When my brothers and I were young, our father read to us all of the great Greek myths. It was a nightly ritual. Some families read Brothers Grimm, others preferred Harry Potter or Narnia; but for us, it was Ulysses and the Cyclops, Perseus and Pegasus, Jason and the Argonauts. Whatever the tale, one thing remained fairly clear to me: the gods were not to be trusted. No matter their realm of divine influence, they were frequently subject to fits of rage and envy, strife and jealousy. The gods were not gods because they were good. Far from it. They were the gods because they were powerful.
In that world, striking a deal with the gods was incredibly risky. It might have proved temporarily helpful, but it always came with strings attached or hidden catches. To petition a god was to lay your needs before a divine loan shark. Usually you could get short term help, but eventually someone was coming to collect (and they weren’t planning on asking nicely).
What a stark contrast this strikes with the sort of covenant God established with Abraham. In calling His people through the patriarch, God established a one-sided covenant. No strings attached. No hidden agenda. The entire deal was to benefit the people He loved so dearly. God had nothing to gain, and everything to give.
In the Ancient Near East, covenants between two equal parties were established by cutting several animals in two. The two halves were laid upon either side of a walkway. Both parties would then pass between the animal parts. This was a very serious sort of handshake. In their passing through, the men were announcing, “If I break my word, let what happened to these beasts occur to me.” It was bloody, gritty, and sobering.
The crazy thing about Abraham’s covenant with God is that Abraham never passed through the animal halves. In fact, he observed a manifestation of God sealing the covenant for both parties. Instead of baiting Abraham into a bad deal, God laid the foundation of redemptive history in the most selfless way possible.
It may seem like a simple reminder, but we serve a GOOD God. Not just a powerful God, but a truly good and selfless Creator. Whether you’ve read much mythology or not, you may still think of God in a Greek way: powerful, but not necessarily having your best interest in mind.
Let the story of Abraham challenge those assumptions, even if they’re buried deep down inside. From the beginning, God has set out to take on the risk and responsibility, leaving us with nothing but the reward. The daily grind tends to obscure this reality, but an eternal perspective helps us remember that our fate is not determined by our inability to enact our covenant roles. Rather, the fullness of God covers it all.
We can always cry out for help. We can always admit failure. God’s aid and care comes with no strings attached. His provision is perfect and loving, because He is good.
Written by Andrew Stoddard