In Genesis 15:7-10, God gives instructions to Abram:

He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.” But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?” So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.” Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half.

I'm not familiar with the specifics of animal sacrifices. Do we know why God instructed Abram to bring this particular combination of animals?

  • I think your question is an intelligent and valid one (up-voted +1) but I would suggest that such a comprehensive study would be beyond the scope of the Christianity site or the Bible Hermeneutics site. However, I would be more than delighted if somebody proved me wrong for I seek, myself, more instruction on the array of detail in Leviticus.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 19, 2019 at 20:00
  • Judaism site might be more helpful
    – Kris
    Jan 19, 2019 at 22:13

5 Answers 5


Why these five animals as covenant with Abram?

To amplify the idea that this was a contract (covenant) and not a sacrifice per se, basically the list appears as an inverted from ascension to death to birth list of Christ’s life and work of salvation and covenant.

Here is the overall idea:

Heifer (female; 3 years old) PRIEST Christ and believers (Melchizedek priesthood) (Num 19) Cleansing from sin, self-applied, but clean may apply, 3 days and 7th day at evening

Goat (female; 3 years old) SCAPEGOAT (Zec 3:1-10, Hbr 10:4, 1 John 3:5) Sin offering to atone for sin and cleanse from defilement (mandatory), but she goat of first year; so not a sin offering per se, but scapegoat atonement

Ram (male; 3 years old) SUBSTITUTIONARY OFFERING (Gen 22:13, Ex 29:19-20) Burnt offering (voluntary) Trespass offering for unintentional sins that required reimbursement Cleansing from defilement sins or physical maladies

Dove (turtledove) SPIRIT (Mat 3:16, Jhn 1:32) Burnt offering (voluntary) Sin offering to atone for sin and cleanse from defilement (mandatory)

Pigeon (young) HUMAN BIRTH; BORN UNDER LAW (Lev 12:6, Luk 2:24) Burnt offering (voluntary) Sin offering to atone for sin and cleanse from defilement (mandatory)


(Hebrew words will be spelt with English lettering unless requested otherwise)

I think it’s important to see this as a covenant and not as a sacrifice. Furthermore not as a “nathan beriyth” but a “karath beriyth” because karath has the meaning to cut, whereas nathan beriyth covenants would not involve cut animals in two.

The context is the following.

“But he said, "O Lord G-d, how am I to know that I shall possess it?"” ‭‭Genesis‬ ‭15:8‬ ‭ESV‬‬

In other words, Abraham is saying how will you confirm that you will do this for me. (Personally I’m surprised that G-d didn’t get insulted and didn’t see this as lack of faith coming from the father of faith himself). So G-d said I’ll make a karath covenant. Or what He actually said was

“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."” ‭‭Genesis‬ ‭15:9‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Basically G-d is saying I will swear on myself that if I don’t do what I said I will do, likewise should be done to me. That was the ancient practice of karath beriyth. You didn’t even need to say anything. You could have had two nations that didn’t speak each other’s language and if the two kings simply walked in between the split carcasses it was understood that they made a covenant (of peace). And it represented the idea that if te covenant is broken, the culprit would suffer the fate of the split carcasses.

There isn’t a lot of texts about these cutting covenants to indicate conclusively if a certain animal denoted a certain type of covenant. There are two recorded texts of extrabiblical origin one speaks of an ass/donkey being used and an oath was taken and another of a sheep and a covenant/curse was taken but that’s insufficient to my liking to conclude that the animal represented different covenant types. Though that may have been the case.

Also it’s not clear what happened with the birds, even if they were killed at all. Certainly they were not split.

I’m sorry I can’t speak to why these animals exactly were chosen but it wasn’t sacrificial it was covenant related. The fact that it was three split carcasses might indicate the solemnity of this act. One was sufficient, three must have inferred immutability, absolute certainty. And Abraham is not said to have walked between the carcasses. G-d was swearing or making an oath on Himself

“For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself,” ‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭6:13‬ ‭ESV‬‬

How did He "swear"? He "walked" between the carcasses.

  • In a sense covenants and sacrifices are related. Something is sacrificed for this covenant, a life, but it’s different in that fire is not required. Jan 24, 2019 at 14:40
  • Genesis 15:17 seems to indicate that fire was definitely involved.
    – user21676
    Jan 25, 2019 at 1:53
  • Yes I agree, it’s in the text but 1) it’s not required for covenant sacrifices 2) it didn’t burn the carcasses, hence not required. The smoke and fire was merely the form G-d chose to “walk” through as. Does that satisfy or are you still in doubt that fire was required? Jeremiah 34:8-22 especially verses 18 & 19. There is no fire, just split calf and walking. Covenant sacrifices are not mandated to include fire. Jan 25, 2019 at 2:23
  • I suppose yes, I do doubt your claim.
    – user21676
    Jan 25, 2019 at 3:10
  • That’s fine, until you find examples of a covenant of this type that involved fire in Biblical or extrabiblical sources, I don't know what else you have to go on. I certainly don’t know of any from what I’ve read. But if you know of any or come across any in the future please let me know. Curious why you think fire is mandatory? What are you basing that on? Is there a Bible verse in particular that you are relying on? Jan 25, 2019 at 3:41

A study of the Pentateuch, will show that These are the animal sacrifices God commanded Moses to demand of the Hebrew nation as sin offerings. Whether this was a preemptory sacrifice for his descendants or not is debated by many as it leaves out the acceptable sacrifice for the poorest of the Hebrews. However, that was not an animal sacrifice which Abram may not have had at that time.

Exodus 29:36 KJV And thou shalt offer every day a bullock for a sin offering for atonement: and thou shalt cleanse the altar, when thou hast made an atonement for it, and thou shalt anoint it, to sanctify it.

Leviticus 4:32 KJV And if he bring a lamb for a sin offering, he shall bring it a female without blemish.

Leviticus 5:6 KJV And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the LORD for his sin which he hath sinned, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats, for a sin offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his sin.

Leviticus 5:7 KJV And if he be not able to bring a lamb, then he shall bring for his trespass, which he hath committed, two turtledoves, or two young pigeons, unto the LORD; one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering.

Leviticus 5:11 KJV But if he be not able to bring two turtledoves, or two young pigeons, then he that sinned shall bring for his offering the tenth part of an ephah of fine flour for a sin offering; he shall put no oil upon it, neither shall he put any frankincense thereon: for it is a sin offering.

Hope this helps, even though it is offered not as an answer to your question, since no one can know the reasoning of God.


All the above answers are very good. The only thing I have to add is the possibility that these animals being used in the levitical sacrifices and offerings my have been used by God in looking back every time a sacrifice was made to God’s promise to Abraham. Was God’s intent like so much of the law to remind the Israelites daily of who their God is and His promises, in particular His promise of a seed to crush the serpent and bring redemption of God’s creation especially man?.


Not easy to answer. I think it can be said for sure that the last two were examples of burnt offerings, as listed in Leviticus 1, whereby they were commanded not to divide the birds; also I can not find an instance of a bird as a peace offering. The ram could either have been a burnt offering only(Gen 22:13-14, Lev 23:18-19), a trespass offering(Lev 5:17-19), or a peace offering(Exd 29:26-28, Lev 9:3-4, Num 6:14-17); given the context I would suppose it to have been a peace offering. The she-goat, on the other hand, was likely not a trespass offering since that law was directed to Leviticus 5:1-4, none of which I don't think Abraham did at the time. Therefore the she-goat was either a peace offering(Lev 3:6-12), or a sin offering; that it was strictly a burnt offering, it seems not so(Lev 1:10-11). Of these, I would say it were the latter; the only problem with this however is that it was of a goat of the third year, not of the first(Num 15:27). As for the heifer, since both sin offering and peace offering would already have been covered, I would suppose it to be a burnt offering, along with the birds.

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