The Covenant Between the Parts

Genesis 15:1-21

After the war, God reinforces his promises to Abram. He assures him that even though he is childless now, his descendants will one day be as numerous as the stars in heaven. Before that happens, though, God tells Abram, his children will be strangers in a strange land.


God tells Abram to take three heifers, three goats, three rams, a turtledove and a pigeon, cut the larger animals in half, and lay out the animals on two sides to create an aisle between them. A deep sleep falls over Abram, and God tells him that his children will suffer in exile for 400 years before God brings them back to Israel with great wealth, punishing the nation that oppresses them. A torch of fire passes between the animal parts to seal the covenant, and God vows that the entirety of the land, from river to sea, will be for Abram’s children.


The Israel Bible notes that the verb used in God’s promise, natati, is in the past tense, even though Abram’s descendants have not yet been born and others are still living in the land. Rashi explains that this is not a contradiction, as God is eternal, and His promise is truth.


Virtual Classroom Discussion

Why do you think God chooses to tell Abram about his children’s future suffering?


Comments ( 20 )

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  • Jake Hefner

    All the comments are very interesting. We all are decentance of Abraham. So the blessings are for us to .we are blessed .

  • Stephanie B

    It was a three year old heifer, three year old female goat, three year old bull. NOT three of each. Genesis 15:9

    • Ric

      good spotting lol

    • Sam Cooke

      Stephanie B you are correct it was one each specified in Genesis 15:9; New American Standard Translation.

  • Pauline Graham

    Hi, when G-D made a covenant with Avram, He actually makes it with Himself. He knows the future and He knew that time and time again the children of Avram, Isaac and Jacob would fall. If G-D hadn't made the covenant with Himself, then He would have had to destroy all their progeny. Only G-D is righteous and honourable in His ways and actions. We are all sinful, from Adam and chava.

    • Pauline Graham

      Also by telling Avram about the 400year captivity, He is preparing Avram for that, that has to happen to his "children". We can't know the future only G-D knows our lives from the womb and beyond.

      • Rebecca Gunter

        Adonai never does anything without first giving a warning and that was to be passed down to the generations so they may be prepared for what was to come. Adonai cannot swear by anything higher than Himself. There is no one nor anything higher than He Himself and He promised to bring them out with great wealth

  • Cutting a covenant means to have a friend. You are open to your friends and tell them what you think of importance. Also an encouragement of HaShem for His friend: you descendants will not suffer forever in that foreign country. I ( B"H) will take care of them.

  • Thank you all again for those insights, I agree with most of them. I further think, Yahweh loves relationship, it is said that Abraham was His friend — a friend of Yahweh, and to a friend you reveal as much as you think they can understand about you and your ways. That is what Yahweh was doing. I find that beautiful!!!

  • In this chapter, Avram and his descendants are given a very enormous land grant. Today, we consider Israel to be from the Yarden to the Med and Gaza to the Golan. Yet, Israel today could be placed within this land grant maybe a hundred times or more over. Israel in David's day wasn't even that big. Just think about it for a minute.
    The Euphrates starts somewhere in southern Turkey and runs east/southeast through Syria, Iraq, and empties into the Persian Gulf. The Nile begins at the Med and runs south through Egypt for about 6000 miles near the southern end of Africa. That would give Israel, at the very least, part of Turkey, all of Syria, half of Iraq, all of Saudi Arabia, all of the countries bordering the Persia Gulf on the east and south along the Indian Ocean to Yemen. And, we haven't even mentioned the Nile yet.
    Speaking of the Nile, we have a river that splits Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan, and southward to a point below the southernmost point of the Arabian peninsula. Instead of having only two ports at Haifa, and Ashdod, this Land grant gives a myriad of options on both sides of the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the entire west coast of the Persian Gulf. From just about any point within that vast land grant, coming to Yerushalyem for the feasts would be a "piece of cake".

  • I have heard it said, "God said it, I believe it, and that settles it". With that said, Rashi hit that nail squarely on the head. There is another curious thought that emits from his statement. He correctly quotes Scripture as saying, "I have given". Certainly, that covenant covers those not yet born, even to all of us today. However, it's in the past tense. The question is begged. Just how far back in the past does this bestowing go? Can we rightfully apply the Scriptural phrase, "before the foundation of the world"? If so, I may owe an apology for some the the comments I've made regarding Israel before it was Israel.

  • I like all the comments above. There is another point about the account of this sacrifice. After Avraham prepared the sacrifice exactly as prescribed by YHVH, something curious happened. Customarily, this type of sacrifice would require both parties to walk between the pieces. Whatever the agreement, what was being said was, "if I break this covenant, may I be as these pieces". It was a very serious and solemn event.
    The curious matter is that, by YHVH's instruction, Avraham did not walk through the pieces. Father knew neither Avraham nor his descendants would be able to keep the agreement about to be made. Therefore, Elohim just said, as we might say it today, "That's ok Abe, you just take a seat there and watch. I'll take it from here".
    There are a lot of people that espouse the idea that Elohim is finished with Israel. He proved that when He kicked them out of the Land. Christianity thrives on this premise. The basis of their whole philosophy is "God is finished with Israel and now works through the church". That's total hogwash, even to blasphemy. Because only Elohim walked through the pieces, I'm overjoyed to say that Elohim is NOT finished with Israel. Like the Phoenix bird, He'll raise him up out of the ashes of their sin and restore them to their Land, where eternal peace will be all around.

  • Abraham had been given the promise of the covenant and that his descendants would inherit Eretz Israel. In his lifetime though this would not come to pass in its fullness. God showed him the future generation of suffering because he wanted him to understand the redemption.

    • I like both Sheila and Kara’s answer.
      I think the details are given to help us to see the prophetic picture that lies before us. Elohim has a plan and HE is working through that plan. We know that HE has told us the end from the beginning.
      Abram’s story is given to us in great detail so that we can see Elohim’s plan being laid out and then furthered in each Book of the Torah until we get to the Messianic Kingdom.
      An important teaching in Torah is that what happens to the Patriarchs will happen to the children. There is no easy path given for any of us to reach our final destinations. We will all be tested.
      Baruch Hashem.

      • Love your response Suejean. May the Lord richly bless you.

  • Sheila

    It was through the cutting of this sacred covenant between God and Abraham that this prophetic word was spoken —- yes they would inherit the land — but in God’s timing and at a cost through affliction and suffering. In His covenant love, the Lord wanted Abraham to know that He was faithful to His word and to His people even predicting the length of Israel’s Egyptian captivity. Hope I’m on the right track here but possibly more to be said.

    • Consider, also, that if Abraham knows in advance his children are destined to suffer, it makes that suffering itself a part of the promise and proof that the good will also come to pass. The Talmud relates that after the destruction of the Second Temple, several rabbis visited the site of the ruins and observed foxes running through them. While most of the rabbis were moved to tears, Rabbi Akiva laughed. They asked him why, and he responded that if the prophecies of destruction were thus fulfilled, it meant one day, too, the prophecies of return and redemption would come to pass.
      Another perspective is offered by the Sages in the Midrash, who suggest that Abraham is actually being punished for a moment of weakness in which he questions God’s promise: he asks how he can know everything God says will come about, and God tells him he should know his children will suffer in a foreign land…

      • There are many that would wilt and walk away from Elohim, and life, if they knew what was ahead of them. However, for those like Avram, the path is made a little easier in knowing the future. They might be able to gird themselves up and make the suffering a little easier to handle "His covenant love", as Sheila says. Just a thought.
        I've heard it said, "what goes around comes around". In harmony with the above thought, I'm lifted up with joy by Ahuva's story of the Rabbis. They were probably moved to tears because of the destruction, and unclean animals running through the grounds. However, one was moved to joy because he saw restoration coming out of the ashes before them. I can identify with Rabbi Akiva. As always, Elohim will have the last laugh on all His enemies. Standing with Him, I can also laugh as did the Rabbi.

      • I agree with you Ahuva and Danny, true. I also think the reason Yahweh told Abram about his seed suffering in Mitsrayim (Egypt) for four hundred years is to reveal to Abraham that he (Abraham) just like his seed were a part of the Mosaic covenant, the Torah. I have learnt from a Rabbi that the reason Israel was in Mitsrayim for that length of time is to complete the iniquity of Abraham's forefathers, from Terah and backwards. According to the Torah, Yahweh punishes the iniquity of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.

        • Yes JHWH ounishes the iniquity of the fathers to the 3rd and 4th generation WHEN they act like their ancestors and walk in their ways. But Ezekiel said that everyone has to die for his own sin.

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