Last week I suggested that the Bible falls into two basic sections: Genesis 1-11, and Genesis 12–Revelation 22. I call the two sections “The Problem” and “The Solution”. The problem is sin. Review faith building blocks #5 and #6 for our definition of sin. If sin is the problem, what then is God’s solution?
It is a Covenant for a Holy People. As Christians, we believe that the New Testament teaches that we are part of a “New Covenant” (Hebrews 9:1-15) initiated by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But the foundations for this “Covenant” begin thousands of years before Christ, when God calls Abraham to be the father of a new nation that God will initiate a special relationship with. Through this special relationship, God intends for Abraham’s children to “bless the world”(Genesis 12:2-3) This is the story of the Old Testament.
To understand the Old Testament we should define some terms.
Covenant- In english, a “covenant” is defined as an agreement, promise, or contract. Bethlehem church is part of a denomination called “The Evangelical Covenant Church”. Our name is “Covenant” because our denomination is an agreement for many different churches across the United States and the world to work together for God’s glory and neighbor’s good. In Hebrew, the word covenant is be’rith, which literally means “to cut”. Why does this word signify an agreement or promise? Read Genesis 15:7-17.
God tells Abraham to cut 4 animals in half and lay them side by side. When Abraham falls asleep, he dreams a torch and a bowl of fire passes between the bloody animal halves, then God promises that Abraham will be the father of a nation that will live in the land on the coast between Egypt, the Jordan River, and the Hittites of the North. But why cut up the animals?
In the ancient near east, whenever two kings would make a peace treaty with one another, they would perform this ritual. They would cut a group of animals in half and each king would walk in between the bloody carcasses. It would symbolize their agreement to be allies, and the implication was that whoever broke the treaty would end up like the animals.
But notice something about the story of Abraham: only God passes through the pieces. Abraham doesn’t. This is important. God has made a promise to Abraham and his children and grandchildren that he will “bless” them and make them a great nation. But God does not hold Abraham to the same responsibility that God holds himself. God is taking all the responsibility in this treaty between him and Abraham’s family. If the promise is broken, it is God who will suffer, not Abraham.
Many people read this story as a foreshadowing of what God will do in the death of Jesus Christ. God in Christ will take punishment and death upon himself to keep us together with him. Its not upon us to fix the problem, God is the one who will fix the sin problem. This is God’s grace. We can’t fix it, we don’t earn it, we don’t even deserve it, but God will make it happen.
When many people read the Old Testament, they wonder how it is fair that God chose just one group of people to be his “blessed nation”? This is when we need to remember that the very purpose of God choosing Abraham was so that in Abraham’s family and descendants (including Jesus Christ), “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).
Let’s pause to define blessing. When someone is talking about the good things in their life (family, health, prosperity), they’ll often say, “I’m blessed.” But a blessing is more than just “good stuff”. In the Ancient Near East a blessing was something a dying father would give the eldest son in the family: it was a double portion of his inheritance (land, animals, property) but it was also the authority and responsibility to take care of the rest of the family. The purpose of a father handing down a blessing to a son was to ensure the promise that family would stick together and that all members of the family would be taken care of: that everyone would have the necessary things to survive and thrive (Food, water, shelter, protection). A blessing is a promise of help and responsibility so that people can live in peace and joy. The eldest got a double portion of the goods, because he carried the weight and burden of leading the rest of the family.
For Abraham this specifically meant that his descendants would be a nation united together in a good land, and that his descendants would also bless the rest of the world. This would come through God’s special relationship with the children of Abraham, God would give them his moral law to teach the rest of the world, God would show his love and care for creation through his people, but most importantly for us, God would give the world Jesus Christ through Abraham’s people… and in Christ is the greatest blessing of all: the defeat of sin, death, and all the powers of evil.
Journaling Questions this Week
This week you’ll read some stories of Abraham and Sarah’s strange and dysfunctional family. Genesis 17:15-17, 18:1-15, 21:1-7, 27:1-29
- In what ways are you like your parents? What traits have you inherited from them?
- Why do you think Abraham and Sarah laughed about God’s promise that they would have a son?
- When you think of “blessings” you have in your life, what comes to mind?
- As you read about Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Esau… do they seem like good people? Why or why not?
- What do the stories of these people tell us about God and his Covenant?