[Genesis 15 is one of the Lenten texts in the Lectionary this week. Studying and reflecting on this text, I developed an expanded narration. I offer it here in preparation for my Lenten reflections on the this text which I hope to post mid-week. Blessings.]
Text: Genesis 15:1-18
After these things….after Lot had separated from Abram, after Abram defeated the kings, after Abram tithed to Melchizedek….the word of Yahweh came to Abram in a vision.
Yahweh: “Abram, my beloved, don’t be afraid. Why are you so afraid of the future? What do you fear? I am your protector and defender, and your blessings will be incalculable. Trust me, my child.”
Abram: “Yahweh, you are sovereign. Thank you for your gifts. They have been many. But I had hoped for a child who would inherit all that you have given me, and you promised a child. I am confused, but perhaps you intend—according to the custom of my fathers—that my chief servant Eliezer from Damascus will become my heir. I don’t see any other alternative. This is my lament, Yahweh, that a slave born in my house will become my heir. Is this your promise? Is this your great reward? What are all your other blessings when I am childless?”
Yahweh: “Abram, my beloved, Eliezer will not be your heir. My purpose for you is greater than you can imagine. You will have your own children from your own body. Your seed will bless the nations. Trust me, my child.”
Yahweh brought Abram outside.
Yahweh: “Look at the sky, Abram. Can you count the stars? Do you see how numerous they are? They are beyond counting.”
Yahweh pauses to let Abram soak in the beauty of the starry night and the beauty of the heavens.
Yahweh: “Your descendants, my beloved, will be as numerous as the stars you see tonight. This is my promise to you. Trust me, my child.”
Abram trusted Yahweh’s promise and Yahweh accepted Abram’s faith. Their relationship was sealed.
Yahweh: “Abram, my beloved, there is more to my promise—more than a starry host of children. Your descendants will live in this land, the land you now traverse as a nomad. As certainly as I, Yahweh, brought you out of the Ur of the Chaldeans, so I will give your seed this land as their home. Your descendents will fill this land, enjoy its fruits and live with me in it.”
Abram: “Yahweh, you are sovereign. But really? How can I be sure? I believe but it is unbelievable. I am but a nomadic herdsman; I have no land. How can this ever come true? What assurance do I have that you will keep your promise? Help my unbelief.”
Yahweh: “Abram, my beloved, select some animals from your herds and flocks for sacrifice. Devote to me a three year old heifer, a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram. I know these are expensive gifts, but I want to assure you that I will keep my promise. Also, give me a dove and a pigeon.”
Abram did as Yahweh asked. He sacrificed the heifer, goat and ram by cutting them into halves. He laid the halves out on the ground so that a person could walk between them. But he did not kill the birds as they will be released to fly into the heavens as a sign of the promise when the covenant is ratified.
Then Abram waited…and waited…fighting off vultures that wanted to eat the carcasses…and waited. Maybe the vultures are the assaults on Abram’s faith…and he waited. Maybe the vultures represent the future struggles of his descendants…and he waited. In hopeful expectation, he waited. And then he fell asleep just as the sun was going down.
But this was no normal sleep. Something happened to Abram. Just as Adam despaired of companionship and God caused a deep sleep to fall upon him in the Garden of Eden, so Abram falls into a deep, ominous sleep struggling with doubt and fear about his future.
Sleeping, God shows up. Abram is surrounded by a terrifying deep darkness. A portentous darkness besieges Abram. But God inhabits this darkness. Everything quakes before divine presence as the darkness moves every creature to bow before it. Abram’s sleep is saturated with the awe-inspiring presence of God. Abram encounters God.
Yahweh: “Know this, my beloved. Let it sink deep into your heart; let it erode all doubt. This is what will happen in the future. Your descendants will be enslaved for 400 years as aliens in a foreign land. They will suffer horrendous oppression. But, when it is time to judge the Amorites who now possess the land in which you live, I will remember my promise to you, and I will both judge the nation that oppressed your children and I will liberate them from their slavery. I will bring them to this land—the land which you now roam, and I will give the land to them. This, my beloved, is your inheritance. The land belongs to you and your seed. Don’t be afraid, Abram, you will die peacefully at a good old age and rest with your ancestors in this land. Trust me, my child.”
After sunset and when darkness had settled in for the night, God showed up. Here is the assurance for which Abram asked. Yahweh, in the form of a smoking pot and a flaming torch, passed between the halves of the sacrificed animals. Just as in the future Yahweh would personally lead Abram’s children out of Egypt as a cloud by day and a fire by night, so Yahweh came to Abram in the darkness as smoke and fire. The divine presence ratified the covenant with a self-imprecation.
Yahweh: “Abram, my beloved, if I fail to keep this promise, may what happened to these animals happen to me. Your inheritance is as certain as my very existence. Trust me, my child.”
And the dove and pigeon were released.
That day Yahweh cut a covenant with Abram. That day Yahweh promised to give the land of the Amorites, Canaanites, etc., to Abram’s descendants.
Abram believed Yahweh.
And Yahweh kept his promise.