[So the Lord said to Abram]
“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 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”
When you confirm an agreement with a handshake, you put your reputation on the line. When you sign a contract, you are subject to its conditions—as well as its penalties should you fail to uphold your side. The goal is to convince the other party that you will do everything in your power to fulfill what you promise.
In Mark 15:33 it says that a deep darkness descended [when Jesus was crucified]—not unlike what happened when God made His covenant long before.
To Abram God made promises that would mean a great deal not only to Abram but also to all nations. Some would be fulfilled soon, others in about four hundred years, and others after twenty centuries. In Genesis 15, God determined to affirm the faith of Abram and all who are his children by faith, and He did this by doing more than making a promise. He made a covenant using startling imagery.
This manner of making a covenant was utilized back then for serious contracts. Cut the animals in half, lay each piece opposite the other, and then have both parties walk between the halves. Implicit in the action: May I so perish and be cut off if I do not uphold my end of the bargain.
Abram knew exactly what the pieces meant and may well have expected that God would call upon him to walk the line between the pieces. When such a covenant was made between two parties of significantly different status, only the one of lower rank was required to walk the line. The one of higher rank was showing favor by being willing to enter into the agreement and was not expected also to walk the line.
It should do no less than make our jaws drop to see God Himself—and only God—passing between the pieces! What did this mean?
It meant that God obligated Himself to fulfill every aspect of the covenant. He took on the full responsibility to make sure that Abram and his descendants would receive in full every blessing God promised them.
When God made this pledge, He put His reputation on the line: Abram would have a son with Sarai, and in four hundred years his descendants would return to this land from a foreign land. God’s full covenant with Abram, however, came to include much more than that. God promised that a Savior would one day come from Abram’s line, a Seed in whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed (see Matthew 1:1; Galatians 3:8, 9, 16, 18).
Fast forward over the centuries to when that promised Seed walked among the people. His name was Jesus, and the day came when God’s covenant with Abram was put to its greatest test. Jesus allowed Himself to be taken, beaten, condemned, and crucified. In Mark 15:33 it says that a deep darkness descended—not unlike what happened when God made His covenant long before. God’s own Son bore the brutality of the crucifixion and the agony of separation from God; and then came to pass what was foretold in Isaiah 53:8, “He was cut off from the land of the living.”
Jesus fulfilled every aspect of the covenant. Abram and all believers can trust the faithfulness of God; He is ever faithful to keep His promise and count their faith to them for righteousness.
When God made the covenant He was serious, and when He fulfilled it He was serious. Those who treasure His covenant will be serious with their thanks and praise.
Delwyn Maas is pastor of Gift of God Lutheran Church in Mapleton, North Dakota.