A One-Sided Covenant
Each January many people vow to read the Bible through from cover to cover. About the time the laws in Leviticus come up, interest tends to dwindle rather quickly. When this happens the Old Testaments gets a bad wrap with people saying it’s “boring”. Granted, the laws may take an extra level of focus to get through but still have purpose nonetheless.
Over the past several weeks my interest in the Old Testament has been renewed. I’ve thought it was mostly a bunch of stories of people who messed up-a lot- so that we would feel better about our sins, knowing that the heroes of faith were more messed up than we are and still made it to heaven.
David: an adulterer, murder, and man after God’s own heart. There must be hope for me, right?
While honestly that can be comforting, my eyes have been opened to the Old Testament in a new way: it is all a story of Jesus. There are certain events and commands that were shadows of things to come, yes. But if we look a little closer we will see of Jesus on almost every page before the New Testament was ever lived.
Let’s take Genesis 15, for example, when God is making a covenant with Abram. God promises Abram that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky. Abram believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness (an incredible statement that we could spend hours digesting). God also promises that He will give Abram land. Immediately after Abram’s great statement of faith, he questions God as to how he can be sure this promise is true. The Lord then commands Abram to bring a heifer, a goat and a ram, along with a dove and a young pigeon, arranging the two halves of each opposite each other.
Let’s stop right here for a moment: the 2 halves of each animal. This meant death. Separation. And not to mention this act ended in a bloody mess of dividing the animals. It is my understanding that covenants of that time required both parties to walk through the center as a sign that both people agreed to hold up their end of the promise. Abram was setting the stage for this to happen…or so he thought.
We just read that God took Abram outside to look at the stars, which indicates that it was nighttime. God commands him to gather and divide the animals. After Abram had completed this task, the next verse begins with, “As the sun was setting…”
Think about this: while we do not have an account of the exact timeline, Abram was probably waiting a full day for God to walk between the animal halves to complete the covenant. Can you imagine Abram’s confusion of hanging around all day, wondering what in the world he is doing with all these dead animals and no second party to make the covenant with?
Abram then fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. During this sleep, God spoke to him, telling him of what was to come for his descendents: they will be strangers in a land not their own, enslaved and mistreated for 400 years. But he also promised to punish the nation they serve as slaves.
When God had finished speaking to Abram “a smoking firepot and blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces” (the smoking firepot represents God and the blazing torch represents Jesus). On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram.
But here is the kicker: Abram never walked through the halves.
Remember, for a covenant to be a promise between 2 people, both had to agree and “sign on the dotted line”. Abram never did. And THAT is the beauty of the covenant with God. He vouched for his people in the Old Testament, and He did it again in the New Testament. And He does it for us today. It no longer depends on our acts or how “good” we think we are. God promised to cover both sides. The covenant was unbreakable because God cannot fail. Enter, the foreshadowing of Jesus. Like Abram, we enter the new covenant in faith. We did not make it. We did not “sign”. We only receive the promise.
Don’t you love it when concepts click? This is awesome! Abram never walked through the pieces. He never promised to be faithful, yet God remained faithful. He knew it would be impossible for humans to be made right with him on their own accord. Jesus walked in our place.
When you start to doubt your salvation in Christ (and we all have times of doubt), I want you to think about the bloody animals and God passing through, not only representing Himself but Abram as well. I want you to remember Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, while we were still sinners, and let that be enough. This is obviously not a free pass to do whatever we want. Shall we go on sinning that grace may increase? Of course not! But if you have accepted Christ through baptism, God holds up his end of the covenant. He holds up BOTH ends of the covenant.
Abram never walked through and neither did we. The covenants are unilateral. Unconditional.
And that is the beauty of the one-sided covenant.