Darkness fell upon him. The exhaustion of a hard day’s work induced a deep sleep, but it was more than this. It was the dread of having to wake up and brave the first light and all that it brought with it.
Abram had his reasons for not wanting to wake up and face the morning. Day after day, sunrises gave way to sunsets, mirroring his own reality. He lived in the gloom of unrealized promise. Each day would be swallowed up with darkness. The clarity with which he looked towards the horizon of where God was leading began to fade. God assured Abram that his offspring would be as numerous as the shimmering stars that peppered the night sky. But from Abram’s vantage point, the sky was overcast.
“O Lord God, How am I to know that I shall possess it?”
Darkness fell upon Abram for another reason. In asking God for assurance, he was brought to a ceremony, in which God would formally ratify those promises of old. The ceremony required Abram to prepare an aisle of animal carcasses, hence the hard day’s work. But it was the tradition that would make Abram tremble. Abram was aware of what such ceremonies usually involved. In making this covenant, he would be asked to step into the aisle, swearing on his life and the lives of his unborn lineage that should he veer from total covenant obedience, that he would be torn limb from limb just like the animals.
Before a holy and perfect God, such a commitment is a suicide mission. Abram stood no chance of keeping the promise he would be required to make to God. God promised an offspring, and a numerous one at that. But would it be Abram’s own sin that led to their destruction? What a horrible twist of fate. Who could bear it? How does one sleep at all in light of such an event?
It only gets worse. Even sleep is not respite. God reveals to Abram in his sleep that this promised offspring will sojourn in foreign lands. They will be afflicted for four centuries. Abram will seemingly not live to see their freedom. He shall be buried “in a good old age,” but he already is a good old age. Would Abram ever get to hold his very own son in his arms?
The feeling of waking up from a nightmare is familiar. But this was no ordinary nightmare; it was the perfectly true Word of God. And for Abram, there was no solace in waking up from the nightmare: for the nightmare of walking the aisle between the pieces still awaited him.
The first light wakes Abram from his sleep. His eyes open. He breathes deeply as he comes to. But something is different. It’s still dark outside. But he’s been awoken by a bright light, brighter than a calm sunrise. The light has heat.
Abram blinks his eyes awake to find the light. He turns and sees it: a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch. This is no dream.
The fire goes through the aisle. And Abram does not.
On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram. What has taken place is stunning. The very presence of God passed between the aisle and pronounced the covenant ratified. The covenant that the Lord established was unilateral; though the covenant had two parties, only one party was responsible. Only one party would face the consequences, should either party fail.
God says to Abram, “Should you break the covenant, I get what I don’t deserve, and you get what you don’t deserve.” The God-Man was slaughtered so that the offspring of Abram might live, and outnumber the stars.
The hardest kind of waiting we face is the kind of waiting that knows that the morning will not bring any change to our circumstances. No one births a child overnight. Sometimes the light of day only seems to bring greater attention to the shadows of the valleys in which we walk. The emptiness, the inability, the stuck-ness.
But this is our confidence: that even in the cold, dark nights, the Lord is with us. Even when the morning sunrise is hard to face, His light brings hope. He does not waste our waiting. God is always faithful. God’s Word is dependable. God invites us to experience His presence and His abiding love. His presence is a fire that warms and does not scorch.
God does not always bring us what we want when we wait. But in our waiting, He always brings us what we need. He is our exceedingly great reward.
His light shines in our darkness, and our darkness has not and will not overcome it.