cut animals and unbreakable promises

There’s a question I’ve repeatedly asked myself: “Can God be trusted?” As a Christian, I know what the ‘right’ answer is. Yes, of course God can be trusted. But often it doesn’t feel that way. When I’m amidst painful trials and temptations, God’s promises can feel so far away and impossible. I’ll start to question: is there really eternal life after death? Will I actually be rewarded for my suffering for Jesus? Is the New Creation worth the sacrifices I have to make now? Will there even be a New Creation?

Here in Genesis 15, I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for Abram to trust in God’s promises. Abram is old and Sarai is barren, and both are sojourners in a foreign land. Can God be trusted to deliver on his promises of a land and many offspring? It just seems so impossible! But that is why I find what happens next to be so utterly remarkable.

In answer to Abram’s question (Gen. 15:8), God tells Abram to perform a bizarre ritual involving cut animals. Although it seems foreign to us today, this is how covenants were made back then. Both parties would pass between the cut animals, an act that symbolises their commitment to keep the covenant, lest they be cut up like the cut animals (cf. Jer. 34:18-19). But notice who passes through the cut animals! Only God, in the form of fire, passes through; Abram in contrast is still fast asleep.

The more I reflect on this ritual, the more I am blown away by its implications. God is in effect swearing that he will keep his promises to Abram on pain of death! God is so committed to keeping his promises that he is even willing to put his very existence at stake. And since Abram didn’t pass through the animals, there are no conditions for Abram to keep. God will keep his covenant regardless of Abram’s obedience or disobedience.

In a world where we’re often disappointed by broken promises, it’s easy to assume that God would also let us down. How reassuring it is, then, to see God’s trustworthiness in action: he’s even willing to swear — on pain of death — that he will keep his promises. And actually, it’s even more than that. God is so trustworthy, he’s even willing to send his Son to die on the cross so that his promises are kept. How amazing it is that we can serve a God who always keeps his promises to us! Let us hold on to his certain promises in our present uncertainties, and let us make his unchanging word be the firm foundation on which we stand. God can be trusted, so let’s put our trust in him.