When I study something new to me, it helps me understand if I hear it from different writers. Therefore, because I’m assuming the “cutting the covenant” concept is relatively new to you I thought it might be beneficial to present another simple-but-accurate explanation of Genesis 15.
Question: “What was a blood covenant (Genesis 15:9-21)?”
Answer: The scene would look quite ominous to modern-day observers—five bloody animal carcasses on the ground, three of them split in half, with the halves separated a short distance from each other. But in Abraham’s time it would not have been so menacing. The arrangement of divided animal carcasses would have been instantly recognized as the set-up for making a type of blood covenant.
When God called Abraham out of his hometown and away from all things familiar, He gave Abraham some promises. A covenant is a kind of promise, a contract, a binding agreement between two parties. The fifteenth chapter of Genesis reiterates the covenant God had made with Abraham at his calling. Except this time, God graciously reassures His promise with a visual of His presence. He asks Abraham to find and kill a heifer, a ram, a goat, a dove, and a pigeon. Then, Abraham was to cut them in half (except the birds) and lay the pieces in two rows, leaving a path through the center (Genesis 15:9-10).
In ancient Near Eastern royal land grant treaties, this type of ritual was done to “seal” the promises made. Through this blood covenant, God was confirming primarily three promises He had made to Abraham: the promise of heirs, of land, and of blessings (Genesis 12:2-3). The parties involved would walk the path between the slaughtered animals so to say, “May this be done to me if I do not keep my oath.” Jeremiah 34:18-19 also speaks about this type of oath-making.
However, there was an important difference in the blood oath that God made with Abraham in Genesis 15. When the evening came, God appeared in the form of a “smoking fire pot and flaming torch [that] passed between the pieces” (Genesis 15:17). But Abraham had fallen “into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him” (verse 12). Thus, God alone passed through the pieces of dead animals, and the covenant was sealed by God alone. Nothing depended on Abraham. Everything depended on God, who promised to be faithful to His covenant. “When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself (Hebrews 6:13-18). Abraham and his descendants could trust, count on, and believe in everything God promised.
…AND while this article is not an exposition of Genesis 15, it is centered around the basic concept of total dependence on God:
TOTAL DEPENDENCE ON GOD
by David Wilkerson (1931-2011), November 9, 2017:
We know that God supernaturally delivered Israel. At the burning bush Moses was being prepared to trust God to bring about that glorious work. He would learn something about God’s nature that would later help him trust the Lord to bring it all to pass. What was that aspect of God’s nature? His holiness!
The same is true for every Christian today. We may try to accomplish in the flesh what we think God wants. But the Lord says to us as he did to Moses, “There is only one ground upon which you can approach me, and that is holy ground. You can’t put any confidence in your flesh, because no flesh will stand in my presence. My purposes are never accomplished by what you can summon up in yourself.”
So, why did God tell Moses to take off his shoes? (See Exodus 3:5.) The Lord was using an everyday, ordinary object to teach a spiritual truth, just as Jesus would do using coins, pearls, camels and mustard seeds. God was saying, “Moses, you have to wear protective garb to keep your feet from injury. But no amount of fleshly protection can sustain you where I am sending you. You’ll need a miracle of deliverance.
” I am sending you into Egypt, to face a hardened dictator. You’ll be in a situation from which only I can deliver you. So, set aside all reliance on your flesh, even your meekness and humility. Otherwise, you won’t be able to do what I’m calling you to do. All your abilities will be worthless unless I sanctify them. Put your total trust in My name and power.”
No one can achieve holiness in God’s sight by his own strength or willpower. We can’t even serve the Lord properly without taking the approach outlined to Moses. We must come to God saying, “Lord, I have nothing to give you. You have to do it all.
BUILDING BLOCKS OF SCRIPTURE
In a study of this kind it is essential to give honor to the Word of God by following the persistent thread of this topic of God’s Covenant throughout His entire Word. The fact that it appears not only in the Old Testament as we have already noted, but also in the Prophets and in the New Testament is proof of its validity. The Lord has stated that we need at least two or three witnesses for confirmation of a truth. By the time this paper is complete there will be more than ample proof that God has indeed made a new covenant with us.
Before we proceed, the question must be asked as to why we needed a new covenant. The old covenant was the one given to Moses, carved in stone, a list of laws. Its purpose was to show man not only how sinful he was but also how inadequate he was to make himself holy. The law tried to change man from the outside in. God allowed the law to show man how impotent he was without God (remember how Abraham had to be put in a deep sleep so God could “cut the covenant”). The new covenant states over and over that God will do it all:
23 And may the God of peace Himself sanctify you through and through [separate you from profane things, make you pure and wholly consecrated to God]; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved sound and complete [and found] blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah). 24 Faithful is He Who is calling you [to Himself] and utterly trustworthy, and He will also do it [fulfill His call by hallowing and keeping you].
-1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 (AMP)
Did you “Selah” – pause and calmly think on that? It says He WILL sanctify us “through and through,” “wholly consecrate us to God,” make us “blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ the Messiah.” And He totally reassures you that He is faithful and utterly trustworthy to fulfill all these promises. Jesus Christ is the Word of God (John 1:1) and the Word has given you His word that His Word will be fulfilled.
I’m going to digress to tell you a true story involving a covenant. Three years ago there was a period where I spent a goodly stretch of time in pain in bed. We had scheduled a vacation at a time share in Williamsburg and my husband decided that we’d take the wheel chair and go. Making reservations, I asked for the quietest room available. We discovered the room they had reserved for us was on the third floor and there were no elevators; neither were there any other rooms. It seemed like a lot more than three flights as I climbed it, but the Lord provided grace and strength. Later in the day there was a battle reenactment where the visitors interact with the actors. After that there was one more reenactment. We left the wheelchair in the car. The map made it look like it wasn’t too far away and we decided that I would set the pace. I was feeling quite peppy. We got to the second reenactment at the exactly perfect time. How do I know that? Because the exact moment we got there the man with the microphone said this sentence: “we are winning this war because of the strength of the covenant we have with God.” We didn’t use the wheel chair all weekend and my strength came back after the vacation. We kept that saying on our refrigerator for well over a month.
18 [For Abraham, human reason for] hope being gone, hoped in faith that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been promised, So [numberless] shall your descendants be. 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered the [utter] impotence of his own body, which was as good as dead because he was about a hundred years old, or [when he considered] the barrenness of Sarah’s [deadened] womb. 20 No unbelief or distrust made him waver (doubtingly question) concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong and was empowered by faith as he gave praise and glory to God, 21 Fully satisfied and assured that God was able to keep His word and to do what He had promised. 22 That is why his faith was credited to him as righteousness (right standing with God). 23 But [the words], It was credited to him, were written not for his sake alone, 24 But [they were written] for our sakes too. [Righteousness, standing acceptable to God] will be granted and credited to us also who believe in (trust in, adhere to, and rely on) God, Who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead
-Romans 4:18-24Amplified Bible, Classic Edition (AMPC)
Let’s put all that in practical terms. Abraham had been given promises by God 25 years ago. When he first received the promises, the idea that he and Sarah were still young enough for these promises to be fulfilled was humanly possible. But as they aged his body became utterly impotent and Sarah’s womb was dead. He could have believed what his eyes saw. But he didn’t. Instead, he gave glory to God Who had given him great and mighty promises. Abraham wasn’t trusting in what his eyes saw. He was trusting in what God promised. So he praised Him, fully assured that what God had promised He was able also to perform. What was available to Abraham, so the Scriptures say in v.23-24, is also for us. There’s nothing complicated about it. Truth is never complicated. Yes, it took 25 years for the fulfillment of the promise but during that time Abraham had a living, intimate relationship with God and he lived to see this promise and others fulfilled. He kept his eyes riveted on the Lord only.
For my 75th birthday I received two identical cards. They said: the advantage of growing older is that you have more stories to tell. When the stories are about God, it’s a joy to share them. The following is one I have shared often because it demonstrates not only how He has dealt with my fears, but also His power and faithfulness. It has taught me the lesson of keeping my eyes on Him.
I cannot swim and once almost drowned as a child. After I came to know the Lord, John and I were walking around the North Shore of Oahu (we were stationed there). We were following a very peaceful path near the ocean. There was no one else around. We turned a corner and found ourselves at the end of the path where there was only rocks and a very high dangerous-looking hill. Unexpectedly, as will happen on the North Shore, the tide began to rapidly come in. We could not turn back. We were trapped. My husband, bless him, stepped in front of me, grabbed my hand tighter, and told me to look only at him and not to look back, to step only where he stepped, and just keep on going. I did exactly as he said as he held my hand tight. He walked up that very rocky hill and I followed. I was aware that the tide was coming in but I never looked at it. I just looked at him. He led us both to the top of that rocky, steep hill and then told me, since we were safe, to turn around. The tide was near us but was no longer threatening us. As the decades have gone on I have realized that the Lord gave me this adventure for a reason. “ He has engraved it in my heart and imprinted it in my mind” (remember that phrase; it will appear often from here on). The incident was to demonstrate to me that my earthly husband was also an example of my Heavenly Husband Who would always keep me safe in perilous times. From the very beginning of my walk with Him, over and over He has reminded me of a promise He has given me in 2Timothy 1:7 “ For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a calm mind.” He has “engraved that verse in my heart and imprinted it in my mind.”
When we were first married, we were stationed in Hawaii. One day we went to the top of Roundtop Drive across from Diamond Head and John found a tree. He wanted to engrave our initials in the tree. It amazed me how hard he had to work to get those initials deeply engraved so that they would be forever there. During the next three years we had two children. Before we were re-stationed John engraved their initials in the same tree. A dozen years later the military sent us back to Oahu and one of our priorities was to find that tree and discover if the engravings were still in it. Indeed they were, more visible then before. Deeply engraved, forever. Engraving is like that. I think of that instance whenever I read Hebrews 8:10.
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will imprint My laws upon their minds, even upon their innermost thoughts and understanding, and engrave them upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
And what is imprinting like – especially imprinting of the Living Word? Oh, what a story of His forever faithfulness this is. When I was a one-year old Christian, I felt led to memorize the 23rd Psalm. Every so often through the years – but not that often – I would say it. Then about three years ago, even though I’d gotten the vaccine, I got the flu. Bad. I fought my family and the ambulance medics, screamed all the way to the hospital – totally unlike the normal me. But the worst was yet to come. The doctor asked me my first name …and I didn’t know it. Where do you live?…I don’t know. What big holiday was last week? (It was Christmas)…I don’t know. I became very scared. I could not remember anything at all. Worse yet, they wouldn’t let my husband stay in the room with me overnight. And so they left me to sleep, but I couldn’t sleep. There was something sinister about the room. I laid there so frightened. Then, all of a sudden, I, who couldn’t even remember my name, began to recite the 23rd Psalm! Just like that, from way down deep within me. When I got to the verse that states: “yeh, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me…” I stopped. “For Thou art with me” – I kept saying it and was no longer afraid. I wasn’t alone. He was with me. And I fell asleep. The next morning I was completely recovered. I carry around inside myself – and share with others – this wonderful story of the Lord imprinting His Word in my mind and engraving it in my heart so deeply that it could surface at a time when I was totally weak and impotent. God did it all!
Recently I had another example of God’s imprinting His Word on my mind that truly amazed me. The ground floor of the house we share with our daughter and her family is hardwood floor over cement foundation. I was ill and fell backwards and the doctors tell me I got a severe concussion that required a number of months of PT and meant about a year of recuperation. Here’s the interesting part: the first six weeks or so I couldn’t fully follow plots on TV or in books or even conversations. I read my Bible yet didn’t really understand what I was reading. Yet, each time I went to Sunday school I would contribute to the class discussion by sharing Bible passages and insights. It was the only time my brain functioned normally. Since the whole class was aware of the effects of my concussion, we were all equally amazed at what God was doing. When the Lord imprints His Word in your mind, it is imprinted, even in times of severe concussion.
One time after another God puts us in situations to show forth His glory. It seems that the harder and more troubling the situations are the more we realize how totally inept we are to control them or solve them. The smartest thing we can do is to stop trying and turn to the only One able to win the battle. In 2Chronicles 20 Jehoshaphat and his people were besieged by three strong enemies who greatly outnumbered them.
Then Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself [determinedly, as his vital need] to seek the Lord; he proclaimed a fast in all Judah.
-2 Chronicles 20:3 Amplified Bible, Classic Edition (AMPC)
He was afraid; therefore, he sought the Lord out of his vital need. He didn’t try to come up with a game plan; the problem was too big for that. Yet, that wasn’t the only reason. The real reason he didn’t need a game plan was because he trusted in God.
And said, O Lord, God of our fathers, are You not God in heaven? And do You not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations? In Your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand You.
2 Chronicles 20:6 Amplified Bible, Classic Edition (AMPC)
He relied on God Who is faithful. Faith is not something you need to work at. Faith is simply believing that God is faithful.
O our God, will You not exercise judgment upon them? For we have no might to stand against this great company that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.
-2 Chronicles 20:12Amplified Bible, Classic Edition (AMPC)
All the people, including wives and children, stood before the Lord to see what He would speak.
17 You shall not need to fight in this battle; take your positions, stand still, and see the deliverance of the Lord [Who is] with you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Fear not nor be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, for the Lord is with you. 18 And Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell down before the Lord, worshiping Him. 19 And some Levites of the Kohathites and Korahites stood up to praise the Lord, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice. 20 And they rose early in the morning and went out into the Wilderness of Tekoa; and as they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, Hear me, O Judah, and you inhabitants of Jerusalem! Believe in the Lord your God and you shall be established; believe and remain steadfast to His prophets and you shall prosper.
-2 Chronicles 20:17-20Amplified Bible, Classic Edition (AMPC)
Unspeakable odds were against them but it didn’t matter because God was on their side. When God is with you, you always have a majority and you will always win. Jehoshaphat and his people stood still and watched as God orchestrated the demise of all their enemies “none had escaped.” Their response was to praise Him. God had kept his covenant vow to His people to protect them.
Look back through your life and ask the Lord to help you remember times when you surrendered a situation to Him and you saw His faithfulness. Think of starting a journal of these incidents as a remembrance of His mighty deeds.
If you are presently in a difficult situation, dwell on the scriptures of this entire group of lessons and, having read about the faithfulness of God, go to Him and ask for a more trusting heart. In His love and mercy you can trust He will grant it.
Submit your responses to the Life Application here.
UNTIL NEXT WEEK
Featured Picture: “Biblical illustrations of Book of Genesis, Chapter 15” by Jim Padgett, courtesy of Sweet Publishing, Ft. Worth, TX, and Gospel Light, Ventura, CA. Copyright 1984.), under new license, CC-BY-SA 3.0. Source
Wilkerson, David (1931-2011) “Total Dependence on God”. published Nov. 9, 2017 at https://worldchallenge.org/devotion/total-dependence-god
Got Questions Ministries, “What was a blood covenant (Genesis 15:9-21)?” at https://www.gotquestions.org/blood-covenant.html