Cutting a Covenant

It’s interesting how clear God makes it to His people that He will do things in His way as opposed to their way. However, He often communicates His plan in ways to which we can relate. He makes promises. He creates covenants. He uses imagery and forms familiar to hose with whom He is communicating.

The events of Genesis 15 is a passage that is pretty familiar to most of us. Prior to this chapter, God has made promises to Abram regarding a land, a nation, and a blessing through his descendants. This promise is repeated, but, in chapter 15, Abram asks how these promises will be fulfilled. He doesn’t see how a great nation can come from an old man and a barren woman. In response, God instructs Abram to make a sacrifice, a very unique and strange sacrifice. He cuts several animals in half and creates a path between the separated halves. Abram goes into a deep sleep filled with horrors, and God speaks to him in this sleep. Smoke and a flaming torch cross the path between the hewn animals, and God reaffirms His covenant with Abram.

The Importance of His Covenant

What happens here? God cuts a covenant with Abram in a practice familiar to Chaldeans and the nomadic tribes of the region. Tow leaders would walk together along a path between hewn animals, inferring carnage will come to those who seek to break or interfere with the covenant formed. It is the forming of a very serious relationship. Jeremiah 34:18 refers to this practice, and God says He will make His transgressing people like the sacrificed animals. He warns them of the doom involved with their breaking of the covenant they had with God. They had been unfaithful, and they would be delivered to their enemies. This is the gravity with which God views our covenant-relationship with Him.

In Matthew 26, we read of the night Judas will betray Jesus, when Jesus washes His disciples’ feet, and when Jesus institutes a memorial of His impending death. In this, He references a new covenant sealed by the dividing of His body and the spilling of His blood. Jeremiah 31, after numerous promises in the previous chapters of a coming king like David, God describes a new covenant that He will make with His people. In that upper room, Jesus is telling His disciples He is bringing that new covenant, and the Hebrew writer, in chapter 8, expounds upon how this new covenant is different from and superior to the one it replaces.

I Corinthians 11:23 again refers to Jesus’ body being broken as the bread and the cup as His blood. The Greek word translated as broken in verse 24 is often used metaphorically as shattered. It is an image of being violently torn, as if by a great force. Each record of the crucifixion in the four gospels tells of the temple’s veil being torn in half, top to bottom, when Jesus cries His last. Hebrews 10:19 compares Jesus’ flesh to that veil that was torn in half. Symbolically, Jesus is cut as the sacrifice for our covenant between us and God.

Maintaining the Covenant

Jesus lives as a spotless lamb. His blood is shed and His body broken for the institution of our new covenant. Upon His crucifixion, God cut a covenant between Himself and man, a new testament rooted in the same tradition with which He formed a covenant with Abram before the nation of Israel had even been born. In Hebrews 10:28-29, God warns us against breaking that covenant, trivializing His blood, and trampling the body broken for us. Finally, Isaiah 53:5-6 describes the wounding of God’s Servant for the sake of our transgressions. We are like straying sheep, so one spotless lamb accepts the consequences we deserve.

The events in Genesis 15 may seem strange to us now, but they illustrate a serious and committed relationship between God and Abram. It was something holy and sacred. Likewise, we today have a sacred covenant with our God. May we never break that bond lest we treat our Lord’s sacrifice as inconsequential. Instead, we should daily be renewing our commitment and our service to Him.

lesson by Tim Smelser