Genesis 15: The Covenant

We don’t know how many years passed between Genesis 12 and Genesis 15, but, to Abram, it seemed like time was running out for God to fulfill His promise of a son. Abram began to fear that God might not be able to fully keep His covenant. “Then the LORD took Abram outside and said to him, ‘Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!'” (vs. 5, NLT). “And Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” Wow, let’s break this interaction down a little. There’s an exchange that took place here and here’s how it worked:  Abram gave God his belief, and, in return, God gave Abram righteousness! If that doesn’t blow your mind, I don’t know what will! It doesn’t seem quite fair, though, does it? That’s because it’s called grace! Paul will later use this verse in Romans 4:1-3 and Galatians 3:5-9 to prove that salvation does not come through our actions but through faith alone.

When Abram then asked God for a sign of the covenant, God told Abram to do something that might seem odd to us. He told Abram to take a bunch of animals and cut them in two! In modern language, however, God was telling Abram, “Prepare a legal contract for signing.”  When Abram had sacrificed the animals and prepared them according to the custom of his day, verse 12 tells us, “Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him.” Wait, what’s going on here? God reassures Abram of a wonderful promise and then Abram has a nightmare? That sort of seems out of place, doesn’t it? But I believe this passage gives us a critical piece of the puzzle. You see, God’s covenant with Abram was not only a promise to bless Abram’s descendants with land, but it was also the covenant that Abram’s Seed would “be a blessing to all nations.” It was, in fact, the same covenant given to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 – the covenant ultimately fulfilled by the life and death of Jesus Christ! But before every morning of promise, there is an evening of darkness. Before the promised land, there was slavery; before the resurrection, there was the cross. It’s almost as if God was asking Abram, “Do you really understand, Abram, what it will take for Me to fulfill this covenant with you?” I believe Abram was given a small foretaste of the horrible darkness that would be required for the covenant of salvation to be accomplished. It would require the sundering of the Godhead, the horror of utter separation by the Son, the very death of God Himself!

We then read that God manifested Himself to Abram in the form of a burning torch and passed through the sacrifice, thus signing the agreement. And what did Abram do for his part of the covenant? Abram watched! That’s the amazing twist to the story! Normally, both parties would pass through the animals to mutually ratify a contract, but God was making a unilateral covenant – a covenant in which only one party was responsible for the fulfillment of the contractual terms. God took upon Himself the sole responsibility for making this covenant happen. God would come through on this covenant no matter what, even if it cost Him His own life. And what was Abram’s part to play? All Abram had to do was believe that God would actually do what He said He was going to do!

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Abraham: The Relationship Factor

With Genesis 12 and 13, we dive into an amazing journey with Abraham which we will spend the next few weeks traveling through! In chapter 12, we find the call of Abram – a call that asks him to leave behind everything known and familiar and to follow God’s voice into an unknown land. Abram would have never followed that call if a relationship with his Creator had not already been in place. However, all was not smooth and easy for Abram. After a long and arduous journey, Abram finally reaches the land where God has led him – but look what confronts him: Famine! What a test of faith! Abram has finally settled down in the land of promise only to be driven to Egypt by threat of starvation! When Abram finally reaches Egypt, it’s as if his faith begins to waiver in his God. We are, of course, all too familiar with the lovely mess Abram managed to get himself into with Sarah and how a merciful God got him out of it!

But then we get to Genesis 13. I really like how this chapter begins: Abram came “to the place where his tent had been at the beginning… to the place of the altar which he had made there at first. And there Abram called on the name of the Lord.” After a long and unnecessary detour, Abram finally ends up right back where he started. Abram had made a big mistake in Egypt and his actions had hindered God’s plan, but Abram never forgot about his relationship with God. He knew how to come back to the starting point. This made me think of some life-application questions for us today: What do we do after a season of backsliding or after a major spiritual failure? What is our response to God? Do we torture ourselves over the past? Does our guilt drive us farther away from God? And, yet, our loving Heavenly Father desires nothing more than for us to simply call on his name. He wants us to come running back into His arms!

Chapter 13 also covers the dissension and separation of Lot and Abram. I absolutely love Abram’s words to Lot in verse 8: “Please let there be no strife between us… for we are brethren.” Why should there be no strife? Because we’re family! You know, this really makes me wonder whether our arguments, contentions, and annoyances with each other (especially in the church) are really that big of a deal when we realize the most important thing of all: That we’re family! 1 Peter 4:8 reminds us how we should act in our family: “Above all continue to love one another fervently, for love throws a veil over a multitude of faults” (Weymouth New Testament). In other words, love looks past a whole lot of baggage when relationship is kept at the forefront of the picture. And, that, friends, is what I believe the message of Genesis 12 and 13 is for us today. In chapter 12, a merciful God chose to dig Abram out of his ditch because of relationship. In chapter 13, Abram demonstrated radical generosity and graciousness when he allowed Lot to choose his portion of the land. Why? Because of relationship! And throughout all this, Abram never forgot the most important relationship of all – the relationship with his Creator. “And Abraham was called God’s friend” (James 2:23). I think that’s why Genesis 13 begins and ends the same way: Abram builds an altar for worship. Abram’s experience of Genesis 12 and 13 is book-ended by one overarching purpose: relationship!

I would like to invite you to join me in spending some time this week thinking about what it means to “call upon the name of the Lord” – no matter what! Whether we’re on a spiritual mountain top or whether we’re coming out of a spiritual downfall, we can always count on God’s relationship with us.