Genesis – Week 8: Covenant with Abram

Covenant with Abram: Chapter 15

Literary context

The covenant story follows directly after the Melchizedek incident. The only break in the two stories is the term “some time later”.

The story itself is broken down as follows:

15:1 – Promise by God to protect Abram and reward for him

15:2-3 – Abram complains that he has no descendant

15:4-5 – Promise by God for an heir, and that his descendants will be many

15:6 – Abram responds by faith and God counts him as righteous because of that

15:7 – God promises the land

15:8 – Abram wants to know how he can be certain of possessing the land

15:9-11 – God instructs Abram to bring animals for covenant ceremony and Abram obeys. Comment about the vultures.

15:12-16 – Darkness comes over Abram and God gives very specific prophecy regarding descendants as well as Abram’s own death.

15:17-21 – Abram sees smoking fire pot and flaming torch pass between the carcasses and covenant promise is confirmed; both in terms of the descendants and the land.

Chapter 15 is followed immediately by Abram’s lack of faith manifested in the birth of Ismael.

In the covenant story God makes 8 promises to Abram. In turn, Abram has to believe and bring and slaughter the animals.

Historical context

The historical context of this story, specifically the ritual of slaughtering animals, cutting them in half and then walking through the halves on either side, is well documented in other ancient Near Eastern documents. As strange as these covenant rites might seem to our ears, it certainly appeared to be normal practice in the ancient Near East.

The shedding of blood associated with the slaughter of animals has been compared to the need to shed blood as in the sacrificial system, which of course leads into the idea of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. However, this seems tenuous and is not really supported elsewhere. The best explanation is that the slaughter and cutting in half may indicate that the parties agree that this is what would happen to them, should the terms of the covenant be broken. The smoking fire pot and flaming torch have been compared to other aspects, amongst others God’s grace, the pillar of smoke and fire in the desert and so forth. Again, all these allegories are tenuous and do not find support elsewhere in Scripture.

It would therefore be much more profitable to rather focus on the historical concept of covenant, rather than trying to attach various meanings to the elements contained in the ritual.

Researching a topical study

  1. Ask questions

How do you define a covenant?

___________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________

Who are the parties to a covenant?

___________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________

Are there different kinds of covenants?

___________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________

  1. Brain storm

What do we already know about this topic?

___________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________

  1. Related Bible passages

Use of cross-references

___________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________

Use of concordance

___________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________

  1. Related words (Hebrew word studies)

Tip – here you can refer to the Bible Dictionary referred to below and e-sword is also a very good tool to use for this. Many Bible’s have Hebrew and Greek word studies at the back as well. If you have a Study Bible, see if yours have this as well.

___________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________

  1. Consult Bible dictionary

http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/

See the article on”Covenant, alliance” from the New Bible Dictionary.

  1. Consult systematic theology

Refer to Chapter 25 from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology.

NOTE: PLEASE REMEMBER THAT THE NOTES CONTAINED IN THE BIBLE DICTIONARY AND SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY IS NOT NECESSARILY “GOSPEL” – THESE ARE OPINIONS OF (ALBEIT WELL INFORMED) MEN AND WOMEN, ONLY HUMAN BEINGS. SCRIPTURE REMAINS THE SUPREME AUTHORITY AS GOD’S SPECIAL REVELATION TO US WITH REGARD TO WHO HE IS AND HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH US.

Reflection

Having gone through this passage, and the various steps in the topical study, what would you say is the main idea behind God’s covenants?

___________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________

Application

We cannot walk away from a study of a concept such as covenants without it having a real application in our lives. Bearing in mind that the application must be practical, but also relate to the main theme identified under the reflection above, list some applications.

___________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________

 

Christian business principles, based on Biblical Truth