This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Bible: Abraham’s stardust children

It would have been a strange thing to do, cutting all those animals in half, if God hadn’t told Abram to do it. But that’s how it goes. Covenants aren’t made in Hebrew, they’re cut (Gen. 15:18; Jer. 34:18-19).

Brad Roth

If a covenant’s really going to stick, then there has to be cutting. There has to be blood.

And this is the covenant of covenants, the one where God makes the promise to Abram about descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky.

God promises land and reward, but what good are land and reward without people? It’s really about the people — a people who happen to not exist yet.

But God is creating this people with his word. This is where it all begins. The last time someone fell asleep this deep, God made woman (Gen. 2:21). Now, God makes a people. “I will make of you a great nation,” he told Abram (Gen. 12:2).

No doubt Abram imagined scads of biological children. But could Abram have known that most of his promised future children wouldn’t share a drop of his blood and would come into the family by water and the threefold Name?

Yet God knew.

God knew too that God’s people would need more than just to be brought out of their slavery in Egypt. They were carrying a subtle slavery inside them, and it would take a new way of patterning their thinking to become truly free.

And so the people would need laws — the Law — if the covenant to form a great people was going to mean anything. Because God never really cared much about genetic descent. For God, it was always about forming a people who would walk in his ways and love him and serve him (Deut. 10:12).

That’s where Moses comes in, the man game enough to turn aside when he sees some flaming glimpse of the divine. The man willing to enter the thick darkness on the mountain and receive the tablets of the law.

Without law, those descendants of father Abram and mother Sarai were just an unruly horde — which is pretty much what Edom and king Sihon and king Og and Moab saw (Num. 20:20; 21:23; 21:33; 22:3).

But with God’s Law inscribed on their hearts and God’s prophetic words ringing in their ears, the Israelites start to have a story — maybe even a memory and a future — and they become a people: God’s people, God’s priestly kingdom and holy nation.

The world needs a priestly kingdom, a people who can pray the world up to God and become the epicenter of God’s blessing in the world (Gen. 12:3; Ex. 19:5; 20:20). The world needs a people who can stand in holy fear before the Almighty, a people capable of coming awake to the fact that the Lord is on the move in the world and present in it (Ex. 20:20; Gen. 28:16).

Nobody seems to know that. But God’s people were starting to see it: in the pillars of smoke and of flame, in the mountain that quakes and is enshrouded in dark mercy, in the words that reverberate and overturn and burn.

Please, oh please, Moses: Speak to us, and we will listen! But do not let God speak (Ex. 20:19). We can’t handle it. Yet.

Of course, this is the reason God drew Moses from the water and drew this people from beyond the Nile. The first qualification of a priestly people is that they hear the voice of the Lord.

His sheep know his voice (John 10:27). God is preparing the world for the Word that will become flesh and dwell among us. He has to start somewhere, with someone.

It all goes back to Abram lying there among those jumbled animal halves, the vultures circling as he sleeps.
And it all points forward to the One who will come at “the fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4) and gather in Abraham’s stardust children.

Brad Roth is pastor of West Zion Mennonite Church in Mound­ridge, Kan. He blogs on encountering God in the everyday at His book, God’s Country: Faith, Hope, and the Future of the Rural Church, was released Sept. 19 by Herald Press.

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