Bible studies with Don Isaac Abravanel’s commentary (also spelled Abarbanel) has withstood the test of
time. For over five centuries, Abravanel has delighted – and enlightened – clergy and layman alike,
offering enduring interpretations of the Bible.
Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508) was a preeminent Jewish thinker, scholar, and prolific Biblical
commentator. Genesis chapter 15, Abravanel imparts, is rich in material. He arrives at this conclusion
after considerable study, as he writes. We share a snippet from his intriguing comments, one that is sure
to stand Bible students in good stead. For the fuller discussion, see Abravanel’s World.
“After these things the word of God came unto Abram in a vision, saying:
Fear not, Abram. I am your shield. Your reward shall be exceedingly
“After these things, the word of God came unto Abram…” God pays close attention to the affairs of man.
Providence is the interface between the Maker and man. That is a truism when we speak of common
folk. It is especially true when we speak of prophets. In that vein, Abravanel introduces an important
question on chapter 15’s opening verse quoted above: Why did God appear to Avram at this particular
juncture, and what was His message to him?
In Chapter 14, we read that Abram had just succeeded in pulling off an extremely impressive military
victory over an army far superior in numbers than his. How did that change Abram’s life? According to
Abravanel, it changed everything!
Abravanel theorizes. Before the patriarch handed his royal opponents a drubbing, and prior to Abram
restoring the captives and chattel to the king of Sodom, life for the patriarch was carefree. A picture of
That changed après la guerre. Anxiety gripped Abram. Gone were halcyon days, when worry and angst
were unknown. Gone were the quiet days and nights, when the patriarch was footloose and carefree.
Abram’s military feat carried concerns of revenge. As Abravanel puts it, noble warriors don’t take
military setbacks lightly. They will retrench and keep a peeled eye open for the right opportunity to
avenge their honor.
In practical terms, that meant Abram required around the clock bodyguards – lots of them. The
patriarch understood that his days of working as a farmer were a thing of the past. Thoughts of ruthless
and crafty adversaries preoccupied him.
Abram’s sweet and uninterrupted sleep after toiling in the fields was history. In the patriarch’s mind,
nighttime filled with horror, fright. Daytime offered no respite. Wherever Abram turned, he saw sword
toting bodyguards, reminding him of his new reality.
It weighed heavy upon the patriarch, especially because he was unused to restraints. Abram felt that his
life hung in the balance. In a flash, battle cries could erupt, fueling further tension.
Abram’s angst didn’t stop there. Ever since he returned the chattel to the king of Sodom, he fretted. His
stomach ached to consider what he had done. Was it morally reprehensible to return the loot over to a
king and his countrymen who were evil and rotten to the core, sinners against the Almighty’s values? Far
preferable, Abram questioned, had he kept it for himself. With that money, he could have funded and
fed his soldiers, now patrolling 24/7.
In both regards, Providence soothed the patriarch’s sore soul. “Fear not, Abram. I am your shield.” He
heard God’s assuring words. Abram need not think about existential threats from enemies, nor did he
need bodyguards. God had his back.
Further, when it came to returning war spoils to the king of Sodom, the Creator let the patriarch know
that he need not second guess himself. Abram’s altruism was apt. “Your reward shall be exceedingly
great.” Heaven would shower blessing and bounty upon the patriarch. He learned that since the King of
Kings would reward him, it would be an affront to accept gifts from mortal kings, even small ones.