Genesis 15: 12
Yahweh’s Covenant with His People: Genesis Chapter 15
If I were to make a list of the most important chapters in the Bible, Genesis chapter 15 would be at the top of my list because it presents Yahweh’s covenant with His people. This covenant has never changed, and it points to the New Covenant. Genesis chapter 22 also provides crucial insights into the New Covenant.
Genesis chapter 15 begins with this statement: “The Word of Yahweh came to Abram in a vision….” (Genesis 15: 1) As you will see later, this verse does not mean Abraham only heard the spoken Words of Yahweh. In fact, the “Word of Yahweh” referred to here is the Messiah, and Genesis chapter 15 tells us that the Messiah ratified the covenant on which we all depend for our redemption and salvation.
Yahweh told Abraham, “Do not fear…I am a shield to you; your reward shall be very great.” (Genesis 15: 1) Abraham responded by saying, in essence, “I have no children. How can this be?” (Genesis 15: 2-3)
Then Yahweh took Abraham outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars if you are able to count them…So shall your descendants be.” (Genesis 15: 5) Yahweh was telling Abraham that despite the fact he was childless at that moment, he would have many descendants. Eventually, Abraham learned that he would have a son, the child of the covenant through whom the Messiah would come, and in Genesis chapter 22 he learned that the Messiah would become the sin offering for all mankind.
Genesis 15: 6 tells us that Abraham believed Yahweh and that Yahweh declared him righteous. Clearly, Abraham’s righteousness was based on his faith in Yahweh, and his obedience flowed from his faith. I need to mention this fact here because the covenant Yahweh made with His people is not dependent on our effort in any way. Faith in Yahweh and His sacrifice on our behalf are essential, and our willingness to obey Him simply proves that we have the kind of faith He expects and demands. Literally, nothing else will satisfy Yahweh. As unusual as this may sound, that is exactly what Yahweh said.
Ratification of the Covenant
Most Christians do not have a good understanding of the covenant Yahweh ratified with Abraham and his descendants. Thus, most of us do not fully appreciate what Yahweh did for us or what He expects from us in return. In Genesis 15: 9-10, God told Abraham,
“Bring me a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram, and a young pigeon. Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, and laid each half opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds.”
In Abraham’s day, people ratified covenants in the following way. First, they would slaughter animals and cut them in two. Next, they would place the parts of the slaughtered animals in two lines on the ground, and the people entering into the covenant would walk between the lines of animal parts together.
Ratification of a covenant signifies that the people walking between the animal parts are committing themselves to fulfill the covenant’s terms—every one of them no matter what happens. For instance, if you and your friend enter into a covenant such as the one Yahweh entered into with Abraham, both of you are agreeing to live up to the covenant’s terms even if the other one fails to keep his word. Ratifying a covenant this way also indicates that you are inviting Yahweh to slaughter you the way the animals were slaughtered if you break your promise.
Read Jeremiah 34: 8-22 to understand how important it is for us to live up to the terms of a covenant. Yahweh expects us to live up to our word, and He also expects us to obey His Word. Failure on our part to honor our word or to obey Yahweh’s Word is inviting disaster. Covenants are binding agreements no matter what happens.
Today, we do not enter into covenants so most of us are unfamiliar with the concept. Instead, we enter into contracts, and covenants and contracts are very different. For instance, if you and your friend enter into a contractual relationship and you fail to discharge your commitments, then the contract’s provisions are no longer binding on your friend. As I said, in a covenant the terms of the agreement never cease to apply. This distinction is key.
Furthermore, the covenant Yahweh ratified with Abraham was not a typical covenant. Take a look at Genesis 15: 12 and Genesis 15: 17-18 and see what I mean:
“Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him (Genesis 15: 12)….It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces. On that day Yahweh made a covenant with Abram…” (Genesis 15: 17-18)
The “smoking oven” and the “flaming torch” mentioned in these verses were Yahweh’s Shekinah. Yahweh caused Abraham to fall asleep when He made the covenant, and Yahweh the Father and Yahweh the Son walked between the lines of animal parts. Thus, the covenant we refer to as the covenant Yahweh made with Abraham is actually a covenant between the Father and the Son, and Abraham and his descendants are the beneficiaries of Yahweh’s work on our behalf.
Since Abraham was asleep when Yahweh ratified the covenant, Yahweh assumed sole responsibility for fulfilling the covenant’s terms. Stated another way, Yahweh’s covenant with us is not dependent on our doing anything for Him. Please do not miss the significance of this point. The Children of Israel misunderstood it. They lacked faith in Yahweh, and as a result they had to spend 40 years in the wilderness instead of going directly to the Promised Land. (Psalm 78: 22, Psalm 78: 32, and Psalm 78: 59-62)
Steve McVey, President of Grace Walk Ministries, has written several very good books dealing with the importance of grace in the lives of Yahweh’s people. In his book Grace Land, McVey explains the covenant’s ratification this way:
“When the time came for the covenant to be ratified, God caused Abraham to fall asleep….There was no way that Abraham could live up to the promises he would have been making….It was as if God were saying, ‘Abraham, I know you have good intentions, but there is nothing you could ever do for Me. You would only break any promises you make. So for that reason, I want you to lie down and rest while I ratify the covenant. I’ll do the work. You simply trust Me as the recipient of all I do.’” (McVey, Steve. Grace Land, Harvest House, Eugene, Oregon, 2001, p. 82)
Yahweh’s covenant is “a unilateral pact (between God and Abraham and his descendants), a divine initiative, a solemn promise sealed with an imprecatory oath.” (The New Jerusalem Bible, Doubleday, New York, 1985, p. 35) In essence, Yahweh called down curses on Himself if He fails to deliver on every one of His promises. He knew that Abraham could not live up to the terms of the covenant no matter how hard he tried, and neither can we.
The Law requires the death of anyone violating even one of the covenant’s provisions. Thus, every one of us deserves to die because all of us have violated the covenant. However, by ratifying it single-handedly Yahweh agreed to take upon Himself the penalty for our sins and to die in our place. This fact is alluded to in Genesis chapter 22. When they nailed the Messiah to a tree, He paid the price for our sins, redeemed us, fulfilled the Old Covenant, and sealed the New Covenant with His own blood. Now that is true love!
A note: Yahweh cannot die, because then the universe would stop running. The human form of Yahweh did die when He was hung on a tree, but His divine nature INSIDE Yeshua did not and cannot die (see Isaiah 11:1-12, Isaiah chapter 53, Isaiah 63:1-14, and Psalm 51:1-11). In a nutshell, Yeshua, who is Yahweh the Son, laid down his life voluntarily in submission to Yahweh the Father (see John chapter 10) to atone for our sins. Thanks to Andrew Gabriel Roth for suggesting this clarification.
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