The making of God's covenant with Abram (Later God changed his name to Abraham. From "Exalted Father to Father of a multitude.") In the beginning of Chapter 15 God came to Abram in a vision and promised him more descendants than the number of stars in the night sky. When Abram, childless, asked how this could be, God entered into a covenant ritual with him. "So He said to him, 'Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, and three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon. 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. And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away." (Genesis 15:9-11)
"Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him. 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. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete." (Genesis 15:12-16)
God revealed to Abram that the covenant he was initiating with him was for a future time, not to be fulfilled in his own lifetime. Exactly as God said, it did come to pass that the Israelites were strangers in the land God spoke of, Egypt, and they did serve as slaves. They also did return to Israel with great possessions. The Lord speaks of the "fourth generation" before Abraham's descendants would return to the promised land of Canaan where the dream occurred. How long is a generation? In this case it is approximately 100 years.
A covenant is deeper than a vow. It is a sacred standing contract between two parties and in ancient biblical time was often sealed with the sacrifice of an animal split in two. God does not need to inform man of his intentions or to covenant with man because he is the superior party and he acts out of his sovereignty. However, this covenant shows the deep love God has for Abram and his chosen people and his desire to reveal his character and personality. God is completely faithful and what he has promised will be accomplished. Seeing the dream lived out in the book of Exodus should confirm to us that all of God's promises are 100% true. God's faithfulness never fails - not to Abraham and not to us.
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