Summary: God loves His people. We are His creation. And He desires that we live in right relationship with Him. God knows that He will have to make the "first moves," and He has done so.
"The Powerful Old Covenant (Part 1)"
Author: Dr. Neal Gray
Passage: Genesis 15:1-21, KJV
Purpose: God loves His people. We are His creation. And He desires that we live in right relationship with Him. God knows that He will have to make the "first moves," and He has done so. In the powerful old covenant that He made with Abraham, you and I are named as beneficiaries. It’s time that we realize God’s promise to us through our father Abraham.
You may remember, from your study of the Older Testament, a conversation that God had with Abram. (If not, you’ll know after today!) God told Abram to venture out, away from his native land to a new land. And in the journey, God promised, "Get thee out of thy country...unto a land that I will show thee: and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing," (see Genesis 12:1-2).
Well, Abram did as God told him. And sometime after God called Abram to follow Him, the two were conversing. God reminded Abram of the original promise of the land. ABRAM ASKED HOW HE COULD BE CERTAIN THAT GOD WOULD COME THROUGH WITH HIS PART OF THE DEAL. God said, "Get a heifer." Abram’s heart pounded with excitement. He knew what God meant--THE CONTRACT WAS ABOUT TO BE SIGNED!
Let’s listen in on this conversation, in the 15th chapter of Genesis.
GOD’S LOVE COMING DOWN
In this conversation, God gave Abram some very unusual instructions.
Go Get a Heifer
Abram had recently left Ur of the Chaldees, his home country, to follow God to some uncharted territory. GOD HAD PROMISED HIM REAL ESTATE, AND ABRAM WAS EXPECTANT.
"I’m here, God," he said, "ready for all You promised me."
"Go get a heifer, a three-year old heifer," God answered.
I would be surprised by God’s request, but it was no surprise to Abram. Sacrificing a heifer was the language of contracts in those days. With those words, Abram knew that he was about to make a contract with Holy God.
==> Everything Abram expected--and more--was about to be formalized with God Himself.
In the ancient Middle Eastern world a practice called "making covenant," or "cutting covenant," was common. A COVENANT WAS AN ALL-ENCOMPASSING AGREEMENT between two parties.
The closest comparison to it in our modern culture is marriage. But with the current prevalence of divorce, even marriage doesn’t compare. Once a person entered into a covenant in the ancient Middle Eastern world, specifically the blood covenant, HE OR SHE COULD NOT BE RELEASED FROM IT.
In the culture of Abram IT WAS COMMON FOR TRIBAL CHIEFS OR HEADS OF CITY-STATES TO ENTER INTO COVENANTS OR ALLIANCES WITH ONE ANOTHER. So when God wanted to communicate to humanity, He used the covenant, because IT WAS A VEHICLE THAT THE PEOPLE WOULD IMMEDIATELY understand.
God Wanted to Show His Love
After the fall of Adam and Eve, and at the time of Abram, creation had gone awry. Put simply: people continued to sin against God. "Making covenant" would be a way God could demonstrate His love for humanity and His deep desire to have fellowship with individuals. Entering into covenant was a language that the people of Abram’s culture would understand.
The covenant-making ceremony was an agreement between two parties that was made publicly. In fact, covenants were usually made at the gates of the city, or in open fields before a crowd of witnesses.
==> Why would God use such a unusual, human-comprehended, ritual? Simple, really. God loved Adam and Eve. God loved His people. God desired to give His people a perpetual promise to show His love, and to give them hope. OUR GOD IS A LOVING, CARING, GIVING GOD!
STEPS OF MAKING COVENANT
"Making covenant" involved TEN steps. Let’s look at their significance.
Step 1: Exchange of Robes
Step one of the covenant-making ceremony was THE EXCHANGE OF ROBES. This represented AN EXCHANGE OF IDENTITY.
The two parties would take their outer garments and exchange them. Let’s say that Tom and Bill "make covenant." They exchange outer garments.
If someone saw one of the partners from a distance, he or she might say, "Here comes Bill. But wait--he doesn’t walk like Bill; he’s not built like Bill. But isn’t that Bill’s robe he’s wearing?"
==> The exchange of robes represents a confusion of identity
Step 2: Exchange of Belts
The second step was THE EXCHANGE OF BELTS. This represented AN EXCHANGE OF STRENGTH.
The covenant partners would literally trade belts. These belts were larger than we wear today and were the place from which military gear was hung.
Exchanging them symbolized the sharing of strengths or assets. If we exchanged belts, my covenant partner would be saying to me, "Neal, everything I bring to this relationship is now yours. And everything you have is now mine. Our strengths and our assets are now combined."