In this post on Journeys with Abraham I want to look at the covenant Yahweh cut with Abraham and the events leading up to it.
I noted that when Abraham entered the land he encountered Yahweh and built an altar and began to worship Him (Gen. 12:6-8). He was at this time at Shechem, about 60 kilometres north of Jerusalem (Jebus at this point, it was named Jerusalem by king David). He then moved and pitched his tent between Bethel and Ai, about 10 kilometres north of Jerusalem, built another altar and worshipped Yahweh. Following this he went down to Egypt due to the famine and when he returned he again dwelt near Bethel (Gen. 13:3-4). In Genesis 13:18 we find that after Lot and Abraham separated Abraham moved his tent south of Jerusalem and lived in Hebron, about 45 kilometres south of Jerusalem, and built an altar and worshiped Yahweh. This is the third altar he built and a pattern had been established. Worship had become an ongoing part of Abraham’s life. The significance of this pattern of worship is revealed following the battle Abraham engaged in to rescue Lot. On his return he was blessed by Melchizedek, who many believe was the pre-incarnate Jesus appearing in bodily form.
18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. 19 And he blessed him and said: “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; 20 And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” And he gave him a tithe of all. 21 Now the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself.” 22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, 23 that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich’ – Genesis 14:18-23 (NKJV)
Upon being blessed by Melchizedek Abraham gave tithes to him and the king of Sodom who was present offered Abraham a reward. He refused because he said he had made on oath to Yahweh whom he described as “the Possessor of heaven and earth” the exact language Melchizedek used and language Abraham seemed familiar with. Clearly through his worship Abraham had received a greater revelation of this one he followed out of his former home and whom he now served.
It is following this response by Abraham that Yahweh now cut a covenant with Abraham.
7 Then He said to him, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.” 8 And he said, “Lord GOD, how shall I know that I will inherit it?” 9 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.” 10 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. 11 And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. 12 Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him. 13 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. 14 And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. 16 But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” 17 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. 18 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– 19 the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.” Genesis 15:7-21 (NKJV)
In the covenant ceremony the two parties took animals and cut them in two and walked through the blood between. The covenant was a ceremony to honour and ratify a commitment enforceable by death. In fact a common expression of covenant language is seen in the books of Samuel and the era of the early kings in the following expression, or variation of it, ‘May God do to me and more’ (see 1 Sam. 3:17, 25:22, 2 Sam. 3:9, 3:35, 19:13, 1 Kings 2:23, 2 Kings 6:31) that in essence says, ‘May I be cut up and my blood spilled like these animals if I do not honour this covenant.’ In cutting the covenant with Abraham Yahweh passed between the animals as a smoking oven and burning torch. At the cutting of the covenant Yahweh again guaranteed this land to Abraham and his descendants and a great darkness fell over Abraham and Yahweh told him his descendants would be in bondage for 400 years but would leave the land of their oppressors with great possessions. In this horrifying darkness and shedding of blood to create a covenant I also see a prophetic picture of the horror and darkness Jesus experienced in the Garden of Gethsemane just prior to His body being torn and His blood poured out to establish a new covenant – the one that saved us from eternal torment.
May we like Abraham have a pattern of being worshippers and walking with Jesus, knowing the great spiritual blessing we have in Him, and recognizing the great bondage He delivered us from through the horror of His atoning death upon the cross!