In the midst of writing down a list of what I have learned, I have decided to take a break and focus on one: There is nothing I can do to earn God's forgiveness.
I've always thought that I truly believed this (at least for the past four years), but this statement, this truth...it never really hit me. It never really sunk in. I never really understood it. Not until I began to study inductively the covenant made with Abraham.
I still don't fully understand it, but it at least shed some new light on my struggle with God's forgiveness.
Genesis 15 begins the covenant between God and Abram. But before that, God makes His promise to him.
Genesis 12:2-3 says
"And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Three things are promised to Abram by God: children, a land, and a blessing. He believed God and did whatever was asked of him for decades and decades. But now in Genesis 15, he gets impatient with God because He promised him children yet he and his wife were still childless. He asks God how he's supposed to know that God will keep His promise. So God tells Abram to bring Him a heifer, a goat, a ram, a turtledove, and a pigeon. Abram cut them in half long ways and laid the halves against each other.
This is the part that I always skipped over because I had no idea what it was talking about.
Back then, this is how contracts were sealed. It's called a blood covenant. You would sacrifice these animals and as the blood from the animals would run together in the middle, the greater party of the contract would walk down the middle of the animals. So as soon as the foot touched the blood it was like they were saying "if I break my part of the deal, you can do this to me. You can kill me and walk through my blood". After the first person walked through, the lesser party of the contract would follow. And as their foot touched the blood, they were saying the same thing. So this had to be a very serious thing.
Knowing what a blood covenant is and what it actually symbolizes has really been helpful in understanding the next part of this passage.
So a deep sleep falls upon Abram, which doesn't mean he's resting. It actually means he's having a vision. Then a great darkness fell on him (Genesis 15:12). Which is basically saying that Abram was terrified. So God's part of the deal was children, land, and a blessing. Some of Abram's part of the deal was circumcision, faith, and walking blamelessly before God (Genesis 17:1). So this is why Abram was terrified. He knew that if he or anyone of his descendants failed in any of these, God would cut them in half and walk through their blood. Abram knew he was making a blood covenant with God. I would be terrified too.
What happens next is awesome.
Genesis 15:17 says
"When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces."
So in a blood covenant, the greater party goes first. So what went first here is a smoking fire pot. Um, what? In scriptures, smoke was symbolic of God. So in this blood covenant, God walked through first. So God was saying, "if I don't keep my end of the deal; children, land, and a blessing, you can do this to me". So after God walks through, Abram doesn't go through. What goes through instead is a flaming torch. Fire. No where in the scriptures is fire used to talk about human beings. So what is the flaming torch symbolizing? It's symbolizing God again. Instead of Abram walking through, God literally walks through twice. So it's like God is saying, "Abram, if you or your descendants are not perfect, you can do this to me". God promised that He would pay if Abram and his descendants were not perfect. So at that moment, Jesus was sentenced to death years later.
Generations later, Moses was given the Ten Commandments. And twice a day, they would sacrifice the same animals and sprinkle the blood. God didn't need these sacrifices. But this was them telling God to remember His covenant He made with Abram. They would do this at 9 in the morning and about 3 in the afternoon. They did this every day for generations and generations and generations. Until Jesus came.
After the passover lambs were chosen, Jesus was betrayed on that following Thursday night. He went through a series of mock trials and on Friday, at 9 in the morning, Jesus hung between two thieves. And by reading the scriptures closely, you can see that Jesus died at exactly 3 in the afternoon. One of the last things Jesus said right before he died, "it is finished" (John 19:30). The word He used literally meant fulfillment of a contract. Jesus was announcing that the agreement that God had made with Abram, generations before, had been paid in full. Jesus had been offered as God, Himself paying the price for Abram and his descendants' transgressions.
I've always been afraid of the Old Testament. It just scared me because I didn't know what it was talking about and the Commandments scared me. But now, I have a new appreciation for the Old Testament. It's an important part of the story (duh). The Ten Commandments were there to remind us that we cannot follow them. We are not perfect. We need a Messiah. Which makes the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus so much more important.
God keeps his promises.
Jesus died for me.
It is finished.