Summary: The smoking pot, flaming torch and God’s covenant with Himself that benefited Abraham is a reflection of our covenant of grace. This sermon looks at the promise that is not dependent upon us, but on God’s grace.
The Covenant of Grace
3. The Covenant
Look again at our passage in Genesis 15:
8 And he said, "Lord GOD, how shall I know that I will inherit it?"
9 So He said to him, "Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon."
10 Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two.
11 And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
12 Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him.
17 And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces.
18 On the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying: "To your descendants I have given this land, ..."
In the past, the ancient custom was to have a ceremony to seal a covenant. It was like making a binding contract. Two parties would agree to the terms of the covenant and they would seal their agreement by taking an animal and dividing it in half. Each person would walk between the two halves in an oath agreeing that they would suffer the same fate as this animal or worse if they break the oath of this covenant. Each party took the oath as the value of their own life. Literally, their pledge was, their life against their word.
This is the question Abraham is asking in verse 8. He is not asking if God can do it, but he is asking for a binding covenant. God called for the sacrifice for the covenant by requiring not one animal, but by asking for 5 animals. Each animal reflects a different level of prosperity. In Leviticus, the sacrifices for the sin offering required the best of the flock. Those who could not afford livestock could offer turtledoves or pigeons. God’s covenant was not only for Abraham, but for his descendants and this covenant was not limited by wealth.
The smoking oven and burning torch
The significance of the fire-pot or smoking oven and flaming torch shouldn’t be overlooked. This is symbolic of God’s wrath. When we think of wrath, we think of uncontrolled anger. Great wrath in the human emotion is explosive and is often characterized by a less than productive outburst. God’s wrath is not the same. Scripture teaches us that God stores up His wrath and pours it out as part of His judgment with a purpose. In Revelation 15 we are given a description of God’s wrath as a sea of glass mingled with fire. On the cross of Jesus Christ, we see the wrath of God poured out as Jesus became sin for us and became the object of God’s wrath that was reserved for those who have surrendered to God through faith in Christ. The same Hebrew terms used here in Genesis are also used as expressions of God’s wrath elsewhere in scripture. Two passages that are particularly descriptive are found in Psalms and Malachi:
Psalm 21:9 You shall make them as a fiery oven in the time of Your anger; The LORD shall swallow them up in His wrath, And the fire shall devour them.
Malachi 4:1 "For behold, the day is coming, Burning like an oven, And all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up," Says the LORD of hosts, "That will leave them neither root nor branch.
These two passages use the same Hebrew words that describe the smoking pot in Genesis. Here in Genesis we see God’s wrath presented with the covenant that the people will be judged after Abraham has died in peace with the promise that the people will be preserved and returned to the land of promise after four hundred years (Genesis 15:13-16). The judgment of God’s wrath was not against Abraham or his descendents, but against the Amorites who now possessed the land. In God’s longsuffering and patience, He did not judge the people for their wickedness until they became morally bankrupt. The people of the land of Canaan had the witnesses of God, but over the years, they became obsessed with idolatry and vile practices that God rejected. They had over 400 years to repent before they were judged. Remember, they have the testimony of the king of Salem who was the priest of the most High God. They chose the occult over the messengers of God. Following the revelation of God’s judgment, God chose to make Abraham’s descendents a light of His truth. He unveiled His promise and sealed it with a covenant.