by Heather Bock
Last week I wrote about how I sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that I am valued, loved, and made righteous by what I do, and that the reverse is true when I don’t do what I should. You can read it here. This week, I want to bring you a story of someone who was willing to act, too–he was willing to do his part in a covenant with God, but God, in His grace, had other plans.
Abram grew up in a culture and with a father who worshiped other gods besides the one and only God, the Creator (Josh. 24:2). Abram may have known something about God and may have worshiped Him some, too, but he most likely didn’t worship Him alone. But God (one of my favorite phrases in Scripture) called Abram in Genesis 12. He promised He would take Abram to another land and make his descendants into a great nation, a nation that would not only be blessed, but that through which all the families on earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:3). Other tribes worshiped gods in order that their own people would be blessed. God had Abram think beyond this desire.
Later, in Genesis 13, God showed Abram the land He was going to give him and promised him a huge number of descendants once again. Then, for the third time in Genesis 15, God promised him descendants as numerous as the stars and that his family would possess the land God had given to them. Although Abram believed God, he wanted something a little more tangible. He asked, “O Lord GOD, how may I know that I will possess it?” (Gen. 15:7).
That’s when God did something unique. He started in a way that was recognized as culturally normal, a covenant with Abram with all the usual symbols. He asked Abram to bring a three-year-old heifer, female goat, and ram, along with a turtledove and young pigeon. Abram knew just what to do with these animals. He cut all but the birds in two, creating a bloody path between the halves. He knew the two parties of the covenant were supposed to walk through these animals together to signify that if either did not keep the covenant, they would be killed like the animals.
However, God had a plan Abram didn’t expect. Before he could walk that path, Abram fell into a deep sleep. Despite the fact that the text says terror came over Abram in this sleep, which would normally wake a person, he continued to slumber. The last time this happened in Scripture, God had put Adam into a deep sleep to create Eve (Gen. 2:21). It seems that this was the work of God’s hand, as well, because God didn’t wait for Abram to wake before He passed through the animals alone with His flaming light through the complete darkness.
What was God’s message? I will walk the bloody covenant path alone. We will make a covenant together, but I know you won’t be able to keep your end of the promise, so the consequences will fall solely on Me.
Talk about Abram not doing anything to earn this. He was dead asleep.
The covenant involved giving Abram a great name, a promise that has held through to today. It truly gave him numerous physical descendants and physical land to those people. It went beyond what Abram thought, though. He was also given spiritual descendants and land: those who have faith as he did and take spiritual ground as he did. Galatians 3:7-9 says, “Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘All the nations will be blessed in you.’ So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.”
How were the nations blessed? Through Jesus, the highest of all of Abram’s many descendants. Jesus was willing to ultimately fulfill that covenant walked through so long ago by being killed on behalf of the party who could never keep his side of the bargain—never stay totally faithful to his covenant partner. He walked the bloody path and was torn for our unfaithfulness.
If you are tempted (like I sometimes am) to think you have to do something to gain God’s acceptance and love, I hope you’ll remember this picture of Abram lying knocked out on the ground while God makes His undying covenant (or rather “someday to die” covenant) with him. God knows we are made from dust (Ps. 103:14), and He loves and accepts us anyway.