God's Promise to Abraham
1When Abram was 99 years old, the Lord appeared to him again and said, “I am God All-Powerful. If you obey me and always do right, 2I will keep my solemn promise to you and give you more descendants than can be counted.” 3Abram bowed with his face to the ground, and God said:
4-5 I promise that you will be the father of many nations. So now I'm changing your name from Abram to Abraham. 6I will give you a lot of descendants, and they will become great nations. Some of them will even be kings.
7 I will always keep the promise I have made to you and your descendants, because I am your God and their God. 8 I will give you and them the land in which you are now a foreigner. I will give the whole land of Canaan to your family forever, and I will be their God.
9Abraham, you and all future members of your family must promise to obey me. 10-11 As the sign that you are keeping this promise, you must circumcise every man and boy in your family. 12-13From now on, your family must circumcise every baby boy when he is eight days old. You must even circumcise any man or boy you have as a slave, both those born in your homes and those you buy from foreigners. This will be a sign that my promise to you will last forever. 14Any man who isn't circumcised hasn't kept his part of the promise and cannot be one of my people.
After observing Abram for another fourteen years, the Lord made a deeper, more detailed commitment by converting his covenant to an everlasting covenant and, to emphasize his promise, changing Abram’s name to Abraham. Abram means “Exalted Father” while Abraham means “Father of a Multitude.”
The enhanced covenant required Abraham and all his male descendents to be circumcised. Why circumcision? Rabbi Telushkin can only say that the Torah never gives a rationale for it (1). Bruce Waltke suggests circumcision was “performed on the organ of procreation because the covenant pertained to descendants set apart to God.”(2)
Regardless, circumcision was the initiation ceremony for entry into the people of God. This corresponds to baptism today, under the new covenant of Jesus Christ.
Abraham’s test was whether or not he would irreversibly commit to identifying himself as belonging to God. If he did, he was binding himself to God’s covenant, to living God’s way, and to accepting the Lord as his king. As we’ll read tomorrow, Abraham circumsized all the males the same day as God announced the requirement.
You and I face this same test with the same degree of binding, but to the new covenant rather than the old covenant, and through baptism rather than circumcision. Will we commit to publicly identifying ourselves as belonging to Christ? Jesus said his followers are to stand out like salt in food, a city on a hill, or a lamp on a lampstand. When people know we are followers of Christ and see our good works, they will praise God (Matthew 5:13-16).
So if family, friends and workmates don’t know of your faith, find an appropriate way to tell them. And the next time you are tempted to be silent or passive when something should be said or done, be bold.
(1) Telushkin, Joseph. Jewish Literacy. William Morrow & Co.: New York City. 1991. P 671
(2) Waltke, Bruce. Genesis: A Commentary. Zondervan: Grand Rapids. 2001. P. 264
Lord Jesus, you are the Light of the World who gave me new life by taking my shame upon yourself for everyone to see, suffering their jeers and scoffing. Embolden me to live a public life of faith that will glorify our Father. In your name, Amen.