For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2001 James Melough


Genesis chapter 15 records the ritual by which God guaranteed Abraham possession of Canaan, and it is suggested that the reader review that chapter before studying this article which discusses that ritual as a type of the death and resurrection of Christ

15:9.  "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 turtle dove, and a young pigeon."

God's response to Abraham’s question was to provide a symbolic revelation of how He would fulfill His promises, not only to Abraham, but to every believer.

A Chaldean custom for the confirmation of a covenant or contract was for the covenanting parties to slay an animal, split it, and then walk between the two halves.  The thought behind the custom seems to have been that the fate of the slain animal should be also the fate of the one who would break the covenant or contract.  Since Abraham was from Chaldea, and therefore, familiar with the custom, God condescended to employ a contract ritual familiar to His servant, one that would assure him of the immutability of the Divine promise.  (For another reference to this custom, see Jer 34:18-19).

But God was doing much more than employing a Chaldean custom.  He was demonstrating symbolically that His promises, not just to Abraham, but to all who are of the family of faith, would be made good through the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ, for it is He Who is portrayed in the animals and birds.

The bullock and the heifer both speak of Christ as the willing Servant of God and man, the bullock portraying Him serving by the activity of His Own will; the heifer portraying Him serving in total submission to the Father's will.

As the animal frequently used for the Sin offering, the goat represents Christ as the believer's Sin offering; and its being a female emphasizes the submission of His Own will to that of the Father, which led Him to submit to being made sin so that we might be made righteous.

The ram was the animal used in connection with the consecration of the priests, (Exodus chapter 29), and it speaks of Christ as the One Who was completely consecrated to God.  Its being a male points to that activity of His will which was totally consecrated to doing the Father's will, and which would permit nothing to hinder His pursuit of that objective.

The turtle dove and pigeon, being creatures of the air, portray Christ as the One Who was heavenly.  He never ceased to be God the Son even while He walked the earth as Son of man.

The requirement that the animals be three years old may have been designed to point to the approximate three decades  of His public ministry; but it is more likely that it was meant to foreshadow His resurrection, since three is the number of resurrection.

15:10.  "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." 

There are at least three spiritual lessons connected with the splitting of the animals.  First, the animals must die, reminding us that before men could receive eternal life, Christ must die.

Second, the exposure of the inward parts is the symbolic declaration of the truth that God's eye beheld the inward life of Christ, and saw in His thoughts and motives the same sinless perfection that met the eye of man in His outward life.

And third, the placing of the halves in two rows portrays the fact that the sacrifice of Christ was for God as well as man.  His death glorified the Father, and met all the claims of His holiness.  For man, His death made full atonement for sin, so that the believer stands before God having imputed to him all the righteousness of Christ.

The death of the animals is implied in the words, "He divided them in the midst."  The animals represent Christ as man, and it was only by becoming man that He could die.  The birds, however, represent Him as the heavenly One, God the Son; and though it is clear that they also died, their death is not directly stated, and as has been noted already, the silences of Scripture have as much to teach us as its direct statements.  In this case, the lesson of the undivided birds is that the One Who took man's guilty place was none other than God the Son, Who as such, could not die.  The whole bird placed with each row of split animal carcasses, declares that it was God the Son Who acted for God as well as for man, laying down His life, not because death had a claim upon Him, but submitting voluntarily to death so that man might be delivered from death's power.

The fact that the birds were not opened would remind us that in the life and death of Christ there was that which the eye of man didn't see, for the simple reason that there is in His sacrifice that which is beyond man's ability to comprehend.  Only God could fully understand all that is involved in Christ's incarnation, death, and resurrection.

There being three of the animals, each one three years old, points to the truth that though the One they symbolized would die, He would also rise again.  Since the death of the birds isn't directly stated, though they did die, it is unnecessary to indicate resurrection in their case. 

The idea of resurrection, however, goes beyond application to Christ: it declares that the inheritance for Abraham and for every believer will be entered into only by resurrection.  It is only as we know ourselves crucified to the world by the cross of Christ that we become heirs and joint heirs with Him.  The lesson God would teach is that those who make themselves joint heirs with Christ are those who stand on resurrection ground in association with a crucified and resurrected Savior.

15:12.  "And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abraham: and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him."

15:17.  "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."

The day when the covenant was sealed was a day of darkness and a smoking furnace, reminding us that when the better new covenant of grace was sealed, it was, for Christ, a day of darkness and a smoking furnace: not just the literal darkness from the sixth to the ninth hour, but the awful spiritual darkness that enveloped his soul like a shroud when the light of the Father's face was hidden from Him, causing Him to utter that desolate cry of anguish, “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?” Mt 27:46.  The type of the smoking furnace (symbol of suffering) of Abraham's dream had its fulfillment also at Calvary.  There the Lord endured the outpouring of Divine wrath against sin, and endured an agony only faintly portrayed in the words of the prophet, "... my bones are burned as an hearth," Ps 102:3.

But the burning lamp had also its part at Calvary, for it is not only the symbol of God, but also of His Word; and every word must be fulfilled if sinners were to be saved.   Everything said and done by Christ was to fulfill what was written in the Scriptures, even down to the words spoken just before He dismissed His spirit, "After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst," Jn 19:28.


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough