Somebody reading might say about these chapters, "here's where it gets good!", and we should take the enthusiasm from that, and run with it too!
Realism, almost unbelievable realism. Is Abram so amazingly transparent toward God that he can actually tell him "what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" (15:2)? That sounds like a complaint to me, almost a full-on, straight to God challenge. But, there is some balance hidden in the first verse: "in a vision." Abram saw this vision, which included God and him talking. Perhaps that is significant, perhaps not, but at least, if we are afraid for Abram because of this attitude, there is an out.
So 15:4 makes sense as another, more direct encounter: "Then, behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying ...." Or perhaps it continues the vision. In any case, the subject of the vision continues.
A first-time reader can spot things that we may not have thought of. Think of the listener in Princess Pride, interrupting us, and maybe asking us questions, as a child might ask, hearing this story. In 15:8, Abraham's question might make a young listener say "You're kidding me. He's asking THAT, again??? Didn't God already tell him that, a million TIMES?" And sure enough, the kid would be right: back in 13:15. And 12:7.
The next part is thus a "good part," the deepening of the promise-based interactions of God and Abram, with action, and dramatic dialog in a dramatic moment (15:12-13). solemnified by a unilateral act on God's part (15:17), and the reader hearing about what it meant: "On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram...." What exactly was that covenant? Summarized in one sentence: "To your seed I have given this land..."(15:18). Then he gets real specific about the details, as a kind of fine print that shows the scope and hugeness of the covenant.
Chapter 16? in verse 2, back to trying to get things to work somehow, things that could be put under the category of running interference for God, to make it look right, that He's doing things, and it becoming a kind of mess (16:4-6). It's all under God's watchful eye, the God who Sees (16:13), and things go on after the birth of Ishmael for 13 more years under that scheme (16:16-17:1). Is the reader supposed to connect the dots here, between the scheme (16:2), and the time passing so long? Perhaps there is some significance to this delay, but judging from 17:1b, that present moment wasn't due to a delay, and in chapter 17 it really gets good again.
Since nature abhors a vacuum, we might be tempted to insert "spiritual growth" in these intervening years, but then, what about 17:18? Can't be that much spiritual growth there: Ishmael was already a young boy of 13, and Abraham had heard God tell him "I will multiply you exceedingly" (17:2). He fell flat on his face after that. But he must have got up again, because to hear about Sarah, he falls back down on it (17:17). We must conclude that falling on one's face may not be an act of pure piety, from 17:17. He gets corrected in the next verse.
Let's not forget the "as for Me" when God talks about this covenant, on His side (17:4), followed by the "as for you" in 17:9. The "as for you" part is not what establishes the covenant: God Himself does that (17:7). Abraham's part is to enforce the sign of that covenant. On everybody ... we'll get to that. But anyway, let's not miss the extreme interest generated by the particulars: a ninety-nine year old and his ninety-year-old wife, promised by God -- think of the time-frame, that ONE YEAR later, and families know what one year later means as far as the beginning of a pregnancy, when that means the beginning will occur ... Anyway, a ninety-nine year old is told by God to circumcise his foreskin and that of his entire male household, and that this will go on forever, because God said so. The story got good.
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- New Year: Lev 7-9 for Jan 31
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