Genesis 15 Part 2: The Smoking Pot

Genesis 15 Part 2: The Smoking Pot

9 So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”
10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.
12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”
17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi[e] of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”

Pots and Torches
I referenced this story in a sermon recently as an anecdote about how God’s love means that God is faithful and keeps his promises. Nobody in my congregation understood what I was trying to say because they all thought that I said Abraham and Go were smoking pot together. I did not say that. Once I explain this story, you might, however, be tempted to believe that hallucinogens were involved.

Just before this passage, God reaffirms his promise that he will give Abraham the promised land (he is still called Abram for a few more chapters). Abraham wants proof, so this bizarre scene unfolds.

God tells Abraham to gather some animals. Abraham cuts them in half and arranges them neatly, as one does, except of course the birds. We don’t cut birds in half. That would be ridiculous.

Most likely, this was a covenant/treaty ritual that was common at Abraham’s time. The two participants, Abraham and God, are to pass through the carcasses as a solemn promise that they will fulfill their promises, or else end up like the carcasses. In other words, it’s just like a business contract, or a treaty between nations, just with more animals cut in half.

Night Terrors
But instead of just a normal, run-of-the-mill, bisected carcass treaty, God puts Abraham to sleep with terrifying darkness. Then he begins to tell him things. Fun. Oh, and I forgot to mention. This was already a vision (verse 1). So now, Abraham is hearing from God during a dream, that occurred during a nap inside a vision.

God tells Abraham that his descendants will get the Promised Land, but only after 400 years of slavery. Then a smoking pot (you see the confusion here) and a flaming torch pass through the animal halves.

So why is this important?
As much as fun as it is to talk about visions and carcasses, this story is actually really important to our theology of the promises of God. In a regular treaty, both people would walk through the ritual. However, only God passes through, making the claim to us that God will be faithful regardless of what we do. We need only trust. Second, when God makes a promise. It is not always easy (slavery), and it is not always instant (400 years). But God is faithful, and God will do what he says he will do. That is one of the fundamental aspects of our Father and Creator. It's a wild scene but with wilder implications about who our God is.

And no, God and Abraham did not smoke pot together.

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