Adam and Eve went on to have children, two brothers; Cain and Abel. Cain worked the fields and Abel tended the livestock. When the two brought the fruit of their labors to the Lord, Cain became jealous of his brother’s offering. (Gen 4:2-5)
Cain brooded and sulked, certain the Lord favored his brother’s submission over his. (Gen 4:4) Like his parents before him, he tried to hide this from God. But the Lord sought him out and warned him; “Sin is crouching at your door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Gen 4:7)
Cain did not.
It ruled over him until he found himself stained in blood standing over the lifeless body of his brother, even less satisfied, even more angry. (Gen 4:8-9)
When Adam and Eve first rebelled against God, the Lord sent them out of the Garden, east of Eden. After Cain killed his brother Abel, the Lord God cast him even further away. (Gen 4:11-24)
But still there remained God’s promise that from the woman, Eve, one would come who would destroy the evil which was so steadily and comprehensively manifesting itself in every corner of creation and in every human heart.
Already, from the time of the first man and woman and their first two sons, the world needed saving. God’s promise was that the line from Eve to this Savior would be unbroken.
Later Eve would have another son, Seth. He would become their heir, the one on whom God’s favor would rest. (Gen 4:25-26)
Generations later, from the line of Seth would come a man named Noah, the father of the only surviving family of the earth’s great flood. (Gen 6-8) Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth. Shem, the oldest, was the heir his father’s blessing, the one on whom God’s favor rested. (Gen 9:26-27)
Generations later still, from the line of Shem would come a man living in Ur of the Chaldees, “Abraham the son of Terah, the son of Nahor, the son of Serug, the son of Reu, the son of Peleg, the son of Eber, the son of Shelah, the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalaleel, the son of Cainan, the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.” (Lk 3:34-38)
And Abraham had a wife. Her name was Sarah and she was unhappy.
It had been almost thirty years since she and her husband, together with their servants, had packed up and set out from the only home they had ever known, Ur.
They had traveled over 1,000 miles along the rivers and across the deserts of Haran. And they had done it all because of a promise.
Thirty years earlier, the Lord had appeared to her husband, saying, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen 12:1-3)
Abram, as he was called then, believed in this promise from God, and though it would mean a profound separation from everything he had ever known, he set out in faith.
But it was an impossible journey. As for following the Lord, Abram had no Scriptures, no records of saints who had gone before him. Even his own father Terah was an idol worshipper.
And as for the Lord’s promise of land and heirs, Abram was travelling to a place he could not locate on a map to become the father of a great nation, though he had no children of his own.
Along the way, sometimes Abram’s faith wavered as he counted the cost. He thought about God’s proclamation that he would become a great nation. But this was impossible without sons.
He thought about God’s promise that Abram would bless the world by making his name great. He was just a nomad who had uprooted his entire family from any semblance of security or name or place in this world, and yet the words rolled around in his head, “In you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen 12:3)
One night in particular as Sarah’s husband sat with the weight of the world balanced on his shoulders, the Lord came to him in a vision and said, “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” (Gen 15:1)
“O Lord GOD, what will you give me? You have given me no offspring.” (Gen 15:2-3) The closest thing Abram had to an heir at that point was his servant, Eliezer of Damascus.
Maybe he would have to suffice. Maybe the Lord would settle for servants instead of sons. Maybe that was all God wanted anyway.
There in that moment the Lord God took this struggling man out beneath the desert sky at night, pulled back the blanket of self-doubt Abram had been smothered under and revealed a canopy of glimmering stars too numerous to count.
God answered Abram’s inner fears with a spectacle of glory.
The Lord God bid Abram to look at them and to number the stars of heaven if he could.
Under that midnight sky, the Lord God assured Abram that his descendants would outnumber and outshine these stars above him, and his descendants, his heirs, would take possession of the land the Lord had sworn to him—this Promised Land.
Was this a promise Abram could believe? Could he keep putting his trust in something he had not yet experienced, or for that matter in something he could never do himself? If Abram was to trust at all, it would have to be a living, daring confidence that God would do what He said He would do.
Abram believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. (Gen 15:6, Rom 4:3)
Behind the promise of land and heirs was the reason for God’s blessing. Abram understood that the Lord had not come to him merely to make him a wealthy land owner with many sons. This was not why God called him out of Ur.
From Abram, this descendant of Shem, the son of Noah, the descendant of Seth, the son of Adam and Eve, all the nations of the earth would be blessed.
God had said, “I am your shield, your very great reward.” (Gen 15:1) God wasn’t calling Abram’s future descendants primarily to land or power. He was calling them to Himself.
But what about the Land? “How am I to know that I shall possess it?” Abram asked. (Gen 15:8)
Rather than simply tell him, the Lord would show him how he would know. God told Abram to prepare a sacrifice: a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, and a young dove and a young pigeon.
Abram gathered all these things and with everything except the birds he cut them into halves and arranged them opposite each other. And then he waited for the Lord to come.
As he waited, the buzzards came down on the carcasses, melding together the Holy with the common: a sacrifice prepared as unto the Lord attracts the hopeful carrion crows as the priest, waiting for the Lord to descend, drives them away with a stick. (Gen 15:11)
Soon Abram fell into a deep sleep and a thick, dreadful darkness came over him.
The holy terror of the Lord filled the place where Abram waited with his bloody offering. It was the kind of darkness felt beneath the skin, teeming with all manner of powers that could turn a man inside out. (Gen 15:12)
From the darkness came the voice of God, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” (Gen 15:13-16)
Abram wanted to know how he would gain possession of the land, so God told him the history of what would come, in terrifying detail.
Abram’s people would be enslaved and mistreated for four hundred years in a foreign land. But after those 400 years, the Lord would judge their oppressors and bring Abram’s descendants back to the place Abram now stood, and they would possess that land.
As for Abram, when the time came he would die in peace and be laid to rest with his fathers.
As God spoke, the earth shook.
God shook it.
With Abram beside his sacrifice in the dreadful darkness before the presence of the Lord, a covenant was being cut (Gen 15:18)—a lasting promise, a binding oath, a bond formed in blood.
“When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.” (Gen 15:17) When God passed between the pieces of Abram’s sacrifice in the form of a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch, it was to convey that if He did not keep his promise, He too should be cut in half.
God was not ashamed to be called Abram’s God. (Heb 11:16) God cut a covenant to be Abram’s God, and to take Abram as His people.
He Himself passed between the pieces while Abram watched.