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Today’s readings include one that’s simple and one that’s crazy! Genesis 12 is the call of Abraham and Sarah. God speaks to them. They recognize God’s voice and step out in faith, following God’s invitation to depart from what they’ve known for something new. Their age and barrenness points to them leaving behind paralysis, an impasse, a future without hope for a new wide open way, a new thing, a new creation.
From chapter 12 to chapter 15 we see that they’re starting to wonder what’s taking so long for God to keep the divine promise that was at the root of their covenant relationship. They still have no children, but they did what God asked.
We’ve come to understand that in ancient Mesopotamia, in Abraham’s day, covenants were sometimes made or “cut” by preparing a sacrifice, cutting it in two pieces and halving it exactly. They would lay the pieces out on the ground. Then those making the covenant had to pass between the divided carcass. This symbolized the seriousness of their intentions to keep the covenant, because the divided carcass represented what would happen to them if they did not keep their oaths. They were committing themselves to be cut in two if they broke their word.
That was not the way every covenant was agreed to, only rather more serious covenants. They placed their lives at risk. If either party did not keep that covenant, they were pledging their life. Then after they passed through, the carcass was burned, symbolizing their acceptance.
The smoking oven and burning torch symbolize God. In many instances in the Bible, God represents Himself through the image of fire (i.e., the burning bush and the pillar of fire). The sacrifice in Genesis 15 is interesting in that only God passes between the divided carcasses because, in reality, this is an oath of only one party, God, to keep His promise. In this specific case, Abraham has agreed to nothing, but God has bound Himself with utmost seriousness to meet the requirements of His promise in full. This promise will be fulfilled only because of God’s character and grace.
Questions for Reflection & Examen:
• What engaged you, enraged you, or surprised you in this story?
• Covenant means relationship – it’s what is at the heart of both human life and Christian faith. We are social beings. What does it means that God assumes all the responsibility for our covenantal relationship? Does that mean God is a control freak, or seeks co-dependence? Or something else?
• What invitation do you hear the Spirit of God speaking to you – or to us, as a church – to act, speak, be or change through this word of scripture and what you’ve heard that Jasmine sees?