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God’s Promise to Abraham

God’s Contract With Abraham

In Old Testament times, personal contracts between human beings were common and very binding.  They were called “covenants.” The Hebrew word for covenant is karath berith; “to cut a covenant.” The details of an agreement were worked out. A special ritual then sealed the agreement. Once sealed, the contract could not be broken.

One such contract agreement was a blood covenant. After working out the details of a contract, the parties involved would kill an animal. Then they would cut the animal in half and join hands and walk between the animal pieces. They were declaring by this act that if either party broke the prearranged contract, they should end up like the animal.

The two parties walking between the animals sealed the contract.  Once that was done, the original agreement could not be broken or changed. Any other parties tampering with the original agreement would be completely out of order.  Abraham was surely familiar with this blood covenant.

The Terms Clarified

 Let’s go back to Genesis and plug into a conversation between God and His chosen patriarch, Abraham. God had already given Abraham a promise. He promised that Abraham would receive a personal blessing and that he would become the father of a great nation of people (Gen. 12:1-3).  God also promised to give Abraham and his family a special land and God said that through Abraham all the nations of the earth would be blessed. God is now going to seal the deal.

God reestablished His identity and promised once more the land.

“And He said to him, ‘I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it.’ He said, ‘O Lord GOD, how (Hebrew, Bemah; by what?) may I know that I will possess it.” (Gen. 15:7-8; commentary mine)

“By what will I know that I will possess it?” Abraham was looking for some token that would assure him that God would keep His promise. God then instructed Abraham to gather several animals.

“So He said to him, ‘Bring Me a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.’” (Gen. 15:9)

Abraham was to bring five animals.  For a blood covenant, one was sufficient. Considering the number of animals used, Abraham must have thought that this was to be a very important contract.  God then asked Abraham to cut the animals in half.

“Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, and laid each half opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds.” (Gen. 15:10)

Abraham did all that God had commanded him to do.  Then he waited and waited! He waited until the sun was going down. He must have waited at least 12 hours. God was teaching Abraham to be patient!  There was going to be a long delay before the fulfillment of all the promises to Abraham and he was going to need patience.

“The birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, and Abram drove them away.” (Gen. 15:11)

Birds symbolize evil in scripture. God was teaching Abraham that his people (the Jews) were going to have some terrible experiences before the promises would be fulfilled.

Abraham Removed

God then did something remarkable.

“Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him.” (Gen. 15:12)

God removed Abraham from this whole scene. God took Abraham out of the picture.

While Abraham was asleep, God reaffirmed His promise.  He told Abraham that the people who would come from him (the Jews) would at first be strangers in a land that was not theirs (Egypt), but eventually they would possess the land that God had promised him.

“God said to Abram, ‘Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age.’” (Gen. 15:13-15)

Though Abraham would not live to see it, God would fulfill all the details of the contract.

The Contract Sealed

Here is the climax of the scene! The animals were all set! There was an aisle between the parts. The two parties would join hands and walk between the sacrifices. But Abraham had been removed. Now catch this glimpse!

“It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces.” (Gen. 15:17)

A smoking firepot was familiar to the people in the east. It was a cooking utensil.  But this smoking firepot was moving, and out of it came a flaming torch.  Later God would use a corresponding cloud and a pillar of fire to direct His people through the wilderness.

“The LORD was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.” (Ex. 13:21-22)

The smoke and fire was symbolized the presence of God.  God alone moved slowly down through the pieces of the animals. Abraham was not invited to follow. God alone sealed this blood covenant with Abraham and his descendants. All the responsibility for making good the agreement fell upon God.  This was an unconditional covenant. Abraham had no responsibility in the matter whatsoever. God would fulfill His promise no matter what!

So how was Abraham to know that he was going to possess the land? Because God alone was going to give it to him. If Abraham were to have a son, then God alone would be responsible.  It all depended upon God and God alone.

On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram saying,

“To your descendants I have given this land, From the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates: the Kenite and the Kenizzite and the Kadmonite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Rephaim and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Girgashite and the Jebusite.” (Gen. 15:18-21)

This truth becomes extremely important as we investigate the work of one of Abraham’s descendants, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Our eternal salvation is based upon our relationship to Jesus Christ who came into this world through Abraham’s family. We become beneficiaries of God’s promise to Abraham through Christ.

“And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.” (Gal. 3:29)

But our being “in Christ” depends upon God and God alone!  Our eternal life and our future destiny are all of Him! God promised and God alone sealed the deal.