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Footsteps to Follow: Solidify the Covenant

Christians, Jews and Muslims share a relationship with Abraham who they trace back to the common link in their faiths. Christians and Jews track it through Isaac, while Muslims track it through Ishmael. Ishmael was the first-born son of Abram, by Sari’s handmaiden, Haggar.

The promise of the covenant was given to Abram, and Hebrew Scripture in the lectionary this week is from Genesis 15. Abram was given the promise that, if he did what the Lord told him to do, he would become a great nation. Through his faith in the Lord, Abram left his home with his household and servants, sojourning where the Lord led him. Abram was at least 75 years of age, when the Lord solidified his promise to him. I am not 70, but feel too old to do what Abram did.

I realize that we live in a sinful world where we tend to age at a more rapid pace than people in Abram’s time. But there are his extraordinary actions we need to think about. After Abram shared that he still had no traditional heir, except a servant who would inherit his household, the Lord told him that he would have a son with his wife Sari. To seal the covenant, the Lord told him, “Bring me a heifer … a female goat … and a ram.” All three were to be three years old. He also was to bring “a turtledove and a young pigeon.”

Abram cut the ram, heifer, and goat into two pieces, laying “each half over against the other.” Abram “did not cut the birds in half” (Genesis 15:9-10 ESV.)

Abram built an altar out of rocks. I don’t know what the size was, but it had to be large. Animals come in all sizes, just like people do, but think about this. The sacrifices included a three-year-old female goat, weighing 22 – 300 pounds. Abram cut it in half and laid it on an altar, alongside the other items. A three-year-old ram weighing 100-300 pounds also was cut in half and laid alongside the goat. Abram added a three-year-old heifer, weighing about 1,100 pounds.

We are not told anyone helped him pick up about a 500-pound portion of a heifer and place it on the altar. Again, this had to be a big altar. We are then told Abram also placed a whole turtledove and pigeon on the altar.

While offering the sacrifice, Abram fought off birds of prey. When the sun had gone down and it was dark, “a smoking fire pot and a blazing torch… passed between the pieces” of meat (Genesis 15:17 ESV). In Jeremiah, there is a reference to covenants being made this way: “Princes of Judah, and the princes of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, and the priests, and all the people of the land, which passed between the parts of the calf” (Jer. 34:19 KJV).

God sealed his promise to make Abram’s descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky (Genesis 15:5). God kept his promise to Abram, making his descendants great nations.

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