Here is one of my favorite scenes in Abram’s life: he is standing outside on a clear night, looking up at the sky filled with stars. Everyone has done that. But Abram’s star-gazing was accompanied by something seen only by God.
Moments earlier Abram had been sitting inside his tent when he experienced a God-vision. God assured him of His protection: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield.” Abram had begun to learn that in the Egyptian episode of chapter 12, when God had struck all of Pharaoh’s family with sickness. The man Abram feared would kill him ended up begging him to leave.
The vision continued with God saying to Abram, “Your reward shall be great.” Abram’s questions in verses 2-3 reveal his confusion, for the reward God had promised was contingent on Abram becoming a father; he had to have an heir (and a male one at that) to whom he could pass on God’s promise. But Abram was a childless old man married to a childless old woman. God was asking him to believe the impossible.
God brought Abram outside and told him to look up at the stars and try to count them. Then God said, “That’s how many descendants you are going to have.” And then, still star-gazing, head tilted back, eyes wide open, it happened: Abram believed! All at once, he simply trusted God’s character, His promises, His power…everything.
I want to have faith like that. I want to trust the God of stars and tents and promises to do the impossible.
The remainder of this chapter is the establishment of the great “Abrahamic Covenant.” It is a strange scene when Abram brings the requested animals for a sort of ancient contractual ceremony. John Phillips says about this scene, “The full and exact significance of it all eludes me.” Me, too. But here is what it means to me…
I see in this ceremony a foreshadowing of Calvary. The animals requested in verse 9 represent a complete sacrifice, all that was necessary and sufficient to meet God’s demand. Their innocent blood was shed, their flesh was torn, their life was taken.
Are you connecting the dots? Jesus is the perfect sacrifice, sufficient to meet God’s demands. His innocent blood was shed as He gave His life to establish a new covenant. And darkness came when Jesus hung on the cross, foreshadowed by Abram’s “dreadful and great darkness” (v.12).
Verse 17 tells of the fire pot and the torch eerily “passing between the pieces.” I can’t explain this symbolism, but I know that God was there, making a covenant to bless and to save and to provide believers a place to live forever. Awesome, huh?