thou now art. The discontinuance of their possession shall be no defeasance of their right: we must not reckon those comforts lost for ever that are intermitted for a time. The reason why they must not have the land of promise in possession till the fourth generation was because the iniquity of the Amorites was not yet full. Israel cannot be possessed of Canaan till the Amorites be dispossessed; and they are not yet ripe for ruin. The righteous God has determined that they shall not be cut off till they have persisted in sin so long, and arrived at such a pitch of wickedness, that there may appear some equitable proportion between their sin and their ruin; and therefore, till it come to that, the seed of Abram must be kept out of possession. Note, (1.) The measure of sin fills gradually. Those that continue impenitent in wicked ways are treasuring up unto themselves wrath. (2.) Some people’s measure of sin fills slowly. The Sodomites, who were sinners before the Lord exceedingly, soon filled their measure; so did the Jews, who were, in profession, near to God. But the iniquity of the Amorites was long in the filling up. (3.) That this is the reason of the prosperity of wicked people; the measure of their sins is not yet full. The wicked live, become old, and are mighty in power, while God is laying up their iniquity for their children, Job 21:7, 19. See Matt. 23:32; Deut. 32:34.
5. Abram’s peaceful quiet death and burial, before these things should come to pass, Gen. 15:15. As he should not live to see that good land in the possession of his family, but must die, as he lived, a stranger in it, so, to balance this, he should not live to see the troubles that should come upon his seed, much less to share in them. This is promised to Josiah, 2 Kgs. 22:20. Note, Good men are sometimes greatly favoured by being taken away from the evil to come, Isa. 57:1. Let this satisfy Abram, that, for his part,
(1.) He shall go to his fathers in peace. Note, [1.] Even the friends and favourites of Heaven are not exempted from the stroke of death. Are we greater than our father Abram, who is dead? John 8:53. [2.] Good men die willingly; they are not fetched, they are not forced, but they go; their soul is not required, as the rich fool’s (Luke 12:20), but cheerfully resigned: they would not live always. [3.] At death we go to our fathers, to all our fathers that have gone before us to the state of the dead (Job 21:32, 33), to our godly fathers that have gone before us to the state of the blessed, Heb. 12:23. The former thought helps to take off the terror of death, the latter puts comfort into it. [4.] Whenever a godly man dies, he dies in peace. If the way be piety, the end is peace, Ps. 37:37. Outward peace, to the last, is promised to Abram, peace and truth is his days, whatever should come afterwards (2 Kgs. 20:19); peace with God, and everlasting peace, are sure to all the seed.
(2.) He shall be buried in a good old age. Perhaps mention is made of his burial here, where the land of Canaan is promised him, because a burying place was the first possession he had in it. He shall not only die in peace, but die in honour, die, and be buried decently; not only die in peace, but die in season, Job 5:26. Note, [1.] Old age is a blessing. It is promised in the fifth commandment; it is pleasing to nature; and it affords a great opportunity for usefulness. [2.] Especially, if it be a good old age. Theirs may be called a good old age, First, That are old and healthful, not loaded with such distempers as make them weary of life. Secondly, That are old and holy, old disciples (Acts 21:16), whose hoary head is found in the way of righteousness (Prov. 16:31), old and useful, old and exemplary for godliness; theirs is indeed a good old age.