Ceremony in Gen. 15

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John Yap

Puritan Board Freshman
Many have explained this refers to God swearing His own 'death' if He were to break this unconditional promise.
He never did. He of course gave Abrahm all He promised.

But many (perhaps the same many) see this as Christ Himself, passing through the animals in our place. In our place as covenant breakers.

I never ever got to reconcile both, it seems mutually exclusive. If Gen 15 referred to God swearing Himself then it is sure that He did not break His promise and that is the end of the story.

Abraham was never involved in this ceremony in the fact that it was unilateral (and he was sleeping!) So how does Christ, his seed, come to take upon the curses when as mentioned, it was God's unilateral covenant promise?
 

JTB.SDG

Puritan Board Sophomore
John,

This is a really good question. I also struggled with reconciling both of these interpretations as I was grappling through Genesis 15. In my opinion, the blood represents God's unilateral and self-maladictory oath: IE, "Let this happen to Me; let Me be as these slain animals if I don't make good on My promise to you." It is God's solemn promise to Abraham, which as you pointed out, He never broke. I don't think it's entirely biblically accurate to at the same time say the blood was shed for Abraham the covenant breaker. True, but not in this text. Like you said, God was the only one making the covenant; it was unilateral; Abraham was fast asleep. I do think at the same time though, we can connect the blood of the covenant with the blood of Christ, but in a different way. All the promises of God are yea and amen, in Him. It's only in and through Christ that salvation could even come by a promise to Abraham rather than in the form of a covenant of works requiring perfect, personal, and perpetual obedience. So we also see Christ's blood in Genesis 15 in that this is the only way these promises could ever be guaranteed to Abraham, received simply through faith. Jesus' blood bought the right to give Abraham salvation as a promise.
 
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Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
(this comment just parallels Jon's above)

Death (substitution of animals), blood, mixed with oaths (see Heb.6:17)--these were elements of ancient treaties/covenants between powers. It is useful to know that, although one may gather most of the substance of the Gen.15 event without a whole lot of extrabiblical information. Knowledge gained about ANE treaties grew considerably in the last two centuries. The point of such a ceremony is the highlighting the seriousness (even life-and-death) of the reason for it.

The animals divided, their blood flowed and pooled between the parts. And then the parties (ordinarily both) would walk between the pieces, stamp through the blood, and promise loyalty or what-have-you, on pain of some similar fate if trust was broken. Gen.15 has God alone passing through the pieces, and so (by two immutable things) he assures Abraham he will accomplish his purpose. All the certainty that it will be done is God's promise, and none of it is Abraham's.

The blood of this covenant indicates the solemnity of the moment. It would say, also, that the very being of God--his life--is on the line for fulfillment of it. And, in that we can see a tie-in to the sacrifice of Christ, his own blood poured out. For, in fact, God-incarnate does die for the fulfillment of this promise. But it is for sins of others, who were subject to the sanctions of the first covenant (works). The lives of rebel humanity were forfeit (unless their rebellion was successful, and they took God from his throne).

The blood that is shed to establish the second covenant (grace), rather than the substitution of animals, is in reality the blood of the cross.
 

John Yap

Puritan Board Freshman
Hi Bruce, I always appreciate your posts especially those that answer my questions, Thanks Jon as well, I sort of understand where you are going, but I need time to reflect abit more.

But it still stumbles me. I still cannot see the transition from God's unilateral promise, to Christ needing to die for this to occur.

How did we get from God in effect saying "Abraham, you are blessed, I will do all these for you, if not I shall be like the animals" to "You all are rebels and thus the ceremony is actually Christ passing through the animals because you broke the covenant / the animals symbolized Christ"?

How did we get from a unilateral promise, to a restitution of covenant breakers which Christ took the place of? And what covenant was broke in this respect? I assume it was the CoW, in which I have to ask again, how did the CoW get involved in this unilateral promise?

To me it is much simpler to say that this was not a picture of Christ's sacrifice; that was seen in the Passover Lamb. It is tempting to see these sacrifices Christologically, but because of the perceived problems of reconciliation, I steer clear away from it.

I just glanced Poole Henry Gill Calvin, and I dont believe they saw this Christologically.

If the covenant here was mutual; if Abraham had conditions to fulfill which he did not, then I can see how Christ would be the one to pay the penalty of death on his behalf, but like what was said, Abraham did not pass through the animals / did not have conditions to fulfill. So if someone told Abraham that Christ would pay the penalties that Abraham could not pay, I am sure Abraham would be confused!
 
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JTB.SDG

Puritan Board Sophomore
But it still stumbles me. I still cannot see the transition from God's unilateral promise, to Christ needing to die for this to occur. How did we get from God in effect saying "Abraham, you are blessed, I will do all these for you, if not I shall be like the animals" to "You all are rebels and thus the ceremony is actually Christ passing through the animals because you broke the covenant / the animals symbolized Christ"?

Abraham, you are blessed, I will do all these things for you.
And you are blessed and I will do all these things for you, in and through and because of the blood of My Son.

However, I think the connection with blood of Christ is something we gather from outside this passage specifically. We know the context and where the story is going. I think the blood here is more specifically bound to God's self-maledictory oath.

I think you're on the right track with your conclusions.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Gen.15 animals are not sacrificial in the sense of atoning, but they are substitutionary for they point to the party that walks through them.

What is happening in Gen.15 is covenant-of-grace stuff. There is nothing here for Abraham to do, but receive the blessing of what God will do.

But isn't there a reason for having a second covenant at all? Yes, because there was an earlier covenant--of works, where Adam was supposed to obey or die--which he broke. Why does God have dead animals splayed out on the ground, and make the dire promise he does? Because there's already a death demanded. Christ fulfills the demands of the law (first covenant) on behalf of the condemned, and he also fulfills every condition of the covenant of grace for his elect.

God doesn't have to die, because he does whatever it takes to keep the promise alive until it is fulfilled.
God in Christ does have to die, because "whatever it takes" in fulfillment means he dies getting it done.

For all that, the blood of the beasts for the covenant does yet portend the blood of Christ. See Heb.9:16ff. Lk.22:20 records Christ saying that his shed blood (the cup) is the new covenant, the fulfillment of the covenant of grace. The covenant is inaugurated in blood, his own. Heb.9:22, "without shedding of blood there is no remission."
 

John Yap

Puritan Board Freshman
Ah much clearer now.

I would have to say that for me to follow Bruce's 2nd post here, it would then have to mean that I have to ignore the element of 'God swearing by Himself here on any potentiality that He dies if these are not fulfilled (not in terms of Christ dying)', because the FOCUS here is that God here is swearing that God does die in Christ! And that is the sure pledge of Abram's blessings.
 

brandonadams

Puritan Board Freshman
John, just to confirm that you were right to be confused by some statements you have heard. For example, this statement from R. Scott Clark is very confused:

Yahweh, mysteriously, in a type and a shadow, passed between the pieces himself to signify that, should the covenant be broken, he himself would pay the penalty with his own life. And of course we see that promise fulfilled on the cross when God the Son, true God, true man, bore our sins and our covenant breaking in our place. (Heidelcast 109, 16:45)

Did Christ die on the cross because of a broken Covenant of Grace or a broken Covenant of Works? The Genesis 15 ceremony does not promise that if Abraham breaks the Abrahamic Covenant, God will bear his curse. Rather, it is a confirmatory oath by God that God will fulfill his promise to Abraham and, if he does not, he will suffer death for breaking his oath.
 
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