Thoroughly Equipped: Sweet Covenant

Now, as we continue our journey with Abram, we come to a important point in the road.  It appears  a bit complicated, but it is very pivotal.  If we get this concept of covenant, we are opening ourselves up to a world of freedom in Christ—freedom from fear, freedom to serve, freedom from sin. I must confess that I feel that I have seen only the tip of the iceberg.  Kay Arthur says:

            To understand covenant is … to discover a promise that has been there all the time, hidden in vague shadows  and blurred by the veil of my ignorance.  To understand the intimacy and intricate details of God’s plan and purpose.  To know that because of His covenant of grace I can be assured that I will always be beloved of God. It frees us to bask in His love and to move through every                 circumstance of life in the security of His promises.” 

The great missionary to China, Hudson Taylor, understood covenant; when down to his last 27 cents, he confidently said, “Twenty-seven cents plus all the promises of God!”  And God did provide for him and his ministry, which is still thriving after three generations.

Horatio Gates Spafford understood covenant when he penned the beautiful hymn  “It Is Well With My Soul” just after he received the word that he had lost four of his children to a storm at sea.

My friend Maxie Dunnam understood covenant when he said goodbye to a dear friend, sick with terminal cancer.  As Maxie left the room, both knew that they would not see each other again on this earth.  His very weak friend raised his hand in farewell and said, “Until tomorrow!”

Understanding covenant gives us extra joy in the good times and extra strength and peace in the bad times.  Understanding covenant means that we are never afraid that God will leave us or forsake us.  He can’t and He won’t.

Genesis 15 gives us a wide-angle view of God’s covenant with Abram, which hints at the New Covenant that Jesus offers to us.  But before we look at that, we must ask, “What is a covenant?”  A covenant is a never-ending promise.  Covenants were often made in biblical times.  The terms of a covenant were usually:

  1. An agreement made between two equal parties although it could be initiated by a superior party,                                      and accepted by the inferior party
  2. Involved the shedding of blood by both parties and/or by a cut animal
  3. Required taking an oath, which confirmed loyalty between the two parties, not just until death, but for many generations to follow
  4. If the shedding of blood came from an animal, the parties walked through the two pieces to                             symbolize this:  “May it so be to me, if I break this covenant.”

Making a covenant was a sacred event, not to be taken lightly.  In fact, the words associated with making a covenant literally mean “to cut,” which is reflective of the cutting and shedding of blood in the covenant-making process.  Let’s take a look at this odd event, where God “cut a covenant” with Abram.

            But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”                                                                                             So the LORD said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a                        dove and a young pigeon.”  

           Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half.  Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

                        As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over  him. Then the LORD said to him, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. 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 fathers 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 ….”     

Genesis 15:8-18

I must confess, I have always thought this story was plain weird.  I didn’t get it, and I didn’t want to take the time to try to get it.  That’s why I wasn’t too thrilled when I felt that the Lord wanted me to study this until I could teach on it.  But this has enriched and renewed my relationship with my Lord and caused me to trust Him even more.  I pray that each of you have the same experience.  Psalm 25:14 says in the Amplified Bible:

The secret [of the sweet, satisfying companionship] of  the Lord have they who fear (revere and worship)  Him, and He will show them His covenant and reveal to them its [deep, inner] meaning. 

This is my prayer for you—that God will show you His covenant and reveal its deep, inner meaning to you. So let’s dive in.  Let’s continue with Genesis 15:17-18.

            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 ….” 

What were the elements of the cutting of the covenant between God and man?  There was a smoking firepot and a blazing torch.  How many elements is that?  Two, of course.  These elements represented God.  God is a Trinity, three in one, so where is the third element?  Think about it for a moment.  The third element had already been laid out on the ground in the broken and bloody pieces of sacrifice.  What part of the Trinity does that remind you of?  Jesus, of course.  Don’t you see?  God was not only making a covenant with Abram; he was also demonstrating the New Covenant to come through the broken, bloody sacrifice that Jesus, a descendent of Abram, was willing to make of Himself.

Here is another important truth that you must see.  In a normal covenant, both parties passed through the pieces.  Who passed through the pieces in this covenant?  Only God.  Where was Abram?  In a deep sleep.  What can you do in a deep sleep?  Not much of anything.  Now fast forward to the New Covenant, the day that Jesus died on the cross.  What part did the disciples play in the actual crucifixion?  None.  Most were scattered.  Most were nowhere near the site of this cutting of the New Covenant.  Only John was there, but he didn’t do anything.  Don’t you see the significance?  When we make a covenant with God by becoming a Christian, we don’t do anything.  We don’t deserve it.  We can’t earn it.  Jesus bought it for us. It is a free gift.  We simply accept it.  We don’t see Abram saying, “Wait a minute, God.  I didn’t do anything.  I didn’t walk through the pieces.  I didn’t shed any blood.  The covenant must be null and void.”   Of course not.  He just accepted the gift of a one-sided covenant.  However, he did respond to it in the way he lived, in the way he believed.

What of us?

Have we accepted the undeserved offer of covenant? Are we still trying to earn it?

Do we need to renew it?

Do we need to “Cease striving and know that [He is] God,” as Psalm 46:10 (NASB) says?

Why did blood have to be shed?  Leviticus 17:11 tells us that there is life in the blood.

            For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.          

                                                                        (Leviticus 17:11) 

There is life in the blood.  That is true physically and spiritually.   My husband is a doctor.  Daily he has to test patients to see if their “life blood” is healthy or not.  How ironic that we have to be so careful with blood.  Human blood can contain death.  Jesus’ blood only contains life.

When Mont was in residency, he got a call to a room on the 2nd floor of the hospital in the ICU.  When he arrived, other doctors and nurses were desperately trying to save a man who had stopped breathing.  Mont jumped in to help.  He was trying to start a central line when the needle pricked his finger.  He pulled his hand back and one of the nurses said the dreaded words, “He is HIV positive.”  The other doctor took over, and Mont raced to the sink to wash his cut finger.  The next few months, Mont had to follow the protocol of the hospital when someone gets a needle prick contaminated by an HIV positive patient.  It involved frequent blood tests and medicine for several months.  We also followed our own protocol … much prayer and trust in our heavenly Father.  Thankfully, after a year, Mont was officially declared uninfected.  Our faith was purified because of the testing of it through the fire of uncertainty.

Why did Abram not have to shed any blood?  Because his blood was not pure.  Neither is ours.  What can wash away our sin?  Nothing but the blood of Jesus. When Jesus died, the veil, too, was cut, from top to bottom, reminding the world that the New Covenant was cut and offered to mankind.  Mankind did not have to do anything, except receive it.  Our response to receiving it will be good works, if we really get it, but our good works have nothing to do with receiving it.  In time, the covenant was tested.  Though Abram was not called to sacrifice anything upon initial acceptance of the covenant, as time went on, the covenant had to be tested.  This is when sacrifice was required.  As Christians, we too are called to sacrifice.  But the sacrifices we must make are nothing compared to the sacrifice that has been made on our behalf.

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