Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Covenant of One

Illuminating the Old Testament

(This is the first of an occasional series of posts showing how findings from archaeology can explain or help us have a fuller understanding of the Bible.)

Genesis 15 tells of the creation of God's covenant with Abram. God promised him that he would have descendants of his own blood who would possess that land the Lord had led him to, and "Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness."

But Abram still asked God for a sign, and one was given to him. In verse 9, God asks Abram to bring him some animals that the texts explains were then cut in half. A firepot and torch, representing God, appeared and passed between the pieces of the animals as God promised in detail what was going to happen to Abram's children.

Animals cut in half. Floating firepots and torches. What?

Archaeology has taught us two things about this scene. First, this ceremony of passing between the halves of the animals was a customary way to seal a covenant. The favorite interpretation says this was to symbolize what should happen to the party who did not keep his part of the bargain. (Nothing like a good visual aid.)

Second, the two parties were supposed to pass through the animals together.

But in this account, Abram didn't walk with God. The message would have been clear to Abram: This covenant does not depend on you.

Many of God's promises are contingent on people keeping their part. The Mosaic covenant was clearly that kind of arrangement. But God was telling Abram his children's possessing the promised land was dependent only on God.

A promise very similar to the one he has made to us.

Photo by Nicola Corboy

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