The fifteenth chapter of Genesis reveals the deepening relationship between Abram and the Lord. It also reveals the struggle Abram is having in waiting on the promises of the Lord to be fulfilled. It’s been ten years since the Lord God first shared his plans with Abram, and I’m sure as Abram and Sarai grew older, he began to wonder what was keeping God.
Not only did he struggle with the thought of being a father, but he also wondered about how he was supposed to possess such a great swath of land. Instead of answering the question, God told Abram to prepare some animals: a heifer, a female goat, a ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon. The three large animals he cut in half, and laid them all out before the Lord. As it started getting dark, Abram had to even keep the birds of prey away.
God said two things to Abram as he fell into a deep sleep:
- Your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and not just for a while, but for four hundred years! But then they’ll come out with lots of stuff and come back to this land.
- But for you—you’ll die in peace at an old age.
I don’t know about you, but if the Lord told me that in response to how his promise would be fulfilled, I think I’d be asking: “Can you say that one more time, Lord? I’m not sure I follow you.”
But, Abram didn’t question God’s response, and it’s in the next few verses where I want us to see the gem for today:
When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river 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.”Genesis 15:17-21 ESV
I wondered how Abram knew to cut the animals in half and lay them out as he did. Had God told him to do this? It’s not mentioned in earlier chapters. That’s why I love getting help from scholars, who know more than me, for apparently, in ancient times, a covenant was sealed by both parties walking down an aisle flanked by pieces of slaughtered animals! Now I understand the symbolism of a couple walking down an aisle flanked by “witnesses” to take their covenant vows of marriage! It goes back to ancient practices of covenant-making.
God cut a covenant with Abram.
Yet, this covenant God cuts is unique. It’s a unilateral covenant based on who God is, not on Abram or what he would do. This covenant would not fail, because God is the covenant-keeper.
The smoking fire pot and flaming torch are symbols of the presence of the Lord. (See Exodus 3:2, 14:24, 19:18; 1 Kings 18:38, and Acts 2:3-4).
God would give the land to Abram’s offspring. In confirming the covenant, God is affirming the “how” in Abram’s question of “how will I know that I will possess it?” Abram will know because God has made the covenant, and it cannot be broken.
God’s way wins over all obstacles.
I included the list of the nations in this gem because I think they help to emphasize the power of God. Ten nations are listed. These are the nations that at that time “possessed” or thought they possessed the land. If you remember from earlier chapters, ten is a number of completeness. It looks like a lot, a huge obstacle to future occupation by God’s people, but it’s nothing in God’s eye.
At the right time, which would prove to be a long time—after four hundred years of slavery—God would bring forth a people who at the blow of trumpets would topple cities and defeat their foes. They would take the land “filled with giants” in the eyes of the weak in faith. They would take it, not because they were great warriors or strong in themselves, but because God would fight their battles and win their victories. There are no invincible odds with the God of covenant on your side.
Abram would not see that day. He would die in peace at an old age. But he died believing the promises of God.
Do you trust God even when you can’t see how he’ll do his will through you? Believe and obey the God of covenant and let him have his way through you.
Grace and Peace