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Promises and validation of the Abrahamic Covenant
Genesis 13-15 contains the substance of the Abrahamic Covenant which constitutes the promise to Abram of a seed that would be too great to number and a land in which his seed would dwell. It is a promise almost too fantastic to believe because, when it was given, Abram was advanced in years and had no natural offspring through his wife Sarai. But the Scripture tells us (Genesis 15:6) that Abram believed the Lord and He counted it to him for righteousness. We must bear in mind that Abram was a Chaldean for seventy-five years prior to the time he entered the land of Canaan. Although God had begun to work through him and in him to condition him for service in the last few years before his entry into Canaan, culturally Abram was still a Chaldean and this gives us clear indications of the significance of the ensuing covenant. When covenants were made in ancient Chaldea, and throughout that part of the civilized world, they were affirmed and validated by the death of an animal or a number of animals, depending on the importance of the covenant. Abram's question to God, when God presented the agreement and covenant to him regarding the seed and the land, is phrased in Genesis15:81 where Abram asked:
"O Lord GOD, how may I know that I shall possess it?"
In response, beginning in verse 9, God condescended to make a Chaldean covenant with the Chaldean Abram and we see the Creator of the universe stooping to make a Chaldean covenant with His servant Abram, a covenant that Abram could understand and comprehend. God gives details to Abram of the animals to be gathered together in Genesis 15:9:1
9 So He said to him, "Bring Me a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon." 10 Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, and laid each half opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds.
Abram could recognise the sanctity and the importance of this covenant by the number of animals being gathered to ratify it. The covenants of Abram's day were made by dividing an animal into two pieces and then the two parties making the covenant walked between the divided portions of the animal. In this way, each party to the covenant was saying to the other, "If you fail to bring about your responsibility in the covenant that we have agreed on, may this very thing happen to you." When God instructed Abram in chapter 15 to divide the animals he had collected it is reasonable to believe that Abram expected to walk between these divided animals with God. Had God and Abram walked through the divided sacrifice together, it would have been a bilateral agreement, a bilateral covenant, and the fulfilling of the covenant would have been based on the fulfilling of the responsibility by both parties. But when it came time to walk through the covenant pieces, a deep sleep fell on Abram and the symbol of God, in the form of a smoking oven (furnace in some translations) and torch (or lantern), passed alone between the divided pieces:
Genesis 15:171 And it came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces.
Thus God passed through the divided sacrifice by Himself and, in this way, it became a unilateral covenant so that the fulfilling of the promise made to Abram to inhabit the land and to have seed too numerous to count was not made dependent on Abram fulfilling his responsibility to the covenant. By this unilateral covenant, made by God passing alone through the divided pieces, the responsibility for its fulfilment would rest totally on God and we note that the promise of the land and the seed was not set aside when the Jews failed to recognise the Lord Jesus Christ as Messiah when He came to earth. Some mis-guided Christians have tried to spiritually appropriate these promises made to the Jews to the church, but these promises are simply set aside for a while to be literally fulfilled when Christ rules and reigns on the earth.
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