Saturday after the First Sunday after the Festival of the Epiphany of our Lord
Scripture: Genesis 15:1-21 (NKJV)
1 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”
2 But Abram said, “Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!”
4 And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” 5 Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”
6 And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.
7 Then He said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.”
8 And he said, “Lord God, how shall I know that I will inherit it?”
9 So He said to him, “Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. 11 And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
12 Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him. 13 Then He said to Abram: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. 14 And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. 16 But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”
17 And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces. 18 On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying:
“To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates— 19 the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”
God “cut” a covenant with Abram. The solemn practice was for sacrificial animals to be cut down the middle lengthwise, the parties entering into agreement sealing their obligation by walking between the halves, signaling that if either of them did not keep the promise a similar fate would befall them. But it was God Who made the covenant, His active presence symbolized by the smoking pot and the torch. Abram, for his part, had fallen into a deep sleep. (How often an infant is brought by parents and sponsors to the font for the Sacrament of Holy Baptism and, unless the water has chilled greatly, sleeps through the entire process as God gives new birth in water and Word)!
Abram had been promised an heir, one who would not be adopted, but who would be flesh of Abram’s flesh, his own natural son. That promise was fulfilled in the birth of Isaac in Abram’s old age, and would ultimately manifest itself in the Christ, flesh of our flesh. Jesus, through His death in our place, that is, by taking the consequence of all our unfaithfulness on His own sinless self, brought an end to the sacrifice of beasts through His superior sacrifice. And even as Abram, with the birth of Isaac, received a new name, Abraham, so also will come the day when Jesus, in the New Jerusalem, gives to us a new name.
We pray: Lord, we thank You that we can look to You for salvation and not to ourselves, and that for us, too, faith is counted as righteousness. Keep us faithful unto death that we may receive from You the promised crown of life. Amen.