Genesis 15 is one of those strange chapters in the Bible that reminds us of what a very different world we are hearing from. It starts, immediately after the Battle of the Kings, with a simple statement that Abraham will receive a great reward from God. The continuation focuses on Abraham’s lack of an heir, the implication being that reward is pointless, as he has no offspring to inherit his wealth.
The real strangeness sets in, not with the story of Abraham’s children, but with the obscure ritual through which God’s covenant is communicated to him. Presumably, the writer (or earlier links in the oral tradition) felt that the whole thing was a completely obvious way into the presence of God, which he experienced during a deep and terrifying darkness while he was asleep.
The covenant is preceded by a prophecy about the coming slavery of Israel, perhaps inserted after the event, and excised from the lectionary reading. It’s worth noticing, though, in the context of our reading from Philippians 3. St. Paul assures his readers that their citizenship is in heaven, but it is at least implied that there is something equivalent to a period of slavery to be endured before they can fully realise it. It’s also interesting, in this connection, that Paul was so ready to bring his other citizenship into play when, a little later, he was seeking justice.
Jesus’ own take on his dual citizenship, after some friendly Pharisees warn him of the danger he faces, seems to be one of defiance. The one thing he won’t do, when there seems to be a tension between heaven and earth, is act as if this world is of no importance.