Some time after these events, this word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: «Fear not, Abram! I am your shield; I will make your reward very great.»
But Abram said, «O Lord GOD, what good will your gifts be, if I keep on being childless and have as my heir the steward of my house, Eliezer?»
Abram continued, «See, you have given me no offspring, and so one of my servants will be my heir.»
Then the word of the LORD came to him: «No, that one shall not be your heir; your own issue shall be your heir.»
He took him outside and said: «Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so,» he added, «shall your descendants be.»
1 Abram put his faith in the LORD, who credited it to him as an act of righteousness.
He then said to him, «I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as a possession.»
«O Lord GOD,» he asked, «How am I to know that I shall possess it?»
2 He answered him, «Bring me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old she-goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon.»
He brought him all these, split them in two, and placed each half opposite the other; but the birds he did not cut up.
Birds of prey swooped down on the carcasses, but Abram stayed with them.
As the sun was about to set, a trance fell upon Abram, and a deep, terrifying darkness enveloped him.
Then the LORD said to Abram: «Know for certain that your descendants shall be aliens in a land not their own, where they shall be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years.
But I will bring judgment on the nation they must serve, and in the end they will depart with great wealth.
You, however, shall join your forefathers in peace; you shall be buried at a contented old age.
3 In the fourth time-span the others shall come back here; the wickedness of the Amorites will not have reached its full measure until then.»
4 When the sun had set and it was dark, there appeared a smoking brazier and a flaming torch, which passed between those pieces.
5 It was on that occasion that the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying: «To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the Great River (the Euphrates),
the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites,
the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim,
the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.»
1  Abraham’s faith in God’s promises was regarded as an act of righteousness, i.e., as expressing the «right» attitude of man toward God. In turn, God credited this to Abraham, i.e., gave him title to the fulfillment of God’s promises. St. Paul (⇒ Romans 4:1-25; ⇒ Gal 3:6-9) makes Abraham’s faith a model for that of Christians.
2  Three-year-old: ritually mature.
3  Time-span: the Hebrew term dor is commonly rendered as «generation,» but it may signify a period of varying length. Neither this passage nor the statement about the four hundred years has any value for determining how long the Israelites were in Egypt.
4  Brazier: literally «oven»; a portable one is meant here. The smoke and fire represent God’s presence. Although the text does not mention it, Abraham no doubt also walked between the split carcasses. For the meaning of this strange ceremony, see note on ⇒ Jeremiah 34:18-19.
5  Made a covenant: literally «cut a covenant»; the expression derives from the ceremony of cutting the animals in two.