Scripture: Genesis 15:1-21
1After these events, the Lord’s word came to Abram in a vision, “Don’t be afraid, Abram. I am your protector. Your reward will be very great.”
2 But Abram said, “Lord God, what can you possibly give me, since I still have no children? The head of my household is Eliezer, a man from Damascus.” 3 He continued, “Since you haven’t given me any children, the head of my household will be my heir.”
4 The Lord’s word came immediately to him, “This man will not be your heir. Your heir will definitely be your very own biological child.” 5 Then he brought Abram outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars if you think you can count them.” He continued, “This is how many children you will have.” 6 Abram trusted the Lord, and the Lord recognized Abram’s high moral character.
7 He said to Abram, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as your possession.”
8 But Abram said, “Lord God, how do I know that I will actually possess it?”
9 He said, “Bring me a three-year-old female calf, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a dove, and a young pigeon.” 10 He took all of these animals, split them in half, and laid the halves facing each other, but he didn’t split the birds. 11 When vultures swooped down on the carcasses, Abram waved them off. 12 After the sun set, Abram slept deeply. A terrifying and deep darkness settled over him.
13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Have no doubt that your descendants will live as immigrants in a land that isn’t their own, where they will be oppressed slaves for four hundred years. 14 But after I punish the nation they serve, they will leave it with great wealth. 15 As for you, you will join your ancestors in peace and be buried after a good long life. 16 The fourth generation will return here since the Amorites’ wrongdoing won’t have reached its peak until then.”
17 After the sun had set and darkness had deepened, a smoking vessel with a fiery flame passed between the split-open animals. 18 That day the Lord cut a covenant with Abram: “To your descendants I give this land, from Egypt’s river to the great Euphrates, 19 together with the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”
Theme- God’s covenant is not with a perfect person but a person who is willing to follow.
- Why would Eliezer inherit Abram’s property over Lot and does that matter?
- Why would Abram believe that God would give him descendants as numerous as the stars but not the land that was promised?
- Why would God use this method for making covenant with Abram?
Related texts: Nehemiah 9:7-8, Romans 3:27-4:25, Hebrews 11
“Do not be afraid” is a common address to a person receiving a prophetic word about something daunting ahead of them.
Abram’s concern in v 2 is not simply that he wants a son but more generally, what good is it for God to reward him and build him up when he does not have a son to inherit the reward.
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Cutting up a carcass is difficult, draining, messy, and putrid work which leads me to the question why would God want Abram to cut up several carcasses just to make a pledge? Much of Genesis 15 is set in visions and yet this one activity is clearly not a vision. It is tempting to understand the passage from the perspective that God required something from Abraham because God is the one who tells Abram what to do. However, the activity described in Genesis 15 is not sacrifice or any kind of worship; rather it reflects a common practice of making a covenant within Abram’s culture. God is not imposing a regulation on Abram rather God is using what would be common to Abram to create and further a relationship. The picture of Genesis 15:7-21 is of God accepting and using Abram’s cultural norms to create a relationship with him. This provides us with an insight into God’s character as the one who works with people where they are rather than imposing too much on them. God wants to create a relationship with Abram and Abram is having difficulty trusting God’s word, so God gives Abram a pledge and does so in a way that makes sense to Abram within his setting.
It is easy for us to overlook of forget the fact that God meets us where we are, and expect that our ways of doing things really are simply God’s ways. Never admitting that God is simply conceding to us a measure of control in the relationship. The most obvious modern parallel to this is in the culture wars over music and worship styles within the church. Thankfully these have mostly been put to bed over the last couple decades, but they still flare up now and then. At the heart of the debate was a misunderstanding that an individual’s way of doing worship was the proper (and not merely cultural) way of doing things. God’s covenant with Abram is a practical reminder that God does not simply dictate the terms of the relationship but makes concessions to us so we can have a greater level of investment in the relationship.
I find this especially important when we consider the tentative nature of Abram. He was concerned about what God was promising him and unsure how it would be accomplished. Abram is not readily on board with God’s plan even though he does show faith in accepting what God says to him. Abram questions God, asking what the point of a reward is when he has no children, and then how God is going to deliver the land to him. He is not perfect, rather like most of us he wants to trust God but finds it difficult to have the necessary levels of faith. Abram, we are told, has faith but still seems to be reluctant. What he needs is for God to offer him a gesture that is personally meaningful. God obliges with a covenant that would look similar to a ceremony of a king giving land to a favored courtier. God provides a symbol that will be meaningful to Abram and help him deepen his faith, a faith which has already been on display for three chapters. I think this is a reminder to us that even when we have walked with God for some time, there are times that God has to reach down and remind us of our journey. Further, God is willing to do this even when it would be entirely understandable for God to simply move on and leave us where we are.
The idea that God would work on Abram’s level to build his faith in the promises God made is of course heartening because it shows God’s character. If God was willing to act in this pattern with Abram there is no reason why I should not expect similar treatment. But it is also challenging because I am to reflect God’s character and that means I must be willing to meet people where they are. I must be willing to accept the fact that if God works within Abram’s culture to this degree I must also be willing to allow latitude in respect to culture. God wants to give Abram a child and works with him despite the assault he and his wife plan and execute on their slave, under the banner of “Doing God’s will”. God patiently waits on Abram to understand and continues to provide him with new starts as Abram gradually learns what it means to follow God and embody his character. And even if I might not recognize it, this is the patience that God continues to show me, and the character that God would want me to demonstrate in the world.
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