And he said, "Lord GOD, how shall I know that I will inherit it?" So He said to 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." Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him. Then He said to Abram: "Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete." And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces. On the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying: "To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates — the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites."
(Genesis 15:8-21, NKJV)
As a father, I have many occasions to make a one-way promise to my daughters. It's part of the unconditional love in the parent-child relationship. And, I also make some promises that come with a condition which they must fulfill in order to receive their reward. That, too, is a part of life and the kind of contract or covenant most of us are familiar with. These covenants can cover all kinds of things from the mundane to the very important.
In ancient times, when there weren't any lawyers to draw up such agreements, people used other ways to show their agreement with each other and spell out the terms that were to be fulfilled. I recall a message my father gave (oh so very long ago) where he talked about one method in particular. When you and I were about to enter into an agreement, we would slaughter some animals, lay them out in a very specific fashion with a path down the middle, and then walk back and forth with arms linked while we repeated the terms and conditions of the contract.
I remembered this message from years ago as I was listening to the passage referenced today. The practice described by my father is exactly what God is doing with Abraham - but with one very distinct twist. Once the sacrifice is properly laid out, God sets Abraham aside, puts him to sleep, and then the Almighty alone walks through the pieces, binding Himself in a unilateral covenant with Abraham and the generations to come. This is one very special agreement, and it is a shadow of another one God made long before it and fulfilled through One who would come through Abraham's lineage. The Lamb, slain before the Earth was ever created, was God's ultimate unilateral covenant with His creation.
Sure, God made many other promises that had a "performance clause" attached to them, but they all pale in comparison with His great covenant of redemption. And, perhaps, that's where so many of us bristle within ourselves. We become so accustomed to agreements that require us to do our part, that when the God of the Universe says, "I love you and have redeemed you .. I paid the price Myself and you cannot bring anything to the exchange ... it really is that simple ..." we just can't accept Him at His word. In doing this, we make a tragic mistake and end up missing out on the pure joy that comes from the relationship that requires nothing from us.
As I walk my Crooked Path, I will have many occasions when I need to do something to receive something. But I must always remember that my security in the covenant of redemption comes completely without merit ... I didn't earn it to begin with and I cannot do anything to keep on earning it ... it was and is a Gift. No, performance clauses have their place, but not where my relationship with my Heavenly Father is concerned. I just need to trust that He means what He says about this promise ... unilaterally.
- Does the idea of a unilateral covenant from God to you make you a bit uncomfortable? Are you struggling with doing "your part"?
- Do you find yourself confused at the seeming paradox of "living up to God's standards" and "free from the Law by Grace"?
- If you can break away from your view and see the relationship from God's perspective, how much greater would your joy be? Isn't that a much better reason to live for Him?