9 And he said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.
10 And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not. (Genesis 15:9–10)
Why did God tell Abram to take these particular animals; and why five of them? There must be some special significance to them, but what is it? And why did God go about making this covenant with Abram in the peculiar way described in verses 12–17?
There are a number of interesting and significant features belonging to this covenant for inheritance, as well as to the process of making it. However we will limit ourselves to the issues in your question.
First off we need to recognize a particular aspect about the question that Abram asked God, which prefaced the making of this covenant for the inheritance of the land. As Genesis 15:8 relates,…
8 And he (Abram) said, Lord GOD, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it? (Genesis 15:8)
Notice that Abram said “WHEREBY shall I know that I shall inherit it?” This concern in Abram’s question was prompted by some particular things that had occurred and taken place with him since he came into the land, as related in chapters 12–14. They were things that had produced concern in Abram’s heart and mind regarding God’s promises about the land. In fact Abram’s concern had developed to the point where the word of God comes to him in a vision to address the issue with him. Hence verse one of chapter 15 says,…
After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward. (Genesis 15:1)
Abram’s concern was real. Wherefore the LORD said to him, “Fear not, Abram.” However God did not simply say “Fear not”; He also told Abram why he did not need to fear. And the reason why was because He was “the LORD.” That is, because of God’s “Jehovah-ness” and grace. Therefore God immediately declared His “Jehovah-ness” to Abram by saying, “I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.”1
Now the issue of God’s “Jehovah-ness” and grace was not only the key to allaying Abram’s personal and immediate fear in view of his present circumstances, but it was also the issue that both Abram and his seed would need to understand and appreciate when it came to inheriting the land at all. For an awful lot more was going to happen to Abram himself, to his seed after him, and to the land itself, before he and his seed actually would end up inheriting it for an everlasting possession. And so it is with this in view that God not only made the covenant for the inheritance of the land, but also made it in the unique way that He did.
In essence, therefore, God makes this covenant on the basis of His “Jehovah-ness” and grace, and by so doing guarantees to Abram and his seed that they will inherit the land God has promised to them no matter what. Once again this no matter what guarantee is needed in view of what Abram is told is going to happen both to him and to his seed. He himself is going to die, as the LORD says, without actually possessing the land as per God’s plan and purpose with it. Moreover his seed is then going to go out of the land and into Satanic captivity.2
12 And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him.
13 And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years;
14 And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.
15 And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. (Genesis 15:12–15)
This, however, was only going to be the beginning of such things for Abram’s seed. They would actually end up in Satanic captivity three times in their history. The first would be as described in verses 12–16. They would then go out of the land and experience Satanic captivity again at the beginning of the Law’s Fifth Course of Punishment, which would constitute the first installment to it. Then they will yet experience such captivity one final time in the fifth and final installment to the Fifth Course of Punishment, which is still yet to come when God resumes and fulfills His program with Israel.
So this ‘no matter what’ covenant guarantee was not only designed to effectually work to produce assurance for Abram himself at the time God made it, but also for his seed throughout their future history of coming under Satanic captivity. All throughout Israel’s history they would need to rest their hope of possessing their promised land solely upon the issue of God’s “Jehovah-ness” and grace unto them.
Simply put, therefore, with this being what this covenant has in view, God makes it in the very particular manner described. He makes it in a manner that has His “Jehovah-ness” in view, and that would be able to be appreciated as such later on in Israel’s history.
Wherefore God instructed Abram to provide 5 particular animals. Each one of them was for the purpose of matching up with one of the later on declared 5 mandates of the Davidic Covenant, in which God describes the implementation of His “Jehovah-ness” and grace for Israel so that they can be what His plan and purpose calls for them to be.3
Simply put, the first 3 animals are representative of the 3 categories of sacrifice that Adonai Jehovah would make for Abram and his seed when He functioned as their Redeemer (First mandate); which would not only secure their redemption, but also secure His ability to be their Deliverer (Second mandate) and Avenger (Third mandate). Hence these 3 animals were to be “divided” as per a sacrifice, and each of these 3 animals were to be “three years old”; which is in accordance with Adonai Jehovah’s three years of manifested presence in Israel before sacrificing Himself for them and commencing the implementation of the mandates of His “Jehovah-ness” for them.
The remaining 2 animals were specific birds representing the remaining 2 mandates of God’s “Jehovah-ness” and grace set forth in the Davidic Covenant, which are King (Fourth mandate) and Blesser (Fifth mandate). The birds were not divided like the other 3 animals because they were not strictly representative of sacrifices, but of the peace and blessings to result from them. Hence they were also not just any birds, but rather a “turtledove” followed by a “young pigeon.”
Now in addition to using these five animals, God established and confirmed the covenant to Abram and his seed in the highly significant manner described in Genesis 15:17. This He did in view of having informed Abram of the coming horror of his seed’s Satanic captivity.
17 And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces. (Genesis 15:17)
With the first 3 animals divided and laid out as per verse 10, followed by the undivided birds; and with the sun down and it being dark as per verse 17a; the rest of verse 17 describes how God confirmed the covenant by passing between the divided pieces of the first 3 animals in a very special manner. When God manifested Himself in the darkness to be passing between the pieces as “a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp,” He did so representative of exactly how it will be that He will be seen by the remnant of Israel when He comes to them at the end of His day. For following Israel’s final Satanic captivity, the LORD caps off fulfilling the first 3 mandates of His “Jehovah-ness” by coming to them out of the darkness of that time in the very manner that passages like Psalm 18:7–12ff describe.
7 Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken, because he was wroth.
8 There went up a smoke out of his nostrils, and fire out of his mouth devoured: coals were kindled by it.
9 He bowed the heavens also, and came down: and darkness was under his feet.
10 And he rode upon a cherub, and did fly: yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind.
11 He made darkness his secret place; his pavilion round about him were dark waters and thick clouds of the skies.
12 At the brightness that was before him his thick clouds passed, hail stones and coals of fire. (Psalm 18:7–12)4
So then this covenant for inheritance that God made with Abram is both a fundamental and preparatory component in the overall matter of God educating Israel in His “Jehovah-ness” and grace. When, therefore, God actually began to educate them, the saved in Israel could readily look back upon the covenant, knowing the surety of their inheritance because of God’s “Jehovah-ness” and grace to them. Moreover, in view of the manner in which God made the covenant, they can also look forward to the time when in their final darkness and horror of Satanic captivity He will come to them as the “smoking furnace” and “burning lamp.”
– K.R. Blades
- For more general information on the issue of God’s “Jehovah-ness” and grace, see the video series A Short History of God’s Program with Israel.
- For some further information on this matter, see the Second Quarter 1997 edition of The Enjoy The Bible Quarterly.
- For further information about the Davidic Covenant and its five mandates, see the video series A Short History of God’s Program with Israel, and A Psalms Primer.
- For more information about the time of Israel’s final deliverance, see the video series Israel’s Blessed Hope.