I received 2 very interesting questions earlier this week, and although I have entertained verses 10 and 12 from Genesis chapter 15 for sermonic reasons there was never an attempt to write about them. But here is the question(s), “Explain Genesis 15:10. Why did Abram not cut the birds ? Why did he fall asleep in v. 12?”
“Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. 7 And He said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it.” 8 He said, “O Lord God, how may I know that I will possess it?” 9 So He said to him, “Bring Me a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 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. 11 The birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, and Abram drove them away. 12 Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him. 13 God said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. 14 But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions. 15 As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age. 16 Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.” 17 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. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I have given this land, From the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates: 19 the Kenite and the Kenizzite and the Kadmonite 20 and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Rephaim 21 and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Girgashite and the Jebusite.” Genesis 15:6-21 NASB.
The animal sacrifice, faith and burnt offerings are 3 most important things that are to be noticed here, and of course, the one who is bringing the sacrifice.
The turtle doves and pigeons are provided for the poor folks and in reading we will notice that the priest kills the birds and not the person responsible for the sacrifice. The large animals, four-footed beasts, were killed by the provider. The sacrifices are all divided into smaller pieces in order for the priest to be able to walk between the pieces which signifies the covenant relationship between man and God. However, the most important aspect of any sacrifice is the burnt offering that is accepted by God as a ‘pleasing aroma’ to Him. With that in mind, birds are not split apart and are killed by the priest and then placed into the fire.
We must understand that the consuming fire indicates the burnt offering being consumed by the fire of the offering is the visible act of declaring faith toward God and His divine acceptance of the offering. We are told Leviticus in 9:22-24, “Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them, and he stepped down after making the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings. 23 Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting. When they came out and blessed the people, the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. 24 Then fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the portions of fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.” Here we see that the fire which consumed the offering came forth from before Jehovah, and was a visible representation of God accepting the offering to Himself. I think the point being is not so much the manner of the division of the offering as noted by the size of the animal sacrifice itself, but rather the acceptance of the offering by God Himself. The consuming fire no doubt represents God’s complete acceptance of the gift of the offered sacrifice.
The question regarding why or why not the birds are split in half are really not relevant and may not be relevant in the case of the larger animals, either. Many commentators suggest that the removal and separation of the larger animals may have been accomplished for facilitating the ability of the priest’s ability to manipulate the sacrificed animals’ parts around the altar. Again, it is the burning of the sacrifice that is important. “Then fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the portions of fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.” Leviticus 9:24. As Christians, the burnt offering teaches us that Christ died for our sin and has also declared Himself for us to God in complete surrender on our behalf. We do nothing except to declare our faith in His sacrifice at Calvary, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Ephesians 2:8i-10.
This, then, takes us to “Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him.” v. 12. It is of great importance that “terror and great darkness fell upon him” and can be said that this was God placing an awe upon the spirit of Abram and with holy reverence for the Almighty. It is this kind of Holy fear that prepares one’s heart and soul for joy toward God. For Holy God first of all humbles His servant and then lifts us up in His grace, His presence. No doubt, this sleep was not a case of normal need of rest, but that of a need for Divine Peace brought on by the entrance of Holy God.
Jesus remains Lord.