Growing Faith

by Lois Tverberg

O Lord GOD, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?
– Genesis 15:2

AbrahamAbraham is known most for one quality – his faith in God, and his faithfulness to God. But if we look at the words that come out of his mouth through his life, we can see that his faith grows over time, as he sees that God is utterly reliable in keeping his promises.

At the beginning, when God has delayed long on his promise to give him a son, Abram said,

O Lord GOD, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus? – Gen. 15:2

We can see his doubts after long years of waiting. He also expresses his doubts to God that he will possess the land:

O Lord GOD, how may I know that I will possess it? – Gen. 15:8

But still, he is faithful to God when God his promises seem far off, and finally God rewards him with a son. This greatly increases Abraham’s faith, so that he can say to Isaac on their way to Mt. Moriah,

God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son. – Gen. 22:8.

Finally, the last words that are recorded from Abraham show that over the years he has become utterly convinced of God’s ability to provide. When a wife needs to be found for Isaac, he said to his servant:

The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my birth, and who spoke to me and who swore to me, saying, `To your descendants I will give this land,’ He will send His angel before you, and you will take a wife for my son from there. Gen. 23:7

Abraham began with a little faith in a God that he barely knew, and over his life, grew in faith as he saw God’s answers to his every need. So too, we will grow in confidence as we see how God’s love unfolds in our lives.

Photo: Web Gallery of Art

The God of the Covenant

God's Covenant with Abraham

by Lois Tverberg

So the LORD said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.” Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half… When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram. – Genesis 15:9-10,17-18

God's Covenant with AbrahamWhen God reveals Himself to humanity, He uses images and customs that are already known rather than asking people to do something they don’t understand. Here, when God made a covenant with Abram, He asked Abram to bring five animals, sacrifice them and make a path between the halves of their bodies. God was using a method of making (literally “cutting”) a covenant that was well known in the ancient near east. Typically both parties would walk through the path of blood to take the covenant upon themselves. Then part of the sacrifices would be cooked and eaten in a covenantal meal, to celebrate the new bond of friendship between them.

Ancient covenants were not just business arrangements, they were more like marriages, where the lives of both parties are bound together to each other. It is thought that part of the imagery of this ceremony was that they were merging their lives together by walking through the same blood, which represents life. It is also thought that the ceremony is a way of promising that if either party does not fulfill his end of the covenant, that his life would be forfeited, like that of the animals.

One thing that is unique about this story is the idea that a god would make a covenant with a person or nation. Many Israelite practices were like those of the neighboring tribes – their sacrifices, the style of their temples, their laws and other customs. But the idea of a god making a promise and binding Himself to a people was unthinkable, and no ancient stories record anything like this outside the Bible. In contrast, the “gods” of the myths of the time were always capricious, unpredictable and frequently unfair. The difference between the true God and other tribal deities is profound, because He is a God who makes a promise and keeps it for eternity.

It is also interesting that this ceremony is modified from its original form to say something else about God. Normally both parties pass through the peices, both committing themselves to the covenant. Here, only God passes through the pieces, as if He is making a unilateral promise to fulfill His covenant, no matter what Abram does. His constancy and faithfulness are unwavering, and thankfully not dependent on the fickleness of humankind.

Photocred: Phillip Medhurst