After the sun went down and darkness fell, Abram saw a smoking firepot and a flaming torch pass between the halves of the carcasses. (Genesis 15:17)
The events of Genesis 15 are fascinating to me. God originally promised our first parents a Savior who would come to conquer all evil and restore all that is broken (Gen. 3). Later, we saw that God’s plan for conquering all evil and restoring all brokenness involved choosing a barren couple who would, through His multiple miraculous interventions, become the ancestors of a great nation through whom all people on the earth will be blessed (Gen. 12).
Now, in Genesis 15, we read how God affirms His special relationship with Abram, the father of the Blessing People. The Blessing People would begin as biological descendants of Abram that would become, God promised, as numerous as the stars in the sky. God pointed Abram to his personal experience of God’s providential care when He said, “I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give this land as your possession” (v. 7). In a future time, this same God will say to His Blessing People, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Exo. 20:2). God is constantly rescuing His people and bringing them into the context that He has prepared for them where they are both blessed and able to be a blessing.
When Abram asks for assurance of the promises given to him, the LORD asks Abram to round up some animals. Then God begins to carry out something that was very familiar to Abram, but very foreign to us. What God does here is enact something called a Suzerain-Vassal Treaty, something which was common in the Ancient Near East.
In such treaties, the Suzerain, usually a powerful, independent king, is making an agreement, or covenant, with a vassal, or lesser noble, who was subject to the king. This is not an agreement between equals for the king holds all the cards in this unequal relationship. The king promises to protect and care for his vassal in exchange for the vassal’s loyalty and exclusive service. As part of his promise to keep his end of the covenant, the vassal would pass between the severed carcasses, in effect saying, “Let what has been done to these animals be done to me if I ever betray you, my Lord.”
But what happens in the cutting of the covenant between the LORD and Abram is bizarre. Abram did not walk between the severed carcasses. It was the great, all-powerful King of the universe who passed between the bifurcated bodies in the form of smoking firepot and a flaming torch. God the One who said, “If you fail to keep all the terms of our agreement (and I already know that you will), let all the consequences fall on Me. I will suffer the punishment of your breaking of our covenant, so we can still be in relationship with each other.”
Centuries later, God chose to let all the consequences of our sin fall on Him as the God-human Jesus hung between heaven and earth on a rough-hewn cross. All the punishment that we deserve was more than paid for in full by His suffering and death. Jesus fulfilled the terms of the Covenant for us and grafted us into His Blessing People. He is the LORD our God who brought us out of a life of bondage to sin and death and into His realm of grace, forgiveness, freedom and life.
Our King lavishes us with an abundance of His love and care, so we do not have to be concerned about ourselves anymore. We are free to channel God’s love and peace into the lives of those around us.
We don’t need to worry. God keeps both His and our end of the deal.
Dear Jesus, thank you for paying the price to make me one of Your Blessing People. Help me to trust in Your generous love for myself and channel it into the lives of others. In Your precious name I ask this. Amen.