Genesis 17 The Sign And Promise Of The Abrahamic Covenant.

It is easy to get the impression that this covenant relationship of the LORD with Abram is something of a roller coaster. From the high of his call in chapter 12 and his first foray into the land of promise (vv. 1-9), we then come with Abram to Egypt and witness his vacillation with the Pharaoh and his mistreatment of Sarai (vv. 10-20). Then we once again have the high of Abram’s re-entry into the land and the altars to the LORD (Ch. 13). Though the captivity of Lot is a true low, nevertheless we see Abram rise to the occasion in his role as kinsman-redeemer for Lot, but doing so because of the LORD, as the equally high point of encounter with Melchizedek bears witness (Ch. 14). This high continues with the formal inauguration of the covenant and the graphic portrayal of the gospel of grace (Ch. 15). Then once again we are plunged to the low of the incident with Hagar and Sarai, but even at this low we also are encouraged by fresh promises (16). We now come to another chapter in the Abrahamic administration of the covenant of grace with the sign of this covenant.

One should read the previous log concerning the phrase “ I am Almighty God” or El Shaddai, since it first occurs here (v. 1ab). What is of particular interest here is the call from the LORD-“walk before Me and be blameless” (v. 1c). The heart of the covenant is that the LORD would be our God and we His people. The knowledge of everything this name represents, requires of us a putting of it into practice. Two things are here-walking, that is, living it out, and secondly, doing so blamelessly. The LORD was reaffirming the covenant with Abram, that He would, in particular, multiply him exceedingly (v. 2). We then read that Abram fell on his face (v. 3). This is usually the response of someone who is standing in God’s presence. In any case, the LORD continues to speak to Abram and tells him that he “shall be father of many nations,” which leads to his name changing to Abraham, since this is what the new name means (vv. 4-5). All along Abram had focused on the promise of a seed solely on a child from his own body, here he is being told that that promise was always intended to be much more.

This covenant between the LORD and Abraham and his seed, would be an administration of the everlasting covenant of grace (vv. 9-10a). Circumcision would be the sign of this administration, a sign that would carry on through the Mosaic to the Davidic. It is a mistake to look for other “signs” for the latter two covenants. Under Noah it was the rainbow, which continues to this day, and starting with Abraham we find the sign of circumcision, which would continue until the sign of baptism in the new (vv. 10b-14 Cf. Col. 2:11-12). Then the LORD has a special word for Sarai, who also receives a new name-Sarah, meaning ‘Princess’ (v. 15). As Adam chose life after the fall, by grace, he named his wife Eve-the mother of the living. Even so, Sarah was now a royal princess. She would be the wife of prince, and mother of kingdom builders in the promised land and to the nations of the world (v. 16). Yet even with all this, Abraham could not get his mind off his age and the promise of a seed from his own body, for he was a hundred and Sarah was ninety, and so he fell on his face and laughed (vv. 17-18).

God could have dismissed Abraham, but out of grace he reassured Abraham of the promise of a son of their own (v. 19). He also would not forget about Ishmael for he too would be blessed with fruitfulness, and twelve princes of his own in a great nation (v. 20). But it was clear that the administration of the covenant of grace would continue on through Isaac (v. 21). Then we find a verse that suggests that in fact the LORD was standing before Abraham, perhaps as the angel of the LORD who appeared to Hagar, because it says that when the LORD finished talking with him that “God went up from Abraham” (v. 22). So Abraham then had every male in his household circumcised as the LORD had commanded him (v. 23). Abraham was ninety-nine at this time (v. 24), Ishmael thirteen (v. 25), on the same day they were circumcised (v. 26). Foreigners were also included in the administration of the covenantal sign (v. 27). This hearkens back to the promise that Abraham would be a father of many nations and blessing to many peoples. From the very beginning of the administration of this covenant “foreigners” were included.

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