Read Genesis 15:7-21
“On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram.”
Up until here God has made promises, but here – with animal carcasses cut in half – he is making a covenant (contract). In his wonderful kindness he is using a method that, though bizarre to us, would have made perfect sense to Abram because it’s how Abram would have made a contract with any other person.
The covenant is about land. God is ‘officially’ giving the land to Abram or, more specifically, to Abram’s descendants: his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and so on.
It’s astounding. Listen, “I have given this land to your descendants,” (NLT). The NIV doesn’t capture the idea of how God has already given the land, but it comes through in some other translations, and either way it’s astounding. God is giving the land to people not yet born.
He can do stuff like that.
But what I love most in all this is what it shows us about God’s heart. He’s already given the land, so there’s no real point to this elaborate covenant ceremony – except that Abram needs it.
Abram was able to believe God about the children but apparently, ‘I’m giving you this land’ stretches him too far. So, without whining or accusing, Abram simply asks, “How can I know?” It’s both an admission that he should know, and a confession that he doesn’t.
And God likes it.
God wants him to know because, to God, faith is what makes a person ‘right’. So he gives Abram the physical proof of the covenant. Then he does more: he gives him a vision of the future. He tells Abram what will happen to his descendants, how they will be enslaved in a foreign land for 400 years, then set free and returned to this land, which he has given them.
He adds as a kind of afterthought: they can’t have the land now, because the people who live here don’t deserve to lose it yet.
He’s telling Abram the big story. It’s an invitation to Abram to see his own life in the context of the bigger thing that God is doing. But remembering that Abram is human and fearful, he gently adds, “You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age.”
I think if I was Abram I’d pretty much shut-up after this. What can a human say when faced with the bigness and complexity of everything God is doing?
What a gift, to be shown the way that he is writing your life into a wonderful story.