Genesis 17: The Covenant of Circumcision

And now for the long awaited moment… finally we can call Abram, Abraham! His name means “father of many nations,” a promising change from Abram, meaning “father of many.” This further specification of the promise of descendants highlights the royalty that will also come from Abraham’s line (i.e. King David… and the Messiah!). Ironically, Abraham and Sarai have still had no children at this point. Here, God wanted a whole, total, commitment from Abraham. Blameless. After 13 years since their last direct communication in Genesis 16, God again renews his covenant with Abraham as a reminder. Those who overcome are promised a beautiful name change.

“Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” – Revelation 2:17

Abraham now has a task in regards to the covenant: Circumcision. Why? No one can see it, so it’s not exactly an outwardly commitment and profession of faith. Also, many other ancient peoples practiced circumcision, so how does it have a Godly meaning? But, it is hygienic. More importantly, Circumcision is an obligation for believers, acting as a sign for the sake of the one circumcised. The purpose of this act is to remind Abraham that God will make a name for him, and that Abraham will not make a name for himself. God “cut” the very thing Abraham had tried to use to fulfill God’s promise to him of children in Genesis 15.

“And he received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. And he is then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.” – Romans 4:11-12

More specifically, God commanded children be circumcised on the eighth day. As the creator of mankind, He knows a great deal behind the science of the body. An infant’s immune system is at the optimum level at this time for a procedure. It should also be noted that faith makes you part of the covenant, not circumcision, but rejection of circumcision rejects the covenant. Acts like circumcision alone are not enough to be saved, as Paul describes in Galatians 5.

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.” – Galatians 5:6

Sarai’s name was also changed, to Sarah, meaning “princess” or “lady” of a multitude. Her reign and control is confined to one family. Once again God makes it clear that His covenant will be fulfilled through Sarah’s child, Isaac. In response, Abraham laughs… at God! This laugh can be best interpreted not of doubt, but of excitement. Abraham and Sarah are really old, but he knows God can perform these supposedly impossible acts (Romans 4:17-21).

That same day, Abraham was circumcised. His belief in the covenant is demonstrated through his obedience. In turn, our faith in God’s Word should be demonstrated by how we act everyday.


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