All of the divine covenants God raised with Abraham are described in detail in the book of Genesis. The numinous proceedings of the blood covenant are recorded for all time; the proclamation of God at the name covenant is set down for us; the appearance of God with His angelic escort for the threshold and salt covenants are chronicled for future ages. We have scene and setting, along with actions and reactions, words and responses.
These are not the first covenants to be described in Scripture, but this is the first series showing how we might be able to expect them to occur across a lifetime.
As a consequence of this, we might be tempted to see these as exemplars of an ‘ordinary’ experience of covenant in those times. To a large extent, they are. But there are also unique aspects to them as well. It’s all too easy to simply write off ancient blood covenants with their cutting up of an animal and the walk in the pool of blood as gruesome and weird.
But, even so, there’s something seriously odd. Doesn’t matter what age or century you live in. This oddness can be encapsulated in a single verse: ‘Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years.’ (Genesis 15:13 BSB)
It’s neither a blessing nor a curse. It’s an unconditional statement. Abraham, when hearing of the judgment passed on the local people down in the Jordan Valley, pleads for mercy—asking God to moderate His sentence on Sodom and Gomorrah. So what about some compassion for his own descendants? Why isn’t he pleading for them?
An ancient reader would undoubtedly have thought: ‘Four hundred years! What on earth did Abraham do to deserve a verdict like that?’
But we have been trained to think of Abraham as a faith hero, not a flawed human being, so we don’t ask that question. In fact, the answer comes immediately in the text. As soon as God’s covenant announcement is over, we are introduced to someone whose name and situation entirely reflects God’s statement on Abraham’s descendants. Her name means the stranger, she is a slave and she is seriously mistreated.
God is so utterly opposed to abuse that He spoke of the horrific generational consequences in the very first covenant He raised with His chosen people. Abraham was not the perpetrator of the abuse towards Hagar but he was complicit with it. Like so many leaders today, in church, government and business, he tolerated abuse on his watch—he didn’t deal with it.
In the fourth generation, his sin—his silence, his failure to intervene, his shrugging off of authority—came back to bite his descendants in a serious way.
When we think a covenant with God will absolve us of reaping what we’ve sown, this example should make us think again.
This is Grace Drops and I’m Anne Hamilton. May the eyes of the Lord strengthen you today.
Thank you to Lorna Skinner of www.riversofmusic.co.uk for the background music.
Covenant is at the heart of the Christian faith. It’s necessary to understand it in order to understand what can go wrong with it and how covenant violation affects our ability to come into our life’s calling. The Covenant Series of books begins with God’s Poetry, available as both print book and e-book. Threshold covenant is introduced in God’s Pageantry, from Armour Books.