Bereshit 15 – One Prophecy or Two?


Internal Inconsistencies

Bereshit 15 is comprised of two sections: verses 1-6 in which Hashem promises Avraham plentiful seed, and verses 7-21, known as the Covenant of the Pieces, in which He tells Avraham that his progeny will inherit the Land of Israel.  At first glance, the two parts of the chapter seem to constitute two halves of an integrated blessing of seed and land. Yet, on a closer look, several verses and seeming inconsistencies between the two sections challenge that assumption:

  • "וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו אֲנִי ה' אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִיךָ מֵאוּר כַּשְׂדִּים" – Verse 7 introduces the promise of land with these words.  On one hand, the phrase "וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו", without any identifying speaker or audience, suggests that it is connected to the blessing above.  Yet, on the other hand, if Hashem is simply continuing His earlier conversation, why does He need to first introduce Himself again with the words "‏‏‎אֲנִי ‏ה'‏‎‏‏"?
  • Night or day?  The first half of the chapter apparently takes place at night, in the presence of stars ("וּסְפֹר הַכּוֹכָבִים" in verse 5).  Yet, the second half of the chapter takes place in the daytime ("וַיְהִי הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ לָבוֹא" in verse 12).  How can this be understood?
  • Vision and sleep – In the opening verse of the chapter, Hashem appears to Avraham in a vision.  Later, in verse 11, Avraham falls into a slumber.  Is Hashem not speaking to him throughout in the same manner?  If so, how can Avraham fall asleep mid-vision? 
  • Faith or doubt?  The first part of the chapter ends with a declaration of Avraham's faith in Hashem, "וְהֶאֱמִן בַּה' וַיַּחְשְׁבֶהָ לּוֹ צְדָקָה."  In light of this, Avraham's expression of doubt "בַּמָּה אֵדַע כִּי אִירָשֶׁנָּה", a mere two verses later, is somewhat surprising.

Relationship to Earlier Promises

Although this is not the first time that Avraham receives blessings of progeny and land, this episode stands out from earlier ones both in the manner of Hashem's blessing and in Avraham's reaction to it:

  • Covenant – This is the only occasion where Hashem accompanies His words to Avraham with a covenant, sharing with him news of the future exile of his descendants. What is unique about this promise that it requires this additional component?  Did something happen beforehand that necessitated not only a renewal of the blessing but confirmation thereof as well?
  • Doubt –  In earlier chapters there is never any indication that Avraham doubted Hashem's words, yet, in this unit Avraham appears to twice question Hashem.  After Hashem promises to reward him, Avraham argues: "But you have not given me children", and later, after being promised the land, he wonders: "How will I know that I will inherit it?"  What caused Avraham's sudden lack of faith?

400 or 430 years?

During the covenant, Hashem shares with Avraham that his children will be exiled for 400 years:


וַיֹּאמֶר לְאַבְרָם יָדֹעַ תֵּדַע כִּי גֵר יִהְיֶה זַרְעֲךָ בְּאֶרֶץ לֹא לָהֶם וַעֲבָדוּם וְעִנּוּ אֹתָם אַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה.

He said to Abram, “Know for sure that your seed will live as foreigners in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them. They will afflict them four hundred years.

However, in Shemot 12:40 the Torah records that the Israelites were in Egypt for 430 years:


וּמוֹשַׁב בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר יָשְׁבוּ בְּמִצְרָיִם שְׁלֹשִׁים שָׁנָה וְאַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה.

Now the time that the children of Israel lived in Egypt was four hundred thirty years.

How can these two verses be reconciled?

The various difficulties raised above prompt commentators to question both the relationship between the various sections of the chapter and the chronology of the events.