(These are excerpts from a recent sermon from Genesis 15.)
Part 2: “The Covenant With Abraham”
In Genesis 15, Abraham had already been given a pretty lengthy covenant by God. Part of the covenant was the fact that God had promised Abraham that He would make him into a great nation, which entailed Abraham having children and that had, up to this point, seemed virtually impossible.
Abraham had already reaped a lot of the benefits promised in that covenant — he was wealthy and had some major military victories, including one when he saved his nephew, Lot, from crazy warlord kings.
Most people would think Abraham was a success, a hero; but he found himself in one of those deep, dark places where he was looking for a sign.
So, with that covenant in the background, Abraham came to God and asked, “What about this son I’m supposed to have? You’ve done all of these other things for me, but what about the son?” Abraham was trying to reason with God and to logically figure it out, which we all tend to do. “I know, God,” he said, “the son you’re talking about is my servant, Eliezer, right?”
That proclamation brings us to Gen. 15:4, where God said: “ ‘…This man (Eliezer) shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.’ And he brought him outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ ” (ESV)
The covenant: you will have a son.
The sign: look at the stars of the sky. You’re not just going to have a son; you’re going to have a huge family that is innumerable, like the stars in the sky.
Then God promised even more to Abraham. “And he said to him, ‘I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess,’ But he said, ‘O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?’ ” (v. 7)
God said, “Look, Abraham, I’m still not finished. Not only am I going to give you a son and many descendants like the stars in the sky. I’m also going to give you this huge, vast land that I have been promising.”
Abraham was wrestling with his faith at that point. He wanted to believe, but he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” (v. 8) We could translate that into “God, can you just give me a sign that it’s really going to happen?”
So God said, “Here’s the sign.” “He said to him, ‘Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.’ And he brought him all these, cut them in half and laid each half over against the other: But he did not cut the birds in half. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.” (v. 9)
The covenant: I am going to give you a son and I’m going to give you the land.
The sign: this time, it is blood.
God said, “Bring all of these animals, cut them in half and lay the sides apart so we can have a way of sealing this covenant with the sign of blood.”
Abraham probably wouldn’t have thought much about this, because that was a common way people would do business. It was called “cutting a covenant. The idea of that word, “covenant,” in the original language is “cut.” They would cut the animals in two, and both parties would walk between the animal halves, symbolically saying, “If I don’t keep my end of this bargain (covenant, agreement) then, just as it has been for these animals, so shall it be for me.” In other words, they’re saying, “If I don’t keep my end of the agreement, then let me die.” They’re sealing it and signing it with their blood.
While that may seem ancient and barbaric to us, I’m sure everyone in this room has done the very same thing, and you’ve even let your kids make this type of covenant. Does this sound familiar? — “Cross my heart, hope to die.” Where do you think that comes from? It’s the idea that we mean business, that we are sealing it with our very life. We’re guaranteeing it with our blood.