Genesis 15:1 makes more sense if it is translated as in several other versions, ‘I am your shield, your reward shall be very great.’ Abram’s response was natural – he wanted to know what that reward would be, especially since he at that time was childless and Eliezer (whoever he was) was his nominated heir. God then gave him a promise: his descendants would, like the stars, be so numerous that you could not count them. Abram believed God – and because of that faith, God accepted Abram as ‘righteous’. ‘Righteous’ in the Bible was a word that described a relationship rather than a moral state: if God regarded someone as righteous that meant there was nothing in the way of their relationship, no issues between them. St Paul picks this up in the New Testament, and uses this verse to show that our relationship with God does not depend on being ‘good enough’ for him – an impossible target – but on our trust in him.
God then spells out more of the reward he was promising Abram. He had already promised numberless descendants (and the New Testament shows that Abram’s descendants include those who share his faith, not just those who share his genes). He goes on to promise a homeland, and underlines that promise by a solemn covenant.
The method of making a covenant seems to have been one which was current at that time. One imagines that two parties making a covenant would kill an animal and divide it into two, and walk through the two parts, as if to say that if they broke the covenant they should be given the same treatment as the animal. The interesting thing about this covenant is that it is one sided: only the torch and firepot, representing God, pass between the pieces. Abram isn’t expected to walk between them, for this is a promise that God is making on his own initiative – he will give this land to Abram’s descendants.
The one-sided nature of God’s covenant makes it more like a will, in which a person bequeaths property to his or her heirs without the heirs having to do anything. We see this reflected in the terms ‘Old Testament’ and ‘New Testament’, meaning the old covenant and the new covenant which Jesus brought into effect.
Nevertheless, any relationship carries with it responsibilities. Though God’s covenant with his people is his initiative, an act of grace, it has to be accepted by his people and they have to live in its light. God’s covenant cannot continue if his people simply ignore him. This was Jesus’ problem with the people of his own day: he was making a new covenant by his death and resurrection, but the people of Jerusalem by and large would have none of it.
The response that God wants to his covenant above all is faith. Believe him – and act accordingly!
1) What reward do we want in life?
2) Why do some people find it so difficult to believe God? What can we do or say to help them believe?