Question: I am greatly puzzled by the activities of Genesis 15, where they divide all the animals in half, and God walks between the pieces.
Answer: This portion of Scripture describes an oath of confirmation made by God to Abraham.
I. The Meaning of The Oath, given in Genesis, Chapter 15.
It is called an "oath" as that is how the Apostle Paul describes it in Hebrews 6:16,17.
"For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. (16)
Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath:"(17)
1. In Genesis 15:1-7, God again reassures Abram of His promises.
2. In Verse 6, Abram believed God; but, in Verse 8, his old nature surfaced, as he wanted some sort of sign to substantiate his faith.
And he said, Lord GOD, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it? Genesis 15:8
3. God gives Abram an object lesson that men have traditionally practiced from "who knows when?" (Genesis 15:9-12,17)
"And he said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon. (9)
And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not. (10)
And when the fowls came down upon the carcases, Abram drove them away. (11)
And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him. (12)"
"And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces." (17)
4. Jeremiah, Chapter 34, illustrate this practice.
a. In Verses 8-10, and 15, Zedekiah, King of Judah, made a covenant with all the princes and people in the Temple, the house of God.
"This is the word that came unto Jeremiah from the Lord, after that the king Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people which were at Jerusalem, to proclaim liberty unto them; (8)
That every man should let his manservant, and every man his maidservant, being an Hebrew or an Hebrewess, go free; that none should serve himself of them, to wit, of a Jew his brother.(9)
Now when all the princes, and all the people, which had entered into the covenant, heard that every one should let his manservant, and every one his maidservant, go free, that none should serve themselves of them any more, then they obeyed, and let them go." Jeremiah 34:8-10
"And ye were now turned, and had done right in my sight, in proclaiming liberty every man to his neighbour; and ye had made a covenant before me in the house which is called by my name:" Jeremiah 34:15
b. God complimented King Zedekiah for this in Verse 15.
"And ye were now turned, and had done right in my sight,..."
c. In Verses 12-14, God had given this law to their fathers after they came out of Egypt; but none had kept it. (Ref. Deuteronomy 15:12-15; Exodus 21:1-3).
"At the end of seven years let ye go every man his brother an Hebrew, which hath been sold unto thee; and when he hath served thee six years, thou shalt let him go free from thee: but your fathers hearkened not unto me, neither inclined their ear." - Jeremiah 34:1
d. This was the last year of King Zedekiah's reign, which was the Sabbatical Year for the release of the bond servants.
e. The ceremony of the covenant is given in Verse 18, 19.
"And I will give the men that have transgressed my covenant, which have not performed the words of the covenant which they had made before me, when they cut the calf in twain, and passed between the parts thereof,(18)
The princes of Judah, and the princes of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, and the priests, and all the people of the land, which passed between the parts of the calf;" Jeremiah 34:18-19
f. The passing through the animal parts that were divided, signified their oath. Should it be broken by either party; it would be at the expense of their lives. (Jeremiah 34:20).
"I will even give them into the hand of their enemies, and into the hand of them that seek their life: and their dead bodies shall be for meat unto the fowls of the heaven, and to the beasts of the earth." Jeremiah 34:20
5. After some time had passed, King Zedekiah broke his covenant with the people and made them bond slaves again. (V.16).
"But ye turned and polluted my name, and caused every man his servant, and every man his handmaid, whom ye had set at liberty at their pleasure, to return, and brought them into subjection, to be unto you for servants and for handmaids. Jeremiah 34:16
6. God's wrath is kindled. (Jeremiah 34:17, 20-22; and Jeremiah 39:6-12).
"Therefore thus saith the Lord; Ye have not hearkened unto me, in proclaiming liberty, every one to his brother, and every man to his neighbour: behold, I proclaim a liberty for you, saith the Lord, to the sword, to the pestilence, and to the famine; and I will make you to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth." Jeremiah 34:17
I will even give them into the hand of their enemies, and into the hand of them that seek their life: and their dead bodies shall be for meat unto the fowls of the heaven, and to the beasts of the earth.(20)
And Zedekiah king of Judah and his princes will I give into the hand of their enemies, and into the hand of them that seek their life, and into the hand of the king of Babylon's army, which are gone up from you.(21)
Behold, I will command, saith the Lord, and cause them to return to this city; and they shall fight against it, and take it, and burn it with fire: and I will make the cities of Judah a desolation without an inhabitant. Jeremiah 34:20-22
Galatians 6:7 would apply here. "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."
a. Zedekiah and the princes broke their covenant and put the poor people back into bondage. Now God has put Zedekiah and the leaders, and the people, into the bondage of Babylon; while setting the poor free, along with Jeremiah.
"But Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard left of the poor of the people, which had nothing, in the land of Judah, and gave them vineyards and fields at the same time. (10)
ow Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon gave charge concerning Jeremiah to Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard, saying, (11) Take him, and look well to him, and do him no harm; but do unto him even as he shall say unto thee." - Jeremiah 39:10-12
II. The Merits of The Oath
1. Genesis 15:9,10. God instructs Abram to take a heifer, a she-goat, a ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon. All but the birds were to be divided in half. Three halves on one side with a space between, and three halves on the other side.
2. Each part of this demonstration has a spiritual application.
a. It is not by accident that the three animals and two birds make a total of five. Five is the number of grace in the Bible; and points to God's Grace in sending His Only Begotten Son to the Cross with five puncture wounds to His body. Two in His hands, two in His feet, and one in His side.
2. After Abram had cut the animals and laid them out, we read in Verse 11 that,
"...the fowls came down upon the carcases, Abram drove them away."
a. A Literal Application.
These innocent animals were sacrificed to be used of God as an object lesson for Abram. The Hebrew word translated for fowls is " 'ayit " and means "a hawk or other birds of prey." No doubt Satan these birds to contaminated God's object lesson to Abram.
b. A Spiritual Application.
Satan always wants to devour the Word of God as demonstrated in Matthew 13:3,4,19.
"And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow; (3) And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up:." - Matthew 13:3,4
"When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side." - Matthew 13:19
3. In Genesis 15:1-16, after Abram had driven the fowls away, God put him to sleep. He spoke to him that his seed shall be in a strange land (Egypt), and shall serve them; but will come out with great substance. (Psalm 105:37,38; Exodus 12:31-36)
4. Genesis 15:17:
"And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces."
Usually, two people agreeing to an oath would pass through the bloody carcasses. All the promises God made to Abram would be by the grace of God; and not depend upon Abram. When "a deep sleep fell upon Abram," God passed through the carcasses in a flame of fire and smoke, by Himself.
In other words, God would demonstrate His promises made to Abram by a covenant made only by Himself. This is a literal illustration for finite beings.
Another example is found when the Lord spoke to Moses out of the burning bush in Exodus 3:2-5.
"And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.
And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.(3)
And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I.(4)
And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground." Exodus 3:2-5
5. Hebrews 6:13-18. Paul writes describing the events in Genesis 15.
"For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself, (13)
Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee. (14)
And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. (15)
For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. (16)
Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: (17)
That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: "(18)
This covenant is an unconditional covenant; and confirmed by God's oath and two immutable (i.e. unchangeable) things One is His Word and the other is, it was impossible God to lie. (Vss. 17,18)
"Every promise in the Book is mine!
Every chapter, every verse, every line.
I am standing on His Word divine,
Every promise in the Book is mine!"
If you trust the Lord Jesus Christ as the one who paid for your sin on Calvary, you have the promise of everlasting life!
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." John 3:16