It is without any hyperbole that I say that the Fifteenth Chapter of Genesis is arguably the most pertinent chapter for the Christian in the Book of Genesis, possibly in the entire Old Testament. And the key verse to this key chapter is Verse 6, “And he believed in the Lord; and He counted it to him for righteousness.” There is no other single verse in all of the Old Testament that so aptly illustrates God’s unchanging method for Salvation. Paul will directly quote this verse in his epistle to the Romans (Romans 4:3), and in his epistle to the Galatians (Galatians 3:6). James will also quote it in his epistle (James 2:23). To say that this chapter of Genesis inaugurates a turning point in the relationship of Abraham to our Lord is a gross understatement, for it is what God does for him at this point that lays the foundation for everything else.
What we have in this chapter is nothing short of the attainment of Salvation by Abraham as his “belief” is counted as righteousness. God imputes righteousness to him on the basis of his faith. The very heart of Christian Theology, this is the summary statement of how God’s Grace works in the life of the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. God attributes vicariously the righteousness that belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ alone, to those who put their faith in Him. Neither in the Old Testament nor the New is Salvation secured by any other means. This has always been God’s method.
“And I will give the men that have transgressed my covenant, which have not performed the words of the covenant which they had made before me, when they cut the calf in twain, and passed between the parts thereof,” (Jeremiah 34:18)
The slaughter of the animals and the dividing of their carcasses recorded in Genesis 15:9-10 might seem peculiar to us, but what Abraham was actually doing was following the custom of the day for entering into a covenant or contract. As we see in Jeremiah 34:18, the way that a contract was ratified in those days was for the two parties to come together, slaughter a calf or a goat, divide the carcass in half, and then the two would walk between the parts. The vow was made that, “If I should break the terms of this covenant, then may I be cut asunder as this animal is.” When God gives instructions to Abraham in verse 9 to prepare these animals, He is announcing His intent to enter into a covenant with him.
But something very strange happens to Abraham as he is waiting for the Lord to show up for the ceremony. A deep sleep falls upon him and a horror of great darkness (v.12). This is not a sleep that comes from being weary or a slumber that overtakes him as his wait becomes too long. This is the same type of unconscious state that the Lord put upon Adam when He took his rib to make Eve (Genesis 2:21). While he is asleep, God tells Abraham of the captivity that will come upon his descendants and their slavery in the land of Egypt. As soon as the sun sets, a smoking Furnace and a burning Lamp pass between the carcasses of the animals (15:17).
This entering into covenant between God and Abraham is still part of the illustration of Abraham’s Salvation that began in Verse 6. It is also an illustration of our own Salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ. As Abraham becomes paralyzed in the grips of a deep sleep, seeing the captivity of his sons and daughters in the land of Egypt; so, too, were we held paralyzed in the captivity of sin, until God delivered us from its clutches. Just as Abraham does not pass between the carcasses himself: announcing his end of the agreement, neither do we have anything to offer in our own Salvation Covenant with God. He did not pass through because he was not making any promise to God, this was an entirely one-sided transaction. God alone was making the promise to save Abraham, Abraham had nothing to offer on his part. Only God confirmed the Covenant, passing between the carcasses; His presence symbolized by the Furnace and the Lamp.
Abraham’s part in his own Salvation amounted to nothing more, nor anything less, than believing God. Abraham lay helpless as God secured for him the Salvation that he himself could not. God’s call to us is to put our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for Salvation. Our part in the process of our own Salvation is the same as Abraham’s was, to believe God (John 6:29). He has not called us to walk between the carcasses, nor can we. He has not instructed us to promise anything to Him. We are to believe God, place our faith in the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and His righteousness will be imputed to us, also.