In the first reading Abraham complied with God’s wish to enter into a covenant with him. All of us today: medical workers, police, and teachers are buried so deep in paper work that we have no time for innovative thinking. It should be refreshing for us to read how Abraham, who could not even sign his name, went about setting up the ritual for a covenant with God.
Abraham lived in a time when there were no governments, no police forces. Their population consisted of wandering bands of men and women who owed complete obedience to their leaders. When rival bands arrived at the same watering place or the same grassy meadows, the bands could either fight for the water or grass, or they could make a pact. The way they made their pacts seems animalistic to us.
The bands would hold their distance at the far ends of an open field. Then diggers from both sides would dig the ends of a trench out towards each other. After the trenches met, the workmen would cut goats, rams, and birds in two, leaving the halves opposite each other above the ditch on the sides.
At last, when all those preparations were made, the two tribal leaders each from is own side would hop into the trench, and walk toward each other, all the time calling out, “If we are unfaithful to this pact let me be cut in two like this goat, this ram, these birds.” Afterwards, all fear of each other gone, the two leaders would confer on an equitable division of the water and grass.
In the Bible story Abraham sat at his end of the ditch, waiting for action from the far end. He fell into the same kind of sleep that God put on Adam before removing his rib. After dark, Abraham awoke to see a torch advancing from the far end, touching the animal halves.
What is noteworthy about the story is the way God lowered himself to Abraham’s illiterate level. It tells us that God meets everyone on his level. This goes for infants, schizophrenics and us weak-minded old folks.