Covenant

Genesis 15:8-21

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Yesterday we considered the first half of Genesis 15.   We thought about the LORD overwhelming the fears of Abraham with even greater promises.  Today we’ll think about the climax of that process.

Abraham has trusted the LORD Christ and been pronounced “righteous” in God’s sight (v6).  It’s wonderful news but Abraham asks “How can I know?” (v8)

How can any sinner be sure that they are counted righteous in God’s eyes?

The LORD’s answer is to make a covenant with Abraham.

What is a covenant?

A covenant is a binding promise that’s motivated by unconditional love.  Marriage is a covenant relationship – you say ‘I will love you.’  You don’t say, ‘If you do X, Y, and Z, I will be obliged to love you between the hours of 5 and 7 on a Thursday evening.’  That would be a contract.  Contracts are tit-for-tat.  Covenants are based on unconditional love.

A covenant says ‘I will – for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health – I will.’

Wonderfully, the LORD enters into a covenant with us.  The most basic form of His covenant is this: “I will be your God, and you will be my people.”  This is what it means to be “righteous” before God.  It’s not simply about having a ‘not guilty status’ before the Judge.  It’s about being united to a Righteous Husband who shares His status with us.

But here in Genesis 15 there are some elaborate and disturbing rituals surrounding the marriage ceremony.  You see the aisle down which you pass to make this covenant is strewn not with flowers but with dead animals!

From verse 9 Abraham must find sacrificial animals and cut them in half.  He must place them on either sides of a corridor.  Then, in the midst of their broken bodies the LORD (signified, v17, by a smoking furnace and a burning lamp) passes through and He pronounces a covenant promise.

Essentially the LORD is saying “So let it be done to me if I fail to deliver on my promise.”

There’s an example of this in Jeremiah 34:18.  Those who pass through the pieces are saying, “You can treat me like these butchered animals if I don’t keep my side of the bargain.”

We have a silly version of this in the school-yard rhyme: ‘Cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.’  We’re saying, if I’m lying you can cut me up.  Now we don’t mean it when we say stuff like that.  But in the Bible, they meant it.  “Tear me apart if I don’t come through for you!”  That’s a serious promise, that’s a covenant promise.

But notice what’s happening in Genesis 15.  The LORD doesn’t make Abraham walk through the pieces!

In verse 12, Abraham is completely out of it.  “An horror of great darkness fell upon him.”  He’s been well and truly swept off his feet and contributes nothing to the proceedings.  Only the LORD passes through the pieces.

And here’s the point:  We don’t make the covenant with the LORD, He makes the covenant with us.  Abraham is not pledging to keep up his end.  The LORD is pledging to keep up both ends of the covenant.

The LORD says to us “If I don’t keep up my end of the bargain you can kill me.  And if you don’t keep up your end you can kill me.  I’ll take responsibility for any failure of mine and I’ll take responsibility for any failure of yours!

This is unconditional, unearned, unprecedented, blood-earnest, covenant love.

The LORD says, “If I fail, I’ll die.  And if you fail, I’ll die.  But come what may, through bloody sacrifice, through suffering, pain and tears: I will be your God and you will be my people.”

And of course we didn’t hold up our end.  We were never going to hold up our end.  And it did cost Him everything.

Because there was another day of horror and great darkness.  There was one Friday when the LORD Himself was torn apart and His blood shed.  The blood of the covenant poured from His veins.

We don’t offer a drop.  He doesn’t spare a drop.

We’re the ones who break the covenant.  His is the body that’s broken.

We are the ones deserving blood-shed.  His is the blood that is spilt.

How can I know?  How can I know that a sinner like me is righteous in God’s sight?  How can I know that I really enjoy the covenant love of God?

Look to the place where the covenant was cut.  Look to the cross and realise this: He upholds both ends of the covenant.  He underwrites it in His own blood.  He’d rather die for you than live without you.

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