Reading Genesis Chapter 15 without some knowledge of the history and traditions of the culture in question would leave a person quite confused about what is taking place in this strange story. Animals are being cut in half and propped against one another; there are trances, lamps, furnaces and symbolism galore.


We know our God is a covenant making and covenant keeping God, but we discover in this story that He is also a covenant revealing God.


Abram had asked for a sign – and we think it’s wrong to ask for a sign, but sometimes, a sign is in order.  Isa 7:10 -12 


Abram is seeking confirmation of the promises God has made. You’ll recall the covenant is first in Genesis 12:2 And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:


And again in chapter 13 – after Lot chooses the lure of the world:


Gen 13:14-17 And the LORD said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward:  For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever.   And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, [then] shall thy seed also be numbered.  Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee.


Now in Chapter 15, Abram wants some kind of confirmation. Isn’t that like us?  Even though the scripture gives us constant reassurance of our status, don’t we sometimes find ourselves asking if we’re even a child of God?


Abraham/Abram has gotten ahead of the Lord by making a promise to his servant Eleizer, that he would be heir to his fortune. Eleizer is born of servants in Abraham’s house, and he has learned to love him, choosing him to inherit above his own nephew Lot.  Yet God has told him a natural beneficiary, from Abraham’s own loins will be his heir.  This is the servant Abraham trusted to send for a wife for Isaac. Gen 24:1-4


So Abraham needed reassuring. He won’t see the vast numbers of offspring in his lifetime.  He couldn’t picture God’s covenant in the same way we see the detail in Romans 8:28-30.


God's covenant promises to us were confirmed by the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Consider for a moment from the time of Job, who offered sacrifices, to the law commanding the same, all the way up until the true sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.  Millions and millions of animals were slain and the blood that poured out, while enough to fill the sea was not sufficient to take away a single one of our sins.   Holiness required the perfect blood of a perfect saviour in a perfect sacrifice.




In Jeremiah 34:18-20, we read,   And I will give the men that have transgressed my covenant, which have not performed the words of the covenant which they had made before me, when they cut the calf in twain, and passed between the parts thereof,  The princes of Judah, and the princes of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, and the priests, and all the people of the land, which passed between the parts of the calf;  I will even give them into the hand of their enemies, and into the hand of them that seek their life: and their dead bodies shall be for meat unto the fowls of the heaven, and to the beasts of the earth.


Passing between the parts of a slain animal was typical practice for confirming or "cutting a covenant." Verse twenty gives the underlying meaning of the ceremony. If either side broke the covenant, they deserved to die like the animals they have parted.


The Lord made a covenant with Abram. The word “made” in Gen. 15:18 from the Hebrew means to cut or make a covenant   A covenant with Abraham was literally and symbolically "cut."'  A covenant sealed in blood and in which the covenant participants bound themselves by oath to suffer the same death as the animals if either party did not fulfill the promises of the covenant.  Here’s an important distinction:  It was Only God who binds Himself as responsible for keeping this perpetual covenant.  Man doesn’t have the power or purity to be a part of this contract.  Man failed in the covenant, but God died for it and for him. 


Hbr 8:8-9  For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah:  Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord.


While Abraham is not capable of making or establishing this covenant, he does have some responsibility in it.


Abraham did not pass between the pieces, but he is participating in the first portion of this ceremony, and establishing our pattern that will be used in the ceremonial law.  The one offering the animal was responsible for killing it, flaying it and dividing the pieces before the priest took over.  Abraham did so, then he lay the pieces in a manner against one another, that if one fell, both parts fell.


When it comes time for this covenant to be completed or affirmed; only God can pass through the pieces.  Isa 63:3 


This was not a joint venture. God was confirming that His covenant with Abraham and his descendants was an unconditional covenant. While it embraces both parties – God and His children, only God can complete the covenant.


Hbr 6:13-14  For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself,  Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee


You can be saved eternally and not know it.  If you are aware of what the Lord has done for you, it increases the importance and the value.  So for a covenant to be practical for us, we have to know it exists, and understand something about it.  God is telling Abram with symbols, some details of the promise.  This exercise is not an offering to God – it will not be burned, nor was it consumed in any manner.  This does foreshadow a pattern the children of Israel will follow coming out of Egypt however. These are the same animals that will be used in the law service, serving as a reminder of this covenant.  


Abraham gathers expensive and mature animals, aged 3 years and divides them as instructed.  Except the birds. 


In the law, there are five types of offerings that are made:  The Burnt Offering, the Sin Offering, the Trespass Offering, the Peace Offering and the Meat Offering, which is ironically, grain.  For the first four, it was required you bring a heifer, a goat or a ram.  If you were too poor to bring one of those, your offering was a turtledove or a pigeon. 


The turtledove and pigeon.  Experts say there’s not a feather’s difference between the two doves that can be discerned.  One can have a ring or band around the neck and one is marginally smaller than the other.  But God makes a distinction between the two and speaks as if they are completely different species.  The birds are not divided.  Even when you get to the ceremonial law, they are not divided.  I researched and read and studied and prayed over this and the best I can come up with is the doves represent the child of God – one in obedience and one not.  That’s hard, but one is a loner, and one is a social bird.  Perhaps they are intended to represent both the Jew and the Gentile.  They are here because they are represented in whole, in the covenant.  I await a better answer.


The fowls in verse 11 are birds of prey—(ravens, crows or vultures) coming upon the carcasses of the covenant animals, and Abraham had to drive them away.  We have a responsibility to keep sin and Satan away from those things which would hinder our sacrifice to God.


The Lord tells us in the parable of the sower that birds which came and devoured the seed were birds of Satan.  The birds of prey in Genesis 15 are kept away by Abraham’s watchful care.  Even though the covenant was all of God, and it is secure for us for all eternity, we are given responsibility in this lifetime – to guard, protect and keep the house and word of God from corruption.  We and Abraham are given the task of caring for the visible signs of the covenant.


Gen 15:12 And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him.


Abraham gets no glory or honor in what follows.  God alone must receive the credit.


Gen 15:13 And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land [that is] not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years;

Gen 15:14 And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.

Gen 15:15 And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age.

Gen 15:16 But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites [is] not yet full.


In verses 12-16, God promised Abraham that the covenant and its blessings would be fulfilled, but not immediately. The horror of the thick and dreadful darkness that came over Abraham in his sleep is the news his descendants would experience 400 years bondage and slavery in Egypt. God assured Abraham, however, that they would come out a great nation and inhabit the land which He gave them.  Abraham lived to a good age – 175.  All the promises God made came to pass, although not all in Abraham’s lifetime.


: for the iniquity of the Amorites [is] not yet full.  God could have removed the evil Amorites in one night had he desired.  As a major tribe in Canaan, we know their lifestyle and worship of false Gods brought God displeasure.  Yet He gave them space to turn from their false worship, delaying His promises to the children of Israel.


 2Pe 3:9  The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.


We sometimes wish our prayers were answered before we say Amen.  God has purpose for His timing, and it’s often our impatience that we perceive as God’s denial.  If the holiness or righteousness of God has established a pattern, even He won’t break it.  When we wonder why it appears a country as wicked as America has been spared judgment – we look to the four hundred year pattern established in the covenant with Abraham.


We can trace America, as a people, or a nation, back to about 1620.  We may be about to find out when our 400 years are up and long-suffering turns to judgment.


God is represented here by the smoking furnace and a burning lamp passing through the pieces.


Gen 15:17  And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces.


There will be a furnace of judgment, but there will also be hope, in the light of the burning lamp, and mercy, and written instructions in the testaments.


And note: the symbols of the covenant are not burned or consumed as future offerings will be under the law.


When God's presence, symbolized by the smoking furnace and burning lamp, passed through that corridor of slain animals, God was telling us His covenant with Abraham and his descendants would stand, regardless of their faithfulness and obedience to the commands of the Lord.


Even if you lose all your faith, God remains faithful.


This covenant points us to Jesus and we will see the embodiment in the New Testament.


God’s actions show us the journey of Christ, taking the covenant curse upon Himself, as He offered Himself on the altar of the Cross.  By bearing our burdens, our sins, he took upon Himself the burden of the covenant as He became the sacrifice to which all the law pointed.


Why did God choose symbols of a furnace and the lamp?  The smoking furnace or represents God's holiness--He is a God who judges sin. The Holy Spirit is sometimes symbolized by fire.   Remember the burning bush?  The pillar of fire?  God descending on Mt. Sinai in a fire?


The lamp is a symbol of God's guidance and direction.  2Sa 22:29  Psa 119:105

Isa 62:1


Judgment is involved in God's covenant with us. Our sins are eternally forgiven because of the cross of Christ, but as children in God's family, we are daily judged and disciplined for our transgressions, and refined through the furnace.


How are we Gentiles brought into the scope of the covenant?


Eph 2:10 -19  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

Wherefore remember, that ye [being] in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:

But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.

For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition [between us];  Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, [even] the law of commandments [contained] in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, [so] making peace;  And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:  And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.  For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.

Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;


Col 1:20-21          And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, [I say], whether [they be] things in earth, or things in heaven.  And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in [your] mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled


And finally, this powerful, powerful reconciliation.  Always remember in talking about reconciliation the offending party doesn’t get to set the terms to repair the situation.  God was offended by our actions, our sins.  He set the terms for reconciliation, and then, gloriously, met them himself.


2Cr 5:18-21  And all things [are] of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation;

To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.   Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech [you] by us: we pray [you] in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God.

For he hath made him [to be] sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.


Brother Royce Ellis