In Act Three of the Story of God, the Lord comes to one of the humans and articulates a solemn promise to make things right between the Creator and his created. He guarantees to repair the relationship and to once again live with his people. His love for all men and women and his loyalty to the earth he created compels God to make this covenant. Act Three is good news.
“I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you;
I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” ~Genesis 12:2-3
God makes this covenant with Abram of Ur. And he uses the word “bless” five times, some say because he uses the word “curse” five times in Act Two. So the blessings counter the curses. This is God’s solution to sin. This is how God’s going to fix the problem and redeem the creation and restore the relationship. Through Abram. And every single thing that happens for the rest of the Story, from here in Genesis 12 through Revelation 22, hangs on this covenant. It’s so important that God repeats it four other times:
“Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.” ~Genesis 18:18
“Through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed.” ~Genesis 22:18
“Through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed.” ~Genesis 26:4
“All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.” ~Genesis 28:14
God proclaims the covenant five times, some say because the word for “corrupt” or “spoiled” is used to describe the earth five times in Act Two. So the covenant undoes the corruption.
This is enormous! It’s everything! This is the good news that, despite the wickedness, rebellion and sin, despite the chaos and darkness of Act Two, God is going to bless the whole world through this family. The apostle Paul calls this the gospel in advance:
“[God] announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.'” ~Galatians 3:8
And then God seals the covenant with blood. Blood makes the covenant official. Since before recorded history in the Middle East to this time in Genesis almost five thousand years ago to some Bedouin communities in the Middle East today, all covenants require the shedding of blood to make them official. God and Abraham did it in Genesis 15. Abraham cut up the five animals and then God walked through the blood to ratify the covenant. God owns it. It’s his promise.
In Genesis 22 when God asks Abraham to sacrifice his only son to hold up his end of the covenant, he was ready to. Covenants require blood. On the way up the mountain, Isaac asks his dad, “Um… hey… where’s the lamb for the sacrifice?” And Abraham answers, “God himself will provide the lamb.” And he does. A ram caught in the bushes by its horns. Sheep blood was spilled instead of the blood of Abraham’s child. The blood of a lamb provided by God.
From here on out, blood sacrifice is a central aspect of life for God’s people. Lots of blood. Blood everywhere. Blood all the time. They pour blood on the altar. They sprinkle blood on the people. They paint their doorposts with blood.
The blood says to the people: Remember, God promised to pay for our sins. He said he would fix what’s wrong with everything. We have an arrangement with God. He’s going to make things right. And the blood says to God: Please, remember your promise. Please, fix everything like you say you will.
Act Three: Covenant. It’s a long act. Hundreds of scenes. From Genesis 12 through the end of the Old Testament is about God enacting and working out the covenant. And it’s long. If you were sitting through this play in a theater, this would be the act right before intermission. And it takes forever.
Obviously, I can’t write about all the scenes this week. That’s impossible. It’s thirty-eight-and-a-half books. It’s too much. What I’d like to do is give you four things to look for when you’re reading the Old Testament. This will help you, equip you, to read and interpret and apply the Bible as a story and not as a law book. I think God’s communicating four things, he’s doing four things with his covenant: Revelation, Presence, Partnership, and Faithfulness. We’ll start in on those tomorrow.