We don’t know how many years passed between Genesis 12 and Genesis 15, but, to Abram, it seemed like time was running out for God to fulfill His promise of a son. Abram began to fear that God might not be able to fully keep His covenant. “Then the LORD took Abram outside and said to him, ‘Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!'” (vs. 5, NLT). “And Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” Wow, let’s break this interaction down a little. There’s an exchange that took place here and here’s how it worked: Abram gave God his belief, and, in return, God gave Abram righteousness! If that doesn’t blow your mind, I don’t know what will! It doesn’t seem quite fair, though, does it? That’s because it’s called grace! Paul will later use this verse in Romans 4:1-3 and Galatians 3:5-9 to prove that salvation does not come through our actions but through faith alone.
When Abram then asked God for a sign of the covenant, God told Abram to do something that might seem odd to us. He told Abram to take a bunch of animals and cut them in two! In modern language, however, God was telling Abram, “Prepare a legal contract for signing.” When Abram had sacrificed the animals and prepared them according to the custom of his day, verse 12 tells us, “Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him.” Wait, what’s going on here? God reassures Abram of a wonderful promise and then Abram has a nightmare? That sort of seems out of place, doesn’t it? But I believe this passage gives us a critical piece of the puzzle. You see, God’s covenant with Abram was not only a promise to bless Abram’s descendants with land, but it was also the covenant that Abram’s Seed would “be a blessing to all nations.” It was, in fact, the same covenant given to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 – the covenant ultimately fulfilled by the life and death of Jesus Christ! But before every morning of promise, there is an evening of darkness. Before the promised land, there was slavery; before the resurrection, there was the cross. It’s almost as if God was asking Abram, “Do you really understand, Abram, what it will take for Me to fulfill this covenant with you?” I believe Abram was given a small foretaste of the horrible darkness that would be required for the covenant of salvation to be accomplished. It would require the sundering of the Godhead, the horror of utter separation by the Son, the very death of God Himself!
We then read that God manifested Himself to Abram in the form of a burning torch and passed through the sacrifice, thus signing the agreement. And what did Abram do for his part of the covenant? Abram watched! That’s the amazing twist to the story! Normally, both parties would pass through the animals to mutually ratify a contract, but God was making a unilateral covenant – a covenant in which only one party was responsible for the fulfillment of the contractual terms. God took upon Himself the sole responsibility for making this covenant happen. God would come through on this covenant no matter what, even if it cost Him His own life. And what was Abram’s part to play? All Abram had to do was believe that God would actually do what He said He was going to do!