Two chapters earlier we see a scene unfold that is so peculiar, so outrageous, that without some nudging in the right direction, you could very well get lost.
It went like this. Abram was having a hard time believing God, as so many of us do. To calm his anxiety, God tells him to gather four different animals, each, three years of age. He gathered the animals, and without further instruction, knew exactly what to do next. He took each one and cut them in two, minus the birds, and laid them out to form a walking path. It was that cultures way of signing an agreement. For this day and age, a pen and paper would not do. No “John Hancock”. Instead, in a ceremonial fashion, two parties would pass between the animals that had been sawed asunder, signifying that if either one was unfaithful, the fate of the animals would also be theirs.
In Jeremiah’s day, God said this: “And the men who transgressed my covenant and did not keep the terms of the covenant that they made before me, I will make them like the calf that they cut in two and passed between its parts.” Jeremiah 34:18
Talk about taking a covenant serious! If only more were taken that serious today, there would be less divorce, fewer orphans, and fewer broken homes. Can you image? “If you cheat on your spouse, you’re dead!”
Here’s what makes this so great. Abram actually did nothing, while God alone walked through. Why didn’t He take Abram? It was because Abram was sure to blow it. It’s because all men are sure to blow it. No one measures up. But God passed through on Abram’s behalf, representing both parties; the perfect and the imperfect, the unjust, and the Justifier of the ungodly. He was laying His own life on the line for the inevitable mistakes that the whole world would make. For these sins, God would allow His own body to be mutilated like the animals that lay on the ground before Him. This is exactly what He did in the body of Christ, God in human flesh to die for the sins of His people. All this was to ensure that the righteousness imputed to Abram a couple chapters earlier, was based on God’s work, and not his.
Do you see now why He declared five times that it is His covenant? It’s something only He could have done. It’s His alone because He alone is sovereign Creator. It’s His because it was His plan from the very beginning. On every account it is His to keep, and on every account, it’s His alone to give.
For every covenant of God a sign is given. The rainbow was the sign of his covenant with Noah, to never destroy the world again with a flood. The covenant with Abraham is much different. He’s not stating that wrath will be spared, but that wrath would be absorbed by a substitute. The covenant with Noah was that the whole world would be spared global judgment by water. The covenant with Abraham meant God would be sacrificed so that those with true faith in Him would be spared. It will cost God His very life, and the sign of it would cost His people. A costly sign for a costly covenant.
What was the sign? Every male at 8 days old is to be circumcised. The sign of this covenant with God is the removal of flesh. Fitting, isn’t it? Circumcision as the sign for righteousness imputed through faith. This uncomfortable, even gruesome procedure really does paint a picture. Why not another rainbow, or a pretty sunset? That would cost us nothing. And It must cost something.
Luke 17:33 “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.”
The sign established to prove the work of God in Abraham’s heart was the cutting away of flesh, and Abraham obeyed without hesitation. That very day, he would do what God asked. A day to remember. A day of tears, and much pain. But all the tears, and all the pain would not compare to the agony that would come upon Christ crucified.
What does it all mean for us? It means that sin is destructive and worth every bit of the pain it takes to forsake it. It means that the sinful flesh of man is unworthy of His presence. All its works are darkness, worthy only to be cast in the fire. The sin which God had overlooked, justifying Abraham in His eyes, was a sin worth putting away. Any man unwilling to do such a thing, would himself be cut off from the camp.
See the connection? We have been bought with a price. Sin has been dealt with in Jesus’ death, but are we willing to deal with it. Can you say you have been crucified with Christ, possess His imputed perfection, and not cast of the works of darkness? I say let us hate sin with a passion. Let us at all costs lay aside the sin which so easily besets us, and look to Jesus. Let’s be a Church, wholly consecrated to God for His will and service. We need circumcised hearts, new hearts before a holy God, walking in holiness, and making no provision for the flesh.
What is the sign that the covenant of Christ’s blood has been written on your heart? You will have a new heart that is consecrated to Him, and Him alone.