Covenant: A divine promise.
Before we go too much further in our study of Jacob's twelve sons, I think it is best to go back to the beginning of Jacob's family history. For the complete story you can find it in Genesis 15, then read Genesis 17, 18, 21 and 22. Today's post is on the covenant God made with Abraham back in Genesis 15.
Back in Abraham's day there were no legally binding documents between two parties. There were no lawyers reading over the terms, there was no fine print, no free pens at the mortgage closing. The agreements between two people were made in a most peculiar way for our modern 2016 thinking.
God made a divine promise with Abraham. When he made the promise the Bible says, "Abram believed the LORD and he credited it to him as righteousness." Abraham didn't ask for proof before he believed. He didn't ask for a sign, he didn't even do as his future grandson would do by saying to God, "When you do what you say, THEN I will believe." No, Abraham simply believed without knowing a single detail.
So what was the promise? What were the terms of the covenant? How was the covenant written up?
I'm glad you asked.
The promise was this:
"I am your shield, your very great reward."
Abraham thought his reward would be children and ancestors and so he asked God how on earth all that was going to happen because "I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?...you have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir."
Abraham thought with human thinking. And human thinking does not naturally think outside its box.
So then God told him what it would look like. He told Abraham his heir would come from his old body and your offspring will be greater than the number of stars in the sky.
And what did Abraham do?
Abram believed the LORD, and he credited to him as righteousness.
How? Abraham asked. How? How can I know?
And that's where the Covenant comes in.
God's covenant making was a little bit different than you or I take part in, say when we buy a house or a car or get married. For any of those promises, whether to pay money each month for a certain number of years or stay committed to one person until you or the other dies, a signature is usually a good representation of both parties agreeing to the terms of the covenant.
However, God's signature wasn't based on Abraham agreeing to the terms or even signing on the dotted line. God signed it while Abraham was sleeping, and even though Abraham didn't understand how it was going to happen or what exactly he may or may not be agreeing to, God did not nullify the covenant based on Abraham's ability to understand.
When Abraham believed God, even though he didn't know or understand all the hows and whys and ways it would work, God blessed Abraham. The Bible says that Abraham believed God and that belief was credited to Abraham as righteousness. Abraham didn't have to understand the how before God would make the covenant. God made the covenant anyway.
Back then, covenants were made in a....I'll just say it, weird way. Much different than a binding legal document of the 21st century. A heifer, a goat, a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon were part of the deal. No free pens, no other witnesses, no other phone calls to make sure the loan was approved. Just God, Abraham and a small hobby farm.
"The technical word in Hebrew for the transaction of a covenant is "to hew or cut" a covenant. In those early days when a written agreement was rare, men made their business transactions with solemn religious ceremonies. Jeremiah 34:18-19 suggests that the same method was used as in Genesis 15:9-17. The contracting party was required to bring certain animals that were slaughtered and divided into pieces. These divided pieces, which represented the two parties to the covenant, were laid opposite each other in such a way as to leave a path in the center along which both contracting persons walked. This represented the two parties to the covenant being made one." *
But God's covenant with Abraham was a bit different. Instead of Abraham walking between the pieces with God, guess what happened?
Abraham fell asleep, a deep sleep. And while he was sleeping, a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. But the LORD spoke to him in this deep sleep and promised: "Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years."
Spoiler alert: It is Jacob's relatives who are the ones in slavery It is Jacob's boys - Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph and Benjamin - who are the predecessors of those who become slaves of Egypt.
God promised Abraham that he would have a son and from that one son's descendants they would eventually come back to the very area where the divine promise was made. Maybe even to the exact spot where the animals and birds were cut in half.
God's promise was not contingent on a man's agreement. If it were, Abraham wouldn't have fallen asleep.
God's promise is never contingent on our understanding of how or why or how long or our willing participation.
Never, never, never. Ever.
Abraham never saw the fruit of his body past Isaac and Ishmael. But Abraham believed God when he said his offspring would number the stars in the sky. He didn't know how, but he believed. He didn't know why. But he believed.
That's all God wants from any of us. Just believe without knowing the details. Just believe without getting all the whys answered. Just believe without knowing how first.
You and I, Gentile or Jew, when we believe God, we are part of this divine covenant God made with Abraham. We don't get the land, but we get the same promise God made to Abraham before the covenant was drawn up and signed. The only contingency: Belief.
Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.
Do not be afraid, Dear Reader. God is your shield, your very great reward.
That is the only Covenant we need.
Genesis 12; 15; 25:7-8; James 2:17-24; Romans 1:16-17; 4:1-5, 17-25; Psalm 3:3; 5:12; 28:7; 33:20; 91:4; 119:114; Exodus 6:11; 12:31-42
* Taken from Bible Study Fellowship Genesis Lesson 15 Series 1.