“He said to him, ‘Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.’ And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half.” (Gen 15:9-10)
As I sat bewildered at the fact that God demanded Abram cut every mammal in half but the birds, my mind sped to the symbolism of this action. Why cut the heifer, the female goat, and the ram in half but not the turtledove nor the pigeon? Did the action of cutting the animals in half symbolize something? And why choose these animals in particular? What did these animals represent? As I researched these questions and delved further into Genesis, answers rose to the surface.
In Jewish symbolism, the dove was a feminine symbol often associated with fertility and the spirit of God (Biblical Archaeology). I found this gem of information most interesting as the fifteenth chapter of Genesis is all about the covenant between God and Abram to populate the earth with Abram’s offspring. Considering the fact that Sarai, Abram’s wife, was entirely too old to bear children, the dove sacrifice represented God’s ability to make her fertile. To continue with the feminine aspects of this sacrificial ritual, two female animals were also slaughtered, the heifer and a goat. Perhaps these two animals embodied the feminine aspect of this ritual while literarily strengthening the message sent to early biblical readers.
In continuity with the animals, I dug deeper into Genesis, finding another verse that connected Abram’s offspring to this ritual:
“And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in the thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.” (Gen 22:13)
So if the ram represented Abraham’s son later in Genesis, then in my opinion, the ram in chapter fifteen foreshadows this later sacrifice to God. The ram in chapter fifteen was another symbol of Abram’s offspring, later to be born as Isaac. So I had the answers to part of my line of questioning; the animals themselves represented both the fertility of Abram’s wife and the promise of offspring. These animals were chosen to be the representatives of the promises that God was making to Abram.
I also wondered at the number three. The heifer was three years old. The goat was three years old. The ram was three years old. Three, what was so important about the number three? Did it have to do with the animals reaching adulthood? As I researched, I discovered gematria, or “numerological study…used for…gaining insight into interrelating concepts” (Hebrew Gematria). In simpler terms, gematria is the spiritual study of numbers to better understand the Torah. The number three in gematria represents completeness and stability (Judaism & Numbers). In this sacrificial ritual, the animals that were three years of age stood for Sarai’s fertility and the promise of offspring in the form of Isaac. The number of their years reinforced the promise that God was making—it made the promises quite serious.
Finally, I came to rest at the halving of the animals. In the process of research, I discovered that blood covenants were fairly common in the time period of Abraham. I also found that the verb for “making” a covenant is KRT or to cut (Cutting Covenants and Cutting Animals). Later, the symbol of the covenant wouldn’t be halved animals, it would become circumcision. Literally, God cut a covenant with Abram. The cutting of the animals was simply the commonplace practice of signing a contract. This was culturally relevant to Abram, as he would have understood the significance of the blood promise made between himself and God.
Abram’s covenant with God was a business deal as he would deal with any other person who was making promises to him, solidified by the blood ritual and the symbolism of each animal.
Original Word Count: 568
- Lego Sacrifice: https://encrypted-tbn3.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcTEPfT9K9qWkAeDbhviNaAru1j7YT41xXVtKKb43iMtmysnLHix
- Gematria: http://www.tarrdaniel.com/documents/Hermetika/images/kabbalah/gematria.jpg
- Rabbi: http://www.eurojewcong.org/ejc-in-the-media/9833-european-jews-launch-campaign-to-butcher-polands-ban-on-kosher-slaughter.html