And the Lord said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” 8 But Abram said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” 9 He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. 11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. 13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” – Genesis 15:7-16
“If God told me to take a feather and strip the quills from it one by one, and by that I would be saved, I would do it.” My seminary prof was fond of saying something like that – which apparently, Martin Luther had said. I can find no reference of Luther’s to that effect, but it does sound like something he would say. It relates to baptism, preaching the foolishness of the cross, and the blessings of the Lord’s Supper. Luther had a very high view of God and God’s word, and God’s work – through means that we take for granted today. But seriously? Water on the head or bread and wine at the rail?
Here we have a bit of a mystery about animals being cut in half and a covenant being made between God and Abram. David Duzik has a helpful comment on this:
i. In those days, contracts were made by the sacrificial cutting of animals, with the split carcasses of the animals lying on the ground. The covenant was made when parties to the agreement walked through the animal parts together, repeating the terms of the covenant. The LORD made a covenant in Genesis 15:18 is literally, “the LORD cut a covenant.”
ii. Jeremiah 34:18-20 makes reference to this same practice of a covenant made by cutting animals and repeating the oath of the covenant as one walks through the animal parts.
iii. The symbolism was plain. First, this is a covenant so serious, it is sealed with blood. Second, if I break this covenant, let this same bloodshed be poured out on my animals and me.
iv. When Abram had his doubts and wanted assurance from the LORD, God said to him clearly, “Let’s sign a contract and settle this once for all.” – Enduring Word Commentary
Rather than getting stuck in the unpleasant idea of animals sacrificed, cut in two, and laid on the ground, let’s consider what God is really up to. He wants to assure Abram of his good will, and the reliability of his promises. God is so serious that he will also walk through the midst of this, which we’ll see in the verses following these above.
If you need assurance of God’s love, take a long look at the Lord Jesus on the cross! He went there for you and for me. And remember that whenever we partake of the Lord’s Supper we “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). And do you doubt God’s power to save? Look into the empty tomb! Are you uncertain of his goodness? Watch as Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, forgives an adulterous woman, and speaks with the woman at the well (John 4; 8; 13).
I’ll agree: It’s a little unusual, and not in our everyday religious experience to see animal sacrifices – laid out on the ground to boot. But God wanted Abram to be clear. He has made a promise. He will now sign it himself. I don’t think Abram understood it at that time. But he obeyed God, prepared the animal sacrifices, and even kept the birds of prey from them. All this in anticipation of God’s next action.
Is there something that God is calling you to prepare for his use, for his glory, and for your blessing?
Click here or on the podcast player below to listen to an audio version of this blog post.