Summary: We can know beyond a Shadow of a Doubt that God keeps His promises.
Have you ever been around someone you think you know really well, and suddenly they do something totally out of character?
It may be something good or it may be something bad. If you’re married, you’ve no doubt had that happen! Or maybe we’ve stereotyped somebody and found out they’re nothing like what we thought.
A tough looking biker cuddles a kitten; a sweet teenage girl erupts in a string of obscenities. It’s so unexpected. It’s unsettling.
That’s the kind of reaction I had when I first read this passage. It is such a violent, gruesome ritual. “What kind of a God would come up with such a gory ritual?” It seemed pretty disgusting to me, to be honest.
Most of us tend to avoid such passages, because they are confusing and unsettling. But I’ve discovered that if I find out what is happening in these confusing passages, I often gain a deeper understanding of who God is and of His relationship to us.
As we look at this passage more carefully, I think we will make just such a discovery.
Abram had been waiting several years for God to fulfill His promise that Abram would have so many descendants, they couldn’t be numbred.
Abram was 75 when God made that promise back in chapter 12
But at 75, he had left his home and family and moved to a strange place because God had told him to do so.
And he had waited for God’s promise to come true
And he waited. And he waited.
In the next chapter we’re told he was 86, and we don’t really know how much time there was between the two chapters, but it had probably been several years.
Most of you know that it was shameful in that culture not to have children.
All their lives, Abram and Sarai had endured that shame
What joy Abram had had when God had made this wonderful promise, that not only would they have a child, but that their descendents would become a great nation.
But God appears to Abram again, and Abram is ticked!
You can hear the anguish in his voice as he says,
"Sovereign Lord, what good will your reward do me, since I have no children? … You have given me no children, and one of my slaves will inherit my property."
Have you been in Abram’s shoes?
“Lord, You promised you would give me: ____” a job or children or … but where is it?
I trusted You – & You haven’t come through
Have you questioned his care for you?
Have you doubted his love?
Abram did – and dared to voice his frustration and his doubt to God.
He asks very pointedly, “How can I KNOW that you’re going to fulfill your promise?”
In answer to that question, God tells Abram to bring five animals to him
Abram apparently knows just what to do
And he takes the animals, and cuts up the large ones, and lays the halves across from each other with a space in between.
Again, Abram waits, chasing the vultures away.
He falls into an exhausted sleep and the Lord reveals the future of Israel – a nation which of course didn’t exist at the time – to Abram
It isn’t a rosy picture
The Lord reveals how Abram’s descendants will be enslaved in Egypt
But also how He will free them from bondage and eventually give them the land on which Abram is standing.
Then “a smoking firepot and a flaming torch” pass between the halves of the animals and God repeats His promise to give Abram and his descendants the lands of many of the tribes of Canaan.
What on earth is going on? Why the gory ritual? And God does all this AFTER Abraham believed what God says (v 6)
First of all, God didn’t invent this ritual.
It was very common between nations who had made a covenant with one another.
There were all kinds of covenants, but the one that is most like the covenant between God and Abram was what we call a “Suzerainty Covenant”
A Suzerain was the King of a tribe or nation which had just conquered another tribe
When one tribe conquered another, an official document (sort of like a treaty), called a covenant, would be drawn up between them.
Obviously, the winners pretty much got to write the terms of the agreement.
The Losers became the Vassals, that is, they would come under the authority – and the protection – of the Suzerain.
The vassal would normally pay large sums of money to the Suzerain
And the Suzerain would protect the Vassal from anybody else who tried to attack it.
So the covenant established an ongoing relationship
In order to insure that the agreement would be upheld, a covenant would be drawn up