After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” 4 And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” 5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6 And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
7 And he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” 8 But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” 9 He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. 11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. 13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”
17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, 19 the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.” – Genesis 15:1-21
Assurance, we all need it. It doesn’t mean a person has lost their relationship with God. Abraham was not acting out of doubt. The reason he was asking God about how the promise was to be fulfilled when he had no son was precisely because he did believe God. He believed his offspring would be as the stars in the sky.
God’s response to Abraham’s query is beautiful…even though on the surface it looks rather ugly…a bloody bunch of cut up animals. Here is the beauty.
This was not a sacrifice in the ordinary sense of the word. This was a covenant ceremony that was fairly common in the Middle East at that time. The essence of it was that two parties come to an agreement (voluntarily or involuntarily) and then the two of them walk this path between the halved animals with the pronouncement that if either breaks the covenant, may they end up like the animals, destroyed. It was known as a bloody oath.
God restates his promise to Abraham and adds some detail, has Abraham prepare the covenant sacrifice, and then puts Abe into a deep sleep. While Abe is sleeping, God alone traverses the path of the covenant sacrifice. Abraham does not have the curses for breaking the covenant called over him, they are called over God instead.
This is a most beautiful picture of the good news for us. We are covenant breakers, but the curses of the broken covenant were visited on God himself in the person of Jesus Christ on the cross. The cross was God’s ultimate covenant ceremony that we celebrate in the Lord’s Supper as a remembrance of that which was prefigured in this Abrahamic covenant ceremony where God called down the curses for our sin on himself. This is agonizing beauty. This is the unconditional love God has toward us. By unconditional love, I don’t mean there were no conditions to be met in the covenant. I mean God met the conditions himself with the perfect personal obedience of Christ who then became the covenant sacrifice for us. The conditions were met, and now we are the recipients of God’s love as a matter of grace. He loves us for no other reason than that he set his love on us. Just because…
When you feel you need assurance, look to the ultimate covenant sacrifice of Christ on the cross for you. That is your assurance.
If you would like to do more indepth reading on the concept of covenant in Scripture, I recommend this book, Sacred Bond. Click on the book and you will be taken to Amazon where you can purchase a copy.