Abraham had just rescued his nephew, Lot, from King Chedorlaomer and his allies (Gen 14), and had returned to his hill country of Hebron. Quite apart from his natural fear over potential reprisals from his defeated enemies, Abraham was preoccupied with certain family matters, which he probably kept under wraps. Nevertheless, Yahweh picked it up and reassured him, “Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; your reward shall be very great” (Gen 15:1). Abraham responded immediately by expressing his doubts over God ability to deliver on His earlier promise of an heir, despite Sarah’s advanced age (Gen 12:1-3). After which, God pointed out to him the myriads of stars in the night sky, “Now look towards the heavens, and count the stars; if you can count them … so shall your descendants be.” Abraham believed God, and He reckoned it to him as righteousness (Gen 15:4-6). Wait a minute, Abraham had a second doubt, which God again drew out, “I am the Lord who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it.” Abraham’s dilemma was his ongoing uncertainty since God first mooted His pledge (Gen 13:14-17); how was he going to conquer the tribes within his lifetime with just a tribal raiding party under him? God’s solution to Abraham’s doubt was extraordinary. But first, these episodes with ‘the father of faith’ prompted a few teachable lessons: God being God is never defensive with our human frailty, and when we desire to obediently trust Him, He will patiently draw our qualms out from within our constrained mental framework to catch a view of His perspective (c.f., John 20:24-29). Furthermore, He is never adverse in resorting to our cultural practices to buttress clearly what He desires to communicate. As with Abraham, God’s variable approaches to our eccentricities strengthen our faith in Him and deepen our relationship with Him.
Yahweh’s alternative endeavour to undergird His commitment to Abraham in His promises, was the highly unusual covenant He made with him (Gen 15:9-21): “Bring Me a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” It seemed that this was not an unfamiliar mode of sacrifice to Abraham, for he appeared to be cognizant of what was required of him to facilitate the process without further instructions. In the Near East, it was a normal practice for a suzerain’s monarch to compel his vassals to a similar ritual against rebellion or to provide an overbearing annual tax payment (c.f., Jer 34:17-20). The ceremony validated a binding contractual relationship between two or more parties to seal an agreement, with a severe categorical penalty for its breach by any party to it; in this case, the forfeit was the death of the contract breaker, as implied by the apportioned animal carcasses. After sunset, while Abraham watched in terror at the darkness, in anticipation of the presence of God, a blazing fire like ‘frozen lightning’ (personifying Yahweh) suddenly appeared and passed between the sacrificed animals. (c.f., Jer 34:17-20). In one of the most remarkable events in Biblical history, Yahweh was making an oath that indicated His demise, if He was not faithful to His covenant (c.f., Isa 53; Gal 3:13-14). Shockingly, it was a single party pledge; Abraham being absolved from any responsibility. The relief to Abraham was probably palpable; it implied that his faithfulness was not a condition of this covenant.
The covenant made between Yahweh and Abraham was an archetype of Christ’s sacrifice centuries later. God purposefully sought out Abraham as He sent him away from his father’s home in Ur, extended unconditional grace to him and recognised him as ‘the father of faith.’ That same divine grace that had been extended to Abraham resulted in Yahweh becoming his eternal ‘anchor’ – his security and confidence in life; and this same grace is available to anyone who had explicitly put their trust in Christ (Heb 6:13-20; Prov 3:5-7). Whatever our insecurities are, God is fully aware of them, and He is ready to clarify our doubts, as He did with Abraham when we allow Him to do so; we will find Him when we seek Him with all our heart and with all our soul (Deut 4:29-31).