Genesis 17: Abraham and the Covenant of Circumcision

1 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.”

-Abram was now 99 years old. It has been 24 years since Abram first got the call while in Ur to go to Canaan and was given the promise by God. Ishmael was now 13 years old as Abram was 86 years old when he was born. We are not given anything in scripture to suggest Abram didn’t still assume that Ishmael was the promised heir and had been raising him with that thought in mind up to this point. After such a long time and God not appearing to say otherwise, Abram must have figured he did what he was supposed to. Hagar had returned with the child and stayed and all seemed to work out. Hagar was the only one spoken to and she was told to return and her child would have innumerable offspring. If Hagar shared these events, it would appear to be confirmation that this was God’s plan. Why else would God appear before Hagar? He had never appeared to Sarai before, perhaps Hagar was the intended mother all along? We obviously have limited details of this story but if we are to assume we are getting all the major details of this story and with human nature being what it is, they all must have been thinking this at the time. Given everything appeared to go as planned, Abram probably did not expect to hear from God again. The lesson here is we all know what happens with Abram but given his and everyone else’s perspectives, they must have thought they had it all figured out. This is the danger in assuming you understand God’s intention. You start to guess and fill in the blanks and then in the end, you end up looking like an idiot! This is why the old saying of taking things “one day at a time” is so essential in our journeys as Christians. If we try to see the whole plan, it is a guarantee that we are going to be wrong. Our tendency to want to see the whole picture and know all the details is a sin of pride. We think we are entitled to know everything and be omniscient like God. Only God is omniscient and can see the whole of time, we can’t. It’s a hard thing for many to accept, including myself. I am writing this while serving as a missionary in Mexico and yet I have no specific ministry that I am attached to. In a sense, I am wandering around Canaan as Abram did, waiting for God to make His move and carry out whatever His plan is. I sincerely hope it does not take 24 years until God’s plan for myself comes into fruition but it may. This is why it’s vital for me and anyone else in a similar position to not try and see the whole picture, because I most definitely will be wrong. We must learn to live in the present, not the past, and not the future. After all, in heaven there is no time and God is not bound by time but rather rules over it. If we are truly to be more like Christ, more like God, we must live as God does…in a constant “present” time. No dwelling on the past and letting it hold you back, but also not living always in the hope of some future blessing. We do have a future blessing in heaven to look forward to but that should not define how we live. Eternity has already started right now here on Earth.

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.

-The name “Abram” in Hebrew means “exalted father” in Hebrew and “Abraham” literally means “father of a multitude”. Abram’s name must have been a source of great irony considering he was childless in an age where likely everyone else had dozens and dozens of children. And now, with only one son, he is dubbed “father of a multitude”. Those who knew him must have considered him a total joke. God never changes His mind but we have seen that He repeats Himself a lot for our benefit. It seems reasonable to assume Abram forgot this promise and this is in part why God appeared again to remind him by changing his very name. It would be easy to imagine settling into life after 13 years of nothing. The changing of the name may also have additional significance as well. God has been working with Abram, molding him, teaching him patience and trust. Even if he had settled into life and forgot, he is much more mature and much closer to a godly man than he was 24 years ago. When we are saved as Christians, we become born-again. We are no longer living in sin for ourselves but our lives change and we now begin living a new life for God. Being given a new name just before Isaac, the long-waited for heir, is born may signify to that Abraham is now living for God and has been born again and this is the start of the rest of his life. This may be why God said “walk before me, and be blameless”. This is God’s command that with his new name, Abraham start now as being born-again before God.

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.”

-This is an “everlasting” covenant. We need to pay attention to this word because “everlasting” means forever. Remember that nothing God says is hyperbole or an exaggeration unless stated like when God said Abraham’s offspring “so shall be” like the number of stars. This wasn’t literal. God was showing him the stars so that Abraham would have an image as a metaphor to understand what it will be like. In this case though, God clearing says that this is an “everlasting” covenant. This is not a temporary covenant. So everything being told to Abraham is true for ALL ETERNITY. Not even when the end times occur and Earth ends as we know it will this covenant end. The land of Canaan on earth will always belong to Abraham’s descendants as their possession and God will always be their God. Many Christians mistakenly believe that when Jesus came and the veil was torn upon Jesus’ death that this signified and end to God’s covenant with Israel. This is not so because God says that this is an everlasting covenant. To this day, God still protects the nation of Israel. The veil being torn was a sign that we no longer required priests and sacrificial rituals to go before God because Jesus’ sacrifice covered over all sin and no sacrifice is necessary anymore to cover sin. Jesus serves as our priest and is our mediator between us and God. This is why all we must do to come before God is pray in Jesus’ name. Because we are sinners, we cannot come before God because our sin is the opposite of God and offends Him at a level we cannot even understand. Jesus being 100% God and 100% man and having been the sacrifice for us, serves as mediator so that we can always come before God because we our washed clean as if “blameless” and pure. This is what God commanded of Abram in verse 1, “walk before me, and be blameless”. We cannot walk before God and be blameless without Jesus.

9 And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 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.”

-This seems a rather bizarre practice to signify belonging to God. Why in the world would God choose this seemingly barbaric practice to signify that we belong to Him? . There are a number of things the mark of circumcision signifies:

1) Being done to a private part, it is done to an intimate, private area, signifying that nothing is kept from God, even that which is most personal and private.

2) The area also suggests God is very close to us such as the bond between lovers when their parts are intertwined.

3) This is a mark that is always hidden unless the man is naked which should never happen in public. God is not about boasting or bragging. If the mark was on the forehead, we could boast and show off our mark as belonging to God. I can’t imagine anyone running around showing off this!

4) The fact that this is a mark for the male and there is no mark for a woman shows that God’s covenant is generational. This does not mean that God favors men that they should have a mark, but that heredity and blessing are always passed down from father to son just as God is passing down this covenant to every son. Again this mark is not for showing off, hence why women don’t also need one. Even though this mark is a physical mark, there is no physical significance in it. Circumcision is something done in the heart, the physical mark is for our benefit because we will fail to understand this and always see things through our own physical and worldly perspective.

5) Although this does not signify physical things, it is a physical mark. But the decision to have this physical mark as opposed to another was not random. As it turns out, there are actual health benefits for men to be circumcised and this is a mark that, when done properly, does not leave a scar. In fact, one would never know without being told or seeing what it looks like uncircumcised that one that is circumcised wasn’t the way it naturally looked. Not only this but a mind-blowing scientifically proven fact that if a baby were to be given a circumcision, the eighth day just so happens to be the safest: . Should we really be surprised God knew the medical information ahead of time when choosing the eighth day? For millenia, we could never answer this question until this was able to be proven.

Isaac’s Birth Promised

15 And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16 I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”

-Sarai was not forgotten and here God finally tells Abraham that the child will come through his first wife, Sarah. The name “Sarai” means “Princess” in Hebrew and “Sarah” means “noblewoman”. God is saying kings will come from her and even names her “Noble Woman” signifying that she is now of noble blood. Sarah has been following her husband the entire time through this 24 year journey believing in and trusting her husband when scripture only says that Abraham and Hagar were ever spoken to. It was her idea to give him Hagar in an attempt to, what she thought, satisfy God’s will and her husbands desire for an heir. We can look at her as foolish or we can also see a loving supportive wife who has been with him all this time and all this craziness. They have been roaming around Canaan and won’t even stay in one place. She is said to be quite beautiful, why did she not ditch the bum? Sarah showed an incredible amount of faith as well.

17 Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” 18 And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” 19 God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.

-Many have interpreted this two ways: as a laugh of joy or as literally laughing at God. Given that Abraham suggests Ishmael be the one I tend to side with the latter. It’s possible too a bit of frustration being that Abraham probably thought the ordeal was over, he had Ishmael, that was it! What more, God?!? The laugh may have been more like madness at this point. We just got done reading about father’s who have had sons at 100 years old so the genetic degradation or whatever was causing people not to live as long probably gave Abraham and Sarah the white-haired, wrinkly appearance as someone in the latter stages of life who were certainly to old to father children. Given how long they live, their age equivalents to today may have been in their 60’s. It would still be possible for a man but not for a woman to conceive at this age. As mentioned before, Abraham is obviously not accustomed with miraculous acts by God that defy the very nature of the way the world works and doesn’t realize that God has no limitations in this regard.

20 As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. 21 But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.”

-We see God clarify too that the “everlasting” covenant will be done through Isaac and his descendants, not Ishmael’s. Ishmael’s blessing is in numbers only. Ishmael’s descendants will make up a great nation of peoples. But Ishmael’s blessing is not “everlasting”.

22 When he had finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham. 23 Then Abraham took Ishmael his son and all those born in his house or bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very day, as God had said to him. 24 Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 25 And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 26 That very day Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised. 27 And all the men of his house, those born in the house and those bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.

-That must have been a hard one to explain…”Look out, Grandpa Abram has gone insane! He’s calling himself by a different name and wants to take a knife to our private parts!” All the more trust it must have required on Abraham’s part to carry out. Abraham was the head of the household, but there must have been limitations to the obedience of his servants and herdsmen. Perhaps God helped him through this ordeal. We do know that in this day in age, there were tattoos, piercings, and various other forms of bodily mutilation including those with religious significance. This idea may not have been as bizarre as it seems to us today. Perhaps other households have done something similar when that household decided on following a particular god or set of gods that are said to require something like this.

Spanish Words:

todopoderoso = almighty

rostro = face

perpetuo = perpetual

linaje = lineage, class, kind

ojalá = hopefully

ciertamente = certainly

establacer = to establish, set


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