We return to Genesis and pickup with this person Abram. The genealogical information at the end of chapter 11 tells us that we are now 8 generations removed from the flood; Abram, a descendant of Shem, was born 292 years after the flood. His story begins for us when he is already 75 years old, 367 years after the great flood. During this time, Noah’s sons have separated, spread out from Ararat and spawned many people groups. Some of their descendants, probably fairly soon after the flood, tried to build a tower to reach to the heavens, to the realm of God. Their aim, like that of Adam and Eve, was driven from the prideful aspiration of becoming like God. They wanted to be gods themselves, and as a result, God confused their speech (bringing various languages to separate mankind) and scattered them further across the earth.
In these first four chapters of Abram, a lot happens. There are so many events I could discuss and elaborate, but there isn’t room for all of it. Should we talk about his accounts in Egypt and the “lie” of Sarai being his sister? I put lie in quotation because Genesis 20:13 explains this isn’t a lie, and the ruse was one they had pre-arranged. Do we discuss the 9 kings and Abram’s strategic victory to rescue Lot? Or is our time best spent delving into the mysterious (Christological?) person Melchizedek? All of this would be interesting and intriguing. But I think the most important story line is God’s relation with Abram.
This divine relationship begins when God calls to Abram. Why did he choose Abram? Why did he single out this man, from all the people on the earth? I have no idea, and there is nothing in Abram’s character (or almost any of his descendants for that matter) that can explain this. Yet God establishes a very unique relationship with Abram, more than a friendship. He “cuts” a binding and eternal covenant. The ancient term for making a covenant is “cut” because of the sign and seal which usually ratified the relationship. These were most typified in the arrangements between conquering kings (suzerain) and the defeated subject kings (vassals) who now persist in a subordinate fealty to the ruling lord. Many times in the ancient world, these covenants were ratified by cutting animals in two, symbolizing the punishment for breaking the covenant, and requiring the vassal to crawl between the parts, through the trail of blood. Something unusual happens in chapter 15 when God cuts his covenant with Abram. Instead of Abram, the vassal, crawling between the animal parts, God himself assumes the punishment of the covenant when he appears as the smoking pot and burning torch (recognized symbols of divine presence) and himself passes between the animals (a judgment and punishment which he does fulfill in the death of Christ)!