1After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 4But the word of the LORD came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.
7Then he said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.” 8But he said, “O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” 9He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. 11And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
12As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him… 17When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.”
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
Reflection: He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.
One of the most important words in Scripture and in the Christian life in general is covenant. Covenant is a promise that is fulfilled by the promise-giver, regardless of how the promise-receiver acts toward the promise-giver. The covenant is grounded in the goodness and love of the promise-giver, not in the worthiness of the promise-receiver. We have largely replaced covenants with contracts in our society – agreements between parties that are nullified if one party fails to meet the requirements of those agreements. Unfortunately, some foundational societal covenants – such as marriage – have taken on the character of contracts.
God relates to humankind through covenants. God made several covenants with humankind in the Scriptures. There was the covenant of merciful protection to Noah, the covenant of a continual throne for David’s descendants, and the covenant described in our Scripture for this week with Abram and Sarai (later Abraham and Sarah) and their family. These covenants were then expanded to include all humankind in the covenant God made through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
There were many times within the life and experiences of Abraham that he made poor decisions or felt low because of what he perceived as the slowness of God’s promise-fulfillment. Each time God renewed that covenant, choosing to act mercifully rather than scolding Abraham. God always responded to Abraham’s loneliness and struggle with grace. This fostered within Abraham a strong faith and trust in God, which God continued to honor throughout Abraham’s life and the lives of his descendants.
I love how God chose the starry sky to act as a sign of covenant renewal with Abraham. I imagine that Abraham looked up at the stars many, many nights afterward to remember that God would keep his promises. Like the rainbow for Noah, God wrote his promises in the sky. We can continue to look into the night sky and remember God’s faithfulness to Abraham, while also marveling at the power of the Creator of the heavens and the earth.
This week, remember that you are a covenant child of God. Look all around you in this world and find signs of God’s loving-faithfulness. Each day is an opportunity to live within the promises of God and renew our side of the covenant – to respond to God in worship, service, and love. Even when we fail to do this, God keeps his promise and waits patiently and mercifully for us to look back toward him.
Journaling Focus: And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
Have you ever had to protect something you cared about from something that would harm or destroy it? This was not some ordinary offering that Abram was keeping the birds away from. This was the offering that renewed the covenant Abram had with God. When have you needed to protect your spiritual connection with God from negative outside forces? How did you go about driving them away? When have you been hurt by others spiritually? How did you respond? Where was God in all of this?
This practice allows you to listen to the Scripture for the week (in larger context) and to open yourself up to God’s voice in that Scripture.
Click on the audio link above and listen to the Scripture. As you listen this first time, ask God to point out to you a word or phrase from the Scripture.
- Click on the audio link above again and listen to the Scripture a second time. As you listen this second time, ask God to reveal to you the holy intentions for this word or phrase that is being spoken into your life.
- Click on the audio link above again and listen to the Scripture a third time. As you listen this third time, ask God how you might respond to this word or phrase being spoken into your life today.
These questions are designed to help make sense of the message of Scripture. They are not designed to overwhelm, but to enlighten. Do not feel as if you need to answer all – or even most – of these questions every week. Perhaps pick one or two that will help you explore the Scripture and its message more deeply.
Reading Scripture to Know:
- What is happening/being said? (Observation)
- Why is this happening/being said? (Interpretation)
- What does the rest of Scripture say about it? (Evaluation)
- What does it mean? (Understanding)
- What does it mean for us? (Application)
Reading Scripture to Grow:
- What words or phrases stand out to you? Why?
- Where do you hear the voice of God in this Scripture?
- How do you see the character of God reflected in this Scripture?
- How does this Scripture reveal God?
- How does this Scripture expose humanity and its need for God?
- How does this Scripture speak to what is happening in your life?
- How does this Scripture speak to what is happening in our world?
- What might God want to communicate to you (us) this week through this Scripture?
Scripture Reads Me:
- This passage makes me feel…
- This passage makes me think about…
- This passage reminds me of…
- This passage teaches me that God is…
- This passages teaches me that I am…
- This passage challenges me to…
Listen to the song, How Great Thou Art. Think of the awe Abram felt as God renewed the covenant under the stars. When have you felt awe in God’s presence? What was your reaction? Take some time to communicate that awe you feel in the presence of God. What is God communicating to you through this song? What might you communicate to God through this song?
Prayer Focus: But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me?”
God desires many things for us that we cannot even imagine – things that will bless us with God’s goodness and grace. Pray this question this week – “Father God, what will you give me out of the abundance of your wisdom?” Trust that God has a pathway set forth for you and a purpose for your life. God wishes to equip you for that journey – so receive whatever it is God has prepared for you.
Meditation Focus: “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield.”
What causes you to fear? All of us fear something. When I was a child, I was scared of the dark, so I slept with my light on. Now I love to take naps in the complete darkness and I have learned to fear more frightening realities, such as mortality and the presence of evil in the world. Whatever it is that you fear, picture yourself standing firmly in front of it. Envision God standing between you and that fearful reality, absorbing all of its attacks against you. The LORD is your shield. When the arrows of fear assail you, he is your sure and strong guardian. As you imagine this scene, repeat the prayer, “LORD, protect me and deliver me.” Do you feel the Spirit surround you as you pray and meditate?
Take some time to reflect upon your day or your week. Follow the process below and open yourself up to the presence and work of God in your life this week. Every week the structure is the same, but some specifics are changed to reflect the Scripture of the week.
- Find a place and posture that will prepare you for prayer.
- Begin by breathing in deeply through your nose and breathing deeply out of your mouth.
- Invite God to lead you through the previous day or week. For instance, if it is Tuesday night, reflect back on Tuesday morning, afternoon, and evening. If it is Saturday or Sunday, reflect back on Monday through Friday.
- Ask God to guide you through these questions:
- How have you witnessed God’s faithfulness?
- In what ways have you believed and trusted in God?
- In what ways have you experienced God’s righteousness?
- How have you experienced God’s covenant grace?
- Thank God for this journey of reflection on your day or week. Ask God to continue to reveal Godself to you tomorrow.
With whom do you share a covenant relationship? Go back and look at your wedding vows, your church membership vows, or some other important covenant promise you have made. What did you promise to others? What have others promised to you? How can you work to strengthen that covenant bond? Follow these links for an example of the United Methodist marriage and baptismal vows.
Breath Prayer: LORD God, we promise ourselves to you.