Summary: The first of two covenants between the LORD and Abraham is cut.
The Life of Abraham, Part 6: The Covenant is Cut
In the last lesson, we came across one of the most important verses in Scripture. Abram that had pleaded with the Lord about having a child and reminding Him of his age. He had already waited a long time for God’s promise of a child to come to fruition and he would have to wait a lot longer. But God again promised Abram that He was good for His word. Abram believed this promise and this was reckoned on the balance sheet of life as righteousness. This balance sheet could not be paid by ordinary human obedience. We find out in the New Testament that it only can be paid by the perfect obedience of a man who could also negotiate as God as well. This is none other than Jesus Christ.
We will pick up on the conversation between Abram and God in verse 7 this morning.
Exposition of the Text
In verse seven, God gives Abram new information about his plan for Abram. When we started in chapter 12 with the call of the LORD to Abram to leave his country, he had already left Ur of the Caldees with his father and his family and had removed to Haran. But in verse 8, we see this more from Ur to Haran was also by the hand of God, even though Abram was then unaware of it. He went to Haran in obedience to his father. But the hand of God was preparing Abram for his call even before he was aware of the LORD. This can be seen in our lives also as the preparatory grace that works in us before we even know it. However, after coming to faith we can see the hand of God in the events leading up to our conversion. Wesley called this grace “prevenient grace” in case you have heard this term before (so did Augustin).
Abram, of whom it had just been stated that he believed God’s stupendous promise now asks for a pledge from the LORD. As a client of a benefactor, he was entitled to a outward token that the benefactor was acting in good faith, that it was a bona fide offer (good faith). He wanted to see his title clear to a land in which he was then a stranger.
The fact that the LORD does not chide Abram for unbelief but rather agrees to provide proof that He is acting in good faith should encourage us when we believe God that it is wrong to ask for proof of his promises to us. Our faith is not a blind leap into the dark but a walking in the light. God agrees to prove His fidelity by “cutting” a covenant with Abram according to the rites of covenant making between benefactor (suzerain) and client (vassal) that was common in the Middle East of Abram’s day. He was instructed to make a trench and to divide a bullock in half, a she goat in half, a ram in half, and then a turtledove and pigeon not divided but one placed on each side of the trench. The blood of these animals would fill the trench with blood. The parties to the covenant would then walk in the blood filled trench together and by this swore their mutual fidelity to the covenant. If either party was faithless, then they were to be cut in half just like the animals.
The text then says that Abram kept watch over the site to keep birds of prey away from the slaughtered animals while waiting for the LORD to appear to walk with Abram. It must have been a long wait, just like the wait for the promises of the LORD to land and an heir had been so long. Abram became weary and fell into a deep sleep waiting on God. Just like the wearied disciples of Jesus on the night of His arrest, Abram could not stay awake.
The next thing the text said was a great dread fell upon Abram as he slept. It is hard to be certain, but I feel the dread Abram felt was related to the covenant He was about to make with the LORD. It would require Abram to be perfectly obedient to all the stipulations of the covenant or face the wrath of God in breaking the covenant. Who could possibly enter into a covenant of perfect obedience to the LORD without a flaw? Just like Adam, to break the covenant was a death sentence. Since this was the case, I could not blame Abram for feeling horror. Abram had asked proof, and now the covenant would be his undoing. It would be a covenant of good works which Abram and no human being could keep. If God’s promises of life, land, dominion, seed, and fellowship with God is dependent on perfect obedience, then who could attain it? All we could attain in our own merit was the covenant curses.