From Genesis 16-18
The LORD reveals himself to Abram. He calls Abram to walk with him and be blameless. God renews the covenant with him and commands that he and every male in his house be circumcised. Abraham responds to God’s calling and covenant. How have you been called to respond?
This post is part of my bible in a year series.
Passage and Comments
Thirteen years have passed since Hagar, Abram’s servant bore Ishmael. In today’s passage the LORD renews the covenant and gives him a sign.
17 When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, 2 that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” (Gen 17.1-2)
‘Ninety-nine’. Twenty four years have passed since the LORD called Abram (Gen 12.4; 16.16; 17.1; 21.5; 25.7). During those years the LORD has revealed himself to him, making him promises, involving him in his plans and assuring him of his presence.
‘Walk before me and be blameless’. The LORD predicates his covenant on Abram’s walk with God, his blamelessness. His covenant calls for obedience (cf. Gen 26.3-5).
3 Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, 4 “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. (Gen 17.3-6)
‘Abraham’. Names often represented statements of blessing and destiny. When parents gave a name, it often expressed their hopes and dreams.
When God names a person, the name signifies what will come to pass.
Abram means ‘exalted father’ (12:2) but Abraham means ‘father of many nations’ (Gen 17.5).
7 And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.
8 And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”
9 And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. (Gen 17.7-9)
‘Everlasting covenant’. God has already given his covenant to Abraham on several occasions (e.g. Gen 12.1-3; 15.1-21).
God’s covenant will last forever.
We will soon see God has circumcision in mind.
‘Offspring’, ‘land’. God repeats his covenant promises of offspring and land. These are central to God’s covenant with Abraham and the many generations of descendants that will come from him.
10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.
12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13 both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant.
14 Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” (Gen 17.10-14)
‘Circumcised’. Circumcision, involving the removal of the male foreskin, was the mark of this covenant. All males in Abraham’s household, whether freemen or slaves, had to be circumcised.
Abraham reacted and promptly circumcised himself, Ishmael and all the men of his household.
Here (as in 12:4–9) he completely obeyed God’s call despite the pain it involved.
Story of Israel
Circumcision was practiced by other peoples of the ancient orient, including the Egyptians, Canaanites, and Arabs, but not by the Philistines or Hivites (34:2, 14). Only in Israel was it a sign of the covenant, that is, a reminder to them of their obligation to keep the law and love the LORD with all their heart, soul, and strength.
So important was the sign that failure to be circumcised could lead to that man being cut off, that is, suffer a premature death sent by God. The episode thus ends with Abraham circumcising himself and all the members of his household “that very day,” a phrase that marks the event as a turning point in saving history, comparable to the flood or the exodus from Egypt (7:13; cf. Exod 12:17). (Wenham, G.J., 2003. Genesis. In J. D. G. Dunn & J. W. Rogerson, eds. Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, p. 52.)
Story of Jesus
In today’s chapter we see the importance of responding appropriately to God. God asks for a response. He wants to mark us as his own, and he wants that mark to be an indication that we have identified with him. In what ways should we be marked?
9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. (Jn 15.9-14)
Two ways to signify our relationship to God are by loving one another and obeying Jesus’ commands.
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