Get three animals, cut each of them in two, straight down the middle, and lay the pieces across from one another to form a pathway between the three sets of severed pieces.

Strange instructions, but that’s what God told Abram to do. There was a context and there was a point, of course. A profound point, in fact.

God had recently made a big promise, the essence of which was that Abram and Sarai would have a son, who would have a son, who would have a son, generation after generation until, finally, a Son would be born through whom all the peoples of the earth would be blessed. Big promise, indeed. So Abram asked God how he could be sure the promise would be fulfilled. With this symbolic cutting ritual, God was answering the question. He was showing Abram what keeping His promise would ultimately entail. And, from the looks of the bloody, torn-apart carcasses on the ground, it would be a painful ordeal…

for God.

The day ended, the sun went down, and it became dark as Abram began to fall asleep, no doubt wondering what might happen next, because one thing was clear: the God of the universe was saying something. But what, exactly? Abram couldn’t help but be curious. Suddenly, feelings of “horror and great darkness fell upon him” (Genesis 15:12). Abram was afraid of the future and he was struggling to believe God’s promise. As the man lay there on the ground trembling with self-dependent anxiety, something happened:

He was showing Abram what keeping His promise would ultimately entail.

“And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces. On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram” (Genesis 15:17-18).

The Hebrew word here translated “made” is karat, which means “cut.” The word “covenant” is berith, which means “bond.” When the text says, “the Lord made a covenant with Abram,” it literally means that God cut a bond or a covenant deal with Abram. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible explains that berith is the word for “covenant” because “it was the custom in making solemn covenants to pass between the divided parts of victims.” The ritual of cutting an animal in two and walking between the severed pieces communicated that a person was pledging their very life to fulfill their promise. Astonishingly, none other than God, in the form of a burning torch, walked the path between the severed pieces. God had made a promise to Abram, and now, with this ritual, He was telling the terrified man, I pledge My own life for the keeping of My promise. I am willing to suffer and die in order to follow through with My love for you and all the peoples of the earth. I am a God who keeps a covenant at any and all cost to Myself. There will be a great cutting, Abram, and it is God who will be cut.

This is an excerpt from Ty’s new book, The Sonship of Christ

Co-Director at Light Bearers

Ty is Co-director of Light Bearers and pastor of Storyline Adventist Church in Eugene, Oregon. A passionate communicator with a message that opens minds and moves hearts, Ty teaches on a variety of topics, emphasizing God’s unfailing love as the central theme of the Bible. Ty and his wife Sue have three adult children and two grandsons.