I feel like telling a story. I would make one up, but there’s this old one that’s my very favorite. Every time I hear it, each time I tell it, I’m struck by something new. You’ve probably heard it before, but you might like hearing it again.
Once upon a time there was a man. He was a wanderer, and he had no children. He did have a beautiful wife and many faithful servants, but he longed for children of his own. Maybe he longed for children more than any man has ever longed for children. He longed so, because He followed God. And when you closely follow God, He will soften and mold your will until you yearn precisely for the things that He intends to give you. And God did intend to give this man children; He intended to give this man an entire nation of children.
Though He ended up giving him two nations.
One night in the dark God talked with this man–consoled is more like it. Out of obedience to his God, this man had just rejected the fortune of a king–a fortune he’d very much earned. This man had taken a small army of three hundred men and with it defeated four kings of five nations. He’d come back with their spoil and had tithed of it to God; then God asked him to give it all up. He gave up the wealth of five nations! Some people say that all God required of this man was faith, and I guess that’s true; but I’ve never walked out my faith like that. So under a blanket of stars God promised this man land…land that He would give him. He promised this man protection. He promised this man great reward, and He promised this man many children.
We call this man Father Abraham.
That night under the stars, God and Abraham made a deal. In God’s world, the word is “covenant”. When a covenant is made in blood, as this one was [Genesis 15], death is required of the one who breaks it. If this had been a typical covenant, one a man would make with another man, it would have gone something like this:
“I promise to give you everything I own so long as you are loyal to me. Do you agree to pledge yourself to me in the way I have defined it for you?”
Then both men would walk through the blood of a freshly sacrificed animal. With each step they took, they were declaring, “I swear on my life.”
But this is not what happened in the dark that night in the covenant God made with Abraham. When it was time to walk through the blood, God passed through as fire and smoke. God walked through as fire. God walked through as smoke. Abraham was never required to place his feet in the blood, because God had walked through for them both.
If you are familiar with the old, old story of God dying on behalf of mankind, you may have read that last line and sighed a long, deep breath exhaling with the word, “Messiah“.
The covenant God made with Abraham was not made with Abraham only. God also made these same promises to Abraham’s generations. So the covenant passed to Isaac, and then from Isaac it passed to Jacob. Jacob is a favorite character of mine–so wonderfully and beautifully flawed. In “Little Children. Big God.” I wrote the following passage about Jacob:
Jacob’s twelve sons from four mothers made one heck of a dysfunctional family, but their calling was larger than life. God delights in choosing the unworthy, that way we can clearly see Him. And so we know the twelve sons of Jacob by a much more glorious title: They’re the twelve tribes of Israel.
The tribes of Israel’s family flourished and grew while they were enslaved in Egypt. God had sent them to Egypt to keep them alive; when it was time for them to leave, not even Pharoah himself could stop them. Once rescued, God reminded His people of a different way to live. They had been living in Egypt as slaves. Now they would live as free men. Beginning in Exodus chapter twenty, God begins to explain this freed life. These instructions are called God’s Torah. Someone has told you that the Torah is bondage, but that’s not what the Almighty says.
Exodus 19:5 KJV Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine:
The nation of Israel continued to grow and to learn; they eventually entered the land God had promised to their Grandfather Abraham all those years before. They would not stay, however. Disobedience would lead to the exile of the ten northern tribes of Israel. Eventually Judah (along with Benjamin) would be exiled as well, though their sentence would not be as long. Just as God had warned He would, He scattered His people throughout all the world. Still, He wanted His people back.
Jeremiah 3:12 KJV Go and proclaim these words toward the north, and say, ‘Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the Lord; and I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you: for I am merciful, saith the Lord, and I will not keep anger for ever.’
To be continued…