Why was a sacrifice necessary?
Why was this the only way to enter into a covenant? The answer is that the sacrifice symbolized the death of each party to the covenant. As each party walked between the pieces of the slain animal, he was saying, in effect,
"That is my death. That animal died as my representative. He died in my place. As I enter into this covenant, I enter by death. Now that I am in covenant, I have no more right to live."
The necessity of death to make a covenant valid is emphasized by:
"For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives." Hebrews:9: 16-17
These words leave no room for misunderstanding. The one who enters into a covenant enters into it by death. As long as a person remains alive, he is not in covenant. It is impossible to be in covenant and remain alive.
The death of the sacrificed animal is physical, but it symbolizes another form of death for the one who offers the sacrifice and passes through the pieces. The one who does this hereby renounces all rights, from that moment, to live for himself. As each party passes through the pieces of the sacrifice, he says, in effect, to the other:
"If need be, I will die for you. From now on, your interests take precedence over my own. If I have anything you need but cannot supply, then my supply becomes your supply. I no longer live for myself. I live for you."
In Gods sight, this act of making a covenant is no empty ritual. It is a solemn and sacred commitment. If we trace through history the course of events that resulted from the Lords covenant with Abram, we see that each party had to make good the commitment which the covenant represented.
Some years later, when Abram had become Abraham, God, in effect, said to him:
"I want your son Isaac, your only son. The most precious thing you have is no longer yours, because you and I are in covenant. It is Mine."
To his eternal credit, Abraham did not falter. He was willing to offer up Isaac. Only at the last moment did the Lord intervene directly from heaven and stop him from actually slaying his son. Isnt it amazing that God was showing Abraham the New Covenant and He lived with him in the Old Covenant. God asked no more of Abraham than He asked of Himself!
Now this is not the end of the story. God had also committed Himself to Abraham. Two thousand years later God, in His turn, fulfilled His part of the covenant. To meet the need of Abraham and his descendants, God offered up His only Son. But this time, there was no last minute reprieve. On the cross, Jesus laid down voluntarily His life as the full price of redemption for Abraham and all his descendants. That act was the outcome of the commitment that God and Abram had made to each other on that fateful night, two thousand years earlier, when they passed between those pieces of the sacrifice. All that followed from then on in the course of history was determined by their covenant.
The commitment that is made in a covenant is that solemn, that total, and that irrevocable.