Abraham and the God of Impossibilities, Genesis 17:15-27

The following is a short summary of Genesis 17:1-14, which I broke into my last two posts:

Thirteen years slipped by since Abram last heard from God. Abram had believed God’s promise. But perhaps he misunderstood the piece about many descendants coming from his wife, Sarai.

For Sarai (age 89) and Abraham (age 99) failed to conceive. And their window of opportunity slammed shut, humanly speaking.

But since Abram had followed Sarai’s advice—taking Hagar as his wife—the promise of many descendants would surely come through their thirteen year-old son, Ishmael.

God’s plans, however, rarely line up with ours (humankind).

So God visits Abram again, reminding him of His covenant. After changing Abram’s name to Abraham—meaning “father of a multitude”—He outlines His expectations of Abraham: “Walk blameless before me.” And circumcision will be the sign of the covenant (Genesis 17:1-14).

You may read Genesis 17 here: Bible Gateway.

Change is in the air as the clock counts down to God’s launch of His covenant. For God also changes Sarai’s name to Sarah, (the names are two different forms of a word meaning “princess”).  And He declares that she will bear a son by this time next year.

I will bless her [Sarah] and surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” – Genesis 17:16

God’s covenant would be established through this son.

Abraham’s Response

With this crazy news, Abraham falls facedown again. This time—instead of in worship—he tries to hide his laughter.  For at the age of ninety-nine, Ishmael had been his only son for the past thirteen years!

Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?”

Ironically, God names their promise baby: Isaac, meaning “laughter”.

As the truth soaks in, Abraham implores God for Ishmael’s blessing in an “if only” sort of way.

God hears Abraham’s plea and outlines both sons’ future in verses 19-22: Although Ishmael wouldn’t be the covenant child, God still blessed him. As Isaac’s descendants would stream from 12 tribes, Ishmael would also have 12 sons/rulers who would become a great nation (see Gen. 25:13-15).

"As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead." - James 2:26

“As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” – James 2:26

Chapter 17 ends with Abraham’s obedience in circumcision: a sign of participation in God’s covenant.

Reflect

Abraham, the man God credited righteous due to his faith, struggled to believe the “how” of God’s plan. Yet, he still obeyed.

The NIV Life Application Study Bible challenges us: “When God seems to want the impossible and you begin to doubt his leading, be like Abraham. Focus on God’s commitment to fulfill His promises to you, and then continue to obey.”

I hope you have a blessed week and Thanksgiving! May we take time to reflect on God’s goodness!

Abrahamic Covenant Terms, Genesis 17:9-14

My last post covered God’s perfect timing as He clarified His covenant with Abraham prior to launch (Gen. 17:1-8). This post covers God’s expectations of Abraham and his descendants in relation to His covenant. We’ll explore Abraham’s reaction to God and the remainder of chapter 17 next week.

You may read Genesis 17 here: Bible Gateway.

God’s Terms

A covenant is a contract. While most contracts require an even trade, God’s terms were quite lopsided.

What exactly were God’s terms?

Abraham’s responsibility: “Walk before me and be blameless. . . . This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised . . . . It will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.” – Gen. 17:1, 10-11

And God’s part?

He would give Abraham property, heirs, wealth, and power (Gen. 17:4-8).

God’s requirement for Abraham to circumcise the males in his household, however, was not conditional to His promise. But disobedience to this command would be costly: “Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

Typically, this is a reference to execution, sometimes by the Israelites, but usually by God, in the form of premature death.” – Layman’s Bible Commentary

Circumcision: The Sign of the Covenant  

(todayiamblessed.com)

(todayiamblessed.com)

The word circumcision means ‘cutting around.’ It refers to a minor operation that removes the foreskin from the male organ. Only males underwent circumcision. In the patriarchal society of the ancient Near East, people considered that a girl or woman shared the condition of her father if she was single, or her husband if she was married. . . . It [circumcision] is to an Israelite what a wedding ring is to a bridegroom.” – Layman’s Bible Commentary

Circumcision was personal for the individual concerned, his parents, and his wife. This outward sign symbolized an inward commitment.

Reflect

Although following God requires commitment and obedience, His benefits and blessings far outweigh our cost of discomfort or inconvenience.

How does the biblical command for circumcision relate to us today?

Once an individual was circumcised, there was no turning back. Similarly, God wants us to commit our lives to Him, walking blamelessly before Him by not turning back and indulging in sin. Deuteronomy 30:6 speaks of the kind of circumcision that counts—circumcision of the heart—operated by the Holy Spirit. It involves cutting away the old sinful nature instead of mechanically observing the written code.

For more on this concept please see The Meaning of Circumcision. . . .  Have a wonderful week!