“After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great. But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus? And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” But the word of the LORD came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” (Genesis 15:1 – 4)
The season of Lent is rife with tests, trials, and challenges. Some minor consisting of abstaining from small things. Other challenges are major tests of our faith and beliefs. We have talked about such challenges in days past. Abram was challenged to believe that the Divine would be able to fulfill the promises made that Abram was the start of a long lineage. Especially since his family line, at that point, ended with him.
It reminds me somewhat of the assurances I was given during my radiation treatment. Now there were challenges – challenges to my body and my faith! But all those promises have come to pass – Praise the Lord!
“He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness. Then he said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.”
But he said, “O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.” (Verses 5 – 12)
Abram sort of has a pattern going here – hearing the promise of the Divine and taking it into his heart. But then starting to doubt it. I found myself having the same pattern when I was going through the last days of treatment and the week or so after. So many people told me it would get better; but all I could see was how bad it was at the moment. I have an idea of how that “deep and terrifying darkness” might have felt.
“When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates….” (Verses 17 – 18)
Imagine, if you will beloved reader, the dark of a desert night; the sounds of “birds of prey” that have been denied food; other noises beyond sight but within hearing. A man alone with only dead carcasses to keep him company. And in the darkness light coming and consuming the offerings. Suddenly the smell of burnt meat fills the air, and the sizzle of the meat consumes the senses. It is not the sweet incense of worship that we are accustomed to. But burnt acrid smells that remind us of how pale and frail life is that it can be so consumed.
It is those earthy scents reminding us of the precarious balance between life and death. We can cling to our doubts, and consign ourselves to a life that ends with our own demise. Or we can take a leap of faith that there is more beyond this life and that extends into the life to come. Shalom!