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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.”
17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 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.” – Genesis 15:12-18
I’ve been having weird dreams lately. Some slightly disturbing, but mostly just weird. Things and people intersecting that make no sense. It would be like seeing Martin Luther driving a Ferrari as an egret sits on a cantaloupe. Nothing about that makes sense, right?
But dreams are all over the Old Testament, and in the New Testament as well. Remember Pilate’s wife? She told her husband that she had suffered gravely in a dream on account of Jesus the night before Jesus was arrested and brought before him. Joseph had a dream, and understood that he was to take the baby Jesus and his mother and flee to Egypt for Herod was trying to kill him.
Joseph – one of Jacob’s sons – had dreams, and interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh. Daniel interpreted the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar. The prophet Joel promised that in the latter days young men will have visions and old men will dream dreams.
Abram seems to have a dream here – even though it doesn’t exactly say it was a dream. At least part of what is revealed is surely during the deep sleep the Lord causes to fall on Abram. Dream or not, the message is clear. This is no Martin Luther in a Ferrari fantasy. This is a revelation of God. He will keep his promise. Abram will inherit the land. His descendants will ultimately prevail. God is making his promise both clear and certain.
The normal manner of establishing a covenant in those days was for the two parties to pass through the sacrificed carcasses together. They were both saying, in effect, if I break this covenant, may I become like these sacrificed animals. In this case, however, Abram never passes through the middle of the sacrificed animals. The LORD alone does this. This is a unilateral covenant. David Guzik comments:
God, represented by the smoking oven and the burning torch, passed through the animal parts by Himself; as Abram watched, God showed this was a unilateral covenant. Abram never signed the covenant, because he passively watched while God signed it for both of them in the ritual. – Enduring Word Commentary
So maybe this is a little weird. Sacrificed animal carcasses split in two and laid out on the ground is not a normal every day occurrence. But more than weird, this is God revealing how serious he is to his promise to Abram. Remember, this is the first book of the Bible. This sets the stage for all that is to follow. God is making a promise that will have eternal consequences. He wants it to be clear and certain.
Fast forward to 2000 years ago and consider Jesus on the cross. Nothing like we see these days. But this is the sign of God’s absolutely certain promise and his clear commitment to redeem a lost world. That’s no dream. But it is a hope to which we may attach our greatest and most glorious dreams.