The Art of the Deal
Sermon Girdwood Chapel, 8/28/2016
“The Art of the Deal”
Genesis 12: 1-3
Genesis 15: 1-21
Genesis 17: 1-14
I wonder, if we kept count, how many promises do you think we make in our lives? How many promises do you think others have made to us? Even now, as I mention the word, “promise”, you are likely taken to a moment in your recent past where you have stated a promise or have been promised something. Webster’s Dictionary defines a promise as “a statement telling someone that you will definitely do something or that something will definitely happen in the future”. Sounds pretty accurate, right? There are other definitions that deal with “potential”, but for now let’s concentrate on this idea the something is “definitely going to happen”.
A promise made and fulfilled can send a relationship into the next stratosphere. Why? Because by simply following through on your word allows trust to be established and allows for defenses to be let down. Also, a weird thing can happen and one can find that they have faith in the person that made the promise because they kept their word. So, in that respect, a promise is a bond maker in relationships. A broken promise, however, can do the opposite. A broken promise can hurt someone or diminish trust in a relationship. Each time a promise is made and broken, trust withers away and hope in the outcome fades. Soon, those promises become empty promises. A sign that trust has been lost and that faith in our word and in our commitment is empty.
Today’s reading is about a central promise from God to Abram. If I were a big league agent, I would have worked for months setting up this deal. It would have stipulated Abram’s value to the proliferation of the Judaic faith and his low earned-sin-average or ESA, and his high Prayer Faith Average or PFA. His fielding percentage among the flocks was impeccable and his righteous rating was the highest in the league. Because essentially, Abram was given everything for very little. A whopper of a promise for almost nothing in return. In fact, if the promise was broken the only one who would lose a thing was God. There would be no risk for Abram, only gain. Truly, that was the art of the deal.
Yada Yada Yada
Before we go too far into this covenant thing with God and Abram, I have to acknowledge that I “yada yada-d” a major narrative in the development of this narrative. For those of you unfamiliar with “Yada Yada” it is a term from Seinfeld in which when you tell a story you leave out a major portion that can change the whole context of the story. In this case, I “yada-d” Noah and the flood. At some point, we will go back and take a look at the details of Noah and flood in much more detail, but for now, what I need you to know is that the flood was God’s method of dealing with humanity after it had turned so far to sin that there was no way to turn it back other than by starting over. God allows the most righteous person on the earth and his family to live, while all others must die. We tend to think of the story as a happy story with pairs of animals and colorful rainbows. But, that is not it, this is humanity and its low point and God is setting out to repair what has been broken. What we find, is that even in the most righteous person left on creation there is still sin, and God, even knowing that to be the case, is willing to make a promise, that Humanity will never be wiped from the earth by God again. It is a protective promise, yes. But, it is also a promise that God makes that demonstrates He knows that sin and evil are accepted parts of creation and are items that humanity must struggle with. For the only way to remove it, is to completely start again. (Bandstra, 65).
We have worked through the text of Genesis and arrived at this point where God is making another connection with humanity. Why now? Because the same thing is happening that happened before the flood. Humanity is living in a way that is taking them further and further from their creator. Each narrative that is supplied to the reader demonstrates this separation between human and divine. (Coogan, 61). It is also evidenced by the human life becoming much shorter. Before the flood, Methuselah lived to be 969 years old! Now we are seeing much shorter lifespans. Just like we talked about last week. God is doing everything God can do to bring us back into communion in the Garden! God is not letting go and is working against the odds to turn our free will from the sinful selfish desires being exhibited, to the glory of our divinely created purpose.
Given such a task you would think He would pick somebody pretty special. But, God doesn’t. There is no motive given for God’s choice of Abram to be the recipient of this promise and holder of this covenant. (Coogan, 72). We know that Abram is Shem’s (Noah’s youngest son) descendant. We know where he comes from (Ur of the Chaldeans), but that is all we know.
We hear nothing of his special relationship with God or his actions based in righteousness. What does that mean anyway? What is a righteous act? It is an act that God approves. It is doing what God asks of us. When God reaches out to Abram he has not acted in any righteous ways. He is an ordinary man, chosen by God. Should it be a surprise then, that Abram is a little taken back by God’s Words and kind of gives him the, “yeah...right”. Yet, he follows God’s orders and begins to develop the personal relationship with God through worship. During this time he is challenged by famine and he and Sarai have to move to Egypt. Not willing to put the full trust in God’s promise, he takes some measures to look out for himself and Sarai in the foreign land. They begin the ruse that they are brother and sister. Pharoah takes a liking to Sarai and Abram profits from the relationship of being a prospective brother-in-law to the ruler. But, when Pharoah wants to take Sarai to be his wife and consummate the marriage, God intervenes. The truth is revealed. The revelation allows God to demonstrate his fulfillment of his promise to Abram in that Abram and Sarai leave Egypt in better condition than they arrived. Following a successful rescue attempt and honor bestowed upon him from Kings. Abram seems to be more ready to listen to God’s promise. It is here that we are witness to the covenant ritual between God and Abram.
Let’s talk about the what a little bit, before we talk about the how. During the ancient time this text was written there were two distinct type of covenants that occurred in the culture. The first was called a Treaty Covenant and was concerned with parties having equal power and the responsibility of the covenant’s success was the equal responsibility of both parties. To understand this type of covenant think in the context of treaties between countries. This was for the high powered and heavily influential bunch of people. The next covenant was called a Charter Covenant. This type of covenant is granted from someone of higher power to lower power and usually consists of some type of promise. In many cases this type of covenant established land boundaries. So, what type of covenant are we talking about? This is most certainly a Charter Covenant because this is a promise to Abram from God. Abram doesn’t have to do anything (at this point) other than soak up the rays and enjoy the fruits of the deal.
By the nature of the covenant then, God is expected to do all of the things for Abram with little help from him. (Bandstra, 83) It is because of God and God alone that Abram will become a great nation (multitude of children) and have a respected name (father of Israel) and the entire earth will be blessed because of Abram. Abram simply has to be blameless...which we will get to later.(Stanley, 185) I mean, I don’t know how many times I have to say it, this is a sweet deal!
The promises of the covenant, as we have just mentioned are threefold:
A multitude of offspring as a great nation
A respected name among all people
Others will be blessed by how they deal with you
Numbers two and three are important in establishing the Jewish people as God’s chosen people and how they are to be dealt with by foreigners. This is a theme that we will see carried throughout, not just the Old Testament, but also the New Testament. The first promise of offspring though, it means a little more than face value. You see, Abram’s and Sarai’s inability to have children is the mark of disappointment and an unfulfilled life in society’s definition at the time. It is also an obstacle to them putting their faith and trust in God. God has withheld children from them, so God does not deserve their praise. This is Abram’s first response to God when approached with the prospect of being the chosen one. Abram tells God, “Sorry, this whole thing is just a waste of time because I have no heir.” He throws it back in God’s face. In the fulfillment of the first condition of the covenant, God showed Abram that full faith and trust should be placed in God without reservation and that, in doing so, one would be rewarded.
So, we have arrived. The covenant is now to be agreed upon and set into motion. We read the passage and it sounds harsh. Let me point out some highlights. <<Read Gen 15:9-12; 17). I debated whether to share this or not, but I think it provides an illustrative point that should not be missed. When I was in graduate school at the University of Kentucky studying Veterinary Science I worked in the Animal DIsease Diagnostic Center occasionally. On my first day, without any warning to me, a bell sounded and the work began. On the docket for that day was a thoroughbred horse, a cow, a calf, and a quarter horse. The cow and the thoroughbred were stationed by some machinery while the other animals were on large operating tables. When the bell sounded, I was met with the realization that the machinery the larger two animals were connected to were large bandsaws that cut the animals in half. I had never and will likely never see anything so graphic in my life again. So, when I read this passage in my mind I have to realize that this is what Abram did to these animals. But why?
The purpose of this act was to spread the halves of the animals out with a walkway in the middle of the animals. As the parties passed through the animal remains they were agreeing to the other party that if they neglected their end of the bargain, then they should end up just like the animals that surrounded them. It was a bloody and graphic depiction of the death that one would experience if they did not fulfill their obligation and uphold their word.
But, wait! There is a twist here. In this covenant ritual between two parties, we are told that only one party makes the way between the animals. As Abram sleeps, God passes between the animals. God takes full responsibility for this covenant and this promise.
I know what your thinking. It’s God. God is all powerful, God is all knowing, God is righteous, God is sovereign, God is the Alpha, God is the Omega. So it was a one sided deal, big whoop. Don’t you see though? Don’t you understand? I told you earlier that God had already promised not to wipe us out. He had set a limit on himself that He was going to save his original creation and restore it to the divine nature he had created it to be. In doing so, God was willing to give up God’s own divine nature (Stanley). God was willing to cease in sovereign and divine existence for the salvation and restoration of creation. That is how much God believed and BELIEVES in us. It is this first step in the covenant with Abram that God shows us that Jesus is on the way. Our inability to take part in the covenant and our willingness to accept the terms shows that through no work of our own, God reached out even to the point of death, to save us from the depths of our fallen state. All God asked was that Abram put his faith in Him. All God wanted was to be trusted and to have the chance to provide hope. Have you given God that chance in your life? Or do you let God continuously walk through the animals as you lay in a deep sleep? Can you make a promise and keep it?