Returning to old religious documents this weekend, I find myself in the story of Abram.
The tale of Genesis spent a lot of time in the deep past, with characters that are almost archetypes. The first man, the first woman, their sons, the first sacrifice of worship, the first bloodshed, etc. Later, the tale moved on to another archetype, the lone-survivor of the first great cataclysm.
(A few other 'firsts' are scattered through these stories...first great city, first metalworker, first boast of vengeance, first man to drink too much alcohol...)
Then things narrow down, and focus on Abram. He received a special promise from the Creator of all mankind.
However, that first promise to Abram was only a beginning.
Abram is interacting with God, in a way that only a few other people in the story have interacted so far. And childless Abram asks God what will happen to the Promise, once Abram's chief steward inherits the estate. God responds with a promise that he will have children.
And then God orders something interesting. Abram is instructed to set up a special ritual. Animals are slain, their bodies cut in half, and the dismembered corpses laid out.*
Abram spends all day protecting the animals from buzzards. Then night falls. And Abram falls into a deep sleep, and somehow receives a prophecy that his descendants will spend many centuries as slaves in a foreign land before coming back to take the land of Caanan.
Then God brings an apparition that passes between the animals, and swears a powerful oath to give land to Abram's descendants.
This is more than protection. In fact, it's transacted something like an oath of mutual support between powerful men. Except that it's a one-sided oath. Abram is not encouraged to walk the pathway-of-oath himself.
It's a big moment.
But it also underscores the vast difference between Creator and Created. God, the Creator, makes a huge promise of help, support, and future success.
The biggest thing that Abram does is believe--put his trust in--the words spoken by his Creator. The narrator tells us that this is "credited to [Abram] as righteousness."
This difference has been in the background of the story from its beginning, but is first clearly stated here. God can give many things to man, but man can give little to God except trust.
* This was apparently a form of ritual between powerful kings of that time. Two powerful men would kill some animals, cut the bodies in half, and walk the path in between. They would swear an oath, with the implicit promise that oath-breakers would suffer the fate of the dismembered animals.