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In the time of Abraham, the most binding form of covenant that could be made between two men was a blood covenant. Both parties to the covenant would cut sacrificial animals in half, and then take turns passing (walking) between the pieces to demonstrate their commitment to the agreement. Essentially, a blood covenant meant that each man was entitled to all that the other man possessed. In this case, God was demonstrating to Abraham that when He said ‘your descendants shall be as numerous as the stars in the sky’ (Gen 15:5; paraphrase), He meant it. God promised Abraham access to every blessing He had spoken over him.
Breaking a blood covenant was punishable by death. What makes Genesis 15 so powerful is that God walked through the halves twice: once for Himself, and once for Abraham (Gen 15:17). He did not make Abraham pass through them himself. In other words, God was saying that He would not only agree to give Abraham everything He had promised him; in addition, God agreed to take Abraham’s punishment if (inevitably, when) Abraham couldn’t hold up his end of the bargain.
This is the Gospel message, perfectly illustrated through Old Testament custom. God knew Abraham wouldn’t be able to earn his righteousness, so He agreed to take on the punishment Abraham deserved. Jesus Christ bore that punishment on the Cross. God’s Son came and established a Blood Covenant with us: not only promising that we have a right to be blessed as heirs to the promise of Abraham, but also acknowledging that none of God’s wrath is left for us to bear when we rely on Jesus Christ for salvation.
“God, help me to see the depth of the Promise You made to me. Although I was sinful, You made me sinless. Although I was dirty, You made me clean. Although I was condemned, You saved me! Thank you for Your Covenant Promise, Jesus Christ.”