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Sunset is the beginning of Nisan 14, and chronologically we are moving into the daylight portion of that day—Passover day. As daylight hits, Abraham asks God for evidence that He will follow through. Abraham receives the command to prepare a sacrifice and a prophecy regarding his family. Verse 12 shows the preparation of the sacrifice was during the daylight part of Nisan 14, because when we get to verse 12, the sacrifice has been prepared, and the sun was going down. That brings us up to the end of the 14th.
Many have wondered why Christ was sacrificed during the daylight portion of Nisan 14 in the afternoon rather than at the beginning, and seemingly more in alignment with Passover. Was not the Passover lamb slain at the beginning of Nisan 14, after ben ha arbayim began? Yes, it was. So people think because Christ was sacrificed sometime during the afternoon of the 14th that there is something wrong. The answer as to why He was sacrificed during the afternoon rather than at the beginning of the 14th appears here in Genesis 15: Even as the covenant of promise with Abraham was ratified by the sacrifice Abraham makes here, Christ's sacrifice provides the ratification of the New Covenant. Christ's sacrifice, by God's decree, had to align with the ratification of the covenant of promise with Abraham, not the Passover. The time of the crucifixion aligns exactly with Genesis 15.
Verse 12 specifically states "when the sun was going down." Therefore, this sacrifice in Genesis 15, like Christ's sacrifice, took place in the late afternoon. What happened at Christ's crucifixion? A great darkness occurred. In Genesis 15, a great darkness occurred to Abraham. In addition to that, a great horror fell upon him. Now what does that picture? There are two possibilities.
- Abraham was made by God to experience a very small taste of the horror that Christ had to face in His crucifixion and burial. God almost scared him to death by putting the fear in him.
- It could also be a precursor of the darkness and the earthquake that took place at Christ's crucifixion.
I prefer the first one, that Abraham, as the father of the faithful and the first covenantal ancestor of Jesus Christ, had to experience a bit of what God's Son in the flesh would have to go through 1,700 years later.
Something else appears here that is not so readily apparent at Christ's crucifixion: Abraham had to beat off vultures. When the fowls came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. Vile birds are the Bible's symbol of demons. This gives the impression that, as Jesus was hanging on the cross, a great spiritual battle occurred during which the demons were taunting and persecuting Christ to induce Him to give up. Some of the psalms speak about everybody gawking at Him and taunting Him. It was not only human beings. We can understand it was demons as well, who were doing everything to break His courage and to break His spirit.
It says very clearly that God forsook Jesus. "Why have you forsaken me?" Christ asks, because now He was on His own completely and totally for the first time in His life. God made Abraham go through a little bit of that great horror and darkness. Maybe part of the horror that Abraham had to experience was the fear, perhaps, of being buried alive. We can speculate on such things, but it is included so that we will understand what Abraham went through and how it parallels what Christ endured—even to the exact days and times of the days as the events progressed.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Wavesheaf and the Selfsame Day