After promising Abram descendants, the Lord restated His promise to give Abram the land of Canaan. Abram asked, “Lord GOD, how can I know that I will possess it?” (Gen. 15:8). The Lord answered by telling Abram to sacrifice a three year old cow, a three year old female goat, a three year old ram, a turtledove, and a pigeon (Gen. 15:9).
By the time the animals were prepared, it was sunset; “a deep sleep fell on Abram, and suddenly great terror and darkness descended on him” (Gen. 15:12). After this, “the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “I give this land to your offspring” (Gen. 15:18).
How can we know that we will possess what God has promised us in Christ? God’s sacrifice is our assurance, just as it was Abram’s. Jesus has already possessed the inheritance of God through the cross and the resurrection. Coming into Jesus means coming into One who has claimed and appropriated the inheritance of God. This is why Paul says God “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens” (Eph. 1:3).
Doesn’t it seem strange that in the midst of God assuring Abram of His promise that Abram experiences a deep sleep, terror and darkness? This shows us that being heirs in Christ is no spectator sport. Paul says we are “heirs—heirs of God and coheirs with Christ—seeing that we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him” (Rom. 8:17).
When the sacrifice of God is revealed, we also come to understand our participation in that sacrifice. By the Holy Spirit, we experience the cross inwardly. The deep sleep, terror, and darkness of death descend on our souls as the depths of Christ’s grave are opened to us.
When we think of life-changing encounters with God, our thoughts don’t often go to helplessness, terror, or darkness. Our minds don’t *want* to go there. Some Christians even say painful, overwhelming circumstances are not from God. Abram’s testimony says otherwise. There are mountain top moments in the Lord. But sometimes His covenant bonds are forged in fire and hammering.
Knowing the cross within tries us deeply. Yet through this, our souls learn unshakeable assurance:
“We also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:3-5).
“Consider it great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4).
“You rejoice in this, though now for a short time you have had to struggle in various trials so that the genuineness of your faith–more valuable than gold, which perishes though refined by fire–may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-8).
“For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17-18).