Abraham: one-sided promise

Cover to Cover

Reading: Genesis 14:1-17:27

Focus: Genesis 15:1 – 21

As we enter into this stage of Abraham’s life, he had just fought against the Canaanite kings (think clan chieftains rather than national kings) after his nephew Lot was captured in a recent battle (see Genesis 14). At the end of this battle, one of the kings offered Abraham his portion of the war spoils but Abraham refused having taken an oath before God. (It’s not like Abraham was poor anyway!) Here, at the beginning of Genesis 15, God appeared to Abraham with the promise:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.

  I am your shield,

  your very great reward.”

For most people these days, the idea of reward is quickly tied up with material possessions; however, it’s quite a different story for the people of Abraham’s time. Possessions as reward meant little, whereas honour, prestige and glory meant a great deal more—the greatest honour conferred upon a person was a legacy lasting generations, a name sung throughout the ages. As such, Abraham replied: “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?

Here, God makes the well-known promise to Abraham, that He will enable Abraham and Sarah to conceive a child of their own flesh and blood, even in their old age, who will take the land of Canaan. With such an unbelievable feat, Abraham asked, “O Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I shall gain possession of it?” God’s response to this question, I find absolutely astounding.

God instructed Abraham to bring Him “a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.” The livestock were cut in two and arranged with halves opposite each other, but the birds were not cut and placed opposite each other. As night fell that day, God revealed to Abraham what would happen to his descendants, more importantly, God appeared to fulfil the sign of His promise. With the animals arranged with a corridor down the middle, God appeared as “a smoking brazier with a blazing torch” passing between the pieces.

What may seem as a decorative display of fireworks by God has greater significance when we understand this was the traditional method of signing a contract in Abraham’s day. What makes this even more significant is that God walked through the pieces alone, whereas the practice would be the two parties of a contract walking between the pieces together in agreement of the contract they were making. God, effectively, was signing a one-sided contract where Abraham would benefit unconditionally.

The same reality was displayed for us over 2000 years ago. On the hills of the Israeli-Palestine region, a man hung on a rugged wooden cross for treason against the State and blasphemy. His name was Jesus, to some he was just the son of a carpenter out of his league, to others He was the promised Messiah—the Christ—the Son of the Living God. Whatever He is to you, He was God’s unconditional promise of life everlasting, signed, sealed and delivered by the blood of His Only Son.

Next Reading: Genesis 18:1-20:18