“A Strange Scene”
Genesis 15:17, “When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.”
Genesis 15 records one of the strangest, yet most significant scenes in all of Scripture. God has called Abraham from his homeland (Genesis 12) and has given to him great and precious promises – specifically promises of a land, a seed, and a blessing. And in light of the teaching of the New Testament, we know that all these promises to Abraham find their fulfillment in the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor 1:20) – Jesus is the true seed of Abraham (Gal 3:16), our heavenly inheritance is in Christ (1 Pet 1:3-4), and all spiritual blessings come in Christ (Eph 1:3). But at this point in the life of the patriarch Abraham, he is childless and owns not even a square foot of the Promised Land. In Genesis 15, God appears to Abraham and reiterates his covenant promises (see 15:5,7). Abraham, understandably so, responds to the Lord with a question in verse 8: “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” In other words, “how will I know that these promises will come to pass?”
And what I want us to see in today’s devotional is the stunning response of God to Abraham’s question. God tells Abraham to gather some animals and to arrange them in a specific way (vv. 9-10). And when the sun had gone down, God – symbolized by the torch and the fire pot – passes between animals (v. 17). Well what is going on? The scene that unfolds between God and Abraham was not uncommon in the Ancient Near East – it was a typical covenant-making ceremony. In the ceremony, the parties of the covenant – often a greater king and a neighboring weaker king – would walk through the animals. In so doing, the two parties of the covenant were symbolically swearing that “may what happened to these animals happen to me, if I do not uphold my end of the covenant” (see Jer 34:18 for an example). To put it simply, if one of the parties does not uphold their end of the covenant, they were to die!
But brothers and sisters, the absolutely stunning aspect of this scene is to note who it is that passes through the animals? Who it is that takes the obligations of the covenant upon himself? Who it is that passed between the animals calling curses upon himself for the failure to fulfill the covenant? God Himself! The creator of the heavens and the earth symbolically passes through the animals, thereby signaling, ‘May I be cursed if I do not being about my covenant promises.’ God swears by his own character that his promises to Abraham will come to pass. Period! God’s unfolding plan to save a people for himself who will enjoy everlasting fellowship in his presence will come to pass. Period! At the end of the day, the resting place of our faith is the character of God. God cannot cease to be God; and true, saving faith rests in his unchanging character and purpose. Oh what great encouragement to our hearts is this scene of some 4,000 years ago! Oh what an unshakeable foundation do we have in the Lord! Dear reader, may you be encouraged this day by the grace and unceasing love of our Lord!
Rev. Robert Arendale