Studies in Torah

Genesis 17: God renames Abram and Sarai, gives covenant of circumcision

Richard AgeeActively trusting God’s words — called “faith” and “belief” — is what makes one righteous.

God gave Abram a special covenant blessing (Gen. 17:1–8). It’s similar to the one in Gen. 12:1–3, but the latter one is worded a little differently. The earlier blessing was given to Abram just after he left Haran, while the latter after he showed his belief and obedience in God.

Let’s look at Gen. 17:1-2:

“Now 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. I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and I will multiply you exceedingly.’”

Let’s also look back at Gen. 12:1-3:

“Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.’”

Abram was about 75 years old when God spoke with him in chapter 12. In chapter 17, he was 99 years old.

Earlier, Abram introduced Himself as YHWH, but later as אֵל שַׁדַּי El-Shaddai, which based on שָׁדַד shadad (H7703) for destroy means God the Destroyer. He was the God who poured out water all over the earth and annihilated live on the entire earth.

When God tells Abram, “Walk before me and be blameless…” the Hebrew literally says, “Come to my face and be totally upright.” That is a big assignment. It’s one thing to be called, it’s another thing to be chosen or selected for a task. Abram is now being selected to be a Father to a multitude of nations but Abram fell on his knees before God because he was terrified of El-Shaddai.

Abram was no longer going to be the father of just one nation, as said in Genesis 12, but of a multitude of nations as God tells him in Genesis 17.

The apostle Paul told us in Romans and Galatians that those who walk in faith with the God of Abraham are Abraham’s heirs (Rom. 4:13; Gal. 3:7). This promise is not just for Abraham, it’s for all who believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as well. God can back up His promises to Abraham (and to everyone else) because He is the most powerful being in the entire universe.

God wrote this covenant and He is the one who is going to bring it to fruition. Abraham has no power in himself to make this covenant a reality.

God is our Father because He began something in us and it is God who completes the work in us, just as He did in Abraham.

Why did God wait until Abraham was 99 years old to be circumcised? Circumcision was the mark of this particular covenant, which preceded Moses by over 400 years. When someone is circumcised, it is because of Abraham, not Moses. Circumcision acknowledges a profound connection with El-Shaddai.

In the flesh, there’s no reason for circumcision, but if you believe in God, there’s every reason for it. The apostle Paul tells us that Abraham is the beginning of our faith, not Yeshua.

God also tells Abraham that Sarah will bear him a son and that Ishmael is not the promise son who will carry on the covenants of Genesis 12 and 17. God assures Abraham that He will make a separate covenant with Ishmael but Ishmael will not be Abraham’s primary heir.

God tells Abraham that Sarah would bear Isaac at an appointed time, which is most likely during the time that Moses later revealed as the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

Abraham obeyed God and had himself and all the men in his household circumcised and they all agreed to do it, including Ishmael. The men of Abraham’s household, including Ishmael, were old enough to choose for themselves whether they wanted to enter the covenant of circumcision and it’s recorded that all of them submitted to it. Adam Clarke commented on Gen. 17:23:

“Had not Abraham, his son, (who was of age to judge for himself,) and all the family, been fully convinced that this thing was of God, they could not have submitted to it….”

There is hope for the 12 tribes of Ishmael just as there is hope for all the rest of mankind.

This covenant was not just made to Abraham but to Sarah as well. Sarah is one of the most important women of our faith.

Reader: Jeff. Speaker: Richard Agee. Summary: Tammy.


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