And he said unto him, take me an heifer of three years old,
&c.] This, with what follows, is the sign by which Abram might know that he, that is, his seed, should inherit the land of Canaan; for the whole of this is an emblem of the state and condition of his posterity, until they should enter into that land: wherefore he is ordered to "take" out of his herds and flocks this and the following creatures, which were used in sacrifice before the ceremonial law was given, as well as under it; and the distinction of creatures for sacrifice, though not for food, was known as early, as appears from ( Genesis 8:20 ) ; hence Onkelos renders the phrase, "offer before me"; and the Targum of Jonathan is,
``take unto me oblations, and offer before me.''Though this difference is to be observed, that the Levitical law required creatures of a year old only to be offered; whereas these were three years old, because they are then at their full growth, and in their full strength and greatest perfection; and such were used among the Heathens for sacrifice; so Lucian F8 represents Ganymedes as proposing to Jupiter, that if he would let her go she would offer a ram of three years old: but it should be remarked, that these creatures here were not taken merely for sacrifice, nor is there any mention made of their being offered; though it is probable they might be offered after they had answered the principal end, which was to be a sign, whereby Abram might know that his seed should inherit the land; but the intention of God was, that as by them Abram's seed might be taught what sort of creatures they were to offer for their sins, so chiefly to show that they themselves would fall a sacrifice to the rage and fury of their enemies, in a land not theirs, and be used as these creatures were: and the number three may denote the three complete centuries in which they would be afflicted, and in the fourth come out safe and whole like the undivided birds, the turtle, dove, and pigeon, to which they were comparable. Ramban F9 thinks, that this number represents the three sorts of sacrifices, the burnt offering, the sin offering, and the peace offering; and that of these three kinds of animals, only one individual of them was taken, and is called "treble", because each individual were joined together. Onkelos renders it three heifers, and so three goats and three rams afterwards; in which he is followed by Jarchi and Ben Melech; the former thinks the three heifers refer to the heifer of the day of atonement, that for uncertain murder, and the red heifer; and in like manner he interprets the three goats and rams; but the Targum of Jonathan, and Aben Ezra, interpret them as we do of creatures of three years old: it follows,
and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a
turtledove and a young pigeon.
Some Jewish writers F11 have a notion that these creatures represent the four monarchies; the "heifer", the Babylonian monarchy, which had three kings, Nebuchadnezzar, Evilmerodach, and Belshazzar; but others make this to be the fourth monarchy, they call Idumaean or Roman, which is like an heifer at grass, ( Jeremiah 50:11 ) , which passage better suits with Babylon; the "goat", Media (or Persia), which had three kings, Cyrus, Darius, and Ahasuerus; and the "ram", Grecia; but others say the goat signifies the Grecian monarchy, and the ram the Medo-Persian monarchy, which latter agrees with ( Daniel 8:3 Daniel 8:5 Daniel 8:20 Daniel 8:21 ) ; and by the "turtle", the word for which, in the Syriac language, signifies an ox, they understand, some the children of Ishmael, or the Turkish empire, and others Edom, or the Roman: but it is much better to interpret them of Abram's posterity, comparable to these creatures, both for their good and bad qualities; to an "heifer" for laboriousness in service, and patience in sufferings; and for their backslidings, ( Hosea 4:16 ) ; to a "goat" for their vicious qualities, their lusts and lasciviousness; and to a "ram", for their strength and fortitude; and to a "turtle", and a young pigeon, for their simplicity, innocence, and harmlessness, when they were in their purest state, see ( Psalms 74:19 ) ; and it may be observed, that these were the only fowl used in sacrifice.
F8 Dialogis Deorum.
F9 Apud Munster in loc.
F11 Vid. Bereshit Rabba, sect. 43. fol. 39. 2. Pirke Eliezer, c. 28.