The Sleep of Adam and Abram

“The Sleep of Adam and Abram”
A reflection on Genesis 2:21-24 and 15:1-18
Second Sunday of Lent (Year C)
©️2022 by Gloria M. Chang

So the Lord God cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. The Lord God then built the rib that he had taken from the man into a woman. When he brought her to the man, the man said:

“This one, at last, is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
This one shall be called ‘woman,’
for out of man this one has been taken.”

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.

Genesis 2:21-24

Some time afterward, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: Do not fear, Abram! I am your shield; I will make your reward very great.

But Abram said, “Lord God, what can you give me, if I die childless and have only a servant of my household, Eliezer of Damascus?” Abram continued, “Look, you have given me no offspring, so a servant of my household will be my heir.” Then the word of the Lord came to him: No, that one will not be your heir; your own offspring will be your heir. He took him outside and said: Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so, he added, will your descendants be. Abram put his faith in the Lord, who attributed it to him as an act of righteousness.

He then said to him: I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as a possession. “Lord God,” he asked, “how will I know that I will possess it?” He answered him: Bring me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon. He brought him all these, split them in two, and placed each half opposite the other; but the birds he did not cut up. Birds of prey swooped down on the carcasses, but Abram scared them away. As the sun was about to set, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a great, dark dread descended upon him.

Then the Lord said to Abram: Know for certain that your descendants will reside as aliens in a land not their own, where they shall be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation they must serve, and after this they will go out with great wealth. You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace; you will be buried at a ripe old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will return here, for the wickedness of the Amorites is not yet complete.

When the sun had set and it was dark, there appeared a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch, which passed between those pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying: To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the Great River, the 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 15:1-18

While Adam slept, Eve was taken from his side.
Abram slept and saw the nation of the bride.

Adam and Abraham are both types of Christ. God cast both into a “deep sleep” (Hebrew tardemah) and planted the seed of the kingdom in them. 

While Adam slept, God fashioned for the man a bride from his rib. Together, Ish (Man) and Ishshah (Woman) are one “body” or “flesh” (basar), the parents of the human race.

Prior to Abram’s deep sleep, the Lord God had him divide a heifer, goat and ram according to the Chaldean custom of cutting a covenant (karath berith). God called Abram out of his homeland in Ur of the Chaldeans to begin a new nation in a promised land. Although Sarai was barren, Abram believed in the Lord’s promise that his descendants, countless as the stars in the sky, would come from his own seed.

The turtledove and young pigeon, symbolizing wholeness and heavenly purity, were undivided and placed at the end of the row of cut animals. In the light of the new covenant, the virgin birds suggest Jesus and Mary, the new Adam and the new Eve, through whom the salvation of humankind is accomplished. At the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple and the Purification of Mary, a pair of turtledoves or young pigeons was offered to the Lord (Luke 2:22-24).

The heifer, goat and ram also bear Christological significance by foreshadowing the sacrifice of the Son of God on the Cross. The three 3-year-old animals (the age of full maturity) may allude to the resurrection on the third day, but interpretations vary. 

Enemies of the covenant, the birds of prey, swooped down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away. Unlike Adam’s tranquil sleep in paradise, terror and darkness fell upon Abram in the wilderness. 

Four hundred years of slavery in a foreign land will oppress his descendants, Abram learns, but the Lord will set them free. Attainment of the promised land lies far into the distant future. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8, RSV).

In the dark of the night after sunset, Abram saw in vision a smoking firepot, from which arose a burning torch passing between the animal parts. Smoking fire and light manifested the divine presence, as in the theophanies of the burning bush, pillar of fire, and smoke on Mount Sinai. The covenant was unique in that God alone passed between the animal parts. Normally, both parties must walk between the dismembered animals, “invoking upon themselves the animals’ fate if they failed to keep their word” (see NABRE footnote to Jeremiah 34:17-20). In this covenant of infinitely unequal partners, God took it upon himself to ratify the agreement. The obedience of Abraham and his descendants, culminating in the perfect obedience of the God-man, Jesus Christ, brought the covenant to fulfillment.

Abraham your father
rejoiced to see my day;
he saw it and was glad.

John 8:56

2 Replies to “The Sleep of Adam and Abram”

  1. Dear GMC, thank you for your reflection. For me, it reminds me that trust in God comes with obedience to God, especially in times of trial and testing. Your reflection guides us to Jesus and Mary and through them provides strength for the journey. Thank you, GMC.

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