Exodus - The Covenant With Abraham

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Class #5 on the Book of Exodus - The Covenant With Abraham.

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We've seen the past couple of times the first place, first passage or verse in the Book
of Exodus where the term covenant occurs.
Chapter 6, God says he established his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Now he remembers his covenant and to remember is not exclusively or even primarily a mental
act but has all sorts of liturgical overtones, verse in the blues, an act of the memory,
but as a liturgical act it is the renewal, the celebration and the renewal of the covenant.
And the announcement, the word of God here refers to the covenant with the fathers, with
the people and that this covenant is now taking on new life.
The same God who spoke to the fathers is now speaking to Moses and speaking to the Israelites
in their condition.
We need to have a background for that so we'll go back to this earlier covenant and see the
unity of the plan here.
So rather than read further in Exodus, we will start today with a reading from Genesis.
This is Genesis chapter 12 and it is the beginning of the Abraham cycle in Genesis.
Abraham, here called Abram.
Abram and Abraham are really just two different ways of pronouncing the same name, two different
dialects, but in the biblical text, the biblical tradition, they were given different meanings.
Or rather, when Abraham began to be called Abraham, this is seen as the gift of a new
name, as the sign of a new life, of a new relationship with God, of a fulfillment of
a divine plan.
The symbolism of the name is very important here, but we won't be concerned with that.
We want to see what happens here to Abram, Abraham, and how this is a covenant and how
what then happens in Egypt to the Israelites at the time of Moses is a renewal of this
covenant on the plane of history, but also as an act of worship and an act of deep communion
with God.
In chapter 12 of the book of Exodus, the Lord said to Abram, go from your country and your
kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you and I will make of you
a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great so that you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you and him who curses you I will curse and by you all the
families of the earth shall bless themselves or be blessed.
Already we are in the covenant vocabulary here, blessing and the curse, the two ways
of Deuteronomy.
But it is not God who intends, both God intends the blessing and the blessing is something
that expands beyond the limits of the actual covenant being established.
The purpose of God's calling Abram and making a covenant with him was that this same blessing
might extend to all the families of the earth.
But here in the text it doesn't quite mean that yet.
It means primarily that Abraham will become a proverbial name so that peoples will say
may you be blessed by God as Abraham was or something of that sort.
So, the name of Abraham will become a proverb, will become a name to be used in the context
of a blessing.
God bless you as he did Abraham.
God speaks the Lord.
This is of course a Yahwist text and as the Yahwist does he projects the divine name back
into the time of the patriarchs.
So it says Yahweh said to Abram.
The Lord Yahweh speaks to Abram and Abraham is presented as the one who hears the word
of the Lord.
He is the model of the listener to God.
He is the first one who hears in this period of history after Noah.
So Abram went as the Lord had told him and so forth.
Skip to verse 10.
Now there was a famine in the land.
In the land of the Negev, Negev is the desert, the southern part of what came to be called
Now there was a famine in the land.
So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there for the famine was severe in the land.
When he was about to enter Egypt he said to Sarai, his wife, she would later be called
I know that you are a woman beautiful to behold and when the Egyptians see you they will say
this is his wife then they will kill me but they will let you live.
Say you are my sister that it may go well with me because of you and that my life may
be spared on your account.
When Abram entered Egypt the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful and when
the princes of Pharaoh saw her they praised her to Pharaoh and the woman was taken into
Pharaoh's house and for her sake he, Pharaoh, dealt well with Abram and he had sheep, oxen,
he asses, men servants, maidservants, she asses, camels.
He didn't really have camels by the way.
This is an anachronism because camels were not domesticated at the time.
That's just a collection of property that at the time of the writing camels just meant
money, riches, but not literally camels.
But the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram's
So Pharaoh called Abram and said, what is this you have done to me?
Why did you not tell me that she was your wife?
Why did you say she is my sister so that I took her for my wife?
Now then, here is your wife, take her and be gone.
Pharaoh gave men orders concerning him and they sent him on the way with his wife and
all that he had.
Chapter 13, verse 1.
So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife, and all that he had, and walked with him into
the nether until he went back into the nether.
Yes, in chapter 20 there is a kind of an explanation, you know, trying to smooth over the rough
edges of this story, which even it seems, you know, from the context here, it even seems
that it made the inspired author or redactor at the time that this was set into writing
and then set into the context of the whole book of Genesis, made him a bit uncomfortable
And there in chapter 20 you have the explanation that indeed Sarah was Abraham's half-sister.
Chapter 20 is actually a doublet, it repeats with a bimelac what happened with her.
And this of course was very common, you can see from these genealogies that there are
a lot of endogamous lineages, that people intermarry a lot within the same close family.
And of course, you know, the Egyptian pharaohs very often took as their wife their own blood
sister or half-sister.
So this was practiced in those days, and it may have been indeed the case, actually, that
Sarah was Abraham's half-sister, or it may simply be an explanation in terms of the day
in order to smooth over the rough edges of this.
What we do not need to do is project any kind of moral problems or moral criteria or our
own morality into this story, which is basically not concerned about whether Abraham should
have lied or shouldn't have lied or whether he did lie, but is concerned with the continuity
of God's plan, how God protects his own in view of what he has to lead them to and what
he has to make of them.
God is not hypercritical of the moral qualities of those whom he chooses, and that is just
as true today as it was in the time of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Moses and all the
rest of it.
God does not choose the perfect, does not demand perfection in order to address his
vocation to a person, but hopefully then leads that person to a higher level of morality
and everything else.
I think that's right in saying that the main, what seems to be the most important thing
in this whole story here is that how God does protect his people, protects Abraham, who
is a family down in Egypt to get some food or whatever, and how he protects his people.
He gave Pharaoh some of that paper to handle possessions, and sort of got him going again,
and he protected Sarah from anything that might hurt their relationship, yet she had
a favor to try.
The main message here is that God is going to protect his people through all kinds of
difficulties, sort of uncomfortable situations.
So when he's going to divide, he's going to move his plan along.
And God also protects his people from themselves, and he protects Abraham from his own sins,
and David, and the whole story, on down and on.
There's a real consistency here.
You find, of course, in the book of Genesis, and everyone here knows about the so-called
documentary hypothesis, which is very well-grounded, but we do not need to get very much hung up
on it as such.
In other words, the mechanics of which verse belongs to which source, which tradition,
which written tradition.
That's really not what is important to us, but it is important not to be in the least
disturbed, not to make any kind of false problem out of the doublets.
The repetitions in the Pentateuchal, especially the patriarchal stories, but also in Exodus,
the doublets, where really the same story is told more than once, is told more than
once about Abraham, is told more than once about the patriarchs.
Because there were different traditions, parallel traditions, or simply there was a story about
the father of the people.
And so, one time they told it of Abraham, and another time they told it of Jacob, or
Isaac, and no problem there.
Because the point of the story is that the same God who worked and acted in history at
the time of Abraham, has acted in the time of Jacob, and now he is still with his people
and is acting in our day with the same consistency, because God indeed is faithful.
And, in all of the Old Testament, the only one, of course, to whom is applied really
the adjective, the title of faithful man, is Abraham.
Because, in general, the Bible tends to make a very radical contrast between the fidelity
of God and the infidelity of man.
And there's a psalm that has the verse, you know, every man is a liar, is false, homo
somo mendax, in Latin.
And that's very true.
It's simply a reality, although this is not something that is supposed to be a weapon
in the hand of any one of us against our neighbor.
We must realize that this is a lament about ourselves, that we are indeed unfaithful,
but that God is faithful, we know.
And this is the story of the Bible.
This is what the Bible tells us.
This is the, you might say, the dominating theme, or one way of expressing the dominant
theme in the Bible.
Cardinal Newman used the expression divine providence, but he was meaning exactly this,
the unity of God's plan, his consistency in the way he acted towards his people, and his
utter faithfulness to his promises.
Or you could simply say the great theme is the covenant, but the covenant is precisely
It's the expression, you know, given literary form, a given structured relationship, an
expression of the absolute total fidelity of God and his consistent way of acting towards
his people.
Consistent in his terms, according to, you might say, according to God's values, and
not according to what we expect of him.
Anyway, we have an example of a doublet of this story.
Wait a minute, let me get this right.
Anyway, we have the great doublet of this story of Abraham.
Of course, what is it?
It's the story of the Israelites, and they're descended to Egypt, and the plagues in Egypt,
and then they're going forth from Egypt.
You see, you have all of the key words here.
Famine in the land, went down to Egypt, the Lord afflicted Pharaoh with great plagues,
and then Pharaoh sent him on his way, and Abraham went up from Egypt and back into the
So, this pattern of the famine, the descent into Egypt, here it's a question of life and
death, just as it is in the story of Israel in Egypt.
Life and death.
And God rescues his loved ones from death.
He sends plagues upon Pharaoh.
Here, it's all that Pharaoh has spoken of in a rather sympathetic way, and I think probably
the inspired author here wanted to say that it wasn't, after all, Pharaoh's fault in this
particular case.
But that's just moralizing.
We don't need to.
But the author did.
I think it gives a kind of a gentle touch to it, which is, rather than all these rhetorical
questions, these reproaches of Pharaoh against Abraham, and Pharaoh's right.
I mean, we say, well, we're rooting for Abraham, but after all, in this particular instance,
I mean, he kind of was a little too shrewd here.
But anyway, that's not the point.
The point of the story is the parallel, the very definite parallel to the great story
of Israel in Egypt and the Exodus.
So, we have the plagues, and we have the coming forth of Egypt.
And that is the great doublet of this story.
But then, let's see.
Now, this is chapter 13 again.
Let me connect here with, we want to also read into chapter 15.
Yes, Abraham went up from Egypt, he and his wife, and all that he had, and lot with him
into the night.
Now Abraham was very rich in cattle and silver and in gold.
And he journeyed on from the Negev, as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had
been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar
at first.
And there Abram called on the name of the Lord.
And Lot was with him, and Abraham said to Lot, let there be no strife within us.
And so they go their different ways.
And then the Lord said to Abram, verse 14, the Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated
from him, lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward,
and eastward and westward, for all the land which you see, I will give to you and to
your descendants forever.
I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust
of the earth, your descendants also can be counted.
Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, and I will give it to you.
So Abram moved his tent, and came and dwelt by the oaks of Mamreith, which are at Hebron,
and there he built an altar to the Lord.
Now, here's another document.
I'll show you how to connect here.
Between this Genesis chapter 13, story about Abram, where does he go?
He goes to Bethel, and there is where he had built an altar.
And then he goes to Mamreith, to the oaks of Mamreith, which are at Hebron, and built
an altar to the Lord, and so on.
So what do we find in chapter 28?
We find a similar story, parallel movement of Isaac.
In chapter 28, Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran.
And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night because the sun had set.
Oh, we know this story, don't we?
He dreamed there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven.
And then the Lord, atop the ladder, says,
I am the Lord, the God of Abraham, your father, and the God of Isaac.
The land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants, and your descendants
shall be like the dust of the earth, the dust of the earth.
See what it's saying here, David.
The dust of the earth.
And you shall spread abroad to the west and the east and the north and the south.
Look from the place where you are, northward and southward, eastward and westward.
By you and your descendants shall all the families of the earth bless themselves.
This repeats the expression in chapter 12.
And Jacob worked and stayed and so forth, and he puts up an altar, and he called the
name of that place Beth-El.
Now, here it says this is the first time it had been called Beth-El, and here it's already
called Beth-El, chapter 15.
But that's not it.
And he sets up the pillar.
And then, further journeys of Jacob.
Further journeys, chapter 25.
Then God said to Jacob, Arise, go up to Beth-El, and dwell there, and make there an altar to
the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brothers.
So he goes up to Beth-El.
And he says, get rid of your foreign gods.
And they hid them under the oak, which was near Shechem.
And we're in the same territory here.
Abraham's moving around.
It goes by the way of Shechem.
Anyway, as they journeyed and so forth and so on, they came to Beth-El.
It's in the land of Canaan.
And buried under an oak.
Let's see now.
Then there's the change of name.
God appears to Jacob.
Your name is Jacob.
No longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.
God said to him, I am God Almighty, El Shaddai.
Now, this is, of course, the Elohim speaking here.
See, it's a different world.
I mean, a different written, one of these different sources.
Anyway, not really terribly important.
So, God set up a pillar in Beth-El.
Let me see.
Where are we going here?
Oh, yes.
There we are.
Towards the end of the chapter, it says,
When Jacob came to his father Isaac at Mamre,
Keriath Arabat, where Abraham and Isaac had sojourned.
So, Jacob repeats the same journey.
But it's not just the story as a doublet.
Not just the repetition of a particular route of a journey,
but rather the renewal of a relationship
which God had established with Abraham.
He establishes with Isaac.
He establishes together again with Jacob.
The change of the name is, as it were,
a sign, a sacramental sign of this relationship
which is renewed in Jacob.
But it is the same that God had established with Abraham.
Anyway, those are some of the parallels here
between Abraham and Jacob.
Now, Abraham goes to war with the kings.
He fights the kings.
And then after finishing his battle,
Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine.
He was priest of God Most High.
Excuse me.
I've lost the connection to Exodus, if there is any.
Well, no, the connection to Exodus is in that story of Abraham
going down into Egypt, the plagues, and that sort of thing.
This is just a continuation of the Abraham cycle, you see.
So, I pointed out these other two parallels.
In other words, the movements of Jacob
between chapters 28 and 35 in Genesis
follow the same route as we find in the story of Abraham
after he comes out from Egypt, you see.
So, just as an example, not terribly important example,
of the repetition of certain themes
in the different sources or lines or traditions
that you have in the books of Genesis and Exodus.
So, that's the only thing.
So, I'm sorry to have confused you a little bit.
The point was simply to underline
how these parallels are established in a literary form,
a literary expression, in the book of Genesis.
And the parallels are intended,
the stories themselves may have been told separately
without any parallel reference.
Because, on one hand, the Jacob story is from the Elabist
and the Abraham story, this part of it, is from the Yahwist.
But, when they are brought together in the canonical text,
the inspired redactor, you know,
his authorship is not only writing, it's also editing.
So, the inspired redactor of the Pentateuch as we have it
brought them together.
And this relationship which is established
among the various patriarchal stories
by the juxtaposition of these various traditions
is, in itself, a new revelation.
Or, rather, an underlining of this basic theme
of the consistency of God in His historical plan.
His love for His people, His care for them,
His protection of them, and His fulfillment of His promises.
So, anyway, this was just one instance.
So, I mean, don't let it be confusing,
because it's just...
I mean, you can then go into it
and get out your commentaries
and your bigger Bibles
that have the parallels and references,
cross-references and margin and whatnot,
Jerusalem Bible and things.
And you can have fun with it that way.
You can go right through it
and pick up all sorts of connections.
But the point of the connections in the text
as we have it today in the canonical Pentateuch
is this one plan of God
which is worked out in so many ways
with a fundamental consistency
and yet in a very mysterious manner.
When God intervenes, and it's always new,
it is always a surprise,
even though it's always consistent.
It's a paradox.
So, anyway, we have...
I was just reading these couple of verses
from chapter 14, kind of to connect
the promises in chapters 12 and 13
with what comes next in chapter 15.
This is the story of Melchizedek.
It's a very mysterious story.
And precisely because it is so mysterious,
it fascinated the rabbis
and especially the apocalyptic writers
just before the time of Jesus
and also when you found
the schools of allegorical interpretation
founded in Philo, in Alexandria,
the Jews in the diaspora,
the Hellenized Jews and so forth,
this became very fascinating for them.
And so we have in the book of Hebrews,
New Testament, this comment on Melchizedek.
And it's also in the Eucharistic prayer
we said today, the bread and wine
being offered by your priest Melchizedek.
Of course, he was a pagan,
one of these holy pagans of the Old Testament
that Daniel wrote about.
And here, the Hebrews make a big point
that Abram pays tithes to Melchizedek
who had nothing whatever to do
with the priesthood of Aaron
and therefore there is here in Abraham
a covenant which, as it were,
passes over the heads of Moses and Aaron
and Sinai and the law and the temple
and everything that happened in between
and comes right smack up to Jesus
who is the new covenant.
But who, like Melchizedek,
is a priest and offers bread?
But anyway, I just mention that
because that's where it is
and we don't need to go into
any further detail with that.
We want to get up to chapter 15.
So here, Abram and his movings about the land
has another encounter with Yahweh.
After these things, the word of the Lord,
the word of Yahweh, came to Abram in a vision.
Fear not, Abram, fear not.
A vision, the word of Yahweh.
In these phrases, very brief phrases,
we are immediately connected
with the whole prophetic tradition
in the Old Testament.
Now this is a conscious allusion
to the prophetic vocation stories.
We've touched on them.
There's this constant back and forth reference
in the Bible.
The Pentateuch is both pre-prophetic
and also post-prophetic
and the text as we have it
has prophets from all of the insights,
not all of them, but many of the insights
of the great prophets
whose books come physically after the Pentateuch
in the Old Testament.
The word of the Lord came to so-and-so
in a vision, a vision like Ezekiel.
Fear not, Abram, the great response of God,
the great promise of God
to the prophet who encounters the Lord
and is thrown off his feet
and is immediately made aware
of his own weakness, of his own incapacity,
says, no Lord, send somebody else,
I can't do it, I'm too young,
I do not know how to speak and so forth.
Fear not, is God's reply.
And so God just begins by saying,
fear not, Abram, I am your shield,
your reward shall be very great.
The Latin, by the way, interpreted this,
the verb to be is not used in the text
and so it interpreted it as meaning
I am your shield, your reward exceeding great.
God is the reward of his chosen one.
God himself is the reward.
But the reward here is, of course,
relationship with God,
but as manifested in this descendants,
in this progeny as abundant
as the dust of the earth or the stars of heaven.
Reward, reward for faith,
for responsiveness to the word of God.
But Abram said, oh Lord God,
oh Lord Yahweh,
what wilt thou give me,
for I continue childless
and the heir of my house
is Eleazar of Damascus.
This is another part of the story
which we haven't yet touched upon,
but God promises him a descendants
and then, but Abram is old and Sarai is old,
but then she's also a beautiful young woman.
You see, you're not,
you can get all flustered
if you pay too much attention to those details.
Forget the details
and keep to the real theme here.
The impossibility,
the apparent impossibility,
fulfillment of God's plans.
And in this case,
it's the fact that they don't have any children
and so it's an adopted son
who seems to be the one
who will inherit everything that Abram has.
He has no children of his own loins.
And we know from inscriptions
that have been found
in the lands of the Bible
that in fact there was this practice
that when the head of a great household,
of a great tribe or clan
did not have any physical male descendant
who might inherit,
then he might adopt another person
or as the story later goes,
he simply takes to bed
the slave woman of his wife
and has a child by her
and this is also his child.
But in this case,
Eleazar is a slave,
is an adopted slave
and becomes a potential heir.
But when this happens,
as the inscriptions say,
when it does happen
that later he has a child of his own,
then of course the inheritance
passes to his blood descendant
and the adopted heir
loses all claim to the riches
of the clan leader.
Anyway, this is the historical background of this.
But you see, what this is
is the prophetic objection.
God comes to his chosen one
and announces his presence
and then Abram is immediately aware
of the difficulty,
the problem of all of this
and it seems impossible.
And Abram said,
Behold, thou hast given me no offspring
and a slave born in my house
will be my heir.
And behold,
the word of the Lord came to him,
This man shall not be your heir,
your own son shall be your heir.
And he brought him outside and said,
Look toward heaven
and number the stars
if you are able to number them.
Then he said to him,
So shall your descendants be.
And he believed Yahweh
and he, Yahweh,
reckoned it to him, Abraham,
as righteousness.
A great word,
a great verse of the Bible
which is taken up by Paul
and taken up by the prophet of Acre
and also taken up by Paul
and made into a theology
of faith and of the relationship
of the believer to the Lord.
Yes, somebody was asking.
Anyway, this is a key story
in the Old Testament.
But the pattern is that
of the prophetic vocation.
The response of God,
Behold, this, your own son
shall be your heir.
And then he gives him a sign
as very often is the case.
And this is a sign
which is not anything
particularly miraculous,
but simply God opens Abraham's eyes
to the wonder, the miracle
of simply the existence
of the universe.
Look toward heaven,
a number of the stars,
if you're able to number them.
So shall your descendants be.
And the response of Abraham
is this great act of faith.
Faith which is righteousness,
which is justice,
which is the fulfillment
of a promise in a human person.
And then we have another story.
And the Lord said to him,
I am Yahweh who brought you
from Ur of the Chaldeans
to give you this land
to possess.
Then he said,
O Lord God,
how am I to know
that I shall possess it?
He said to him,
Bring me a heifer three years old,
a she-goat three years old,
a ram three years old,
a turtle dove,
and a young pigeon.
And he brought him all these,
cut them in two,
and laid each half
over against the other.
But he did not cut the birds in two.
There's a pigeon and a turtle dove.
There are two birds.
He didn't need to cut them in half.
And when birds of prey
came down upon the carcasses,
Abraham drove them away.
As the sun was going down,
a deep sleep fell on Abraham.
And lo, a dread and great darkness
fell upon him.
Then Yahweh said to Abraham,
Know of a surety
that your descendants
will be sojourners in a land
that is not theirs
and will be slaves there,
and they will be oppressed
for four hundred years.
But I will bring judgment
on the nation which they serve.
And afterward,
they shall come out
with great possessions.
As for yourself,
you shall go to your fathers in peace.
You shall be buried
in a good old age.
And they shall come back here
in the fourth generation.
For the iniquity of the Amorites
is not yet complete.
When the sun had gone down
and it was dark,
behold, a smoking fire pot
and a flaming torch
passed between these pieces.
On that day,
the Lord made a covenant with Abraham,
saying, To your descendants
I give this land
from the river of Egypt
to the great river,
the river Euphrates,
the land of the Canaanites,
the Canaanites,
the Canaanites,
the Canaanites,
the Canaanites,
the Canaanites,
the Canaanites,
The dimensions, by the way,
of this territory
correspond roughly
to the dimensions
of Solomon's reign.
From Solomon's.
We can distinguish
two elements,
two strands in this story.
One of them involves
this ritual
with the she-goat, the ram,
the heifer, the turtle dove
and the young prisioner.
And the other one involves
this deep sleep, dread,
and great darkness
as the sun was going down,
where Yahweh prophesied
what is to happen
to the Israelites
when they go into Egypt.
So this is kind of a parenthesis
in the story of this ritual.
This ritual is a typical
covenant ritual.
Remember, covenant is a,
you might say,
a secular concept
which is introduced
by the biblical authors
as a model of the relationship
between God and His people.
God and Abraham,
but Abraham is not ever
exclusively an individual.
our own psychocentrism,
egocentrism was not present
in the peoples of the Bible.
Abraham and all of the people,
all of those who were
in his loins,
but also all his family,
all his clan,
all of this,
and Sarah and everyone.
They're involved in the covenant
that, of which Abraham becomes,
as it were, the prophet.
These are sort of examples
of these covenant ceremonies
and with the burning bush,
would that be considered
also a covenant ceremony?
No, not precisely,
but you're connecting rightly
with the fire pot
and flaming torch.
Oh, the fire pot.
This is simply a manifestation
of God, of the presence of God.
That's the connection here
with the burning bush
and with other similar passages
in the old animations.
Our God is a consuming fire,
this expression.
And so fire is seen
as a sign of God.
Let us just take the ritual apart.
In other words,
chapter 15, verses 7 through 11,
and then 17 to the end of the chapter.
And then we'll go back
to this parenthesis,
verses 12 through 16.
Abraham is inspired
to set up a covenant ritual
with no one to perform it with.
When the covenant was established
between equals,
they brought these animals,
they cut them up,
and then they passed
between the two pieces
of the animals.
And the meaning of this
gesture, the symbolism here,
is, as it were, a sign
of a divine sanction
upon their covenant.
Whoever breaks this covenant
will, as it were, be torn apart
just as these animals
were split in two.
Walking between the split animals
was, as it were, a sign of
a gesture that meant
I will be faithful to this covenant
at the risk of my physical integrity,
at the risk of my life and limb.
And we wouldn't feel
the impact of such a gesture,
but the ancients took signs,
symbols, sacraments,
and words and gestures
very seriously.
To do such a thing
was truly to expose oneself,
or it was truly to make
a life and death decision,
and to expose oneself
to a real sanction
in case of unfaithfulness
to the covenant.
But here Abram is instructed by God
to set up these things.
And no one's there to do it with him,
to walk through.
And God doesn't have to walk through here.
Notice this.
When the birds of prey
come down upon the carcasses,
Abram dove them away.
The birds of prey,
perhaps this also has a symbolic
importance in the story,
as birds of prey is often used
of the nations that war
against Israel, against the dove.
Israel, the dove,
and all of these hawks and eagles
and the mighty powers of the world.
How often in the nations of our own country
is the eagle a symbol?
At least in his right claw
he has theology.
We hope this will be the way we turn.
The eagle, you know,
is used as a symbol of power
and of might and of nations
like the Byzantine Empire
and Tsarist Russia
and even Poland today
has the eagle as a symbol.
The Borghese family, you know,
dominated people politics
for so many generations there in Rome
and built us the facade of San Gregorio
and they've got their eagle up there, you know.
So the birds of prey is a symbol
of the power that threatens Israel
from without.
And so Abram drives away the birds of prey
just as God will drive away
the birds of prey from his dove,
which is Israel.
And then,
when the sun had gone down,
it was dark,
and behold, a smoking firepot
and a flaming torch
passed between these pieces.
On that day,
Yahweh made a covenant with Abram.
So it is Yahweh who passes between the pieces.
Keep in touch with the symbolism.
Who is taking the risk?
Who is laying down his life?
Who is exposing himself to sanction?
God himself.
God doesn't say,
you walk through there
and I'll stand and watch
to see if you do it.
God comes down and walks through.
And Abraham stands there.
Dumb thought.
But this is a vision.
Now let's take this parenthesis here.
Verses 12 to 16.
It was, of course, part of the story,
but I mean it is logically
a parenthesis within it
that is another discourse
alongside the symbolic discourse
of the ritual,
which is performed
in such a mysterious way.
God takes the initiative in the covenants,
not between two clan leaders,
between Abram and Lot
or whoever it might be.
God takes the initiative,
and yet he places himself
in the position of the one
who, as it were,
exposes himself to the curse
if he were not faithful.
As the sun was going down,
a deep sleep fell on Abraham.
This deep sleep,
the same word that is used
of the deep sleep
that God brought upon who?
Adam. Yes, of course.
There's some connection here,
I really think.
Because, of course,
it is still the same.
It's the yellows.
A deep sleep, a prophetic sleep.
And a dread and great darkness fell.
And here we have this attitude
of awe, of fear and trembling,
of terror and fascination
before the divine,
which is a human archetype.
The idea of the holy,
you know, this book by Rudolf Otto,
she wrote several, many decades ago,
is where he discusses,
you know, how this pattern
emerges from so many religions.
And it's in the Bible, too.
But, of course, as God does,
you know, has to deal
with these archetypes.
What is the actual,
what is the ultimate word?
What is the actual revelation of God?
It is always this fear.
So dread, darkness, the nightmare,
you know, these clouds are dispelled
by the word of the Lord, fear not.
And he says here,
know of a surety,
absolute certainty,
that your descendants
will be sojourned as a lion
that is not theirs,
will be slaves there.
Know that this is going to take place.
But, but,
I will bring judgment
on the nation which they serve,
and they shall come out
with great possessions.
They shall come back here
in the fourth generation.
The verse says 400 years,
and it says fourth generation.
The time frame is not important.
The numbers three and four,
when they're used together very often,
three or four is a kind of
symbolic numerical expression.
Perhaps there is some allusion here
to the three and four language
which you find in,
we'll find it later in Exodus,
we find it in the Prophets,
which denotes a limited number.
You can't divide seven in half,
but if you were to say
half of seven,
seven being perfect.