C is for Covenant

bThe major process by which God enters into binding relationship with His creation throughout the stories of the Bible is something called covenant. The ancient middle eastern contractual agreement that is based on promise and consequence. In the story of Abraham, who at the time was going by the name Abram and who would become the patriarch to the nation of Israel, there are several moments were covenant enters into his relationship with God as a confirmation of the promises that God had made to Him. His actions are made in faith, but he still needs assurance of the promise as he is understandable confused as to how things are going to play out. In the story of Genesis, this plays out through a fascinating ritual that lends incredible flavor to the story and I think is an interesting idea to think for roleplaying characters with a connection to the divine.

“Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness. He also said to him, ‘I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.’ But Abram said, ‘Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?’ So the Lord said to him, ‘Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.’ Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away. As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I give this land…'” (Genesis 15:6-12, 17, 18 NIV)

So it seems a little weird. Animals getting cut in half, a grown man fighting of scavengers for the better part of a day, and a floating fire moving through the pieces all have their place in a fantastic ritual, but usually seem like something Christians would be worried one of those “D&Ders” would be getting up to with their devil games (I say in jest, but there is a whole additional post to be had on that topic). The ritual of this agreement actually has its roots in middle eastern covenant or contracts between peers. That fact alone is pretty interesting. When two parties are making an agreement, they would slaughter the animals, then walk between them. The implication is that if one party does not honor the conditions of the agreement, the legal course of action is to cut them in half. So essentially, God is the one making the promise and He is the one putting up the stakes here. It’s interesting that He doesn’t ask Abram to reciprocate or even to do anything, it’s a pretty lopsided agreement.

When characters claim to follow a divine being, they are often charged with tasks and purposes of their deity, a holy charge. But what kind of promise or challenge is there to the thing they are tasked with? I’ve often wondered what the cleric or paladin gets out of their hard adventuring work other than the satisfaction of a job well done (and a few goblin doors kicked in here and there). There is something valuable about raising the stakes and perhaps giving some bite to the expectations of the divine party on the other end of the cleric’s power as well as putting the deity’s reputation at stake based on the promises he/she has made. It could add another level to any game that I think could make for a fascinating new level of motivation and engagement with the setting.

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