One way in which God vividly demonstrated that the new covenant was unconditional may be found in Genesis 15. It follows the promise given to Abraham when he complained that he had no heir other than his servant from Damascus. It was then that God took him out and showed him the stars, made this incredible promise: “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be
” (Genesis 15:5). What could Abraham do to help to fulfill this promise? Nothing; all he could do was to believe the word that God had spoken, and his faith was counted to him as righteousness (15:6). It is from that verse that Paul’s entire doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone is based.
When God spoke of a land he would give to Abram and his descendants, Abraham asked for confirmation that he would indeed possess it. It was then that God told Abraham to bring certain animal sacrifices to ratify the covenant. In those days, the custom was to divide the animals in half and lay the pieces against the others, while each of the parties passed between the pieces, reciting the covenantal terms. Abraham prepared the pieces and waited to enter between them. But as the sun set, a deep sleep came upon Abraham and with it a dreadful darkness as God spoke to him, revealing to him that his descendants would suffer in a foreign land for four hundred years. But with it is the promise of the exodus and the inheriting of the land.
But nowhere in the account is there any record that Abraham walked through the pieces. Instead, we read this:
“A smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites” (Genesis 15:17-20).
Did you get that? Abraham never passed through the pieces. The smoking fire pot and flaming torch were tokens of God’s presence indicating that God alone passed through the pieces. Why? Because the covenant was not based on any conditions, Abraham could fulfill. In other words, it was not a conditional covenant but an unconditional covenant which God made with Himself! As the writer of Hebrews said, “For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you” (Hebrews 6:13).
This is the power of the new covenant that it is based on unconditional promises that God made that cannot be altered and whereby he swore by Himself to fulfill.