At the start of Genesis 15, it has been about 10 years since Abram and Sarai left their home, believing that the LORD is going to make them into the ancestors of a great nation. But they are still without child, and Abram is starting to be afraid that maybe the LORD was not going to keep His promise, or that Abram had misunderstood the promise. The LORD speaks to Abram, telling him not to be afraid, and that Abram will indeed have an heir of his own. The LORD then makes Abram look into the night sky, and Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD reckoned him as righteous.
The LORD then instructs Abram to bring a 3-year-old heifer, a 3-year-old female goat, a 3-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon. He was to leave the birds whole but was to cut the animals in half and place the halves facing each other. When it got dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.
People making covenants would use this ritual to make it a serious agreement. The meaning was that if either of them broke the covenant, then the other could do to the one who broke it, what they had done to the animals.
This ritual was initiated by the LORD in response to Abram’s question about how he will know that his descendants will actually possess the promised land. Included in this question is a question about having heirs. And as verse 18 states, “On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram”. As long as Abram continues to follow the LORD’s directions, he will become the father of a great nation, which will be a blessing to the rest of the world.
At the beginning of the chapter, Abram is afraid, since although he left his home in faith, there is still no child. By the time he reaffirms that he believes in the LORD’s promise in verse 6, his situation has not changed – He is still far from home, and he is still childless. So, nothing has really changed, but Abram goes from doubt to belief. The only thing that happened between the two states is that the LORD had Abram look up into the night sky to look at the stars.
When Abram was reminded that it was the same God that created the heavens who was promising him to be the father of a great nation, Abram must have realized that such a powerful God was certainly able to give him an heir. What is impossible for mortals is possible for God. So, he reaffirms his faith in the LORD. And because of this, God considers Abram as righteous – In the right relationship with God.
We too, need to be reminded of God’s greatness from time to time. We find ourselves in situations that we don’t like, and we wonder why God is not doing something about it. But God, who created the heavens and earth, has the power to do whatever needs to be done. It is a matter of whether it is His will to do something at that particular time. Often, we cannot know the mind of God, but just trust that He knows what He is doing.
As far as the covenant ritual is concerned, it is interesting to note that even though the LORD is making a covenant with Abram, Abram does not pass through the animal pieces. Instead, the LORD is representing both himself and Abram with the smoking fire pot and the flaming torch.
Since God will not break the covenant and Abram and/or his descendants will, this means that God is willing to pay the penalty of death for man’s sins. This is the same basic premise that is behind Jesus’ death on the cross. God will never sin, but He is willing to pay for the sins of mankind.
The Son of God was the only person in the history of mankind that was without sin. So, He is able to die for others, and Jesus did so willingly so that whoever believes in Him and accepts Him as lord and savior will have their sins forgiven and gain eternal life.
Would we be willing to make an agreement with someone that we know for a fact will not be able to honor it? We would, if it was someone we loved, like a child or a grandchild. We would be willing to give all the benefit, while knowing that we will not get anything that was promised to us. That’s what God did with Abram in this situation, and with us through the cross of Christ.
Today is Pentecost Sunday, when we remember the day when the Holy Spirit came down with power onto the disciples and enabled them to boldly witness for the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is what Jesus had promised as He was returning to heaven after His resurrection. After teaching his disciple for forty days, he ascended into heaven, promising that they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes, to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
Jesus kept His promise. Will we keep our promise to be His witnesses? Hopefully some of the time. But we all fail to keep that promise at times. When the situation and the person we’re talking to is ideal, we are able and willing. But when the situation doesn’t feel ideal, or if we’re not feeling love for others, or if we are not in the mood, we often fail to be effective witnesses.
But Jesus already knew beforehand that we would often fail, and yet, He gives us the Holy Spirit when we accept Jesus as our lord and savior. He will never fail us, even though we often fail Him. That’s why a human never walked through those animal pieces – It was just God. God walking through to represent Himself, as well as to represent us. And our failures were already paid by God, through His Son’s death on the cross.
So, when we are feeling inadequate, or after failing to be good witnesses, look up into the starry sky and be reminded that God created those, and if He can do that, He can empower us to be His witnesses. He will give us the words to boldly witness, just like He did on that Pentecost Sunday some two thousand years ago.
(the above is a summary of the message shared by Shun Takano with us during worship pm May 28, 2023)