All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. - 2 Timothy 3:16-17

God’s Guarantee

Perhaps the most fascinating story about Abram centers on God’s covenant with him, just after his battle with the invading kings, and freeing his nephew Lot. Abram is a man of peace, so the carnage of battle must be revolting. His foes are sure to return for revenge, but even more troubling is the fact that he’s grown old without receiving the Promised Land—or an heir.

Then God comes to him in a vision in Genesis 15, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” However, Abram can’t help wondering aloud if his slave, Eliezer, might have to become his adopted heir.

“This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir,” God replies. Taking him outside, He shows him the stars, and adds, “So shall your descendants be.”

Remember, the ancients thought literally, so when Abram sees the stars with his own eyes his faith is renewed, and God “accounted it to him for righteousness.”

Solemn Covenant

Next God reminds Abram that He brought him out of Ur and promised him Canaan as an inheritance, but Abram begs, “Lord God, how shall I know that I will inherit it?”

Lord, who knows our hearts and answers accordingly, now takes the extraordinary step of reassuring His faithful servant by condescending to enter into a solemn covenant using the customary form of the ancients. He instructs Abram to sacrifice a three-year-old heifer, female goat, and ram—the best of young mature animals—along with a turtledove and a young pigeon. All these continued to be used as sacrificial animals by the Jews for centuries. Abram reverently cuts them in half and places the pieces next to each other, leaving a path in between. The birds, being small, are left whole. Notice that while today we “make” covenants, the ancients would “cut” a covenant—for obvious reasons.

Both parties would pass between the carcasses in ancient covenants of this type, indicating that if they didn’t fulfill their obligations the result would be death; subsequent sacrifices were a reminder of that death penalty. As he solemnly walks between them, Abram vows to obey and keep God’s covenant. But as the day goes on he sees no evidence of God doing the same, so he faithfully guards the sacrifices from vultures—creatures the ancients believed were an evil omen.

As the sun sets, Abram falls into a deep sleep, and “horror and great darkness fell upon him.” Then God reveals the omen: Abram’s descendants will serve in a foreign land and be afflicted for 400 years—a period beginning when Abram enters Canaan, rather than 400 years of actual slavery. However, God reassures Abram by giving him the boundaries of the Promised Land: “To your descendants I have given this land,” He says, “from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates.”

Darkness and Light

After dark, “a smoking oven and burning torch” appear and pass between the carcasses. Both darkness and light are symbols associated with God: “I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the Lord, do all these things.” Isaiah 45:7.

ancients had no trouble with opposites when it pertained to God. Remember the story in Exodus 14, when the Hebrews were trapped between the Red Sea, the mountains, and the Egyptian army? The Bible says the “Angel of God,” in the form of a “pillar of cloud” went behind the people, bringing darkness to the Egyptians, but light to His chosen.

God provides Abram with literal guarantees of the fulfillment of His covenant promises: First, in the stars; and second, in ratifying His covenant by personally passing between the sacrificed animals. And Genesis 15:6 says that Abram “believed”—he’emin in Hebrew—from the same root as the word amen. This verb not only expresses trust, but continual trust in God.

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