I once ran a half marathon … and I don’t know if you know this but I’m not really built for running. Short legs, asthma, it’s just not a thing someone like me typically does. But I wanted to be a runner, so I ran 5k, 10k, and then decided to do a half marathon.
And I finished. I did the whole thing. Mile 6 I had to stop running. Mile 9 was all uphill and I almost cried and almost died. But crossing that finish line … all I felt was relief.
I finished with a deep breath, then a hot shower and a nap before eating waaaaaay too many calories the rest of the day. But it all started with a deep breath.
I don’t know about you, but this chapter — Genesis 15 — actually brings me such relief in a number of ways.
Doubt and fear is normal.
Here we are … it’s after a war. Abram and co have been victorious, and Abram just turned down a legit fortune from kings. Which if you ask me is a massive act of faith. Because had **I** been offered that much I’m not sure I could’ve said no if I’m completely honest.
Then suddenly there’s a turn in the story. The Lord comes to Abram in a vision and he’s afraid, and God has to remind him that he’s got his back. Then Abram has a moment. You know what those are like. You’ve just done something amazing, something you didn’t think you could ever do … but that takes it out of you. I think Abram’s faith stores are a little depleted and he questions how God can ever fulfill that promise he gave him.
Have you ever had that? God gives you this little idea of how amazing something is going to be but you had a moment where you wondered HOW it would happen or WHY he chose you to do it. Here we are with Abram in the same place. He’s asking how he’ll be a great nation and have many descendents — and he doesn’t even have an heir.
Abram, like us, is looking for the practical way. The way that makes sense. The way that he is in control of RIGHT NOW. And if you look in Scripture at the lauded heroes of the faith, especially in Hebrews 11, you start to see how flawed they are and how they had their moments of doubt too.
- Abraham in Egypt or right now
- Sarah laughed when she was told she’d get pregnant (spoiler alert)
- Jacob literally wrestled with God
- Moses doubted he was the man for the job
The list could go on and on … but each one is actually commended for their faith. So it’s what you do overall that counts — not every little moment of doubt. It’s whether or not when you had the faith, you obeyed. So to know that I’m not alone in feeling small, unworthy, or unsure if it’ll ever happen is huge for me.
And that’s the first thing that brings me relief. Here’s the second.
God answers in a way that shows he’s serious and that Abram could not mistake the meaning.
I’m a communication nerd. In fact, it’s what I do for a living, and there’s a saying we have, “The medium is the message.” It means, that the tool you use to communicate sends a message along with the actual words you use. It’s why you get mad when someone uses a curt tone with you — because it’s not just what you say but how you say it. It’s also why you text your BFFs, email your boss, and call your mom.
What you choose to use to communicate says something about your relationship, and the best communicators use tools, devices, media that make the message unmistakable to you. And this is exactly what God does too over and over.
Especially in this passage though, he reiterates his promise to Abram using a common thing for the time. The covenant.
This whole ceremony we see Abram and God walk through is something that happens in their culture — and in fact, for many centuries after in other cultures. Here’s how it normally went down:
You own some property in a kingdom. I’m a king — well, queen — that just took over your country/nation/region in a war. So now I’m going to let you keep your land IF you pledge loyalty to me — you won’t undermine me and if there’s another war somewhere else, you’ll fight for me. That kind of thing. So to seal the deal we have a covenant ceremony.
This says, I’m still in charge but you’ve got some freedom still so long as you’re nice. It’s our treaty of sorts. And they had a typical structure: KEEP THIS SIMPLE!!!
- Name of the person in charge — the king
- Who this covenant is with — all the people groups, lands, whatever
- All the nice stuff I’ve done for you — like let you live and keep your land and saved you from the tyranny of your last king, the usual “why you should be so grateful” stuff
- The rules — what you have to do and what I commit to do in exchange
- Blessings and curses — what happens if you do and don’t follow the rules
- Sacrificial ceremony (where both parties represented would participate to show commitment) with human and divine witnesses and then a meal
And in this passage in Genesis 15, we have ALL of that. Abram has doubt and God starts just by reminding of the promise + reminding Abram of what he’s already done. But Abram doesn’t feel it right now. So God put it in his terms.
7 The Lord said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” 8 But Abram said, “O sovereign Lord, by what can I know that I am to possess it?”
9 The Lord said to him, “Take for me a heifer, a goat, and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.” 10 So Abram took all these for him and then cut them in two and placed each half opposite the other, but he did not cut the birds in half. 11 When birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
12 When the sun went down, Abram fell sound asleep, and great terror overwhelmed him. 13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign country. They will be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years. 14 But I will execute judgment on the nation that they will serve. Afterward they will come out with many possessions. 15 But as for you, you will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will return here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its limit.”
17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking firepot with a flaming torch passed between the animal parts. 18 That day the Lord made a covenant with Abram: “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates River— 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites.”
God laid it all out:
- Name of the person in charge — Himself
- Who this covenant is with — Abram and descendents
- All the nice stuff I’ve done for you — I brought you out of Ur
- Blessings and curses — your descendents will have the land and I’ll judge those that rule over them for a while
- Sacrificial ceremony with Abram’s vision + God’s actual presence
Abram would NOT have mistaken this message. That God went out of his way to set up a ceremonial way that he would know that he was serious about it all. He even came down in a form Abram could handle so he could see it and really grasp that God was going to come through.
But if you were paying close attention, you’ll notice there is are a couple of things missing from the normal structure that wasn’t here.
And that brings me to my third point of relief:
It is all on God’s shoulders … NOT Abram’s or ours.
When it comes to the “normal” covenant structure, two key pieces were missing:
- The rules. God didn’t give any conditions for Abram. He only said what he would be in charge of doing.
- God didn’t even make Abram commit. He walked through the ceremony on his own — while Abram was physically asleep but witnessing the vision.
This is a little bit of a change. Back in Genesis 12, God asks Abram to leave his home and family and he’ll get the blessings. But God is removing all of that now. You can see it here.
It’s all God, and we are here right now in this room as a living fulfillment of God’s promise to Abram without Abram having to do anything more.
The Abrahamic Covenant is the basis of our own blessing in Jesus. It’s clear in Scripture — So much of Israel’s history and the rescue and preservation is tied to this covenant. The New Covenant through Christ is tied to this as well which we see from Matthew tying the genealogy of Jesus to Abraham.
But it goes beyond that to extend to us and Gentiles to … the rest of the earth that he was told he’d be a blessing to. We have become spiritual descendants of Abraham.
For this reason it is by faith so that it may be by grace, with the result that the promise may be certain to all the descendants—not only to those who are under the law, but also to those who have the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all 17 (as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”). He is our father in the presence of God whom he believed—the God who makes the dead alive and summons the things that do not yet exist as though they already do. 18 Against hope Abraham believed in hope with the result that he became the father of many nations according to the pronouncement, “so will your descendants be.” 19 Without being weak in faith, he considered his own body as dead (because he was about one hundred years old) and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. 20 He did not waver in unbelief about the promise of God but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God. 21 He was fully convinced that what God promised he was also able to do. 22 So indeed it was credited to Abraham as righteousness.
23 But the statement it was credited to him was not written only for Abraham’s sake, 24 but also for our sake, to whom it will be credited, those who believe in the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.
You know how much of that is Abram’s doing? Zero.
Thousands of years later, we see the result of this covenant — we ARE the result of this covenant. God kept his promise, and Abram was required to do nothing.
I say this because I want you to know, that it’s not on you. The ultimate outcome doesn’t rest on your shoulders — it’s not thwarted by your past mistakes, it’s not dependent on you changing the world, there is no pressure on your performance. It’s ALL on God.
And while part of me wishes it were a little in my control, when I look at what dreams God has placed on my heart or the incredibly high standard he has set for holiness — all I can think is that I am SO grateful that it’s not all on me, and I can just be a vessel.
We don’t have to be the ONE. We can be a part. We can be a vessel. And you CANNOT mess up God’s plan.
And I don’t know about you but that is a big relief to me.