“I will bless those who bless you , and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
My nephew Lot had come with me to Egypt and had also prospered there. Of course, being related to me he was no longer welcome in Pharaoh’s kingdom either, so together we journeyed back to the land of Canaan and settled near Bethel just west of the Jordan River. Our combined flocks were pretty big, and try as we might we just couldn’t keep them from getting mixed together. This was a source of endless frustration between Lot’s shepherds and mine and so we agreed to put some distance between us. The whole Jordan River Valley was lush and green in those days so there was plenty of good land. I gave Lot first choice, and he moved southeast toward the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, so I stayed west of the Jordan in Canaan.
After Lot left, the Lord reminded me that he was going to give me the land of Canaan, and told me to walk through all of it like a landowner inspecting his property, so I did. It was quite a gift, stretching from the Euphrates River in the North to the River of Egypt in the South and from the Mediterranean in the West to the Jordan River in the East. I finally settled near Hebron in the South, where I built another altar and worshipped.
As often happens among humankind, a coalition of kings in the area took it into their heads to take up arms against their neighbors and to make a long story short there was a war. My nephew Lot and his family wound up hostages when Sodom and Gomorrah were defeated and ransacked. When I heard the bad news I rounded up my private army and gathered some additional help from neighbors with whom I had formed an allegiance. Together we rescued Lot, his family and all the lost plunder of Sodom and chased those kings all the way to Damascus!
When we returned, the King of Sodom met us. He was accompanied by Melchizedek, the King of Salem (later Jerusalem) who was also a priest of the Most High God, the One with Whom I had formed a relationship. Melchizedek blessed me and in return I paid him a tithe on all I had gained in rescuing Lot. Then we shared a covenant meal of bread and wine. Melchizedek, being both King and Priest, was a model of the coming church, who will rule and reign with our Lord in His soon-coming Kingdom. Much study has been focused on him, especially since the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews went to such lengths to differentiate his priesthood from that of Levi and Aaron (read Hebrews 7). Some have even suggested that Melchizedek was really our Lord Himself in one of His Old Testament appearances. I can only tell you the Spirit of the Lord was very strong around us on that day.
In gratitude for my rescue efforts, the King of Sodom said I could keep all the goods I had recovered as a reward, but I refused, asking him only for compensation for my allies. A little while later the LORD Himself appeared to me saying, ” Don’t be afraid Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.”
Great achievement can make a man a little bold, so I took the occasion to remind the LORD that although I had acquired much worldly wealth, I was still destitute of children and had no heir. The LORD said not to worry; I would have children as numerous as the stars in the heavens. I believed Him and my faith was credited to me as righteousness, just as your faith in the Lord’s death and resurrection has made you righteous (Romans 4:1-4).
When He started talking about giving me the land again, I asked how I could know this would actually happen. In response, He had me organize a covenant ceremony, the most solemn and binding event of my time. He told me to cut some animals in half and arrange them along a path. When men made covenants, they walked between the cut up animals symbolically agreeing to suffer the same fate as the animals should they ever break the vow they were taking. By having me prepare the animals, I understood the LORD was going to enter into a covenant with me. But then as the sun was setting, the LORD caused a deep sleep to come over me.
Though I couldn’t move, I could still hear His voice telling me that my descendants would be taken captive in a strange land and would be enslaved for 400 years. During that time the LORD was going to give the native population, called the Amorites, ample opportunity to repent of their evil and pagan ways and turn back to the God who had created them and loved them. But knowing the end from the beginning, He knew that His pleas would fall on deaf ears and His opportunities for reconciliation pass unheeded. And so when their 400-year grace period had expired the LORD would send a redeemer among my descendants to free them from bondage and bring them to the land He was giving me.
Then, since I couldn’t move, the LORD passed between the animals alone, in effect binding only Himself to the covenant. According to the laws of the time this meant that for me the agreement was unconditional, not subject to any of my behavior. No matter what I did, the LORD was obligated to give this land to my descendants. Later, at the foot of Mt. Sinai, the LORD told the Israelites in effect that although the land was theirs forever, to enjoy its bounty and His blessing they would have to agree to certain standards of behavior. They couldn’t forfeit the land altogether, but could be required to leave it for a time as punishment for disobedience.
True to His prophecy, the Amorites (actually a collection of 10 peoples) failed to repent. And so 400 years after my grandson Jacob and his family went down to Egypt, the LORD told an Israelite husband and wife that their soon-to-be-born son Moses would be Israel’s redeemer. In the 4th generation from them, the Israelites finally took possession of the land the LORD had promised me. But that’s a story for another time. Next time, I’ll tell you how I started a family feud that’s last nearly 4000 years with no end in sight. See you then.