Chapter fifteen is an important story, but we’re often puzzled as to why.
Why the bisecting of the animals?
Why the smoking firepot and blazing torch?
Verse eighteen holds a key. Our English Bibles render it: “On that day, the Lord made a covenant with Abram . . .” The Hebrew word translated “made” is the word for “cutting.” The Lord “cut” a covenant with Abram. Covenants were often accompanied by a sacrifice. The cutting of the animals in two, and the Lord passing between them (with fire as he went), in essence built the surety of the Lord’s promise on the life of the Lord Himself. In other words: “May it be to me as these animals if this doesn’t take place.” God can swear by no one higher than himself, and so He swears by his own life.
Three other points merit our attention. First, the keys to the promised land will have to wait. Its current inhabitants are on a downhill course they will not complete for half a millennium. It is a testimony to the patience of God that he gives the Canaanites this much time to change their lives. They will not however, and God knows it, but He will give them the chance anyway. God’s command to exterminate them from the land later on will not be a horrible act of aggression, but an act of divine justice given how evil they have become and how long God has given them to change. Justice may come slowly, but it does come.
Second, God’s people must yield to God’s time-table. Centuries will pass, and so will the generations of Israelites who will inhabit them. Not every year will be filled with good things. But in the end, they will be prosperous and delivered. Every generation must learn to “wait on the Lord.” Even our own.
And third, we must remember that God’s people are in His promise as a people, not as individuals. The promise God makes to Abraham has to do with Israel, not with individual Israelites. Some will prosper, others will not. Some will prosper more than others. But the important matter is not how each individual does, but how God’s people as a community do. It’s a good point to remember when we think about today’s Church. More important than any one member is the health and well-being of God’s people as the community of faith.