In Genesis 15:8-17, Abraham asks for evidence that God will follow through. He receives a command to prepare a sacrifice and an additional prophecy concerning his family's future. Genesis 15:12 shows that he made the sacrifice during the daylight part of the 14th. By this sacrifice, God ratifies His promise to Abraham.
Many have wondered why Christ was sacrificed during the daylight portion of the 14th, in the afternoon, rather than at its beginning and more in alignment with the Passover service in the twilight portion of the 14th. This reveals why. Even as He ratified His covenant of promise with Abraham by this sacrifice, Christ's sacrifice provides the ratification of the New Covenant. Christ's sacrifice, by God's decree, had to align with the ratification of His covenant of promise with Abraham. In Christ's sacrifice, death, and burial, God's draws together in one event the main elements of both the covenant of promise with Abraham and the Passover.
Notice especially how close this chronological alignment is. Verse 12 specifically states, "When the sun was going down." Thus, this sacrifice, like Christ's, took place in the afternoon. In the late afternoon, a great darkness and horror fell upon Abraham, allowing him to experience a small taste of the horror Christ faced in His crucifixion when God forsook Him. In addition, Moses inserts a detail that is not so readily apparent at Christ's crucifixion: that Abraham had to beat off some vultures. Vile birds are a Bible symbol of demons. This detail suggests that a great spiritual battle occurred, during which the demons taunted and persecuted Christ to induce Him to give up. He had to fight them off alone because the Father had forsaken Him.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Countdown to Pentecost 2001
Genesis 15:10 and 17 show us a small portion of the ancient practice of making serious covenants. Those making the covenant prepared a sacrifice by dividing animals or fowl in two, then both parties passed between the divided carcasses. This symbolized the seriousness of their intentions in that the divided carcasses represented what would happen to them if they did not keep their oath! They placed their lives at risk. The carcasses were then burned, symbolizing their acceptance.
The smoking oven and burning torch symbolize God. In many instances in the Bible, God represents Himself through the image of fire (i.e., the burning bush and the pillar of fire). The sacrifice in Genesis 15 is interesting in that only God passes between the divided carcasses because, in reality, this is an oath of only one party, God, to keep His promise. In this specific case, Abraham has agreed to nothing, but God has bound Himself with utmost seriousness to meet the requirements of His promise in full. This promise will be fulfilled only because of God's character and grace.
The 14th thus signifies the ratification of the promise by sacrifice, and the 15th, what it accomplishes by providing visible evidence of God's faithfulness (e.g., the Israelites go free).
John W. Ritenbaugh
Countdown to Pentecost 2001
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
In Abraham's day, covenants were sometimes agreed to by preparing a sacrifice, cutting it in two pieces and halving it exactly. They would lay the pieces out on the ground. Then those making the covenant had to pass between the divided carcass. This symbolized the seriousness of their intentions to keep the covenant, because the divided carcass represented what would happen to them if they did not keep their oaths. They were committing themselves to be cut in two if they broke their word.
That was not the way every covenant was agreed to, only rather more serious covenants. They placed their lives at risk. If either party did not keep that covenant, they were pledging their life. Then after they passed through, the carcass was burned, symbolizing their acceptance.
What is interesting here in this case is that God is the only one shown passing between the divided carcass. First, this shows God's seriousness to meet the requirement of the covenant. It also shows that God was not holding either Abraham or his descendants to the same stringent requirement to the covenant as He held Himself. This promise therefore would be met by God's grace, and not by man's works. Nobody will meet the terms of the covenant on the basis of works, but by grace.
The smoking oven and the burning torch symbolize God in many instances in the Bible. In the Old Testament especially, God represents Himself through the image of fire: the burning bush and the pillar of fire in the wilderness. It is likely that, as He passed through the divided sacrifice, the fire consumed it, showing His acceptance. The burning of the sacrifice by fire means "fire out of heaven" from an invisible source. Whoom! It just appeared there, and turned it into a charred mess. God has done this in the past, too. When the Tabernacle was built, God ignited the first sacrifice. When the Levitical ministry and the priesthood under Aaron were consecrated, God ignited the sacrifice, as He did in Genesis 15:10. God consumed it out of heaven.
Abib 14 thus symbolizes the ratification of the promise by sacrifice, and Abib 15 symbolizes what it accomplishes by giving visible evidence of God's faithfulness as the Israelites go free. He is keeping His promise, and here is the evidence.
When Israel left Egypt on the night of Abib 15—The Night To Be Much Observed—it marked the beginning of the fulfillment of the physical aspects of that promise. God's promise included “race”—national promises—and “grace”—spiritual promises. Abraham's descendants left Egypt with great substance, exactly as the promise says, and Christ's sacrifice marks the beginning of the spiritual fulfillment.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Wavesheaf and the Selfsame Day
Genesis 14-15 contains time markers that help us line up these events with the Passover and Exodus from Egypt, as well as the Passover and crucifixion in the New Testament:
» “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; [H]e was the priest of God Most High” (Genesis 14:18). This corresponds with Jesus' Passover observance with bread and wine, which took place at the beginning of the 14th.
» “Then He brought him outside and said, 'Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.' And He said to him, 'So shall your descendants be'” (Genesis 15:5). Abraham is outside and viewing the stars. The time has progressed to full dark on the 14th.
» The sacrificial activities described in Genesis 15:9-11 indicate the arrival of the daylight portion of Abib 14; it was light enough to make sacrifices. This method of making a covenant symbolizes that, if the terms were not met, the transgressor must be cut in half, just like the animals (see Jeremiah 34:18-20).
» “Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him” (Genesis 15:12). The sun begins to go down as soon as noon has passed, so this verse could indicate any time in the afternoon or early evening.
» “And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces” (Genesis 15:17). The sun has set and Abib 15 has begun. The symbol of a burning lamp is linked with the salvation of God's people (Isaiah 62:1) and describes the eyes of God (Daniel 10:6). In addition, when God descended on Mount Sinai in fire, its “smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace” (Exodus 19:18). Through these symbols, God is seen confirming His covenant to Abraham by passing through the middle of the sacrificed animals.
What happened during the daylight portion of the 14th in Abraham's day was a conversation about inheriting the land, then Abraham divided and arranged the animals at God's command in preparation for the covenant. Thus, the timing of Christ's crucifixion on the afternoon of Abib 14 points to something centuries before the Passover in Egypt—to the promises God made to the father of the faithful and to the preparations made for their covenant.
David C. Grabbe
Why Was Jesus Not Crucified as Passover Began? (Part Two)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Genesis 15:10: