1 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:
“Do not be afraid, Abram.
I am your shield,
your very great reward. ”
2 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”
4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars — if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
7 He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”
8 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”
9 So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”
10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.
12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”
17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadie of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates — 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”
I know, I know, I know that’s a chunk of text and it’s kind of a lot to look at and digest; but we are really only going to focus on the middle-end instead of the whole thing. I put the entire chapter in here to try and provide some context for where this comes from. This is truly my very favorite chapter in the Old Testament and I am so excited to share it with you! Hopefully we agree on the sheer impressiveness of this chapter once I am done here!
The entirety of this chapter is absolutely worth looking at but I’m actually going to skip down to about halfway through. However, take note of the interaction between Abraham and God. It’s pretty insightful; and the big takeaway for me is that Abraham didn’t have blind faith for God. He very much had questions for God on how all of this stuff God kept saying was going to happen! But Abraham knew that his God, the very same God I and hopefully you follow, was bigger than his questions and didn’t operate by what he or we consider possible. Abraham’s doubts weren’t about God’s ability to handle things and get them done but rather on Abraham’s own ability to see how they could work out! Everything God tended to tell Abraham would have seemed impossible and ludicrous if anyone else had said it… but this was God!
Now onto some of the other meat in this chapter! Let’s go back to verses 9–11. These are here to set the stage for the covenant that God is making here with Abram, soon-to-be Abraham (heretofore referred to as “Papa A”). Papa A is asked by God to gather the supplies for a covenant that they are about to make with each other. These items might seem real, real random to you or me, but in context this is exactly how this would go in those times. The person of lesser stature would go out and prepare the animals for the covenant, and then once everything is ready he/she would walk through the middle of the carcasses halves. This walking down the aisle is symbolic of saying that if whomever walks takes part in this covenant fails to follow through on their side of it, they are going to be treated as these animals were. So Papa A gets the cow, goat, ram, and birds to the place where they had agreed upon and gets to cutting them up in preparation for this ceremony!
Next in verse 12, God causes Papa A to fall go into a deep, deep sleep and for a darkness to come around him. Then in verses 13–16 God is going over what the future looks like for Papa A’s children. Honestly, when God first starts talking the future doesn’t look too hot for the coming generations. It almost makes you laugh because God is going through this elaborate covenant making process and instantly when He starts talking about what exactly He’s promising, slavery and abuse come up. Comforting, right? But then God goes into the hope and promise that are coming after this! Verses 14–16 are all about this bright and hopeful future that is in store for Papa A’s descendants and it is truly incredible!
In verse 17 is really where this climaxes and I honestly have chills right now thinking about this, as I do every time I think about and/or talk about it! In this verse, God comes down in the form of a smoking firepot and a flaming torch and walks through the pieces! How nuts is that!!
Do you see it?
No? Ok. Let’s dive back in and unpack this for a minute. Remember what I was talking about earlier in verses 9–11? The context for what this would mean for Papa A is really what makes this so impactful to me. When two people made a covenant there were certain societal norms that were a part of that ritual.
- If the two people were of the same societal status, imagine a couple of shepherds, then they would both walk through this aisle between the animal carcasses and seal the covenant that way.
- If the two people were of different societal status, like say a farmer and a king, then only the person of lower status would walk between the aisle and thus seal the covenant that way.
Once again, remember that what is communicated by this walking down the aisle is that if one of the parties involved in the covenant fails to follow through on their part of it they are submitting to have the same fate given to them as these animals involved received.
In Papa A’s time on this Earth, a King, let alone a God, would never ever be the only one to go through this setup and portray themselves as not only the weaker one in the covenant, but also the one deserving of both parties punishment if the covenant isn’t kept. That’s what makes this section so earth-shattering. This is it.
God was essentially saying to Abraham, “You know what? I’m going to raise the stakes here for myself and say that even if you don’t hold up your end of the bargain (which I mean… come on… Abraham and the rest of humanity were never going to hold up their end of the bargain), I’m still going to take the punishment that would rightly be yours and have my body be destroyed and made the retribution for your shortcomings.”
I want you to think about the implications of this section of text. How did this play out then once they moved past this conversation.
Tim Keller stated this about Abraham, “Jesus is the true and better Abraham who answered the call of God to leave all the comfortable and familiar and go out into the void not knowing wither he went to create a new people of God.”
Jesus took Abraham’s spot in the covenant and not only went off to create a new people of God, but also took the place of Abraham for falling short on his side of the covenant and took the punishment that was rightly his.
Jesus Christ. The Man of Sorrows as Isaiah put it. How deeply he must have felt that sorrow knowing that the immensity of his punishment was through no fault of his own, in order to fulfill a covenant made long ago. Close your eyes and feel that weight from even just your own sins and wrongdoings. Every time the hammer drove the nails further into His wrists and legs was because of what you and I have done.
John 8:11 “… Neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more.”
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