It’s a bizarre situation. We’re about to make a binding covenant. We’ve agreed on the terms. So, obviously, I fetch several animals, slaughter them, halve the carcases, and arrange them either side of a walkway while I beat off some stray vultures. Ready to go.
Then, being dusk, I accidentally fall asleep. Deeply asleep. Horrors pass by my eyes. I hear and see my descendants as captives, slaves for hundreds of years. And then I hear and see them freed and given a vast prosperous land, an everlasting home for them, the fulfilment of the terms of the covenant.
More bizarre yet, when I wake in the dead of night I see a smoking pot of coals and a fiery torch passing between the carcases. I was ready to walk with him, binding ourselves together to the agreed terms on the threat of dismemberment for breaking the covenant. Yet, I find He’s beat me to it. He’s gone ahead of me on his own. He’s marching between those carcases alone. He’s binding himself, alone, to the covenant. An absolute, one-sided commitment on God’s part to fulfil the promise. Completely bizarre. But that’s how it panned out – God’s covenant with Abram.
It was a covenant with an old childless man and his post-menopausal wife; a promise to give him descendants as many as the stars in the sky, and a vast tract of land for their everlasting home in order that through them, the entire planet – all the ethnic groups of the earth – might receive the Blessing of God.
A sign of the covenant was added – circumcision – making the covenant front and centre for every new generation.
It’s been a bit overwhelming to consider all the civilisations that have come and gone since that bizarre moment. Most of what we know of history has happened since then. The rises to and falls from greatness. Innumerable wars and dispossessions. The discoveries of continents and galaxies, wisdom and technology. Great religions completely lost along with the civilisations that hosted them. The Christian faith itself was almost lost as it rose to a distorted ‘greatness.’ Even the descendants of Abraham themselves have gained and been dispossessed of the Promised Land several times.
About half way between Abram and us, Jesus broke into the story. Jesus and the redemption that comes through Him is the means by which God fulfils his promise to bless all the nations of the earth. He has blessed and is blessing the nations.
Looking around me, and to the future, I see uncertainty. Political upheaval from left to right, right to left. Global debt tsunamis. Ideological brutality. The evisceration of the concept of truth. Violent intolerance by champions of tolerance. Perverse betrayals of Holy trust. I’m glad to stand in that 4000-year-old tradition that believes God has bound himself, on threat of dismemberment, to bless all the peoples of the earth through the descendants of Abraham. And through one in particular – Jesus.
I am glad that like Abraham, He does not require me to bring about his purposes. Rather, He calls me to believe, to keep his promises front and centre and to walk in his ways. He’s got the rest.