From our sermon reading this past weekend:
The rest of the people…now join their fellow Israelites…and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses. // Nehemiah 10:28-29
These people are setting up a covenant.
When was the last time you set up a covenant or signed a covenant? Most of us do not operate with an awareness of what a covenant is or when and where it might come in handy. Yet all of us have, to one degree or another, been benefactors of a covenant relationship, we just don’t often think about them as such. Marriage and parenting, for example, are covenants—agreements that “I am binding myself to you in order to benefit you.”
Genesis 15 shows us what a Near Eastern covenant would look like and how God was setting up a covenant with Abram (later called Abraham). He made some very significant and unbelievable promises to Abram; and Abe asks an honest question, “How can I know that you will do this for me?” (You may have asked God or thought the same thing at times in your life.)
So God told Abram, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.” (Genesis 15:9) That’s it for instructions.
Abram knew exactly what to do because God had just placed the “ingredients” for a Near Eastern covenant into their conversation. Abram took the animals and (Genesis 15:10) “brought all these to him, cut them in two, and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half.” What Abram did was create a bloody mess with a pathway in the middle of the two halves of these animals; he created a covenant.
Such a covenant now proceeded with each member of the covenant swearing that they would keep their end of the bargain OR they would agree to be cut in half like each of these animals. As you might guess, this became a very solemn covenantal agreement for each party. Each person would take turns and walk through the center of these cut up animals, walking with their feet in the blood, and by walking through the pieces they bound themselves legally and relationally to the other party. They could now take the other person seriously.
This is where it gets interesting. Abram starts to ponder the magnitude of this covenant and realizes that if God is who he says he is, there is no problem on his part in fulfilling the covenant. But, then Abram considers his own record on planet Earth and his own weaknesses. A very real dread comes over him as he knows that even one foot of his in that covenant blood trail will mean that he pays dearly with his life. He can’t fully keep his covenant with God—Abram knows that he can’t be perfect.
But God steps in and rescues Abram. How?
A smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. // Genesis 15:17
But Abram never set a foot in this covenant.
What does it mean?
God was preparing Abram for the reality of Abram’s guilt and responsibility to God but was also showing mercy and grace by putting himself in place of Abram walking through the covenant. God doubly bound himself to this blood covenant. If God broke any part of this agreement, God would be cut up and die. But if Abram broke any part of this agreement, God, himself, would be cut up and die. This is one of the most beautiful and gory pictures of grace and mercy…until the cross of Calvary.
On the cross, Jesus let himself be cut and broken and die so that Abram could live. On the cross, God also set himself up to fulfill the covenant relationship when we fail. He paid the cost of our rebellion, our doubts and sneers, our inability to live before him in perfect righteousness. And he also promises to fulfill his end of the covenant relationship—he promises to forgive you, to provide a perfect eternity for you, to guide you through this life, to fill you with his Spirit, to be with you always, to increase your faith (and so many more great promises).
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? //Romans 8:32
You are the benefactor of a blood covenant that God has made with you in Christ.
Blessings on your week!