We’ve come to Abraham in our quick jaunt through the Old Testament. One of the most amazing events to happen to the father of God’s people happened while he was sleeping.
Remember Genesis 15? Late at night God comes to Abram (he was still called Abram at this point) and says, “Okay, Abram, go get some animals, take your sword, slice them in half, and lay them down here.”
Um? You want me to do what?
Actually, Abram may have figured out what God was up to pretty early on. You see, the cutting-animals-in-half thing wasn’t so unusual. (Brutal world they lived in back then.)
When a great king conquered a lesser king, they would have this kind of ceremony to ratify a covenant. The lesser king, in humiliated obedience, probably after being tortured and brutally mocked by the conquering people, would walk through the torn critters as if to say, “If I ever break my promises to you, you will thrash me in pieces like these animals.”
(Okay, I know this is a little more brutal the sweet Christmas devotionals you’re used to, but bear with me, it gets SO good in the end!)
Abram’s night-time encounter with God reflects this cultural covenant ceremony. But three aspects of God’s direction show THIS covenant to be out of line with normal procedures.
Abram receives no humiliation. Quite the opposite. Before the ceremony begins, rather than beating and mocking Abram, God showers him with promises.
“Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” (Gen. 15:1, ESV)
Fear not! Those wonderful words scattered throughout Scripture that comfort his dear children when we’re so often afraid.
I am your shield. I will be near to your heart, protecting you.
Your reward shall be very great. Abram is promised a special land where God’s people can dwell with him. But this promise goes further than flourishing property in Canaan. According to Hebrews…
By faith he [Abraham] went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. (Heb. 11:9-10)
But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Heb. 11:16)
The Promised Land is great and all, but heaven is far better. Why? Because God is there! Do you see the whisper of Emmanuel in this promise?
What else does God vow to give Abram? Offspring greater than the stars in the sky. Also, through him all the nations of the earth will be blessed.
All the nations? How? How will the nations be blessed?
Because through Abram’s offspring the Messiah will come! At the heart of God’s promise of offspring to Abram is the story of Advent. A savior is coming, and now we know whose descendants to watch…
Isn’t it amazing that God treats Abram this way? He doesn’t mock or belittle or lord over Abram (the weaker king), but blesses. And he pours out his love on us too. Even though we’re frail and confused and afraid, he showers all the blessings in heaven over us.
But Abram’s night isn’t over.
The second thing that’s out of line with covenants of that era goes back to our sleep theme.
As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. Gen. 15:12a
As Abram finishes the prep work, he’s probably all mentally prepared to walk down the bloody path. “I get it, God. If I serve you, you’ll give me those exciting promises, but if I don’t, you will destroy me. You’re God. You have the right to this. I’m your servant.”
We think like that sometimes, don’t we? What sacrificial path must I labor down to gain his promises? But that’s not how God works. Right before the walking-through-the-animals part, Abram falls asleep. Crazy! Who could snooze after a night like that? We know why though, don’t we? God caused sleep to fall on Abram.
Rest, Abram. I’ve got this.
Which brings us to the third odd element. Who actually travels down the bloody path?
When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. Gen. 15:17
The fire pot and the flaming torch represent God himself! (Ex. 13:21; 19:18;20:18). Oh man, God—not the lesser king, but the greater king, the greatest king—walks through the ripped pieces. What does this mean?
Dear friends, do you see? God is saying, “Not you, Abram, not your descendents (us!), but I will be like the torn animals. I will walk the bloody path, I will endure the sword.”
And just as he promised, thousands of years later, Jesus came. The little one born in a manger grew up to keep a promise made to Abram.
You see, we are like Abram, passive, asleep, unable to do anything to achieve God’s blessings, but while we had no ability to help ourselves, Christ took our punishment, enduring the grave-sleep of death for us, so we can rest in him.
Christmastime is so busy. For that matter, life in general constantly presses down on us! Take some time today to think about all the ways God has blessed you when you didn’t deserve it. And ponder those times when God surprised you with out-of-the-blue blessings you weren’t expecting (like when Abram was sleeping.) Finally, thank Jesus for walking the bloody path in your place. As you bathe your mind and heart in these things, the desire to serve him will grow and his love will flow out of you to others.
Remember he loves you like there’s no tomorrow,
Let your light shine: What verse or song do you run to when you need to remember to rest? I’d love to hear, and I know it will encourage others!
Note: Starry Night Image is from http://piccoblogg.blogspot.com/2012/07/starry-sky-hd-wallpaper.html