Calvary Chapel Leesville, SC – Wednesday Night Service – July 15, 2020
Last time, we began to look at God’s covenant with Abraham. In renewing His promise of an heir for Abram, God renamed him Abraham – father of a multitude. In establishing this new covenant, God commanded Abraham to be circumcised along with all the males in his household. We looked in detail at what God says in His Word about slavery, since God also commanded that Abraham’s slaves be circumcised.
Genesis 17:12-27 – God’s Covenant with Abraham Part II
Now continuing our study in Genesis 17, we need to take a second look at Genesis 17:12.
“He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant.Genesis 17:12 – NKJV
God is very specific here in this verse that the circumcision of male children is to be done when they are eight days old. This is significant. I personally believe that many Bible studies carry the analysis of numbers to an unwarranted extreme, but in many cases, numbers and numerology are important in understanding God’s Word. The number 8 in the Bible signifies new beginnings. Of course, newly born baby boys are setting out on a new life in the world, but also on the eighth day when they are circumcised, their parents are devoting them to God’s service. The circumcision ceremony is symbolic of that devotion – establishing the boy in a new life of fellowship with God.
If the little boy is also the firstborn of his mother, God further commanded that he was to be offered to God.
“Consecrate to Me all the firstborn, whatever opens the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and beast; it is Mine.”Exodus 13:2 – NKJV
But God also made provision for human firstborn children to be redeemed by their parents.
“Everything that first opens the womb of all flesh, which they bring to the LORD, whether man or beast, shall be yours; [the Levites’] nevertheless the firstborn of man you shall surely redeem, and the firstborn of unclean animals you shall redeem.Numbers 18:15 – NKJV
Our LORD Jesus was of course the firstborn of His mother, Mary. On the eighth day Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple to be circumcised and named in accordance with the Law. Then on the forty-first day, when Mary’s ritual purification after childbirth was complete, they (being too poor to afford a lamb) also brought two turtledoves to be sacrificed for His redemption (see Leviticus 12 for the complete Law regarding purification after childbirth and redemption of newborn children).
21And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called JESUS, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. 22Now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the LORD”), 24and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” [Leviticus 12:8]Luke 2:21-24 – NKJV
The whole ritual of circumcision, and the provisions in the Law for the dedication and redemption of firstborn boys are symbolic of Jesus’ own redemption of ourselves – His firstborn children – by His sacrifice of Himself on the cross. As we know, the entire Word of God is given to reveal and explain this plan of God’s salvation through Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice. It is also particularly significant that the newborn Jesus Himself was circumcised, dedicated, and redeemed in fulfillment of these requirements in the Law. This was absolutely necessary. Jesus from the very beginning until the very end of His life on earth obeyed the Law perfectly, so that He would then become the spotless Lamb required as a sacrifice for the redemption of mankind from our sin.
“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.Matthew 5:17 – NKJV
13He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. 14And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”Genesis 17:13-14 – NKJV
This covenant and ritual of circumcision is now the fourth covenant between man and God we find in God’s Word. The first covenant levied a single requirement upon Adam and Eve – that they not eat from the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Of course, mankind broke that covenant thereby introducing death, disease, suffering, and evil itself into God’s perfect creation. The next two covenants – first with Noah, and then with Abram – required nothing of mankind except faith in His promises – that faith being credited to us for righteousness. Now with this fourth covenant, God once more placed a requirement upon Abraham and his descendants – circumcision of all male children. Painful as circumcision might be, particularly for full-grown men, in hindsight we can clearly see that God intended it as a blessing.
28And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.Romans 8:28-30 – NKJV
God has used the covenant of circumcision to enable His chosen people – Israel – to maintain their cohesive identity over the nearly 2,000 years since the destruction of the temple by the Romans, and the dispersion of the Jewish people around the globe. Unsurprisingly, circumcision is virtually unique as a covenant under God’s Law which has remained mostly unbroken by the people who undertook it here in Genesis 17 and their descendants.
But circumcision is a double-edged sword (nyuk, nyuk, nyuk). The Jewish people began to take great pride that God had singled them out in this way, and to consider circumcision as a sort of badge of honor denoting a special place in the eyes of God. In fact, the word “uncircumcised” became a term of insult against people and things outside the covenant (e.g. David speaking of Goliath in 1 Samuel 17:26 – “who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?”) Despite their pride that God had singled them out from all the nations of the Earth to partake in the covenant of circumcision, the children of Israel nevertheless failed to honor other aspects of God’s Law. Their sinful behavior was so offensive to God that He spoke out against is through the prophet Jeremiah.
25“Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “that I will punish all who are circumcised with the uncircumcised” 26Egypt, Judah, Edom, the people of Ammon, Moab, and all who are in the farthest corners, who dwell in the wilderness. For all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in the heart.”Jeremiah 9:25-26 – NKJV
Paul the apostle also spoke in detail about this in his letter to the Romans.
25For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. 26Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? 27And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law? 28For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; 29but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.Romans 2:25-29- NKJV
15Then God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai [שָׂרַי Saray] your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah [שָׂרָה Sarah] shall be her name. 16And I will bless her and also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her.”Genesis 17:15-16 – NKJV
Abram’s wife’s birth name – שָׂרַי Saray – means princess. Her new name as the wife of Abraham – father of a multitude – was to be שָׂרָה Sarah meaning noblewoman. Her name was more fitting as the wife of a king and the mother of his heir.
17Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” 18And Abraham said to God, “Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!” 19Then God said: “No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; [יִצְחָק Yitschaq – he laughs] I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him.Genesis 17:17-19 – NKJV
I find Abraham’s response quite intriguing. We know from Genesis 15:6, that Abram truly believed God’s promise of an heir from his own body by his wife Sarai, and most importantly Abram’s faith was credited to him for righteousness. In the same way, despite our own absolute unrighteousness and sinfulness, our faith in the resurrection of Jesus is credited to us for righteousness. On the cross, Jesus took our unrighteousness upon Himself, and exchanged it by His grace and mercy for His own perfect righteousness.
Yet in Genesis 16 we saw that Abram in his impatience for God to fulfill His promise of an heir had fathered a son – יִשְׁמָעֵאל Yishma`e’l – by Sarai’s Egyptian maidservant – Hagar. Indeed, here in Genesis 17:17-18 Abraham still seems to be pinning his hopes on Ishmael rather than trusting in the promise of an heir by Sarah. In fact, he apparently found that promise laughable. Therefore the name Isaac (יִצְחָק Yitschaq) means “he laughs.”
We have to believe that Abraham continued to believe God’s promise despite his impatience with Hagar and his laughter here in this passage at the prospect of Sarah bearing a son in her old age. Otherwise, we might well have expected God to chastise Abraham’s unbelief. Logically, nothing can be proven out of an absence of evidence, but we must simply assume that Abraham continued to believe the promise despite these missteps.
20And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.Genesis 17:20 – NKJV
As we know, the focus of God’s Word is the revelation of God’s plan of redemption through Jesus, and the purpose of Genesis within this overall theme is to narrow the line of the Messiah from Eve down to Abraham’s great-grandson Judah. Throughout the book of Genesis, the various side branches of this main genealogical line are followed briefly, after which no mention is made of them unless somewhere down the line the descendants of these side lines interact again with those whom we read about in the main “plot” of the story. So it is with Ishmael. God promised Abraham that his son Ishmael would beget twelve princes. Their names are listed in Genesis 25:12-15. Afterward, little is mentioned about them except that they dwelt in Havilah in the southern Arabian peninsula and Shur in the eastern Sinai peninsula. (Genesis 25:18) Throughout the Old Testament at various times, the Arabic descendants of Ishmael are mentioned only whenever there is significant interaction between them and the children of Israel with whom the main narrative concerns itself. For example, we are told that Jacob’s son Joseph’s brothers sold him as a slave to Ishmaelite traders (Genesis 37).
21But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this set time next year.”Genesis 17:21 – NKJV
This single verse lies at the heart of much of the trouble in our world today. Although, God promised to bless Ishmael with twelve sons who would found a great nation, God established His covenant with the heir of promise – Isaac – through whom God eventually brought forth Jesus the Messiah Redeemer. The Arabic descendants of Ishmael have been at strife with the Israelite descendants of Isaac ever since. It was the descendants of Ishmael through whom Muhammad arose in the seventh century AD to found Islam – the satanic counterfeit of Christianity – which has brought about nearly continual war in southwest Asia and northern Africa ever since. For hundreds of years, Islam also dominated southern Europe, and although this flood of ungodliness was stemmed for a time in the nineteenth century and the first half of twentieth century, it broke forth again following World War II, and now the infection has spread worldwide. The fault for this catastrophe clearly lies on the shoulders of Abram and Sarai who grew impatient awaiting God’s promised heir and took matters into their own hands. Nevertheless, we know and trust that it is all part of God’s greater plan of salvation for His chosen people, so we trust and wait upon His good time. God is in the process of using the Ishmaelites and all of the other Gentiles to bring the children of Israel back into fellowship with Him.
25For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; 27For this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.” 28Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. 29For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.Romans 11:25-29 – NKJV
22Then He finished talking with him, and God went up from Abraham. 23So Abraham took Ishmael his son, all who were born in his house and all who were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very same day, as God had said to him. 24Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 25And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 26That very same day Abraham was circumcised, and his son Ishmael; 27and all the men of his house, born in the house or bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.Genesis 17:22-27 – NKJV
So we see here that Abraham’s immediate response to God’s new covenant was obedience to what God had instructed. Throughout the ages, the Jewish people have been faithful to keep this covenant except during the wandering in the wilderness following the Exodus from their Egyptian captivity. All of the males old enough to fight as soldiers who had left Egypt were circumcised in accordance with the Abrahamic covenant. But apart from Moses, Caleb, and Joshua all of these perished in the wilderness because they had disobeyed the Word of the LORD and not gone up from Egypt immediately to conquer the Promised Land. Therefore, God caused the Israelites to wander in the wilderness 40 years until that entire generation had died. (Numbers 14:1-38) During that time, none of the young boys were circumcised. These were then all circumcised together at God’s command after the Israelites crossed over the Jordan into the promised land of Canaan at Gilgal (Joshua 5:1-12) Since that time, even through the nearly 2000-year diaspora, the children of Israel have obeyed the Abrahamic covenant, and God has used their obedience to maintain their cohesion and identity as a people until the years immediately following WWII when He began to return the people to the Land.