What if I told you to go home, take 5 animals you own, maybe your dog, cat, parakeet, gerbil, and goldfish, and cut them in half and lay the pieces side by side, each half across from the other? You would call the SPCA and report me, right? But that’s what God told Abraham to do with a cow, a goat, a ram, a dove and a pigeon, and Abraham didn’t bat an eye. It was normal in those days, including in Mesopotamia where Abraham had come from, that two parties would make a covenant in just this way. They would both walk between the bloody pieces, a gruesome path of promise. They were saying to one another by doing so, “May it be done to me what was done to these animals if I do not keep this covenant.”
This day in Abraham’s life reminds us that since the fall, when God covered Adam and Eve with animal skins, requiring the life of those animals, that the covenant we have with God is a blood covenant. As the Bible says, “…without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” This is how a covenant was made. Something had to die, and eventually, praise be to God, that something became a Someone. The only One. The Son of God as our perfect high priest would enter the holy place, but not like a priest who entered “with blood not his own.” Jesus went to the cross as the priest and the sacrifice. God’s covenant with Abraham pointed to that.
As the sun went down, Abraham fell into a deep sleep, and a “dreadful and great darkness fell upon him.” The last time the Bible mentioned a deep sleep was when God caused Adam to go to the third level of anesthesia so he could remove a rib and make Eve. But here, the sleep comes as the covenant sacrifice is made, attended by deep darkness and great dread. Again it points us to the cross, where from noon until 3pm, the last three hours of Jesus’ crucifixion, there was darkness over the whole land as the new covenant was being cut. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The darkness and the weight of that moment we will never understand. We can only imagine such horror and be amazed at such sacrifice.
The most beautiful part of the story of God’s covenant with Abraham may not seem like much as you just read through it. When there was no daylight left, the sun was gone and it was totally dark, Abraham saw a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch pass between the pieces. What is going on? This was God appearing to Abraham as he would hundreds of years later to the children of Israel in the wilderness, a pillar of fire by night.
Even more amazing and important to our faith, this is a unilateral covenant. When a man and woman get married and they make a covenant with one another at the altar, and he kisses the bride and they are pronounced husband and wife, BOTH walk down the aisle together to ratify the covenant they just made. But here, God walks down the aisle, if you will, right between the bloody halves of the five animals. He makes the covenant by himself. Because there is no one greater to swear by, God swears by himself to Abram, and all of Abram’s descendants, including you and me who are in Christ, that he will keep his promise. “And if you are Christ’s,” Paul wrote, “then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” What are five of many promises we who follow Jesus Christ have from God?
He will make us a people. He will take us through trials and tribulations. He will give us grace for each moment and strength equal to the calling on our lives. He will hold our hands as we pass from this realm to the next, in peace. He will give us a home.
What a great God who loves us so!