Second Sunday in Lent, March 13
Reader: “Abram believed the Lord,”
Response: “and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith.”
Scripture: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
Some time later, the Lord spoke to Abram in a vision and said to him, “Do not be afraid, Abram, for I will protect you, and your reward will be great.”
But Abram replied, “O Sovereign Lord, what good are all your blessings when I don’t even have a son? Since you’ve given me no children, Eliezer of Damascus, a servant in my household, will inherit all my wealth. You have given me no descendants of my own, so one of my servants will be my heir.”
Then the Lord said to him, “No, your servant will not be your heir, for you will have a son of your own who will be your heir.” Then the Lord took Abram outside and said to him, “Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!”
And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith.
Then the Lord told him, “I am the Lord who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as your possession.” But Abram replied, “O Sovereign Lord, how can I be sure that I will actually possess it?”
The Lord told him, “Bring me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” So Abram presented all these to him and killed them. Then he cut each animal down the middle and laid the halves side by side; he did not, however, cut the birds in half. Some vultures swooped down to eat the carcasses, but Abram chased them away. As the sun was going down, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a terrifying darkness came down over him.
After the sun went down and darkness fell, Abram saw a smoking firepot and a flaming torch pass between the halves of the carcasses. So the Lord made a covenant with Abram that day and said, “I have given this land to your descendants, all the way from the border of Egypt to the great Euphrates River—
The passage for today begins in an intriguing way with the phrase, “Some time later. . .” It seems that something had just happened and this is a followup to whatever it was. A few chapters back was the call of Abram from God to leave his homeland and go to the land of Canaan. God made a verbal covenant with him that through him and his descendants all the nations of the world would be blessed. In short, God had established a relationship with Abram earlier and is now carrying that further by enacting the formal covenant with him. Note that in both cases, God was the initiator in coming to Abram, this time in a vision with the familiar words, “Do not be afraid.”
In this vision we are privy to a very down to earth transparent conversation between God and Abram concerning his lack of an heir. One has to admire the almost innocent, childlike nature of Abram’s interaction with God. In this case God spelled out specifically what would happen concerning his offspring. (This doesn’t always happen. In fact, most of the time God is short on giving us details when he asks us to trust him. Of course, the nature of faith is believing without seeing. “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” Heb. 11:1)
Abam believed what God had promised and it was counted to him as righteousness. This does not mean he never sinned. Remember he lied about his wife being his sister on two separate occasions, so being deemed righteous, does not mean sinless. What it does mean is that he repeatedly returned to faith as a pattern throughout his lifetime. That’s a pattern for us.
Abram’s dialogue with God continued as he expressed some apprehension that what God promised would actually occur. God answered Abram in a very visual, tangible manner. At first blush, the actions described may seem a little strange until we have a better grasp of the significance of the actions.
Today, when we purchase a portion of land, it comes with a deed and title proving ownership. In Abram’s time, such was not the case. To enact a covenant in those days a contract was made by cutting animals in two split down the middle top to bottom rather than cutting them in half. The two parties then walked down the middle together between the split carcasses repeating the terms of the covenant. In this case, the Lord literally cut a covenant. I have to wonder if this is where we got the expression to “cut a deal?” Just wondering. Jeremiah 34:18-20 mentions this same practice.
The covenant is sealed in blood with the understanding that if I break this agreement, may the same thing happen to me as to these animals. May I give my life with my blood. Then an unusual thing happened, God taking the form of a smoking pot and burning torch walked between the parts by himself as Abram watched, demonstrating this was a unilateral covenant. God signed in for both of them. Abram never signed the covenant. Keeping the covenant was wholly dependent upon God’s faithfulness, not Abram’s, therefore it can never fail either for Abram or for us. This covenant relationship is not between equals. Yet, God out of his great love has committed himself to his people requiring from them faithfulness. Later God initiated the ratification of the covenant with the sign of circumcision, again cutting with the shedding of blood.
God has initiated a relationship with us. He came after you and me. He promised both sides of the deal. He is always perfectly faithful even when we are not. He knew Abram could not be perfectly faithful and he knows we cannot be either. So he covered us at the cross in the shedding of his own blood.
Music: “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” Dutch Forward
Bonus: “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” Veritas
Today offer your own prayer of gratitude to the Savior for his faithfulness to you. Begin by recalling as many instances as you can think of and thank him. None of them depend on your faithfulness.