Though Abram succeeded in obtaining a child through the maidservant, Hagar, the LORD appeared to him demanding him to walk before God and to lead a blameless life. From the narrative, the LORD established His everlasting covenant with Abram and told him to keep the sign of the covenant. Here, the conversation between God and Abram teaches us about one’s various stages of faith, from doubting, believing to doing the deeds of the faith.
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What can we learn from the LORD’s command to Abram in relation to God’s covenant-making?Hide Answer
Although the LORD promised Abram and reiterated His promise by making a covenant with him, the LORD required Abram to “walk before [Him] and be blameless” (Gen 17:1). The command of the LORD meant that what Abram had thought in his heart and did through his deeds to obtain an heir through his maid-servant was not approved by the LORD. This incident teaches us that being blameless is not just about keeping ourselves being away from iniquity, but rather it is about submitting to God’s will with all our heart and not leaning on our own understanding or our own method to obtain what we want (Prov 3:5).
What were the content of the covenant?Hide Answer
In His covenant, the LORD said that Abram would be a father of many nations and kings would come from him. Not only would the LORD establish His covenant with Abram but also with his descendants after him in their generations for an everlasting covenant. The LORD also established that He would be God to Abram and his descendants after him. Furthermore, the LORD would give to Abram and his descendants after him all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession (Gen 17:4-8).
Why did God change Abram’s name? And what did the new name mean?Hide Answer
God changed Abram’s name to Abraham to show that God’s covenant had been made (Gen 17:2) and was now established with Abraham (Gen 17:4). The new name Abraham meant God had made Abraham a father of many nations (Gen 17:5) and God would “multiply [Abraham] exceedingly” and God would make “kings [come] from [Abraham]” (Gen 17:2, 6).
What was the significance of the phrase “I will be their God” in Genesis 17:8 for Abraham?Hide Answer
According to the book of Leviticus, God’s declaration as the God of His people showed that He would remember the covenant that He had made previously (Lev 26:45). Thus, the Lord’s declaration to Abraham as his and his descendants’ God meant that the Lord would always remember and uphold the covenant that He had previously made with Abraham and his descendants. Such a declaration from God also required that Abraham and his descendants have the responsibility to keep God’s covenant throughout their generations (Gen 17:9).
According to the book of Jeremiah, for the Lord to be their God meant He would put His law in the minds and hearts of His people (Jer 31:33). Once the law of God was in their minds and hearts, His people would know the LORD without the necessity to be taught again (Jer 31:34). Knowing the LORD, the prophet Jeremiah explained further, meant one would return to God whole-heartedly through the repentance of his evil way and doings (Jer 24:7, 25:5). Moreover, the prophet Ezekiel added, when one walked in God’s statutes and kept His judgments and did them, the Lord would be his God (Ezek 11:20).
These verses teach us that to have the Lord to be our God means we must keep His law and judgment in our hearts and minds so that we are able to know Him personally and recognize His will. Though the prophet Jeremiah said that as God’s people, the Lord would forgive our iniquity and would not remember our sins (Jer 31:34); it is our responsibility to keep walking in God’s “statutes” and “judgments” (Ezek 11:20). In this way, we are truly returning to God and being away from our sinful lifestyles.
How was Abraham to keep the covenant of God?Hide Answer
As God promised blessings to Abraham and his descendants, Abraham must also keep the covenant of God. The responsibility of Abraham to keep the covenant could be divided as follows: First, after God had established His covenant between Him and Abraham (Gen 17:7), Abraham had to “obey the terms of the covenant” (NLT). Second, the “terms of the covenant” had to be obeyed “continually” by Abraham and throughout all his descendants (Gen 17:9). Third, the terms of the covenant must be fulfilled by circumcising each male among Abraham (Gen 17:10)—through “[cutting] off the flesh of [one’s] foreskin as a sign of the covenant” (Gen 17:11). Fourth, the mentioned duty of the terms of covenant applied “not only to members of [Abraham’s] family but also to the servants born in [Abraham’s] household and the foreign-born servants whom [Abraham had] purchased” (Gen 17:12). Lastly, the mark of God’s everlasting covenant must be borne through the “bodies” of those who had been circumcised (Gen 17:13).
What was the result of not keeping the sign of God’s covenant?
In the Old Testament we learn several insights regarding the circumcision of the heart. According to the book of Deuteronomy, circumcision of the heart means one is no longer stiff-necked to God’s way, but rather one walks in His ways, loves Him and serves the LORD with all one’s heart and all one’s soul (Deut 10:12, 16, 30:6). With a similar tone, the prophet Jeremiah emphasizes that we ought to return to the Lord by circumcising the foreskins of our heart before the Lord. Therefore, putting away our evil doings from the Lord and not provoking the fury of God (Jer 4:1, 4).
In the New Testament, the apostle Paul says, “If an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision?” (Rom 2:26). Regarding such a statement, the apostle Paul explains further, “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but 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 (Rom 2:28-29). In other words, keeping the sign of the covenant of God—circumcision—is not done through an outward appearance, but is done in the heart through our obedience to keep God’s law.
Today, followers of Christ must learn from these insights. If we claim that we are keeping the covenant of God, but in daily lives we fail to walk in God’s ways and we neglect to serve God “with all [our] heart and with all [our] soul” (Deut 10:12), then we are considered as ones who have not circumcised “the foreskins of [our] hearts” (Jer 4:4) and have not kept the covenant of God.
Why did God change Sarai’s name? And what did the new name mean?Hide Answer
The changing of Sarai’s name by the Lord was to confirm to Abraham that God’s everlasting covenant also included Sarai. Her new name, Sarah, meant that God would bless her and also would give Abraham a son by her. Sarah would also be a mother of nations and kings of peoples would be from her (Gen 17:15-16).
What was Abraham’s reaction to God’s statement about Sarai? And why did Abraham react that way?Hide Answer
After hearing from the Lord regarding Sarai’s blessings and the promised son, Abraham fell on his face and laughed. He also 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?” (Gen 17:17). Abraham and Sarai had been childless all of their married life. Now that they were well advanced in age, Abraham seemed to have given up hope.
In fact, Abraham pleaded with God, “Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!” (Gen 17:18). Though the Lord had already promised Abraham a son through Sarah, Abraham still pleaded that Ishmael might live before God. In other words, Abraham believed that Ishmael was his promised son and Abraham hoped for God’s favor toward Ishmael as an heir of Abraham and for God’s blessings to be fulfilled through Ishmael.
How did God respond to Abraham’s plea?Hide Answer
The Lord responded to Abraham that the promised son would still come from Sarah and that his name should be called Isaac. The Lord also emphasized to Abraham that He would only establish His everlasting covenant with Isaac and with his descendants after him. But God also heard Abraham’s plea for Ishmael, and He blessed Ishmael, too (Gen 17:19-20).
What were the blessings of God to Ishmael?
This time, in Genesis 17:21, how was God’s promise different compared to the previous three in Genesis 12, 13 and 15?Hide Answer
Compared to the previous three promises in Genesis 12, 13 and 15, in Genesis 17:21 the Lord specifically told Abraham that He would establish His covenant with Isaac whom Sarah would bear to Abraham “at this set time next year.” The Lord gave a specific time and date of the fulfillment of His promise. The Lord’s words would act as a great encouragement and strength to Abraham’s faith.
How did Abraham react this time after the Lord went up from him?Hide Answer
After the Lord went up from him, Abraham did exactly according to God’s words. Genesis 17:23 states, “So 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.” Abraham kept the covenant of God by performing the sign of the covenant, circumcision, and accepted the fact that his own son, Isaac, would be the promised heir with God’s everlasting covenant instead of Ishmael.
What can we learn from the fact that Ishmael is also circumcised by Abraham?Hide Answer
Although Ishmael was not the promised heir, nor was he the one with whom God would establish His everlasting covenant; Ishmael was still included in God’s everlasting covenant. For God had said to Abraham that the sign of the covenant between God and Abraham is circumcision—every male child should be circumcised (Gen 17:10-11). In other words, even though God did not make an everlasting covenant with Ishmael, God still included Ishmael under the covenant of God which He made between Abraham and Himself.
Today, the inclusion of Ishmael into God’s covenant reminds us of our status in front of God. The apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Romans that we are likened to a wild olive tree which is grafted and becomes a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree (Rom 11:17). Like Ishmael, we originally did not belong to God’s everlasting covenant, but due to His mercy, we are now grafted into Him and have become a part of the covenant.