Genesis 15 gives us an(other!) occasion to celebrate the brilliant design of the Gospel.
The chapter’s drama centers on the question of assurance, in two related episodes.
The chapter opens with the LORD appearing to Abram in a vision and promising Himself as Abram’s shield and great reward (15:1) (cf. Hebrews 11:6). Abram, who is still without an heir of his own, is then moved by this lavish promise to express his desire for assurance that the Lord will in fact fulfill His earlier promises to him: “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless….” (15:2). This is what I call boldness of the first order, and the Lord’s response demonstrates that He believes it is a boldness that honors Him because it is a boldness that takes His promises seriously. He assures Abram that he will have an heir: “…your very own son shall be your heir” (15:4), and then takes him outside under the stars to remind him of the full scope of His original promise–the Big Picture of what He intends to accomplish for and through Abram: “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them…so shall your offspring be” (15:5).
The second episode of assurance centers on the “land” aspect of God’s covenant with Abram (15:7). The Lord responds to Abram’s request by instructing him to take several animals, cut them in half, laying each half over against the other, creating a lane of sorts boundaried by the carcasses. Although alien to us, this procedure would have been readily understood by the original audience of Genesis as the ceremony by which a covenant was formally memorialized in the ancient near east. After they had entered into their covenant, the parties would each walk down the “lane” between the carcasses. The symbolism was stark: by walking the lane, the covenant parties were acknowledging that they would deserve the fate of those animals if they violated the covenant they were entering.
The stunning thing here is that only one party passes down the lane, and it’s not Abram. In fact, Abram is sound asleep at the decisive moment in the chapter’s action (15:12). Asleep, Abram sees a remarkable–and unprecedented–vision: the Lord Himself moving down the lane between the carcasses in the “form” of a “smoking fire pot and a flaming torch” (15:17). The symbolism is breathtaking. Not only is the Lord condescending to give Abram the assurance he desires by participating in a cultural ritual Abram would have understood (strictly unnecessary because it is impossible for God to lie-Titus 1:2) , but, as the only One who passes down the lane, the Lord is also dramatically illustrating His commitment to assume full responsibility for both sides of His covenant with Abram. The Lord is guaranteeing not only His side, but man’s side as well, willingly placing Himself under a curse for man’s failure to uphold his side of the covenant. Shocking!
This is where the brilliance of the Gospel’s design comes so marvelously into view in this chapter. God’s side of the covenant is not in doubt. It’s man’s side that, from the beginning, has been the weak link. Genesis 15’s drama lays the groundwork for a resolution in which the Lord Himself will act to fulfill and uphold not only His own side of the covenant, but man’s side as well. What will that look like?
It will look like the Word becoming flesh (John 1:14). It will look like the Son of God being born of a woman in the fullness of time, being born under the law that He might redeem those who were under the law (Galatians 4:4-5). It will look like the Son of God fulfilling all righteousness in a life dedicated to the single purpose of doing the will of God (Matthew 3:11; Hebrews 10:4-10). It will look like the Son of God triumphing over every temptation (Matthew 4:1-11; Hebrews 4:15), so that He might present Himself as the spotless and unblemished Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29; Hebrews 9:14). It will look like Jesus–the beloved Son in whom the Father was well-pleased–being made a curse on the Cross in order to redeem His people from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13), being forsaken by His Father (Psalm 22:1) in order that we might be embraced by His Father as our Father (Galatians 4:6; 1 Peter 3:18)
Thank you, Abram, for being bold enough to ask your questions. The answers you received have strengthened my heart and deepened my joy this morning by helping me to see your greatest Heir more clearly.