The First Covenant, Part Two: The Signer
“It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants, I have given this land from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates: the Kenite and the Kenizzite and the Kadmonite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Rephaim and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Girgashite and the Jebusite.” (Genesis 15: 17-21, NASB)
I’ve been leading us up to this moment for a few weeks now. First, we got to see Abram and God lay out the terms of the contract; Abram needing a son, and God promising to give him that son and make him into a nation. Then, we got to see the making of a contract, seeing the beauty in the seemingly bloody and violent
But still, there is one very important step to the making of any covenant: the agreement to the terms. In the above verses, we get to see the moment that God makes the Old Testament covenant with Abram– a promise that was the groundwork that would lay out the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus that would become the New Covenant for today’s Church.
In the verses leading up to this, we know that Abram, in trying to keep vultures from feeding on the animal remnants that make up the contract, fell asleep. In short, Abram had a dream in which God told him everything that would happen to his people before they would come to occupy the land that Abram now lived on. They would be taken to a place that wasn’t their home and would be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years. God promised to judge the nation that did this to them, and through that judgment, the people would be taken care of. And Abram? Abram would die at a good, old age and be buried in the land that God would give his people.
After this, the Bible never says that Abram woke up, but I believe that verses 17 through 21 were not a part of a dream. Why? Because I don’t think God would have wanted this covenant to be discounted in any way, shape, or form. I don’t think God would have wanted to give anyone the chance to say that Abram’s promise was the product of a crazy dream or an elaborate lie. I think this promise was too important for God to do without both parties present and cognizant.
Because in verse 17, the Bible says that a “smoking oven and a flaming torch” passed between the pieces. We already know from last week that this walkway is the “dotted line” of a Biblical contract. Traditionally, all parties of the covenant were supposed to walk through it together, repeating the terms of the covenant to each other. And I know, that verse might sound strange. How could a “smoking oven” and a “flaming torch” walk anywhere?
Truth is, I think Moses– the author of Genesis– had to describe God, in all of His infinite coolness and heavenly mystery in earthly terms. But when I read this, all I can think of is that a smoking oven could just be a pillar of smoke. In fact, I would be willing to bet that this was the same pillar of smoke seen four hundred years later by the promised nation of Israel in Exodus 13, at the top of Mount Sinai in Exodus 19, and again in Solomon’s temple in 1 Kings 8.
And a flaming torch could easily be the same pillar of fire that the Israelites followed through the wilderness by night in Exodus 13, the same fire that consumed the burning bush Moses encounters in Exodus 3, and the fire that came down from heaven to consume sacrifices in 1 Kings 18, 1 Chronicles 21, and 2 Chronicles 7.
Why? Because God is so consistent. His presence and His character never changes. God is God is God. “I Am who I Am.” What does that mean? It means that the God that signed this covenant with Abram, all so that Abram would know how faithful He is to keep His promises, is the same God who made it possible for that fire to live inside you by His Holy Spirit today. The God that wanted to comfort Abram also wants to comfort you. The God that went to great lengths to fiercely protect Abram and to show him He was faithful is the same God that wants to do the same for you today.
And my favorite part of this whole story? God signed this covenant by Himself. He didn’t wake Abram up to pass through the pieces with Him. Instead, He allowed Abram to witness this unilateral promise He was making as both the promiser and the promisee. All this adds up to one mighty and precious fact: this covenant could never fail because God cannot fail. In no part was the covenant subject to who Abram was or what he might do. It was all based on, grounded in, and supplied by God, who He is, and what He will do.
This lines up beautifully with the signing of the new covenant: a contract laid out between the body and blood of Jesus, the son of God, and the only sacrifice pure enough to blot out our sin. Because God is the unilateral signer of these contracts, the covenant cannot be broken due to the fallen humanity of an imperfect party.
God makes this covenant to give Abram a son, and through that son, a nation that would dwell in the land that God showed Abram. But we also know that God would choose this nation to grow until the appointed time where He would send Jesus to be born in that nation, die on a cross, and make a way for the rest of the world to come into a better covenant. Without this moment in Genesis 15, you and I would never have a way to reach our Father.
And that’s how much God loves you today and every day; that in the beginnings of time, at the moment of the fall, He planned for this moment and every moment after just to win you back to Him. Oh, the lengths He has already gone for you, friends. How deep His love runs, that He would so passionately pursue you through history, time, and possibility.
I don’t know about you, but that strikes me as one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard, and when we grab a hold of that, how could we be moved to do anything else but praise Him?