Before we really dive into the significance of the covenant, it’s important to have context to the plot of the Bible so far. Even though the Bible is made up of 66 individual books, they are composed together to make one whole story. It begins at the very beginning of life itself, the creation of earth and humanity. Then, it progresses to the fall of humanity, which is where humans got separated from God because of sin. The state of humanity just spiraled downward from there, becoming more and more wicked. That’s when God decided to almost completely wipe out life on earth and start over.
God chose a man named Noah and his family to partner with Him in rebuilding the population of the earth. God told Noah to build a giant boat called an ark. Noah filled the ark with his wife, his sons and their wives, and a male and female of every kind of animal. Then God made it rain for 40 days, which wiped out all of the remaining life on earth. When the flood subsided, the ark was able to reach land. Noah and his wife, his sons and their wives, and the animals began to repopulate the earth. Sadly, humans continued to sin by attempting to work their way to heaven. God made a promise to Noah that He would never destroy humanity like that again. So, He scattered humans across the earth and gave them different languages. You can read all of this from Genesis chapters 1-11.
Who Is Abram?
In the story of the Bible, we are first introduced to a man called Abram at the end of Genesis chapter 11. The Lord chooses Abram and his family to be a part of restoring humanity to His original design. He does this by calling Abram out of his home land, into a life journey with Him. When God calls Abram, He promises to bless Abram with a family so big that it will be a great nation. By chapter 15, Abram is about 80 years old, has no sons, and has been through quite a lot. So when the Lord promises, yet again, to make Abram “a great nation,” he starts to question it. He tells the Lord that basically at this rate he will die with no children and his inheritance will have to go to his servant. God hears Abram’s heart and decides to make an official covenant with him.
What Is A Covenant?
In the Old Testament, covenants held more weight than what we might think of when we imagine a promise. It wasn’t merely giving someone your word. There was action involved. Here’s an idea of what it could look like.. Typically, it would be a “scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours,” scenario between two or more parties. It was like a partnership! Then, they would come to an agreement on the conditions. If one of the parties fail to keep their word, they can be killed by the other. So.. it was like a really intense partnership! This is where it gets a little weird.. They would kill an animal, usually a cow, and cut it in half from head to toe. Then, they would lay each half down separate from each other. Joining hands and declaring the conditions of the covenant, the parties would walk between the carcass in a figure eight. This act would bind their promises in a formal way. The idea is that upon failure, the fate of the animals would be their fate also. Weird, right?
Abram’s Covenant With God
The actual commitments of the covenant God made with Abram were that God would give him as many offspring as the stars in the sky, as long as Abram would trust Him. That’s all Abram had to do! So Abram agreed and prepared the animals for the covenant. The sun went down, and Abram fell into a deep sleep. He awoke to a smoking pot and a flaming torch passing between the animal carcasses. So in essence, Abram did not actually participate in sealing the deal he made with the Lord..
The beauty of this is in the fact that God is always faithful. It is against His very nature to be anything but. So naturally, God will always fulfill His vows. However, by passing between the animals on Abram’s behalf, He took on the responsibility of Abram’s vows as well. This means that even if he fails the Lord will remain steadfast for the both of them, no matter what. God knows that Abram will fail, which is why the promise is not contingent on his faithfulness, but on His faithfulness. We can see that it was necessary in the very next chapter, chapter 16. Already we can see that Abram and his wife Sarai began to distrust God. As a result, they plan and execute how to get God’s promise on their own. Still, God accommodates to the situation and sets them back on course. This is the first of many readjustments! From there the Bible is simply the story of the completion of God’s promise, as He brings humanity back to His intended purpose.
What Does It Mean For Us?
God has chosen to be in partnership with us, and to walk with us through all the trial and failure. It may not be the easiest or quickest solution. However we can be confident in who He is. We can trust that what He does is out of love, justice, and mercy. Despite all of His efforts, He left us with the choice. Whether we use it to choose Him, or not. That’s the beauty of the God that we serve. It’s just one of the things that make Him like no other. We get to step into that covenant knowing that when we say “yes” to Him, He says “yes” to us.