Genesis 15 is foundational to the Christian faith. This chapter recounts God's promise to Abram of being rewarded with innumerable descendants and his questioning how this would happen. Most of the chapter deals with how God confirmed the promise by making a covenant with Abram and his descendants. God initiated this covenant, and it is the first one made with Abram.
The covenant was made during a vision Abram had with God. In this vision God told Abram to bring a three-year-old heifer, a she-goat and a ram, along with a turtledove and a young pigeon. When Abram brought them, he asked God no questions about what they represented or what to do with them; nor did Moses, the author of Genesis, explain the meaning of what was happening. God made the covenant after those Abram and the readers knew about from their culture, the well-known one used by the Chaldeans (cf. Gen. 15:7).
Following the Chaldeans' practice, Abram cut the three animals in two and stood the two halves against the walls of a trench he had earlier dug. He did not cut the birds in two. The animals' blood flowing down the trench formed a blood-path the two parties would walk down to confirm the covenant (Gen. 15:7-11).
"As the sun was going down, a deep-sleep fell on Abram, and a dread and terrifying darkness fell on him" (Gen. 15:12). The darkness was the Hebrew way of saying Abram was terrified. He knew God was going to make a covenant with him and his descendants, one that they could never keep. It involved his descendants keeping God's commandments and their 400-year journey in another land, and then going to the Promise Land.
What happened was the way Chaldeans made a covenant. By passing through the blood between the animal's bloody carcasses, the two parties promised to uphold their agreement. And if they didn't, it would cost the failing party blood; the failing party would be cut in two just like the animals were.
When the sun was down, a "smoking fire pot," a pot of smoldering coals used to start a fire (Gen 15:17; cf. 19:28; Exod. 19:18; Heb. 12:29), and a "flaming torch" (Gen. 15:7; cf. Exod. 3:2-4; II Sam. 21:17; 22:7, 9, 29; I Kings 11:36; 15:4; Ps. 27:1; 132:17; Isa. 62:1) passed through the halves of the animals. The fire pot and flaming torch signified God functioning as both parties in the covenant. The smoking fire pot represented God, and the flaming torch Jesus Christ, the light of the world. If Abram had represent himself, it would have cost his descendants blood if they violated the covenant. But with God being both parties, it would cost His Son's blood (i.e., life) if Abram's descendants failed to keep the covenant. As shown in the following references, it did cost God's Son's blood: Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; John 6:53-56; 19:34; Acts 20:28; Rom. 5:9; I Cor. 10:16; 11:25, 27; Eph. 1:7; 2:13; Col. 1:20; Heb. 9:12, 14; 20; 10:19; 12:24; 13:12, 13; I Pet. 1:2, 19; I John 1:7; 5:6, 8; Rev. 1:5; 5:9; 7:14; 12:11; 19:13.
This covenant God made with Abram in Genesis 15 is significant to Christianity because it foretells the coming of the Messiah to bring grace and truth to rectify man's failure (i.e., sins). May we all thank God for His faithfulness in redeeming us though His Son's death.
By Leland M. Haines, Northville, Michigan, and edited by Richard Polcyn, Millersburg, Ohio. March, 24, 2000.
© Copyright 2000 by Leland M. Haines, Northville, Michigan.
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