About Jesus Steve Sweetman
Covenant Of Circumcision (ch. 17:1 - 27)
In verse 1 God comes to
Abraham at the age of ninety nine years old.
It appears that after the flood, God "came to people"
instead of having people walk with Him as seen with Adam, Enoch, and
In verse 2 God tells
Abram "to walk before Him and be blameless".
Note the word "walk before", not "Walk with".
I believe this means that Abram was meant to live as God wanted him
to live, and to live with the understanding that he is living before God.
God can see everything that Abram does.
God also tells Abram to
be "blameless". We
see from the last chapter that Abram was far from blameless.
The question is asked, "can Abram be blameless"?
Can anyone be blameless. We're all fallen people. We
can be blameless. Jesus tells
us to be blameless as well, but Jesus knew we are fallen people and that's
Being blameless is
possible in one sense of the word. God
views you and I as being blameless if we trust our lives with Jesus.
Jesus lived the blameless life for us, and on our behalf.
We trust His blameless life to be ours, and as a result, God views
us as being blameless.
The same worked for
Abram. He could never be
blameless, but faith in God made Abram blameless in God's sight.
It is also the offspring from Abram, and further from Isaac, that
Jesus would be born, the one who paid the price for our blamelessness.
In verse 2 God brings up
the idea of covenant . A
covenant is just an agreement between two or more people.
What we discovered in chapter 15 is that the covenant that God is
talking about here was made by Himself and with Himself. He did not make
it with Abram. God agreed with
Himself to fulfill the terms of the covenant, that is, all the things that
He promises Abram, and there are many.
Here God says, "I
will confirm my covenant between me and you."
Note here that it is "God's covenant, God's agreement".
It's not really between God and Abram except for the fact it
concerns Abram, his descendents, and his offspring.
One of the promises of
the covenant that God promised Abram is seen in verse 2.
God says that He will greatly increase Abram's numbers.
Simply put, Abram will have lots of descendents.
We see Abram's response
to God in verse 3. He fell
forward on his face. Abram was
overtaken with the presence of God, as any of us would be as well.
In verse 4 we see another
promise. God says that Abram
will not only have lots of descendents, but he will be the father of many
nations, not just one nation, but many.
For this reason, in verse 5 God changes Abram's name from Abram to
Abraham. Abraham means the
father of many peoples.
In verse 6 God promises
that He will make nations from Abraham and that kings will come from him.
These promises are part of the Abrahamic Covenant as it has been
In verse 7 God sets forth
how long and to whom the covenant applies to.
This covenant will last forever, and it will be for all the
descendents of Abraham. For
those who believe this covenant is no longer in effect should have a hard
time with this verse. God's
not going to change His mind about this covenant and neither is He going
to redefine the terms of this covenant.
He says that His covenant is forever, and we need to understand
that forever means forever.
He also says that He will
be the God of Abraham and his descendents forever.
God will never give up on his people, no matter how far they stray
from him. Even when God was
speaking these things to Abraham, He knew that Abraham was far from the
man He'd like him to be. The
one good thing about Abraham was that he trusted what God said, and he
believed that He would certainly do as He said He'd do.
We notice that the
Abrahamic Covenant is to both Abraham and his descendents.
God's promises here are just directed towards Abraham, but for all
of his descendents, and I'd suggest that the descendents of Abraham today
and into the future are included.
You might want to note
that God made the same promise to Abraham's offspring, which Paul tells us
Abraham's descendents for
the most part have rejected the God of the Abrahamic Covenant, but God
says here that He will continue to be Israel's God. God will remain
faithful to His promises, even though Abraham's descendents aren't
faithful to Him.
Verse 8 speaks
specifically of the land
In verse 9 God told Abraham that both he and his descendents "must keep" this covenant. We need to think about what "keeping the covenant" means. One thing it doesn't mean is to think that we, or Abraham and Israel in this case, are responsible to fulfill the promises of the covenant. God alone will make sure the promises get fulfilled. Keeping the covenant means to trust God that He will keep His promises. That was clearly Abraham's part in the covenant. There is one more part for Abraham and Israel to do, and that was to follow through on obeying God in having the sign of the covenant in their bodies, which is, circumcision, the main point to this chapter. Some might say that keeping the covenant means obeying God's law, obeying the Law, as in the Law of Moses. Well, the Law of Moses was not even around at this time. To date, there are only two ways that we've seen when it comes to obedience to God, and that is to trust God, and now to be circumcised.
Back in chapter 15 we had
the confirmation of the covenant with a covenantal ritual.
Abraham was put to sleep and he was not awake to ratify the
covenant. God made the
covenant with Himself. He
agreed with Himself to fulfill the promises as stated.
Here in chapter 17 we have what is called "the sign of the
covenant". To show that
Abraham and his descendents were
people of the covenant, God wanted them to be circumcised.
I'm not sure just why God
chose circumcision as the means to be a sign.
It wasn't exactly an outward sign for all the world to see.
It might possibly have to do with reproduction of Abraham's
descendents. Maybe because the
male reproductive organ was cut, it signified
that the descendents of Abraham were to follow in Abraham's
footsteps of faith. This is
only a guess. I really don't
Verse 12 says that all
males eight days and older must be circumcised. No
time was to be lost concerning this circumcision.
Many people compare New Testament baptism to Old Testament
circumcision, and I can certainly understand that. If there is a
comparison to be made, I'd like to point out that soon after a male baby
was born he was to be circumcised. The
same should then be true in Christian circles today.
Soon after a person is born again, he should be baptized.
There is no need to wait.
circumcision, Paul throughout the book of Romans compares Old Testament
circumcision in the flesh to New Testament circumcision in the heart.
So I believe the first way to view this in New Testament terms is
that we should see circumcision as a cutting away of our hearts as we give
our lives to Jesus.
Verse 12 states that not
just Abraham's biological descendents are to be circumcised, but any
slave, that is, one who has been bought, or any foreigner must be
circumcised. That means, any
Gentile living under the authority of Abraham had to be circumcised, act
and live as if he were one of Abraham's biological descendents.
This is an important fact when thinking about the relationship
between Jews and Gentiles in the New Covenant of salvation, and also in
relation to the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant.
Gentiles were never totally excluded from the covenant of God.
In verse 12 we see the
word "offspring" here. To
date we've been thinking in terms of Jesus being the offspring here
because that's what Paul says in Galatians 3:16.
In this case, at least on the surface, that definition doesn't seem
to fit. Offspring here seems
to be in reference to Abraham's descendents.
The phrase says, "those who are not your offspring", as
in, those who are not your offspring who live with you must be
circumcised. The word
"those implies more than one person, so how can it be Jesus?
There might be one way in
which Jesus is involved in this phrase.
The whole point to this verse is that any Gentile living under the
authority of Abraham must be circumcised and live as if he is a biological
descendent of Abraham. I could
be wrong, but if we apply the word "offspring" here to Jesus in
this Gentile context, then this might well be prophetic of Christian
Gentiles who are adopted into the family of God as Paul speaks of when he
says that Gentiles with faith are descendents of Abraham.
Verse 13 is basically a
repeat, a strengthening of what has been said in the last few verses.
All males in the household of Abraham, whether Gentile or not, must
Verse 14 states that any
male who is not circumcised must be "cut off" from God's people,
that male has broken the covenant. The
uncircumcised male has stepped outside the boundaries of the covenant.
He shows to the world that he does not want to be a covenant person
by his actions, therefore God does not force him to be part of the
covenant. God cuts him off,
but it was the noncompliance of the uncircumcised male that brought God to
this decision. The man brought this upon himself. The
same is true in New Testament times. Unless
we are circumcised in our hearts, we cannot be a part of God's family.
That's why we should see New Testament circumcision as a matter of the
heart first before we see it as water baptism, although water baptism is
symbolic of death, that is, the cutting of our hearts.
So in that sense of the word you can still view circumcision to
God doesn't only change
Abram's name to Abraham, but He changes Sarai to Sarah in verse 15.
Both Abraham and Sarah are undergoing changes here to represent the
fact that they are starting a new life.
In verse 16 we see God
promising Abraham , and Sarah too, that even though she is old, she will
have a son. Sarah to will be
the mother of many people and the kings will come from her lineage.
This is true in both a natural sense and a spiritual sense.
Through Isaac, Sarah's son of promise, both Jesus will be born and
many descendents will be born. Many
descendents will be added to the descendents of Abraham because of
people's faith in Jesus.
In verse 17 we see that
Abraham fell face down to the ground and laughed, saying, "will a son
be born to a man who is a hundred years old".
Many often wonder about Abraham laughing here.
They remember in the New Testament that Zechariah laughed at a
similar promise and God struck him down so he could not talk.
Why didn't God do the same here with Abraham.
I think the answer is
easy to figure out. You note
here that Abraham fell to the ground.
His laugh was one of joy and reverence.
Zechariah's laugh was probably one of unbelief.
We also learn in verse 17
that Sarah would be 90 years old when she gave birth to her son.
In verse 18 we see the
heart of a true father coming out in Abraham when he said to God, "if
only Ishmael might live under your blessing."
It's clear the son to be born to Sarah would live under God's
blessing but Ishmael was Abraham's biological son too, even though he was
not born from his wife. Abraham
was concerned about his son, and rightly so.
In verse 19 God redirects
Abraham's thoughts back to Sarah and the son that would be born from her.
God told Abraham that his son would be called Isaac.
The name Isaac means "laugh".
This tells us a couple of things.
The name Isaac might have been chosen because Abraham laughed when
he heard of God promising a son to be born from Sarah.
This would prove that this laugh was not a laugh of unbelief but a
laugh of joy and reverence for God.
We also know that through
Isaac Jesus would be born. The
birth of Jesus will bring reverent laughter to throngs of people
Also in verse 19 God says
that the covenant that He has established with Abraham will also be
established with Isaac. God
was setting up the lineage of the descendents of Abraham here in which the
offspring Jesus would be born. God
was confirming to Abraham that the covenant was more than just for
In verse 20 God comes to
the point that Abraham is interested in, and that's Ishmael.
Like Isaac, and like himself. God would make Ishmael into a great
nation with many descendents too. Yet
unlike Abraham and Isaac, Ishmael would only become the father of one
nation. Isaac, as promised to
Abraham, would become the father of many nations, not just one nation.
In verse 21 God says,
reminding Abraham that even though what He said concerning Ishmael is
true, it's through Isaac that the blessings of the covenant come, not
through Ishmael, and that's a major difference between the two men.
Verse 22 says that when
God finished speaking with Abraham "He went up from him".
God simply disappeared. We
don't know in what way God actually appeared to Abraham, if He appeared at
all. He might well have simply
spoken to Abraham. That's my
guess. Or, it might be
possible that God appeared to Abraham and the "angel of the Lord',
but if that were the case, I think the text would have said so, as it does
in other places.
Verses 23 to 26 tells us
that every male in Abraham's household was circumcised.
Abraham himself was 99 years old and Ishmael was 13 years old when
they were circumcised. I can't
imagine how the events of that day went.
It must have been one memorable day.
Abraham had lots of men that needed to be circumcised.
We know from the time when he took his army of men to get
Then verse 27 says that
the Gentiles living with Abraham were also circumcised.
That would have added even more men to this memorable day.