When the LORD Cut Covenant
Then He said to him, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.” And he said, “Lord GOD, how shall I know that I will inherit it?” So He said to him, “Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces. On the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying: “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates; the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.” (Genesis 15:7-11, 17-21)
Abram had believed in the LORD and in His promise that his heir would come from his own body, and that his descendants would be as innumerable as the stars in the heavens. Therefore Abram was declared to be righteous before God.
In that day, it was typical that such promises become sealed by an oath of some sort. In the Bible, such a promise was called a covenant. Here, Abram desired confirmation of God’s oath; basically, he was asking God for a covenant to be made between them. The LORD promptly obliged him. Abram knew what He was asking when the command came to bring Him these five animals. He knew that the LORD was going to “cut covenant” with him.
The Jewish Encyclopedia describes this rite. It involved “the cutting of a sacrificial animal into two parts, between which the contracting parties pass, showing thereby that they are bound to each other; the eating together of the meat, which usually follows, reiterating the same idea.” 1
Thus God confirmed His word to Abram. It is important to note that instead of both parties passing through the animal corpses, only God passed through in the form of a smoking oven and burning torch. This clearly makes a vital point: only God can confirm a promise that involves human impossibilities.
Abram could not conquer the land or produce innumerable descendants by himself or in his own strength. These were acts of God Himself. Therefore, only God could pass through the pieces.
This is a picture of the New Covenant, which is not based upon man’s ability to keep the law, but rather upon the great promise of salvation through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
For Further Review
1. Think about the importance of having assurance of any promise made to you. Can you think of times in your life when you had solid assurance, and it worked out well? Or perhaps, when you had little assurance, and it didn’t work out well?
2. What assurances has God provided to us that testify that His promise of salvation is valid and true?
3. Can you think of the way that God cut covenant with us in the gospel? How is His great work on our behalf similar to what He did for Abram here in Genesis 15?