This is the story of how God came to Abram in a vision and told him that he was to be the beginning of a long line of people that would be his descendants and this people would be the specal people of God. Abram had a vision of God telling him that he was establishing a covenant with Abram and promising that his descendants would be a special people and would follow God. This is the important part for us is the living covenant that continues between God through Jesus and us to this day.
The question always comes up as to why doesn’t God speak to us today as clearly as he spoke to Abram. Bill commented about how his dreams can usually be interpreted in terms of recent events rather than what will happen in the future. Maybe we need a few gypsies to explain how our dreams might be the future. But do we not get visions. For example, Mark’s experience coming back from a Zion interview with the thought that this was the place he would continue his ministry. We have the word with all that it contains as a guide to our future and what God expects of us and this all merges into our intuition as well as the way we proceed into the future trying to carry out the directions in which God wants us to go. We ask God to help us as we develop ways to further the mission of God and it is formulated sometimes in the strategic plans we prepare. In other times, it may be the vision of a skilled leader. Abram must have been just such a charismatic leader because the people followed where he led them. After all, why would you sacrifice a grown cow, goat, and ram as well as a turtle dove and a young pigeon to be burned. What an interesting sight it must have been to see the fire consuming them. But this story of the giving of the covenant sustained the people through the whole sojourn in Egypt say nothing about the captivity in Babylon later on.
Al raised a question about why the animals were split in half for the sacrifice. That is all animals were split in half but not the birds. The Lutheran study bible has a note that says that the animals were split in half because the recipient of a promise or covenant was reminded by this of what would happen to him if he welshed on his promise. In this God through the flame pot walked between the halves and thus assumed the guarantee of the covenant. This can be seen as a precursor of Jesus coming to continue the covenant and dying to save us from our sins. Thus God again became the guarantee of the promise or covenant to us.
Why were the people in Canaan so evil? I read a source saying that this whole description of Abram was part of the break with the tradition of having multiple gods to having one true god, the whole concept of monotheism. When Abram started from Ur, at the command of God, he probably believed in multiple gods, but then as he moved north to Haran and then south to Canaan, he developed or through communications with God developed the concept of One God who had created the universe and was the Most High God. This was a remarkable turn of events. Although Adam, and then Noah were also part of this tradition of one god, not many. But it seems to have been cemented in the story of Abram. I think that God always said that the people of Canaan were so evil because they continued to worship many gods as opposed to the one true god. I think it was this aspect, because there seem to be many times in the Bible where God strikes out against the worship of multiple idols and gods, and the people keep wanting to do it. We certainly see it in the time of Moses. The indigenous people in Canaan all believed in multiple gods and the descendents of Abram I am sure thought they should cover all the bases and pray to any god that could help, rather than trust in the God of Abram.
This covenant was a long term commitment of God to the people of Abram and it even foretold the long sojourn of Abram’s descendants in the land of Egypt where they went during the time of Joseph. The other aspect of this long term commitment is that David and then Jesus are both continuations of this covenant made way back in the time of Abram. It is quite amazing that this word and covenant were part of the tradition that stayed with the descendants of Abram for all these years even to today.
There is a complicated description of why Eliezar from Damascus was the heir to Abram’s kingship. In Genesis, Abram is not really called a king, but was one. Eliezar was the firstborn of Masek, one of Abraham’s concubines, and was Abram’s only heir at the time. The fact that he was listed as being from Damascus may or may not mean much. It could have been that Abram sired him while he was in Haran or on his way down to Canaan and hence he might have chosen to settle in the Damascus area which is nearer to Haran than to the area that Abram settled in Canaan. Here is a reference to this whole complicated discussion about what determined the heirs to a King. It included both wives as well as possibly concubines. It seems similar to the discussion of an heir to Lord Grantham in the Masterpiece Theatre series Downton Abbey where the heir is a third cousin once removed. Here is the link: http://jandyongenesis.blogspot.com/2009/06/who-was-eliezar-of-damascus.html Look at the comments made by Alice Lindsey at the end of the article.
Eldon read a note from the Lutheran Study Bible in which the reference to Malchizadek in Genesis 14 was priest of a higher God than the God of Abram. Possibly the god El-Elyon who through Malchizadek blessed YWVH the god of Abram. There is some reference to this in a Wikipedia reference to the interaction between Abram and Melchizadek. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melchizedek
Questions were asked about the Islam teachings about Abram. Note that the Muslims call him Ibraham. There is a piece in Wikipedia about this. Here is link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_views_on_Abraham
and here is an excerpt.
“The Qur’an makes it clear that the people of Abraham were idolaters. When Abraham had become older, he decided to finally teach his community a lesson. He told his people that he had a plan for their idols, whilst they would be gone away. The Qur’an goes on to narrate that Abraham subsequently broke the idols, all except the largest, which he kept intact. When the people returned, they began questioning each other over the wreckage, until some of the people remembered that the youth, Abraham, had spoken of the idols earlier. When Abraham arrived, the people immediately began to question him, asking him whether he had anything to do with the broken idols. Abraham then, in a clever taunt, asked the people as to why they don’t ask the largest of the idols, which, they believed, could indeed hear and speak. The people of Abraham were then confounded with shame, and admitted that the idols were incapable of anything. Although Abraham’s people admitted their fault, they are said to have ignored Abraham’s warning and instead retaliated by throwing him into a fire and exclaiming “protect your gods”. Although the natural nature of fire is one of intense heat, God commanded the flame to be cool and peaceful for Abraham. Abraham, as a result, remained unhurt both physically and spiritually, having survived the fire of persecution. The people continued to taunt and persecute him, but to no result, as the Qur’an says that it was they “that lost most”.”
“After the idol wrecking incident, Abraham had an argument with an unjust ruler, who claimed lordship for himself. Abraham, guided by God, showed the King the falsehood of his argument, but he continued to disbelieve and refused to accept Abraham’s message. Abraham then left his people for good, with his believing nephew Lot and his wife, and all were directed towards the blessed land. As Sarah was barren, Abraham had a second wife, Hagar, as a result, bore Ishmael, who was Abraham’s first son. Lot had also subsequently been made a prophet by God, but he was ordered to leave Abraham’s household and was sent to the land of Sodom and Gomorrah, to preach against the sins of the people there.”