Genesis – First, God
Imagine you are serving Abram. You stay close to his tent, within the hearing of his voice, so that you don’t miss an order or command to do something that he asks. When he speaks you are quick to obey for this is what you do. It is who you are–a servant. Your entire life is devoted to please your master.
As you are serving on an ordinary day, The God, the only God, of Abram shows up! You watch in awe as God speaks to your master. He tells Abram to “live entirely” for God. You see your master fall on his knees, face to the ground, in humble fear and holy reverence before God.
You hear about the declared covenant between God and Abram. To “live entirely” before God will be represented by an act of extreme obedience with a bit of pain for your master. Your master is given a new name that will be known for generations as the “Father of fathers”. Losing a bit of himself means gaining a life lived entirely before God, in God’s care and protection. Obeying God, even when it seems impossible, results in the blessing of a son he and Sarai have been dreaming of for years…lots of years!
Then you hear that the details of the agreement between God and man will also involve you. Wait, what?
Genesis 17, The Message
1-2 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, God showed up and said to him, “I am The Strong God, live entirely before me, live to the hilt! I’ll make a covenant between us and I’ll give you a huge family.”
3-8 Overwhelmed, Abram fell flat on his face.
Then God said to him, “This is my covenant with you: You’ll be the father of many nations. Your name will no longer be Abram, but Abraham, meaning that ‘I’m making you the father of many nations.’ I’ll make you a father of fathers—I’ll make nations from you, kings will issue from you. I’m establishing my covenant between me and you, a covenant that includes your descendants, a covenant that goes on and on and on, a covenant that commits me to be your God and the God of your descendants. And I’m giving you and your descendants this land where you’re now just camping, this whole country of Canaan, to own forever. And I’ll be their God.”
9-14 God continued to Abraham, “And you: You will honor my covenant, you and your descendants, generation after generation. This is the covenant that you are to honor, the covenant that pulls in all your descendants: Circumcise every male. Circumcise by cutting off the foreskin of the penis; it will be the sign of the covenant between us. Every male baby will be circumcised when he is eight days old, generation after generation—this includes house-born slaves and slaves bought from outsiders who are not blood kin. Make sure you circumcise both your own children and anyone brought in from the outside. That way my covenant will be cut into your body, a permanent mark of my permanent covenant. An uncircumcised male, one who has not had the foreskin of his penis cut off, will be cut off from his people—he has broken my covenant.”
15-16 God continued speaking to Abraham, “And Sarai your wife: Don’t call her Sarai any longer; call her Sarah. I’ll bless her—yes! I’ll give you a son by her! Oh, how I’ll bless her! Nations will come from her; kings of nations will come from her.”
17 Abraham fell flat on his face. And then he laughed, thinking, “Can a hundred-year-old man father a son? And can Sarah, at ninety years, have a baby?”
18 Recovering, Abraham said to God, “Oh, keep Ishmael alive and well before you!”
19 But God said, “That’s not what I mean. Your wife, Sarah, will have a baby, a son. Name him Isaac (Laughter). I’ll establish my covenant with him and his descendants, a covenant that lasts forever.
20-21 “And Ishmael? Yes, I heard your prayer for him. I’ll also bless him; I’ll make sure he has plenty of children—a huge family. He’ll father twelve princes; I’ll make him a great nation. But I’ll establish my covenant with Isaac whom Sarah will give you about this time next year.”
22 God finished speaking with Abraham and left.
23 Then Abraham took his son Ishmael and all his servants, whether houseborn or purchased—every male in his household—and circumcised them, cutting off their foreskins that very day, just as God had told him.
24-27 Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised. His son Ishmael was thirteen years old when he was circumcised. Abraham and Ishmael were circumcised the same day together with all the servants of his household, those born there and those purchased from outsiders—all were circumcised with him.
WHAT DO WE LEARN?
The secret of a perfect walk before God is a personal worship of God. Like Abraham, every believer must fall before the Lord and yield everything to Him. If He is El Shaddai–“God Almighty”–then who are we to resist His will?
God promised once again to multiply Abraham’s family, even though he and his wife did not have any children. His descendants would be “as the dust of the earth” (13:16) and as the stars of the heavens (15:5). These two comparisons–earth and heaven–suggest that Abraham would have a physical family, the Jews (Matt. 3:9), and a spiritual family made up of all who believe in Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:26-29).
Abraham’s descendants include not only the Jewish people, but also the Arab world (through Ishmael) and the nations listed in Genesis 25:1-4. All who trust Jesus Christ as Savior are spiritual children of Abraham (Gal. 3:6-9), and that will be a vast multitude (Rev. 7:9).
In being fruitful for God, we have nothing in ourselves that will accomplish the task. Abraham and Sarah had tried their own plan, and it failed miserably. Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
God’s everlasting covenant also included an everlasting possession: the land of Canaan. This land is a battleground today and always will be until the Lord returns to reign. But as far as God’s covenant is concerned, the land belongs to Israel.
Since God’s covenant involved Abraham’s “seed,” it was fitting that the mark of the covenant be on the male organ of generation. Since all people are conceived in sin (Ps. 51:5), this special mark would remind them that they were accepted by God because of His gracious covenant. It was God who chose the Jews, not the Jews who chose God (Deut. 7:1-11), and He chose them to be a holy people.
Unfortunately, the Jewish people eventually made this ritual a means of salvation. Circumcision was a guarantee that you were accepted by God. (Some people today place the same false confidence in baptism, Communion, and other religious rites that can be very meaningful if rightly used.) They did not realize that circumcision stood for something much deeper: the person’s relationship to God. God wants us to “circumcise our hearts” and be totally devoted to Him in love and obedience (Deut. 10:16; 30:6; Jer. 4:4; Rom. 2:28-29).
Romans 4:9-12 makes it clear that the physical operation had nothing to do with Abraham’s eternal salvation. Abraham had believed God and received God’s righteousness before he ever was circumcised (Gen. 15:6). Circumcision was not the means of his salvation but the mark of his separation as a man in covenant relationship with God.
What does all of this mean to Christian believers today? The seal of our salvation is not an external rite but the presence of an internal witness in the person of the Holy Spirit of God (Eph. 1:13; 4:30; Rom. 8:9, 16). We have experienced a “spiritual circumcision” (Col. 2:9-12) that makes us part of the “true circumcision” (Phil. 3:1-3 nasb).
When we trusted Christ to save us, the Spirit of God performed “spiritual surgery” that enables us to have victory over the desires of the old nature and the old life. Circumcision removes only a part of the body, but the true “spiritual circumcision” puts off “the body of the sins of the flesh” (Col. 2:11) and deals radically with the sin nature.
God is still asking us to live entirely before Him. Are we?
This “spiritual circumcision” is accomplished at conversion when the sinner believes in Christ and is baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). This baptism identifies the believer with Christ in His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, and also in His circumcision (Col. 2:11-12; Luke 2:21). It is not “the circumcision of Moses” but “the circumcision of Christ” that is important to the Christian believer.
We cannot live entirely before God on our own. We need God’s gift of His Holy Spirit to come and live in our hearts, minds and souls. We must give up our will for His loving guidance. He will guide, convict, and steer us away from all that is not God and direct our path to Him. We were once dark and now we are Light. Live in the Light. Be the Light!
There is a practical lesson here for all who seek to live by faith: When God is preparing a bright future for you, don’t cling to the things of the past.
Ishmael represented the past, Isaac the future. Ishmael symbolized man’s fleshly way of accomplishing something for God, but Isaac was a miracle baby, born by the power of God.
Ishmael brought dissension into the home, but Isaac brought laughter. If you have an “Ishmael” in your life, yield it up to God. God has a perfect plan, and what He plans is the best. It may pain you to give up your cherished dreams, but God’s way is always the right way.
Dear Heavenly Father,
I give up all that is not you to live entirely before you. You are God and I am not. Help me to be Light and to live in the Light of your Holy Spirit. As your servant, help me to hear your voice above all others and quickly obey you.
In Jesus Name, Amen