Pinkie promise? Words I have heard often from my girls. They are said with the littlest finger raised and ready for the other party to curl theirs around it. It might be prompted by a promise to share candy, to take over the dish washing duty and maybe even keep a secret from mother. That gesture and the repeated words, pinkie promise, has the force of a contract, signed, sealed, and delivered!
In my day the equivalent of this pinkie promise was rather gory now that I think about it. One party would ask for a guarantee that the other was telling the truth or would keep their end of the bargain. The other party would mime the action of a sharp blade passing clean through their neck, with the words, may that befall me should I be telling a lie.
How do I know you will keep your word? Abraham that towering patriarch wanted to know this very thing. The Almighty had promised him descendants – ten years later, he was yet to see even one wee babe. God had also promised him land among other fantastic promises. How can I be sure? He asked God.
God answered in a most unusual way. He instructed him to bring a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon. Abraham brought these animals and got down to business. Without further instructions he proceeded to cut down each animal in the middle except the birds. He then laid the halves side by side.
This I have learnt was the equivalent of our modern process of duly executing a contract. Naming the parties, tightening the clauses and covenants of what the parties undertake to do, detailing the consequences should either party default and providing a dotted line for that scrawl that identifies us. In Abraham’s day, an animal was slaughtered and cut up, both parties would walk through to ratify the agreement, graphically illustrating the curse that would come upon them if they violate the covenant.
Our need for reassurance that a promise will hold has never been greater! What can we really count on and trust as a sure thing? Many things that we had taken for granted are failing us. The amount in a signed employment contract can be reduced after all. A stable industry with its growth projections can be wiped off seemingly overnight, leaving us without any income. Our stabilising routines of getting kids onto the school bus, knowing someone else will take care of their learning and keep them out of mischief are now scrambled.
I for one had put a lot of stock in my medical cover. Every year after paying the premium I breathe a sigh of relief. Oh, I knew there were some clauses in there about not covering ‘acts of God’ but that was a distant reality, right? Wrong. Covid-19 came and revealed that the anchor for my hope was not immovable. How many of your usually trustworthy places have been toppled? News sources? Democracy? Business contracts? Resumes? What is totally dependable? In Abraham’s words – How can I sure?
When Abraham ‘cut’ his covenant with God, we have no record of Abraham passing through the aisle of split animals. God himself symbolised by a smoking firepot and a flaming torch passed between the halves of the carcasses. In this he undertook to bear the consequences of any default on His part and on the part of Abraham too. He would hold up both ends of the covenant.
We know that a pinkie promise, a cross-my-heart, a signature on the dotted line do not hold up all the time. They sometimes fail. When you wonder who or what you can trust – may this encourage you to anchor your trust deep in Him who has given a sign once and for all time that he will do all what he has promised. He will take care of those who put their faith in him. He alone offers an iron-clad, double guarantee to keep every promise. In the death of Christ – the sign of the ultimate covenant – he took upon himself the consequences of our own disobedience and unfaithfulness. You can trust him to keep his word.
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