Walking Through the Pieces

I love the story of Abraham. I mean everything from when he lied about who his wife was to protect his own hide, to the amazing promises God gave him. But there’s a story nestled in the Genesis account that paints a powerful picture – to miss it is to miss the core message of the Bible. You can find this story in Genesis Chapter 15, verses 1-21 (but I encourage you to read a few chapters before and after as well to get it in context). In a nutshell, God reiterated His promise to Abram (for the third time) then Abram asked for a sign. So God gave Him one. First God told Abram to cut some animals in half then He put Abram to sleep and talked to him about his future. Finally God appeared as a smoking fire and passed between the pieces of the animals.

This section of Scripture describes a common practice in those days called ‘cutting a covenant.’ Basically, when two people wanted to make a pact, a deal, or a bargain with each other, they would cut some animals into pieces and lay them apart on the ground. A space was left between them forming a sort of aisle. Each party would then state their oath(s) aloud as they walked down the aisle. The meaning of the ritual was simple: ‘May I be cut into pieces like these animals if I don’t keep my promise(s) as I’ve stated in this agreement (covenant).’ Normally there were commitments made on both sides, but not in Genesis 15. Did you catch it?

The covenant was between God and Abram (Abram’s descendants are also mentioned) but only God made the commitment of death in case of a breach of contract.

The Old Testament is a collection of stories that teach spiritual truths. The writers of the Bible would often take a common practice in the Ancient world and turn it on its head in order to teach the God-followers of Israel something that set Him apart from the gods of the surrounding cultures. That’s why it can be so dangerous to take the Biblical texts and stories literally. That’s why we should not try to bring ancient practices into today’s world and live by them as if they were laws. The sole purpose of Scripture is to teach us what God is like.

The story of God walking through the torn carcasses of animals is a strange one no doubt. But it speaks one of the most beautiful truths in the Bible. God always keeps his promises. God didn’t need Abram to walk through the pieces or make a bargain with Him in order for God to keep His promise. Abram only needed to know that God always keeps his promises, period.

Let’s look more closely for a moment. In verses 1-5 God restated His earlier promise to Abram that he was going to have a child. In verse 6 Abram simply took God at His word and God equated Abram’s faith with righteousness. It is good to operate on the light God has already given us – that is a big part of how we will be judged in terms of our actions in this life. So by all means, believe what God tells you. Belief a good thing. Our beliefs govern our actions. Now understand that Abram’s belief played absolutely no part in the covenant about to take place. In other words, nothing Abram did or believed in any way impacted the promise God made to him. This is important.

The land was a separate promise from the promise to give Abram children. The land represented God’s presence with the Israelites. But God’s promise in regards to the land extended way beyond establishing the Jews in Israel. Consider why God called Abraham in the first place:

I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” (emphases mine)

Genesis 18:18, 22:18, and 26:4 comprise God’s promise to all mankind: The world renewed.

In other words, the land – and by implication, intimacy with God in loving relationship – was not for the Jews alone. Not by a long shot.

God’s end game has been always global.

On the heals of the promises regarding the land, note that we are not told that Abram believed God, but instead that Abram asked a question: “How will I know that it will one day be mine?” What a great question! Sounds like Abram was looking for proof, because this time he did not believe God. Little did Abram know he was asking the one question that concerns all of humanity. How do we know that God has a plan to bless us, to renew us, and to renew the world?

I know because some 4000 years ago God cut a covenant with me.

No, that’s not a typo. Shadows and types and representatives, oh my! The Bible is full of them. Abram was my  – your, our – representative in this covenant. Just like Adam represented all of mankind in the Garden of Eden, and Jesus is named the second Adam in his obedient suffering, so Abram was mankind’s representative, cutting the covenant of grace.

Now it is time to consider the location of this story within the greater historical context. Abram was an ancestor of Moses through whom the Law came. As a reminder, we are not told that Abram did anything to earn God’s promise. The covenant was purely an act of God’s grace. So, before the Law came, the covenant of grace was established. Think about it. If the covenant of grace had come after the Law, we would have reason to believe that there is something we must do for God to keep His end of the bargain. This story puts it out there on display: there is nothing for us to do (not even believe). Why? you ask. Because if we have a part now in keeping this covenant then Abram would have believed and walked through the pieces as our representative back then.

You don’t have to believe it to be a part of it.

Genesis 15:10: As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram… God put Abram to sleep so that he would have no chance of walking through those pieces. Why? Because God knew something we must all understand:

None of us will ever be able to keep covenant with God (Romans 3). We can’t even keep covenant with each other or ourselves! If there was any covenant to be made with mankind, it had to be on God’s side only. Our works and beliefs have nothing to do with God’s love for His creation or His absolute and unwavering commitment to make all things new. God Almighty cut a covenant with Abram as my representative, and now there is nothing I can do that will ever make God love me more or less than He did in that moment when He walked through the pieces! But there was a little part in the story that for many years I somehow missed. I bet you who are reading this have already seen it because it is so obvious.

One day it hit me what the pieces of those animals really were:

The broken body of Jesus.

When God walked through the pieces, He knew that we were going to make a sacrifice out of His Son! “This is My body, broken for you…” Who cut the animals up? Abram did – in my place. I did it, through Abram. We did it. We cut up the sacrifice – the Romans stood in for me, for you, for us, crucifying Jesus on a cross. His Son’s death at our hands was the price God paid – in grim, gory detail – to shout out to the cosmos that love trumps all, that there is nothing we can do – not even murder – that will ever stop His love for us.

I pray that you understand – really understand – that God has no expectations of you as regards relationship with Him. He initiated it, He accomplished it, He will finish it, in your life and mine – all for the love He feels for everything and everyone He has made. Now that is Amazing Grace.

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An update on this post can be found here.

19 thoughts on “Walking Through the Pieces

  1. Jimmy

    Thanks for sharing, really enjoyed reading about walking between the pieces of the sacrifice. Learned something didifferent, but very good info. This is why we should never think that we have all there is to know and experience about God, because once we do that, we put a lid on the of our teaching, doctrines and although we don’t limit God from working we just limit our perspective of all the different ways he wishes to reveal himself to use. God bless you so much for sharing that beautiful tread of truth, my heart was touched and I was truly blessed to have read it. Again thanks and God bless!!!!!

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    1. Jimmy, thanks so much for stopping by and commenting! It’s interesting because I’ve noticed over the past year that this post is consistently my most read on a daily basis. That fascinates me since I can only think people are searching for this information – the post is buried in the archives and not easy to find unless you’re looking for it. Anyway, most people don’t comment, so thank you for doing so. I’m happy that you were blessed by my “take” on it. I agree with you, that it is too easy to limit our thinking about God. Keep seeking, keep knocking, keep asking – Jesus promised that when we do that, we will find the answers we need. Peace to you, C

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  3. Leo

    I have been very interested in this passage in the bible, but I am confused about how it connects to Jesus’s death.

    In the covenant, Abram was put to sleep and God walked through the pieces, so if God kept his deal, which he did, was there a need for Jesus to die for the covenant? Is it right to attribute these two events with one another?

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    1. I’m not certain how to answer your question without knowing more about what you believe about the atonement (the purpose of Jesus’ death on the cross). If I knew that, I could probably tell you how the passage I wrote about relates (or doesn’t) to what you believe. Without that knowledge, I am not certain how to answer your question but thanks so much for reading and commenting!! 🙂 Peace, C

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  4. Everette McGowin, III

    So, where’s the evidence of the promise? Where’s the proof? How can I know that one day I – in fact, the whole world – will experience salvation?

    No penny required. Excellent insight and articulation for those that are chilren of promise. But the statement above requires clarification for me – it sounds like universalism. Doesn’t it?

    Just sayin…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Jackie

    I really enjoyed reading this. I found it upon searching for blood covenant, and sacrifice while I was studying about covenants between God and His people, and the covenant between God and man and woman as it pertains to a marriage covenant. I got chills when I read the part about God himself passing between the pieces and how that foreshadowed Christs death for us. Thank you for a very thought provoking view!

    Liked by 1 person

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  8. Ben Bruce

    I loved the article you posted. My wife and I have started doing marriage conferences. I have been studying a lot about marriage covenants in the Old Testament. I do have an issue about the universalism idea that ALL will be saved. But there is much truth to your teaching of the blood covenant. I especially liked the part where you stated “who cut the animals”. God established a blood covenant with us when WE cut (sacrificed) HIS SON.

    One new thing I’ve learned in my study of marriage covenants I thought I might share: scientists and doctors can find no reason a woman has a hymen as a virgin. There seems to be no biological reason it exists. But when a man and woman have sexual relations for the first time, the hymen breaks pouring forth blood. Could this be how God has set up a “blood covenant” between a man and woman? It sure appears to be so.
    Twitter: @iCovenantMarriage
    Facebook: iCovenantMarriage

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It could be, Ben. I never thought of that! Interesting stuff. So are you saying that there is a ‘blood covenant’ between husband and wife? I might have to disagree with that if I don’t better understand what that actually would mean… Feel free to elaborate. 🙂

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      1. Ben Bruce

        History has shown that a marriage ceremony in the Old Testament was carried out much like the story of Abram and God in Genesis 15. A couple would walk through the blood of animals stating their vows. Thus stating that only death will separate or come between us. As you stated about Genesis 15 “This section of Scripture describes a common practice in those days called ‘cutting a covenant’.” The Hebrew word for covenant is briyth, which is defined as “sense of cutting; a compact made by passing through (between) pieces of flesh. Malachi 2:14 uses that same Hebrew word where it states that a marriage is a covenant,
        14 You ask, “Why?” It is because the LORD is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your MARRIAGE COVENANT.

        In searching for Jewish wedding customs I came across this statement,
        “When the wedding party arrived at father’s house the newly weds went into the wedding chamber for a seven day honeymoon and the groom’s best friend stood outside waiting for the groom to tell him that the marriage had been consummated. The proof of this was the bed-sheet bearing the blood shed by the bride as a result of her first sexual intercourse. This is notable for two reasons. It speaks of purity before marriage, but it also shows a blood covenant (the most solemn and binding kind) such as God’s covenant with his people.”
        http://www.wildolive.co.uk/weddings.htm

        I appreciate you responding and I really enjoy studying and learning through studying scripture and discussing it with others. May God continue to bless your ministry through your writing.

        Ben Bruce
        Twitter: @iCovenantMarriage
        Facebook: iCovenantMarriage

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Nancee

    I really enjoyed reading your article but I am concerned about your response to Everette McGowin’s comment that referred to universalism. Abraham believed and it was counted to him as rightousness. It also concerns me that you couldn’t answer Leo’s question without knowing what he believes about atonement. It doesn’t matter what Leo believes. It matters what the Bible says on the subject and the Bible is very clear that not everyone will be in heaven with Him.

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    1. Hi, Nancee! Thank you so much for reading and commenting. 🙂 The reason I asked Leo his view is because I am really not interested in engaging in an argument here. Finding out where he stands at this time would have been helpful for me in continuing a dialogue. I did a lot of arguing for a very long time – from your side of the fence, in fact! Since I at one time believed exactly as you do (and likely as Leo does), I am already well aware of the arguments regarding penal substitutionary atonement. Please know that I completely understand where you are coming from but that I am no longer where you are by conscious choice.

      I once was a universalist. I now do not consider myself a part of what organized Christianity identifies itself with at all. I would be more of the flavor of the early church father, Origen, were I to believe that anything in the Bible were absolute truth.

      Instead, I have come to see that the Scriptures can have many interpretations. (An old proverb stated that if you asked 10 Rabbis a question of the O.T. text, you would get 20 answers.) I no longer hold to a literal view of any of it. It is my personal opinion that it is the literal view of so-called inspired writings (i.e. the Koran, the Bible, the Book of Mormon, etc.) that has led to the dismal state of the world we face today. Religion is, in my mind, a terrible evil, and I want nothing to do with it any longer.

      That said, I do believe the Bible itself has much to teach as wisdom literature, but not in the way of absolute truth, infallibility, or something a god breathed forth through men.

      Thanks again for commenting! I wish you peace, light, and love on your journey forward. Many blessings, ~C ❤

      Like

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