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Wednesday in the Word

Second Baptist Church

October 7, 2015

Genesis 17:9-16

  1. Verses 9-14. Many people wrestle with the nature of this unconditional covenant. The question that is raised is: If this covenant depends upon God, why are conditions placed upon Abram? The answer is simple: Although God’s promises to Abram were unconditional; Abram’s enjoyment of the blessings was conditional. In other Words, within God’s unconditional promises, God makes demands. He commanded Abram and Sarai to leave their home and their extended family and go to a new land (12:1). He commanded them to be a blessing to others (12:2), to walk before Him and be blameless (17:1), and to circumcise the males in their household as a sign of the covenant (17:10), Although God’s promises were unconditional, Abram’s temporal participation in God’s blessing was conditioned on his faithfulness and obedience to God’s commands. When God says, “You shall,” He is not saying “My will is dependent upon your action. God does not say, “You must do this, and if you don’t, I won’t do what I’ve promised.” God does not act like that. God is sovereign. God is going to do what He will do. But it is no less true and no less important that we must do something. In the case of Abraham, he was to circumcise himself and every male in his household. The word circumcision means “cutting around.” It refers to a minor operation that removes the foreskin from the male organ. Only males underwent circumcision, of course. In the patriarchal society of the ancient Near East people considered that a girl or woman shared the condition of her father if she was single, or her husband if she was married. Circumcision was a fitting symbol for at least three reasons:

    1. It would have been a frequent reminder to every circumcised male of God’s promises involving seed. Circumcision of the male only may have signified the special responsibility, which God had assigned to the father. (This may have had particular significance to Abraham after the incident With Hagar.) God will bring about His seed in His time and in His way.

    2. It was a physical reminder of sexual and spiritual fidelity. The male organ of procreation was to be set apart for the Lord’s purposes rather than for sexual immortality. Abram had committed sexual immortality by sleeping with Hagar. Now he was to submit it to God. The male organ of procreation would be the vehicle through which the seed of man would pass, ultimately preparing the way for the Messiah. This sign alerted a member of the covenant never to use the organ bearing this mark in a promiscuous manner. If this part of man’s body is devoted to the Lord, the entire man will be devoted to the Lord. All manners of sexual sin come from this organ. This organ is to be used for sexual pleasure in the context of marriage and godly offspring. Circumcision assured a Wife of her husband’s submission to the Lord. It reminded a husband that he belonged to the Lord. No Israelite man could ever engage in sexual relations without being reminded of the fact that he belonged to God.

    3. It was an illustration of God’s approach to dealing with the flesh (Col 2:10-12). The circumcised male was one who cut/circumcised/put it aside “the flesh” (i.e., the simply physical and natural aspects of life) in favor of trust in the Lord and His spiritual promises. Circumcision didn’t save Abram or make him righteous before God (Rom 4:9-12). His righteous standing before God was on the basis of faith (11:30-31). Circumcision, water baptism, new members classes, communion, being born into a Christian home, being a part of a certain denomination, or even saying the sinners prayer are outward symbols of an inward faith. But apart from a changed heart and life, these religious symbols have nothing to do with salvation. In the New Testament, the physical act of circumcision is no longer required for believers. Instead, we are to be circumcised in our hearts, (Jeremiah 4:4) which is the seat of decision-making. This expresses three things. (1) It is an expression of our identification with Christ. (2) It is an expression of spiritual fidelity to the Lord. (3) It is an expression of cutting off or putting to death the sinful nature (Phil 3:3). We are to have no reliance upon ourselves, but rely totally upon Him. That is the circumcised life. This paragraph concludes in 17:14 with this warning. This is a reference to execution, sometimes by the Israelites but usually by God, in premature death. The person who refused to participate in circumcision demonstrated his lack of faith in God by his refusal. Thus he broke the covenant of circumcision. Only by keeping these conditions can man enjoy the blessings of God as guaranteed in the covenant.

  2. Verses 15-16. For emphasis Sarah’s name appears three times in these two verses. God is a God of grace. Sarah had been immoral. She asked her husband to commit adultery and polygamy. But God still blesses her. The names are two different forms of a word meaning “princess.” It is as though God is saying, “Now Sarah will really be a princess!” The Lord, possibly testing Abraham’s faith and his reliance on Him for help, did not specifically indicate that Sarah would be the mother. Abram undoubtedly assumed that Ishmael would be the promised heir until God told him that Sarah would bear his heir herself. That revelation is the most important feature of this chapter. God gave the name changes and circumcision to confirm the covenant promise of an heir and to strengthen Abram’s faith.

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