Genesis 15:13-21 NIV
Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates-- the land of the Kenites,Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”'
God places the odds in your favor
In Abram’s day, for the peoples of the ancient Near East, a covenant was usually made between a superior party called the ‘suzerain’ and an inferior party known as the ‘vassal’. Generally, the suzerain would promise to protect the vassal and the vassal gave their taxes and loyalty in return. It calls to mind the European institution of serfdom in the Middle Ages. However, as I will show you in Genesis 15, God turned this institution on its head.
How the covenant was made
To make a covenant, during a public ceremony the suzerain would name a long list of duties for the vassal that outnumbered their own by a landslide. Then, the vassal would cut the sacrificial animals in half and walk between them. This symbolized what would happen to them if they broke their word. The deal obviously favored the suzerain, but what’s a vassal to do when dealing with one far more powerful than themselves?
As we discussed previously, after Abram cut the animals in half, God put him to sleep. He essentially took charge of the ceremony because He wanted to give Abram the absolute best deal possible. Instead of listing out all the conditions God expected Abram to follow, Abram was only required one condition, to trust in God. Genesis 15:6, “And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” The rest of the ceremony was a detailed list of God’s promises to Abram: I will judge the nations that enslave your descendants, I will give your descendants great possessions, you will die at an old age, you will die in peace, and I will give your descendants a vast and beautiful homeland.
Then, God made another radical change to the ceremony. He was the one to pass between the animals with the burning torch. This meant that God would die before he would break this covenant with Abram (1). It simply shows the goodness of God that, even though He had infinitely more leverage than a suzerain did over a vassal, that He still took the short end of the deal. That is His character, He is always tipping the odds in our favor whenever He can out of His love for us.
Who is the covenant for?
This covenant was meant for Abram and his descendants, Israel. As Christians, we are spiritual (if not biological) children of Abram. In fact, because of Jesus and His sacrifice, we get an even better deal, we get the promises of fruitful and prosperous lives as well as eternal salvation. The deal just keeps getting better and better for us as God continues to give more and more of Himself. It’s so lopsided in our favor it’s ridiculous.
1 Corinthians 2:9, “However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” — the things God has prepared for those who love him—”
Father, thank you for always putting the odds in my favor. You do everything you can to ensure my success and prosperity out of your great love for me. Help me to take advantage of all the promises you have for me in the Bible. In Jesus Name, Amen.
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1.) The Chronological Study Bible. N.p.: Thomas Nelson, 2009. Print. page 23.