My last post covered God’s renewal of His promise to give Abram the land (Part 1, Genesis 15:7-11).
After inquiring God about possessing the land of Canaan, Abram obeys God’s instructions regarding an animal sacrifice. On completion of the sacrifice, Abram’s patience and perseverance are stretched as he drives away birds of prey swooping down on the carcasses. In the meanwhile, Abram waits for God’s response to his question.
We pick up with Genesis 15:12-21. You may read this section here: Bible Gateway.
As the sun sets Abram falls into a deep sleep. God is about to connect Abram’s sacrifice with His promise through a vision.
“Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him (Genesis 15:12).”
Although fear is often the response of people in the Bible who have encountered God, Henry Morris (The Genesis Record) suggests: “This [dreadful darkness] could only symbolize death itself, from which Abram was to be delivered by God’s covenantal grace. In the case of the nation sired by Abram, it also symbolized their long tribulation in the land of Egypt before they could inherit the promised land. Perhaps ultimately it also symbolized, as Adam’s ‘deep sleep’ had symbolized, the death of Christ and the glory that would follow.”
During Abram’s vision God prophesies the enslavement of Abram’s descendants in Egypt for 400 years. (The book of Exodus tells this story and how God powerfully delivers them.) Abram wouldn’t live through this horrible enslavement, however, or see the fulfillment of the promised land. But God advised him that he would die peacefully at a ripe old age.
Why Did God Delay His Judgment on the Canaanites?
The reason God delayed judgment on the people of Canaan was that “the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure” (vs. 16). God—not willing that anyone perish (2 Peter 3:9)—delayed His judgment just as he did with the Flood for 120 years.
In Abram’s day involved parties legalized an agreement with a graphic ceremony. The dividing of an animal sealed the covenant. After the animal was cut in half the two parties would pass between the halves and repeat the covenant’s terms. In this way they were agreeing: “If I fail to fulfill my commitments to this covenant, may I suffer the same fate as this animal.”
Although Abram had divided the animals in his sacrifice, he could now only observe God pass between the animal halves as he was still engulfed in terrified darkness.
In an unforgettable scene, God portrays Himself as a smoking firepot with a blazing torch as He alone passes between the pieces and seals His covenant. God—in response to Abram’s believing faith—was not dependent on Abram to fulfill His part of the contract.
The fire and smoke suggests God’s holiness, His zeal for righteousness, and His judgment on the nations. God took the initiative, gave the confirmation, and followed through on his promises.” (The NIV Life Application Study Bible)
After sealing His covenant God specifies the boundaries of the promised land (vs. 18-21). (For more on God’s covenant land borders see: Israeli Frontline.)
Next week we’ll see how Sarai, impatient with God’s timing, devises a plan in hopes of jump-starting God’s promise of many descendants. Have a terrific week!