God continues to show his faithfulness and love through the Abrahamic covenant. In this covenant, God makes promises to a man named Abram (not a typo). Genesis 12 begins with God telling Abram to leave his country and the family he knows with the promise of making Abram a great nation; he promises to bless him and make Abram’s name great (Genesis 12:2).
As we continue to read in Genesis 12–17 we see the covenant get more detailed. God put before Abram’s eyes the land he would receive (Genesis 13:14–15; 15:18–21). He told Abram of the son that would be born to him (Genesis 17:15–21), and he told Abram that his descendants would be as numerous as the dust of the earth and stars in the sky (Genesis 13:16–17; 15:1–5).
In addition to words, God gave physical signs of his promises. He increased Abram’s land and property (Genesis 13:5–6). He also performed a ceremonial act (Genesis 15:12–21) sealing the promise. As Abram was asking, “How will this all happen?” God responded with a physical sign of promise. In this ceremony, Abram was asked to bring animals and cut them in half and divide them. God then put Abram in a deep sleep. As Abram slept, God told him what would happen to him and his descendants (Genesis 15:13–16) and appeared physically as a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch between the animal pieces.
This ceremonial act was normative of that time for a promise between two parties. Each party would walk in between the sacrificed animals as a sign of their commitment to fulfill their responsibility in the agreement. Yet this act was unique. Only one party was committed to fulfill his responsibility in the agreement. Abram was asleep and God was the only one who walked through. This covenant is referred to as a unilateral covenant, which means that God was the only one required to keep the covenant. It did not matter what Abram did or did not do; God would keep his promises to Abram.
The promises that God gives come with a purpose. These promises were given to Abram so that Abram would be a blessing (Genesis 12:2). As God took the initiative to make this promise with Abram, Abram was to respond out of these promises and bless others. The language we find in Genesis 12:3 might lead us to think other nations needed to bless Abram first, but that was not the case. Abram was to begin the blessing to others, not wait for others to bless him and then receive a blessing. Just as God initiated this promise and covenant, Abram was to actively extend the gifts of the covenant to others.