Friday, March 15, 2013
In Search Of Truth, Genesis 15:7-21
There are some unusual things being described in this passage. Despite taking more time than usual to do research, I still wasn't able to find answers to all of my questions. Even so, there are a number of helpful things I've learned that may shed light on what we read here.
Despite Abram's great faith, demonstrated in the previous verses we've looked at recently, he was still trying to figure out how in the world he could know for sure that his descendants would take possession of this foreign land, which was already inhabited by numerous people.
In response, God does... something really weird. Let's be honest. This whole ritual has "what the crap" written all over it. What in the world is going on here?
Although its meaning and significance is completely alien to us at a glance, chances are good that it would have meant something very clear to Abram.
Yahweh's interaction with Abram bears resemblance to a few customs common to the ancient world, which Abram likely would have been familiar with. One parallel is a purification ritual, but the front runner seems to be a treaty of some kind.
As I looked into this some more, I found that there is still significant debate over exactly which kind of ancient treaty or treaties this exchange between God and Abram most closely resembles. So there are some implications of this event that, at least for now, have to remain uncertain to me. But the most striking parallel to me is to the "land-grant" treaty.
Part of the structure of Yahweh's words to Abram parallel ancient, Near-East, royal land-grant treaties in which a king first establishes his own identity, and brief history (v.1) and then grants a servant an unconditional right to a specific area of land.
Another similar custom of the ancient world involved two parties making oaths to each other and then cutting animals in two pieces, with both parties walking between the severed animal parts. This was done to symbolize what would happen to those taking the oath if they broke their vows to each other.
It's not clear why these specific animals were chosen to ritually seal this particular covenant , although an answer may be found in the future sacrificial system of Israel, as these are the same animal types that would be involved in sacrifices to Yahweh.
After Abram is asleep, Yahweh affirms his vow to give the land to Abram's descendants. He then moved a smoking fire pot and torch between the animal pieces. In ancient Mesopotamian purification rituals, a fire pot and torch were passed by the subject of the cleansing If this is the intended concept here, Yahweh may have been indicating the special role he had planned for Abram's descendants, the nation of Israel. Abram was asleep while this was happening, but these details were revealed to Moses and communicated to Israel.
One thing I find interesting here is that Yahweh passes through the animal remains by himself. This seems to indicate that the vow is Yahweh's alone and is solely dependent on him. Abram has no conditions to fulfill in order for Yahweh to do what he has promised.
Despite the numerous people groups inhabiting the land, Yahweh promised that, when the time was right, Abram's descendants would receive this land.
As I look back at this passage, despite the questions that still remain unanswered, there are several significant truths revealed about God.
1. He is patient, even when human faith is weak. If you have trouble trusting in God, don't be discouraged. He knows we are weak. (Psalm 103:13-14)
2. He is not above using the cultural elements around us, the things we are familiar with, to reveal something about himself or his will for us. We want to confirm what we think we're hearing from him by filtering it through scripture and the counsel of wise believers in our lives. But yes, God can and does speak through our work, our government, and our entertainment. His voice can show up anywhere if we keep our minds ready and listening.
3. What God promises, he will do. We are not a hobby that God will eventually grow tired of. He is not like us. When he says something will happen, it's a done deal.
4. The fulfillment of God's plan is not dependent on human effort. We will screw things up. We'll hurt people and maybe even destroy relationships. God will give us opportunities that we will completely waste. But when this happens, although we've missed out on something, we haven't "failed God". He's not even counting on us to begin with. The burden of fixing the universe is on his shoulders alone, although he invites us to be a part of that experience.