In our study of Genesis chapter seventeen, we will look at the adoption contract between God and Abram and its impact on our world today.
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, 'I am God Almighty, walk before me and be blameless. I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.'
Why did God appear to Abram again to confirm the promise that had already been given. In chapter 16, we saw Abram have a "lapse of faith" and the result was a son named Ishmael. Now, God appears to Abram and reminds him that he is El Shaddai (God Almighty) and the name speaks of the One who has the ability to provide. In a time of doubt, Abram had conceived a son but God reminds him that it was not the son that He had promised. We also see how much God loves children in the fact that He tells Abram to "walk before me and be blameless" even though the son was not the promised child (God did not condemn him for his lapse of faith). Like Abram, we all have our little "lapse of faith" in our lives but God also calls us to accept His forgiveness. Through Jesus Christ, we can also "be blameless".
Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, 'As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.'
Abram fell facedown in worship of God which is the normal reaction when a man comes into the presence of El Shaddai. We see God's authority over Abram's life established by the changing of his name to Abraham. The custom of the day was that the father of a child chose the name of his child. In renaming Abram, it was established that he was adopted into the family of God. As the Head of the family, it was God's right and duty to give him a new name that was fitting. While Abram meant "exalted father", Abraham means "father of many" which was in keeping with God's promise to him. As Christians, we too will be given a new name by the One who has authority. This new name will be written on a white stone and will only be known by the bearer of the stone (see Revelation 2:17). This too is a demonstration of God's love and authority over our new lives.
'I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.'
God gives his obligations and promises as part of the adoption contract. He renewed the promise of children and also the possession of the land of Canaan. This land is the country of Israel today and even though there is much arguing about who owns the land, we can say that all of it belongs to Israel. We should take note that God said it was their "everlasting" land and so cannot be given or taken away by any man.
Then God said to Abraham, 'As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised.You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.'
Every contract has rights and responsibilities and now God lays out Abraham's responsibility. This contract was to be binding on all of his descendants and they were all to be circumcised. This physical sign was a picture of the coming circumcision of the heart.
'For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner - those who are not your offspring. Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.'
We see a picture of what is known as "the age of accountability" in the fact that boys were not required to be circumcised until they were eight days old. Throughout the Bible, the number eight is associated with resurrection and a new creation. This is a reminder that, with the circumcision, the males were being set apart and marked as God's people. This physical circumcision marking was a shadow of the mark that we have through the Holy Spirit as Christians. We also see that this covenant was made available to Gentiles who were purchased by Abraham and his descendants. This was a stumbling block for the early church as they did not understand that Jesus came for the Gentiles as well as the Jews and it was pictured in the covenant of circumcision. Finally, we see that the punishment for not going through with the act of circumcision was that they were to be cut off (separated) from their people. In the same way, those who reject the circumcision of the heart through Jesus Christ, will be separated from God for all eternity. God is just in this because they have broken the terms of the contract.
God also said to Abraham, 'As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will 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.'
God changed Sarai's name to Sarah and we are reminded that, when God changes a person's name, it is a reminder that they have become His children. He renews His promise to provide sons to carry on the covenant.
Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, 'Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?' And Abraham said to God, 'If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!'
We notice that Abraham fell "facedown" as God spoke to him which is the normal reaction for men. Then, he laughed in unbelief as he could not get past the physical limitations of man. In his unbelief, he asked God to bless Ishmael instead of trusting in God's promise. This unbelief has built a lasting legacy as even today the descendants of Ishmael reject the promise of God which was made known through His Son, Jesus Christ.
Then God said, 'Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, who Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.' When he had finished speaking with Abraham, God went up from him.
God agreed to bless Ishmael meaning he would not have to worry about producing a son like Abram had worried. Instead, God promised that he would be the father of twelve rulers and a great nation. This "great nation" speaks of the fact that they would be great in number but not great in pleasing God. This "great nation" was speaking of those who follow the teachings of Islam. Although God agreed to bless Ishmael, He made it clear that the descendants of Isaac would be known as His people. (Ishmael would be the father of a great nation but not the father of the promised nation.) This was said twice in this passage and we must remember that, throughout the Bible, the number two is associated with truth as matters were established on the word of two witnesses.
On that very day Abraham took his son Ishmael and all those born in his household or bought with his money, every male in his household, and circumcised them, as God told him. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised, and his son Ishmael was thirteen; Abraham and his son Ishmael were both circumcised on that same day. And every male in Abraham's household, including those born in his household or bought from a foreigner, was circumcised with him.
We see that Abraham was obedient and all the males in his household were circumcised. This confirmed the covenant and was a physical sign to the world of God's giving them the land of Canaan and being their God. This was a picture of the covenant of Christ that was to come through His blood and the circumcision of men's hearts.