by Wesley Blackburn
I really believe that today’s passage is one of the most critical in the Old Testament, if not the entire Bible. I realize that’s a pretty grandiose statement, but bear with me. I hope you’ll see why I say that by the end of this posting today.
Basically, in today’s reading, God comes to Abram and tells him not to worry; God is going to be his shield and his reward. Abram, though, doesn’t believe it. Several years ago, God promised Abram that he’d give him a huge piece of awesome land and that He would bless the incredibly old Abram and his wife, Sarai, with a male child. This was something that Abram and Sarai had been hoping and praying for for years.
But up to this point, God’s promise hasn’t materialized.
Abram isn’t shy about talking to God about this. In 15:2, Abram asks what God can give him, seeing as how he’s still childless. The thing I find interesting about this question is that Abram asks a question that assumes God isn’t going to give him a child. Read it. Abram asks, since I’m still childless, what can you give me? He sort of just assumes that he’s going to have to settle for something else from God because God is taking too long.
That’s a man (and a faith) that I can empathize with. Sometimes, God just takes too long. I want something now. I want deliverance from a situation now. I want blessing and prosperity now. If God promises something to me, it’s coming now… I don’t need to wait for it. No doubt Abram was under the same mindset.
So what does God do? He simply tells Abram that He’s going to take care of things.
He doesn’t give a sign.
He doesn’t give Abram a vision.
He just gives His word.
And for Abram, that’s enough. In fact, it’s enough to make the Bible state that “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). When we read in the New Testament book of Romans, we’ll discover that to Paul, this would be one of the most important verses in the entire Bible, because it tells us that we can be considered righteous in the eyes of God simply by believing Him.
Now, Abram has decided to continue believing. And after he believes, God decides that now is a good time to offer some reassurance to Abram through the form of an everlasting covenant. God tells Abram to gather some animals to sacrifice, and then lulls Abram into a deep sleep. While Abram is asleep, God appears as a smoking firepot, passing between the divided carcasses that Abram had made.
Here’s where some historical context (remember our TXT principles?) becomes very important. When two rulers, family/tribal heads, or other important figures wanted to reach an agreement on something in the ancient world, they would make a covenant. Just like Abram did, these rulers would find several animals and divide the carcasses in half, spreading them out opposite from one another, forming a walkway for both men to walk through. After walking through this little path and viewing the carnage on all sides, the two figures would swear an oath to one another, stating “May this (referring to the mass death all around them) happen to me and my people if this covenant is broken.” In other words, these leaders would give their word that they and their people deserved to die (and they meant it) if they violated the terms of this covenant agreement. Covenants were serious stuff.
Many Bible scholars speculate a similar thing is happening here. But one important difference has to be noted: Abram never walks through the pathway. Only God does. In essence, God is putting Himself out there, saying to Abraham, “May death happen to me if this covenant is broken.” It’s interesting to note that God is the only party who makes this oath, as if to say that this promise doesn’t really hinge on Abraham at all. Because of God’s faithful nature, He’s going to make good on His promise.
Pastor Andy Stanley defines faith as “a confidence that God is who He says He is and that God will do the things He has promised to do.” We see this here. God is making a promise. And because of His faithful nature, He will always keep it. That’s a fact.
God keeping His promises; that is the enormous theme we learn from Genesis 15. Imagine the implications if we would actually be courageous enough (and trusting enough) to really live that out in our lives.