O Sovereign Lord, how can I be sure? Genesis 15:8 (MSG)
How Can I Be Sure? – The Promise Series – Part 4
After God told him that he would have enough kids to populate all the football teams across all the codes in all the earth and that he would inhabit a new land and start a new tribe that would bless the world, rather than curse it, Abraham said to the Divine:
Or, as the biblical text more politely records him as saying:
“O Sovereign Lord, how can I be sure?” (Gen 15:8.)
In our day and age, there are all kinds of ways we can “sure up” whether someone will come through on their promises, and what actions we can take if they don’t. Contracts, licenses, agreements, insurance, money paid, signatures noted… and the much hyped block chain (hello Bitcoin!)
But back in Abraham's day, all they had to trade with each other was their word. And to back up their words, they performed rituals.
One such ritual went (loosely – for time and word count) like this: if you made a promise to someone, you would grab some sacrificial animals, cut them in half (right down the middle… like, split in two), set the halves up in a straight line, and each party would walk through the middle of the halves and say something along the lines of:
“May the same that’s happened to these animals happen to me if I don’t come through on my promise,”
As a way of pledging that they will each hold up their end of the bargain. They literally, “cut a deal” with each other.
When Abraham asked God how he could be sure that he could trust him, God asked him to, you guess it… grab a “three-year-old cow, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon…” (Genesis 15:9). Since this was a ritual already at play in society, Abraham knew what to do with them. He cut them in half and set everything up. But then the text tells us that something unexpected – as in, different from the usual way the ritual went down – happened. Which is key. All these weird things happened to Abraham, and then God made an oath to him, and then a firepot and a flaming torch passed through the animals. But Abraham didn’t. God passed through for the both of them.
As if to say: “I can be trusted. Even if you can’t. Even if you fail. Even if you don’t believe it. You don’t have to earn my trust; it’s not dependent on you holding up your end of the bargain. I can do that for both of us.”
I hope you see how crazy this would have been to Abraham; a fatherless man with nothing to give, and no proof of what he was to gain. God can be trusted, not because we are worthy, or righteous, or holy, or behave well, or do the right thing, but because that is the nature of The Divine.
I wonder if that moment was the birthplace of hope.
Abraham was learning that faith is a who word, a trust word. Not a creed, or a dogma, or doctrine. Faith is a way of life, the way of trust.
Back in Part 1, I mentioned that Hebrews 6 says that “Abraham waited patiently in faith and succeeded in seeing the promise fulfilled,” and that Hebrews 11 says “it was faith that enabled others to endure great atrocities.”
Spirituality can be summed up in that one word. And I can’t help but wonder whether the son that Abraham eventually got or the journey of trust, was the point of the whole beautiful saga.