In Genesis 15 we are presented with one of the more remarkable if not mysterious interchanges between a man and God. In this case it is Abram (later named Abraham) and the way he receives the promise from God that he would be the father of multitudes and would inherit a great deal of land. In 15:4-7 we see God make the promise and then Abraham basically asks for proof. V.8: “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it (the Promise Land)?” What is surprising is not the request, but the way God answers Abraham and the sign he provides. Because it is in this sign where once again I am surprised, startled even, to see Jesus.
God has Abraham bring animals, split them in two and place them in front of him. Then the author writes in v.12- “As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.” As Abram experiences this thick darkness, God represents himself as a smoking pot and a flaming torch. The episode ends with the statement, “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram.” (V.18)
For people in the Mideast, when parties entered into a promise it was often dramatized by some enactment of the parties willingness to sacrifice and honor the arrangement. It is easy to see the sacrifice part in the animals that are split in two but what is with the darkness? When you read v.17 you find that during Abram’s darkness this happened: “…a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces.” I think God was showing Abram and us three things:
- By passing between the pieces He was showing He would pass through the sacrifice so that Abram wouldn’t have to.
2. By showing a firepot and torch He was demonstrating that He would be the Light that would show clearly He could be trusted.
I thought… there’s Jesus. It is Jesus who passes through death, our Passover if you will, so that we will not have to pay the penalty of our broken promises. It is Jesus who is called the Light of the World.
But the darkness still puzzled me until… It sprang to my mind that the Gospel writers told us that when Jesus died, a thick darkness fell over the land. It was actually one of those times I literally caught my breath when I realized that this “thick and dreadful darkness” in the first book of the Bible is sharing the future moment when another darkness would fall. And it is in the moment of that dreadful darkness that Jesus would become both my sacrifice and light my way home. Jesus experienced the darkness of my sin so that my alienation from Him could not and would not break His covenant of love with me.
God is so brilliant to take an episode thousands of years ago and by showing Abram that He is a covenant keeper, dramatically remind me that His promise to me and you will never, ever be broken.
No wonder God tells Abraham in vs:1 of this chapter: “I am your shield, and your very great reward.”