Well, this one is a big deal. Major deal. I mean, not that you got taught it in Sunday school a lot, because not that much happened, but in later years it definitely comes up. Because first God called Abram and said come and follow me, go to this new country, see what happens. But Christians believe that this was like a whole different thing. God comes down and makes a covenant with Abram. He personally enters into relationship with Abram. That’s how it’s always presented anyway.
God tells him that he’s going to have descendants, basically a million of them. And Abram is a little skeptical because God hasn’t even given him one kid yet so it seems implausible but he gets taken for a little walk on the beach and told “you know all this sand? This is how many descendants you will have.” And then God does a very complicated ritual to prove he’s telling the truth.
So let’s see.
The Lord’s Covenant With Abram
15 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:
2 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit[c] my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”
4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring[d] be.”
6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
7 He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought
you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”
8 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”
9 So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”
10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.
12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here,for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”
17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torchappeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi[e] of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites,Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”
Response: So here’s the funny thing to me. There’s nothing all that personal about this really. I mean, you know. It’s personal in the sense that it is to a person. But Christians really try to turn this into something else, into God developing a relationship with a human and this… doesn’t read like that to me. This doesn’t actually read so terribly different from most human encounters with gods. I mean, you know. It’s nice that he made this promise and all but it’s not like God and Abram are super close, is it? Abram doesn’t even seem fully convinced that this is really a thing God can do (which is legit).
I know that lack of faith in God is always painted as a bad thing but I mean… come on. So far God has led him out into another country and has helped make him rich (by dubious means) but that doesn’t exactly mean he can perform miracles. I know God made a huge deal about wanting to make sure that it was clear that all Abram’s wealth came from God and God alone but that’s not really clear, is it? It’s not like his wealth was a miraculous rain of sheep and gold from the heavens. And getting rich and rising in station is a pretty far cry from having a baby when you’re 100 (and God hasn’t even gotten to the specifics of all that yet). Frankly, even if you magically have one baby, that doesn’t really guarantee you endless descendants, right? My whole life I was raised to believe that you shouldn’t question God or whatever but this is sensible. As far as I can tell, God hasn’t proven anything.
I’m not really sure that his magic show proved anything either. He can put Abram to sleep? Bring darkness over the land? It was all just a vision. I know those can be taken very seriously but it’s not exactly proof. More something to take into consideration. What it is definitely not is the beginnings of a friendship or an intimate relationship. It’s just another assertion of power and a dubious human doing what any sane human should – going along with this mysterious being because honestly… who knows what he’ll do?
And, as David pointed out, I have really left out the best part, and an excellent reason why you might go along with this insane being who is telling you this. He not only just told you that you were going to have endless descendants, but he also just told you that they were going to be horribly abused and mistreated and enslaved for 400 years but that was totally going to be okay because God would avenge them and they would end up coming out of it rich. Which would be super comforting the the first 350 years of slaves, I’m certain. But you know, this isn’t something that should concern you Abram, because you are going to die peacefully right here so you should be super happy about all the children you’re going to have and all their children but not worry much about how they’ll be horribly tortured for hundreds of years because I will definitely handle all of that and you know, I’m God and hundreds of years is nothing at all to me.
After all, God has a super big plan, including punishing the Amorites when their sin reaches it’s “full measure.” Your kids get to be part of that! You get to be part of that. So you tell me. If an endlessly powerful being comes to you and tells you all this… I mean, you smile and nod, right? What else can you do?