Today’s Old Testament lesson comes from the book of Genesis (Genesis 15:1-21) and contains a story that sounds almost barbaric to modern ears, but which takes on deep significance when understood in its historical context. The Lord appears to Abram and speaks powerful words of assurance and promise: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield and your very great reward” (verse 1). “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them. So shall your offspring be” (verse 5). And while Abram believes the Lord, he also has questions about how he can be sure of these things. So the Lord “cuts a covenant” with Abram, instructing him to bring several sacrificial animals, cut them in half, and arrange the pieces on the ground in a way that creates a path between the halves.
Now in that time and place, covenants were often ratified in this way. The two parties showed their commitment to the agreement by walking between the slaughtered animals and declaring, in a sense: “May this fate befall me if I fail to keep my side of the bargain.” But notice — according to the custom — that both parties typically participated in this walk. And yet, in today’s passage, it is God alone — His presence symbolized by a smoking firepot and a blazing torch — who passes between the animals and binds Himself to these promises. One pastor comments:
In essence, God is saying that no matter what happens—even if it is humanity and not God who violates the covenant—God will bear the curse of the broken covenant himself. He would later fulfill this commitment when Christ died on the cross to redeem the covenant broken by us humans.
John Ortberg, I’d Like You More If You Were More Like Me
Every day, I see the evidence of how we fail (and how I fail) to “keep covenant” with the God who has blessed us so richly and loved us so completely. But isn’t it good to know that even when we’re faithless, He remains faithful? May we feel the presence of our Covenant Partner today; and may our trust in His Goodness inspire joyful covenant obedience.